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Eric Dutton: Adjunct Professor of Chinese Cultural Studies

So I should read it exactly as it appears on the original transcript?

Okay, you’re the boss.

If you want to talk about the farcical history of Asian representation in Hollywood, you need to go all the way back to the silent serials of the 1920s, collectively known as The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu, and the phenomenon of the Yellow Peril, sometimes known as the Yellow Spectre. In fact, go further still to the seventeenth century and the heyday of the British East India Company. Trade between the British and Chinese empires was booming, but the Company was concerned by the unprecedented quantities of silver flowing from West to East. China wanted only precious silver in exchange for tea, silk and porcelain. Nothing else would do. The problem was that the British East India Company didn’t have enough silver to maintain a balance of trade. So, they introduced opium as an alternative trading commodity. The drug caught on, utterly ravaged Chinese society and the economy, and crippled an entire generation with addiction. The Qing Emperor banned opium, forcibly confiscating all stock from traders without compensation and ordered a blockade against trade. The British escalated with military force and thus began the First Opium War of 1839. It proved a decisive loss for China and ended with the ratification of the Treaty of Nanking, which forced China to open more ports to foreign merchants and cede the territory of Hong Kong to British rule.

Meanwhile, over in the United States, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 resulted in the mass expulsion of Chinese goldminers, who were willing to work for less than one-third the pay of their Western counterparts.

In mainland China, rising tensions over the proliferation of unwanted missionary settlements and preferential treatment of Westerners led to the Boxer Rebellion of 1899, so named because the Chinese rebels were quite literally boxers, martial artists and swordsmen, rising up against the Western imperialists. This was the origin of the Yellow Spectre in Western literature.

By the turn of the twentieth century, Western fear of the unknowable East had reached an all-time high.

By the turn of the twentieth century, Western fear of the unknowable East had reached an all-time high. This was fertile ground for British novelist Sax Rohmer to introduce his enduring literary achievement The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu, which featured British detective hero Denis Nayland Smith and his Watson-like sidekick, Dr Petrie, in their adventures to foil the Illuminati-like ‘Yellow Spectre’, the evil Chinese mastermind Dr Fu Manchu.

Angela Mu: On-again Off-again Girlfriend of JK Jr

JK and me? Oh we broke up a long time ago. But we’ve got history, you know. I remember when I was a struggling actress, before he even got into the industry, he used to come to my auditions and cheer me on. That was so sweet. Eventually, casting directors would spot him waiting for me, holding roses, being romantic, and soon enough he was booking more auditions than me!

LeBron Chew: Click Bae Editor-in-Chief

Angela Mu, JK Jr’s ex, holds the distinction of being the only actress to simultaneously appear on Click Bae’s ‘17 most underrated Hong Kong actresses’ and our definitive ‘Top 11 most overrated Hong Kong actresses’. 

JK Jr: Hong Kong Movie Star

Angie? Yeah, I still run into her from time to time. Last I heard she was on that show Pathways, right? Looks like she’s doing good. Her first lead role! She worked so hard for it.

Angela Mu: On-again Off-again Girlfriend of JK Jr

When did I first want to be an actor?

I was seven, yeah. Mum had Anita Mui’s Rouge on videotape. It was our favourite movie of Anita’s. We wore that tape out. I wanted to dress like Anita, in those gorgeous cheongsams, be like her, act like her. For sure that’s when I knew I’d be an actor. It was exciting getting cast in tiny roles in my teens. I had a dream to meet Anita one day, maybe even be on set together in a movie. But Anita died unexpectedly before I had a chance to really get into showbiz, so …  it wasn’t to be.

I guess I was naive in many ways about the industry. It can be brutal. Everyone is so focused on looks. Don’t get me wrong, that’s important, but all the girls like me who had to make their way up to a nine, from a six or seven in high school –  you grow into yourself, start figuring out your own look, start aceing your make-up game –  well, when you reach nine, you think you’ve made it, but girl, that’s when you realise, oh shit, there are different levels of nine! I’m like a three nine.

That means, in real life, I’m a nine but in showbiz I’m a three. I’m the friend, I’m never the girl, you know? A three nine. But JK, from the beginning, he was like a nine nine. Even before he got super ripped. I used to get death threats just for dating him. Now, with that body, he’s like, god, a nine nine nine.

There is no ten.

That’s a mathematical truth.

That means, in real life, I’m a nine but in showbiz I’m a three. I’m the friend, I’m never the girl, you know? A three nine.

JK Jr: Hong Kong Movie Star 

We used to date. Of course you Click Bae guys know all about that! She was my first serious girlfriend. I got lucky, man. I still compare every girl I date to Angie.

Yeah. Angie. She was a ten.

Angela Mu: On-again Off-again Girlfriend of JK Jr

He’s such a good actor. Maybe not so amazing at memorising lines, but he’s got something else. It’s hard to explain. It’s not just charisma. When you see him in a movie or even on the street, you pay attention, you think to yourself, ‘Who is that?’ I still catch my breath looking at him. It’s almost like he’s got a secret that he’s not sharing with you that somehow makes everything he does or says more interesting. But we used to fight a lot. He drives me crazy sometimes.

JK Jr: Hong Kong Movie Star

I remember we used to have these incredible fights. Literally. Not one of those fights was credible. We were full of, like, incoherent passion. The sex was out of this world. We’d break up and make up, break up and make up. Sometimes we’d break up just to make up. I guess we’re on a longer break at the moment.

I remember we used to have these incredible fights. Literally. Not one of those fights was credible.

Angela Mu: On-again Off-again Girlfriend of JK Jr

The guy I’m dating now is in finance, which is a nice change.

But the problem with dating is that you’re always looking for the perfect guy. You may be dating someone who’s great, but is he great great? So you’re constantly ranking him in your mind, ranking him against ex-boyfriends. It keeps me up at night. How do you know when to stop? What if you’ve already dated the perfect guy but you blew it on something petty, like accusing him of cheating on you when he didn’t?

I saw this really interesting haiku stream the other day. This nerdy guy was explaining a maths challenge called the Sultan’s Dowry Problem. The princess is looking for a suitor out of one hundred guys. After each date, she can accept him or reject him. If she accepts, that’s it, no more dating, she’s stuck with him for life. But if she rejects a suitor, that’s it too, she can’t change her mind and go back to him. So, theoretically, the more you date, the better sense you get of the dating pool. But if you reject all one hundred guys, that’s really it, you’re gonna be alone forever.

So for each new guy you date there’s huge pressure because you’re constantly asking yourself, should I pick him? Should I pick him? How do I know if he’s the right one?

Well, it turns out there’s a mathematical rule. You need to date thirty-seven guys. Yeah! I forget why.

Oh wait, it’s because after thirty-seven guys, you’ve figured out the quality of the dating pool. So the next guy you date who’s at least as good as the best guy out of that initial thirty-seven, that’s who you should be with. It’s like a real theorem and everything.

Now I just need to find a guy who’s at least as good to me as JK Jr was.


This is an extract from The White Wash by Siang Lu (UQP), available now at your local independent bookseller.