Asian-American Identity (Part II): Call me “China Doll” No More | Haiyun Lu | 5 Min Read

Many people have called me “baby doll” affectionately on different occasions.  I always took it as a compliment for my youthful look.  Now, after traveling down the 170-year history lane of Asian Americans, I have uncovered many negative stereotypes of Asian women in connection with “China Doll”.  It leaves me frozen and numb at the same time.  I don’t want to question my friends’ affection for me.  I also could not stop wondering if I were not Chinese, would they still call me “baby doll”?

After the reference in Part I of this series, I continue asking why, after 20,000 Chinese railroad laborers that took on the backbreaking work and the most dangerous jobs of drilling, explosives, and cutting through tunnels, and connecting the tracks in 1869, that these workers didn’t gain any recognition from mainstream society? It only resulted in the erasure of their contribution, violent massacres, and eventually the one and only immigration law, the Chinese Exclusion Act, prohibiting immigrants solely based on one’s race. Was that because we didn’t look like the white European descendants? 

I keep imagining the times, during Wong Kim Ark’s five-month-long detainment. What was Wong feeling and thinking when he was detained in a tiny room in a steamboat off the coast of San Francisco?  The United States was his birthright home; he often visited his family in China and came back to the States without any problem.  But in 1895, upon his return, he was denied entry; because his parents were Chinese and he looked different from European Americans.  So, was it his facial features?

I was relieved to learn that Wong fought his case all the way to the United States Supreme Court. It was because of him that the United States finally defined the term of birthright citizenship.  It was because of him that the United States finally accepted all children born on U.S. soil, regardless of their parents’ origin, would automatically become U.S. citizens. 

I keep wondering whether Anna May Wong wished to be born a few decades later.  Then she would not have been the first Chinese movie star in Hollywood.  She would not have been limited to only portray the yellow peril on screen.  She would not die “thousands of deaths” in her films as a villainized, dehumanized, demonized, and sexualized Chinese woman that only cared about a white…

Register Now
You may use your member school or partner discount code !!!

Haiyun Lu

Haiyun Lu, a Chinese language teacher at the University School of Milwaukee (WI), is also a writer, blogger, trainer, curriculum designer, meditator, and Co-Founder at Ignite Chinese.