Are the Chinese stereotyped on British TV?

As I wind down after another weekend of relaxation and recreation, I’m looking forward to this weeks episode of Sherlock Holmes. Brilliant dialogue, quite faithful to the original (I loved the way that modern Holmes deduces Watson is an Afghanistan veteran, almost exactly like the original), even if the plots are a little thin.
However, what struck me, about last weeks episode (The Blind Banker) was the villains were Chinese smugglers. Why is this a problem, you may ask? In itself it isn’t, and I must admit I’d given it no thought myself previously, but during the General Election a group of Chinese actors had asked for more pressure to have meatier Chinese roles on TV or even the theatre. Not stereotypes.
Is the problem that bad? Well the next day after Sherlock Holmes, the current BBC Radio 5 Live advert for the new football season was on, and the Chinese character was a take away owner, celebrating in his shop. It makes you realise that actually almost all Chinese characters on British TV are:
·        An illegal immigrant
·        Linked to the criminal underworld
·        Or a take away owner.
This despite the evidence that Chinese students in the UK are amongst the highest achieving academic group, many working Chinese are doctors, lawyers (not to stereotype here either), as well as bankers, IT experts, fashion designers, teachers, graphic designers basically any job you can think of that exists. Yet there is none of this on British TV.
US TV, although not perfect, has been ahead of the game and much more reflective of its society. I’m not sure why this is, but Star Trek (multiple series), Qunicy, Grey’s Anatomy, Lost and Heroes at least have more mainstream Oriental characters than we see in the UK productions. There are more oriental TV presenters now with Gok Wan and Alexa Chung, but roles for actors, no. 
What is the solution? Legislation or education? I’m not sure there is a simple answer, but I’d like to think that casting directors or scriptwriters aren’t deliberately ignoring the Chinese community, but more interaction with them and producers could do a lot to change how the Chinese are represented on British TV.
Maybe a place to start could be the BBC, which actually has a public remit. If it’s being reviewed for value for money and what it should deliver, then let’s review it properly and ensure its representative of the UK population in its production values.

9 thoughts on “Are the Chinese stereotyped on British TV?

  1. I agree – off the top of my head I can’t think of any Chinese UK TV character who isn’t associated in some way with one of the stereotypes you mentioned. Even the far more un-PC Australia seemed to have a good selection of regular oriental characters (including the Nepalese Dichen Lachman who went from appearing on Neighbours to find fame in the USA show Dollhouse).

    However I would say that education would be a far better way forward than legislation. In my opinion, any legislation when it comes to creative content can only be restrictive and detrimental. Far better to increase peoples’ understandings through education, and the rest should follow naturally.


  2. Just been talking to a friend about this post. Here are his thoughts:

    “On Sherlock – he seems to ignore the ‘Yellow Peril’ aspect of Victorian crime fiction – contemporary dramatisation was an attempt at moderning Yellow Peril in a more PC way”

    • Hadn’t gone through my Sherlock books for that episode, but I did for this weeks. Even found the page where he’s bored, disappointed he didn’t shoort ERII on the wall with his gun (he does VR in the books…).

      It was a wider point really. I agree with education, but it could take years. A bit like the Lib Dems wondering if we should have positive discrimination to attempt to get more women and BME MPs. I’m not for it, but it’ll be a glacial change if we don’t do something more pro-active.

  3. Have you sent a copy of this letter to the BBC and papers like the Guardian? I`m sure it would be published. The other problem is that China itself is held up as a possible(probable?) nuclear threat and therefore a reason for retaining Trident or similar. Even David Cameron fell for that one. Go for it, Phil.

  4. If you don’t make a complaint, don’t be surprised if this stuff keeps happening. And if we express no solidarity with each other we’ll sink as well.

    I have responded to you supportively, Philip, at the Dimsum thread and would appreciate a response from you regarding the long-running fight that is going on by some of us in the front line. It’s all very well bleating about the issues but we don’t unite, we’re stuffed.

    Current fight with BBC over Fu Manchu radio programme still live:

    Sherlock sinophobia article 1st August:


    • Madam Miaow – apologies I’ve been a bit busy and not been checking my blog (bad blogger). Completely agree we should do something. Actually rather than complain individually lets do it collectively. Collect names and actually meet with people from the BBC, Jeremy Hunt etc. I’ll drop you an e-mail to discuss.

  5. It’s deliberate. Very. South Asians barely get a look in, let alone Far Easterners. In this day and age of PCness, TV producers don’t need to say where their preferences lie in who to choose for their shows-white, sized 8/10 teens with a spray tan and iron straight hair alot of our girls naturally possess. The formula is old and tired and really dumbs down viewers. I have just noticed on the Harry Potter film for example, Cho Chang (who I am sorry to say, is not your example of a hot Chinese babe like she was described in the book) isn’t listed anywhere in the main credits despite appearing more than her fellow white actors. Our representation on UK media TV is absolute rubbish and limits to stereotypes fed to people as thick as doodoo. Tosh on Torchwood was a stereotype too-geeky, timid, ‘quitely’ confident, before they killed her off and wasn’t the most memorable of characters neither. Oh and the accent? Don’t even get me started.

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