The Asian Hero: Objectification or Equality?

Let me begin this post with a shout out to my current favorite Asian hero:

Glenn from The Walking Dead. *little floaty hearts* He’s smart, thoughtful, cool-headed and conscientious. His heroism is understated, but he always takes care of business. The other alpha males go stomping around puffing their chests out, but Glenn is a badass without all that bluster.

Most importantly, he gets to have sex with girls!

Yeah, I said it. Glenn is depicted as not just a useful guy to have around. Not just a sidekick. (Though he does dress similar to Short Round in Temple of Doom) No, Glenn gets to be a desirable and attractive man. A romantic hero.

It’s about time.

I remember when Jet Li and Chow Yun-Fat were first breaking into mainstream American cinema. As a fan of their Hong Kong films, I went to see their American movies avidly. The two that come to mind are Kiss of the Dragon with Jet Li and The Replacement Killers with Chow Yun-Fat. In both of these films, the two Asian actors played opposite two pretty leading ladies: Bridget Fonda in Kiss and Mira Sorvino in Killers. But unlike any other action film where the leading man and woman are thrown together, there is absolutely no chemistry between the “couples”. I put couples in quotes because the pairs were never written to have any sexual tension or chemistry. Not a single kiss between them.

The lack of any romantic or sexual tension stood out for me. I started trying to take note of this in mainstream American film and it seemed only one Asian actor ever got to kiss a girl and that was Jackie Chan. I wondered why. Was Jackie viewed as non-threatening because of his comic roles? And though he occasionally gets to kiss a lady, he never plays the romantic hero.

At the same time, Caucasian heroes who adopt Asian skills and philosophies always get the girl. Let me ramble off a bit here — I’m not saying these are all quality movies, just examples — Bloodsport, Big Trouble in Little China, The Bodyguard (Kevin Kostner was all into samurai culture and katanas), The Last Samurai…I’m sure I can dig out a whole bunch more in the white ninja/white samurai category.

These references are old ones, but I don’t believe they are outdated. You still don’t often see Asian men in leading roles and when they are, they are allowed to be kung-fu masters, technical wizards or comic relief, but rarely are they sexy, romantic heroes.

The latest whitewashing debacle – the casting for the upcoming Akira movie without a single Asian male lead – seems to continue this trend. Asian males are being denied their hero status.

One of my secret fears when Butterfly Swords was published was that I was playing into this de-sexing of the Asian male by pairing my Chinese heroine with a Caucasian hero. I honestly expected backlash from that–and any that was received was deserved, for I made that choice fully aware of the implications. At the same time, I didn’t want to cast the only strong Chinese man as a villain while the white guy got the girl. For this reason, the depictions of Ai Li’s father and brothers as honorable people, not just flat, small-minded characters intent on marrying her off, were important to me. It was also edifying that many readers recognized that the “villain”, Li Tao, was truly not meant to be despised.

This was one of my issues with Captive Bride by Bonnie Dee, which featured an otherwise believable interracial romance. There were no depictions of good Chinese men, or women for that matter, to counter the pimps and smugglers. This seemed to fall into the generic Fu Manchu villain versus the good Caucasian hero stereotype for me — but I have hero issues, as you can see.

Now this leads into some thoughts I’ve been having about my covers. Three of my covers have featured Asian heroes. Part of me sees that as a triumph…but the other part also has doubts.

In the world of mass market romance, there aren’t many Asian heroes let alone Asian men depicted on the covers. The exceptions being Jade Lee’s The Concubine whose cover models got a replay on cover for The Taming of Mei Lin.

Then Li Tao in The Dragon and the Pearl:

Who gets more of a face in the UK version:

And the latest My Fair Concubine cover showing nobleman Chang Fei Long in armor…complete with Fabio-esque long hair:

The sexuality of my covers has been, for the most part, understated. There are no oil-slicked man-titties. The Taming of Mei Lin has the classic clinch pose with some man chest exposed, but even so it’s done tastefully. The release of The Dragon and the Pearl did prompt a so-called “man candy” post that featured Asian hotties at Heroes and Heartbreakers.

It’s easy to say this is a celebration of Asian masculinity and sexuality. It’s about time.

But then I also wondered, is this a desired outcome? Would Asian men feel they are getting some equal treatment in mainstream media now that they’re starting to be depicted as attractive romantic heroes who actually get the girl?

So my quandary is this: since the Asian male has been repeatedly de-sexed and unmanned in mainstream media, is it considered a favorable representation to be presented as a sex object?


  1. Anna Bowling
    Mar 12, 2012 @ 09:50:59

    Jeannie, I love Glenn for all the reasons stated. Have you been following the graphic novel as well as the TV series? He’s wonderful in that, too, strong, smart, caring, sexy, vulnerable, honorable…yeah, I think he definitely makes the grade.

    Actor Naveen Andrews pushed for the Sayid/Shannon romance on Lost because the Asian male (in this case, Indian actor, Iranian character) doesn’t that often get the girl, and while a Caucasian hero can have a non-Caucasian heroine, it doesn’t often go the other way around, which I found very interesting.

  2. Vicki Essex
    Mar 12, 2012 @ 10:25:09

    Great post, Jeannie. It’s true, there is an utter dearth of Asian heroes who get the girl, especially in the romance genre. I really like that you’re bringing more awesome heroes to life in your books, and I hope Hollywood will follow suit. If you follow, some of these issues are addressed, as well.

  3. Jeannie Lin
    Mar 12, 2012 @ 12:12:34

    @Anna – I bought the graphic novel for my brother though haven’t read it myself. I sometimes read this blog that compares the two after each episode. I’m behind on last night’s episode, so am avoiding spoilers!

    I like how in many ways, Glenn isn’t the typical hero you see but he’s still given a chance to be romantic. Lost has both Sayid and Daniel Dae Kim’s character for strong male leads. It’s true about the Asian male/Caucasian woman pairing being a rare one in media. I think it’s rare in romance too other than Jade Lee’s wonderful Tigress series.

    @Vicki -I really hope to see more authors jumping in with Asian heroes. My books are in such a small little niche. I do occasionally visit I don’t want to get ranty, but it is an important issue.

  4. brenda c
    Mar 12, 2012 @ 23:59:15

    I’m South East Asian (Chinese) and I love romance novels (among other genres), which are mostly written by Caucasians and feature Caucasians for main characters. Honestly I’ve never had a problem with that, since I only read English books and that’s all I ever knew. But then I came across your works, and loved them, and it made me realize how much I’d been craving Asian heroes (ok, Chinese heroes) and how much I’d been sublimating that craving so I wouldn’t be as dissatisfied in my reading.

    I still don’t have any problems reading about white characters of course, but I just wanted to say, thank you for writing these books 🙂

  5. Jeannie Lin
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 09:05:26

    Brenda – The pleasure is all mine! I love reading romance as well and I never had a problem with reading English heroines over and over. But then when I discovered Jade Lee, I realized that romance could go beyond dukes and governesses and ballrooms. Even though everyone snickers about romance and it’s tropes, the truth is the field is wide and open enough for so many different types of stories, if people just dare to write and read them 🙂

  6. Puss in Boots
    Mar 14, 2012 @ 13:16:24

    First, thanks for the part about films. I’ve wanted to post about that for a long time but I’ve never felt I was the right person to do it. Now I can send people here.

    As far as the sex object question, I do feel it’s positive to see Asian men depicted as sex objects, for a couple of reasons.

    The first one is that as you pointed out, every other man gets that treatment, and the desexualizing of Asian men is prevalent in Western movies and television. I noticed and was creeped out back in my teens, before I ever even paid attention to most social justice issues.

    The second reason I think it’s positive is because objectification is not always bad. Our society often seems to stop at objectification, as if that’s all there is, which is the real problem. When you notice someone attractive in real life, and you have no other reason to find them notable, your continued interest is objectifying them–and once you ask them to have coffee and learn more about them, you’re taking your attraction past the objectification and into something more complex and real than an excited limbic system.

    I’d like to believe that if the authors with these sexy covers are skilled writers, the objectification will stop at the cover and become something more when the reader opens the book. That’s when they learn more about the characters and begin to connect with them the way they might with a real person while on a date or at a party.

    Marketing is probably always going to make me a little uncomfortable with how it treats real life human beings, and this is a complex issue anyway because every book/cover is slightly different, and each reader/author is slightly different, but in general I feel like equal objectification is better than desexualization in pop culture.

    As a side note, the rising popularity of Japanese anime in Western culture has created a space in the next generation’s perception for Asian male heroes who get the girl (or the boy). Visual kei comes to mind–that’s almost purely objectification. Their sexuality is so important it supercedes whether or not they can even sing 😉 The interesting (and positive, to me!) thing about the Japanese male heroes who kids are used to seeing is that they retain heir sexuality without falling prey to the traditional western measurement of masculinity (or the traditional measurements of masculinity in Japan, either). So what we’re seeing is popular fictional heroes as well as pop stars who are more fluid in their gender expression, but retaining their apparent virility. Kind of awesome! I look forward to seeing how it affects us. The kids who grew up with it are already graduating college and having families, so I might live to find out.

    (And a disclaimer, I’m not any kind of scholar on the subject–it’s just one I find interesting, so if I’m grotesquely wrong in any of my assertions, I welcome a correction.)

  7. Jeannie Lin
    Mar 14, 2012 @ 15:04:14

    @Puss – wonderful observations about Western/Eastern views of masculinity & sexuality as well as new trends where sexuality is more “fluid”. And I agree…there will always be marketing visuals which are slick and fantasized, but without any representation there is only a vacuum where Asian heroes are minimized. We can only hope that exposure leads to further exploration and is at least a path to gaining more understanding.

    I didn’t comment on how in the remake of the Green Hornet, Kato’s character was given center stage in a reversal of the original franchise. Of course, he was exactly as I mentioned – a kung fu fighting, technical wizard, sidekick.

    Thanks for the comments and I’m no scholar either! It’s good to discuss these things as consumers.

  8. JohnD
    Mar 14, 2012 @ 20:28:41

    It’s interesting how you write all this yet, you’ve said before that you like the works of Amy Tan. Her entire oeuvre vilifies Asian men.

  9. Jeannie Lin
    Mar 15, 2012 @ 09:19:03

    @JohnD – You’ve said this before and you make an interesting point. At least from my perspective, I don’t feel Amy Tan purposefully vilifies the Asian male, rather her theme is the oppression of women in Chinese society, giving voice to their unspoken struggle, and highlighting the quiet, hidden empowerment they’ve achieved through forming relationships with each other. That being said, since the power differential is important to this struggle, there are Asian men who are oppressive husbands depicted quite commonly in her work, but I think this is a statement of how women were often trapped in marriage – their freedoms dictated by first father, then husband. The “evil” mother in law is probably just as vilified in this sense. Along with her depiction of oppressors, she also depicts men in positive roles, but her work is women-centric so the men do not emerge as heroes. The woman’s journey is the key to her stories — that doesn’t necessarily undermine or damage the Asian male — it’s her storytelling platform. That’s just my take.

    I don’t advocate that there are no Asian villains ever depicted. That would be rather skewed. What I object to is the view is the stereotype that all Chinese are corrupt and evil and that they are defeated by Caucasians who represent justice, order, and morality. I do feel that if anyone relied solely on Amy Tan for their view of Chinese culture, they’d come to feel that women experienced nothing but sorrow, which is not true and I don’t feel that was her intent. Similarly, anyone relying solely on my books would have a highly idealized and fantasy version of Tang Dynasty China and that love easily transcended boundaries of race and class. Also not true.

  10. Victoria Dixon
    Mar 17, 2012 @ 19:42:49

    I agree with you on Tan, btw. Not that my opinion matters. LOL

    I haven’t seen any of the Walking Dead as we are t.v. free and always behind on the curve. Any t.v. we watch is rented from the library, so it has to be recommended to us first, by which time everyone else has rented the show, so we have to wait…. You get the idea. I will definitely pick up the series. It sounds great.

  11. Jeannie Lin
    Mar 18, 2012 @ 14:05:24

    @Victoria – I was a big fan of Season 1. The episodes were very well written and hooky. Season 2 dragged for me, but still entertaining enough with a few really compelling characters. A bit gory and bleak at times, as one might expect in a post-apocalyptic sort of story.

  12. Asian guy
    Mar 18, 2012 @ 20:13:04

    As an Asian man who has been turned down many, many times by Caucasian and Asian women who have grown up to be brainwashed by stereotypes, I think it’s very important to feature Asian men as human beings, including references to their sexuality, i.e. the same as everyone else.

    I remember hearing two women talking about a brown character (I forget what ethnicity/nationality exactly) in a romance scene in a film, and how she was so moved by that one character that she suddenly started to find brown men attractive. Since this role has been 95% white men (and 5% black men as sexual stereotypes), the vast majority of women in the western world associate romance and sex exclusively with these skin colors.

    Since most western women have never seen an Asian man kiss a girl (in real life or in film), they just can’t fathom us being romantic or sexual.

  13. David
    Mar 18, 2012 @ 22:31:31

    Hi Jeannie, Thank you for an excellent post about the plight of Asian men in mainstream media. I work in film, and I can tell you first hand how hard it is to have an Asian lead, let alone an Asian lead that kisses a white woman. I think studios are fearful mainstream (white) audience would not be receptive to it. Kudos to you for being more open-minded

  14. Chuck Chung
    Mar 18, 2012 @ 23:45:00

    All critical race/media theory aside, I love it when I’m objectified.

    Take chicks with weird Asian guy fetishes. It’s silly and shallow and a bit creepy and makes me feel slightly less like a real human being, but hey, it’s a refreshing change of pace from “Sorry, I’m just not into Asian guys.” And it gets me laid.

  15. MaSir Jones
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 02:34:35

    Jeannie, I have yet to read any of your romance novels, but now that I’ve discovered you, I am definitely going to pick up at least one of the books you mentioned. I’ll hide the cover. Haha. My God, I was wondering if there were any Asian-American female authors who would write a novel displaying Asian men as multi-dimensional characters, with one of those dimensions being sexual and seductive. Yes, unicorns do exist!

    I’ve mentioned this in my blog before, and I’m completely ok with breaking Asian stereotypes, even if they’re ones that society might be frown upon such as objectification of Asian males in order to demonstrate that people of all colors are different and shouldn’t be predisposed to playing trite and stereotypical roles. Your craft is equivalent to Jeremy Lin in reshaping Asian-America’s identity, but that doesn’t mean that it’s any less of importance. In fact, I would argue that you work has a greater impact, because it shows 1) Asian-American women do support Asian-American men 2) the heroine can be Asian AND sexy as opposed to those two notions being mutually exclusive 99% of the time in America and 3) it encourages Asian men to adapt and play such a role in real life and have women of all colors objectify them even if it is fictional like the majority of Hollywood movies.

    I even wrote a blog where Asian-American men get shafted even in literature simply due to the severe scarcity of Asian men as romantic leads in literature. Now I can proudly say I’ve found one that “gets it” and sincerely understands our struggle with such a elementary concept – Asian men are men too and they are sexy.

  16. MaSir Jones
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 02:46:01

    I should probably re-read what I post at 2am. Lots of mistakes but hope you get my drift.

  17. Chelle Ang
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 07:47:31

    I’ve always thought Asian men were sexy and romantic, but that could just be because of the ‘melting pot’ island country I was brought up in. However Jeannie, has broached a good subject and looking at my vast movie library, there’s a lot to back up her thoughts.

    I’m one of those that shunned romance novels for years and only just returned because of Butterfly Swords. Not only are Jeannie’s covers beautiful, they truly stand out from any other book on my shelves or in the bookstores. And they actually depict the characters within the pages, FINALLY.

    Anyone walking around with the idea that Asian males are not sexy must need glasses. The age old saying, ‘silent river run deep,’ applies to the Asian man. I for one think it’s high time that Asian men be brought into the romantic/hero fold. Who wouldn’t want the guy to fight for you then kiss you? I know I do. So heck yes, it’s time the Asian male be presented as a sex object.

  18. Jeannie Lin
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 08:34:13

    @Asian guy: Women tend to find a guy more attractive when another woman also shows interest in him. I’m sure there’s some biological/evolutionary reason for this…or maybe it’s a social measuring stick. In any case, when Maggie from Walking Dead showed interest in Glenn, I have to admit it was the first time I thought…hey, he’s not just a cool guy, he’s pretty cute too.

    The effect of mass media is just a widespread, more pervasive extension of this.

  19. Jeannie Lin
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 08:38:15

    @David – Ah, so it’s not just my imagination! I hope that Hollywood is opening their minds a bit too with the examples that we’ve seen in Lost. It’s sad that we can collectively count the examples on one hand, but increased representation and familiarity is what it takes to break the barriers.

    You made me think of an interview I saw with Ken Watanabe about Memoirs of a Geisha. He said he felt a lot of pressure playing the part of the Chairman because women all over the world loved the book. He had the pressure of filling a romantic role that would appeal to women across many cultures.

  20. Jeannie Lin
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 08:39:42

    @Chuck — Ha ha! Don’t sell yourself short. Are they all truly fetishists? How many gals say things like “I’m really into blondes”? Why not “I’m really into Asian guys?”

  21. Jeannie Lin
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 08:44:37

    @MaSir – No worries! Your message comes through loud and clear. I just love that Jeremy Lin (no relation, btw) is re-defining the view of Asian Americans as athletes. As an icon even non-Asians want to emulate. It’s weird how a single face can do that — look at what Connie Chung did for newscasters.

    Your comment about Asian males in literature made me think back — even in mainstream literary novels they don’t appear as protagonists/heroes very often. I mean there’s literature that’s cordoned off as Asian lit – but I’m thinking of literature that’s more pervasive and widespread. What’s in high school/college reading lists, what’s on bookshelves and bestseller lists. Anyhoo – I’d love to read that blog if you could link it!

  22. Jeannie Lin
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 08:47:22

    @Chelle – In the area you grew up in, did the media images include more Asian men as well? Or was it just the population that was more mixed?

    I grew up in SoCal which is pretty much a melting pot, but even then I think the effect of media representation on mindset can’t be ignored.

    Hmm…I’m sure there’s an interesting sociological study in there somewhere…

  23. Thalia
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 22:54:09

    I found this post via Angry Asian Man, and I admit, I’ve been thinking about this a lot, in general, the context being racialized presentations of sexuality in popular culture.

    This post focused my question on a topic I’ve been debating with friends lately – I’m a South Asian female and I often find East Asian men attractive but at what point does a ‘liking’ or ‘preference’ cross the line toward objectification or fetishization?

    People often talk about the fetishization of (both South and East) Asian women and sometimes about the fetishization of black men and the reasoning is pretty clear in those cases. But when the gender/racial/ethnic group is normally desexualized and moves toward a sexualization, how do we make those same distinctions?

  24. Tuesday News and Deals: DABWAHA Updates, Asian Sexuality and Deals.
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 08:02:14

    […] loved this piece by Jeannie Lin on the issue of whether the sexualization of the Asian male is objectification or equality.  I […]

  25. Rebecca (Another One)
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 09:25:15

    I’m going back to the comment you made Caucasian males and non-Caucasion females being more prevalent than the reverse. I think in a racist and sexist society, where males are considered to be stronger and need to protect the little women, that extends to protecting the little white woman. Thomas Jefferson may had children with one of his slaves, and that was acceptable, but in 1955 a black teenager, Emmett Till, whistled at a white woman and was beaten to death. These are obviously extreme examples and the civil rights movement has changed things, but I wonder if a little bit of protecting the white woman still remains.

  26. Carolyn Jewel
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 10:00:33

    Jennie: I am a HUGE fan of Jet Li and Jackie Chan. I think there might be one Jet Li film of any version where he kisses any woman. From what I’ve heard that is in part a conscious decision on Li’s part. (But maybe he was just saying that?) Kiss of the Dragon was a movie that had loads of tension but in the scene where Fonda is taking care of his injured arm, Li doesn’t even take off his shirt and it was awkward in the movie. I remember wondering why the director had allowed such a ham handed scene. In Li’s much earlier Bodyguard from Beijing (The Defender for the US version) the heroine is Asian. Again, not even a kiss. Romeo Must Die, Li’s first US film, same thing, with an African American heroine. The set up is there, but never explored, and that’s with any ethnicity of the heroine.

    In fact, in all the martial arts movies I’ve seen there’s zero to very little sex. Chan’s movies are an exception. He’s starkers in at least one. But Chan takes more control over his films, too, and I think he’s more clueful than most about what women would like to see in such movies.

    So, I think there are several things going on and one of them is unquestionably racism. But my impression is that movie makers in Hong Kong and the US are ignorant about the female audience. I’m not qualified to speak about cultural differences between the US and Hong Kong because I’m not Asian and have never been to Hong Kong. I only watch the movies….

    I wrote a short story with a hero of Tibetan extraction. I needed a cover and I spent more than a month looking for stock art of a sexy Asian man suitable for a romance cover. I found one months and months later. Why? Why is it so hard to find stock art that isn’t an Asian man with a gadget? (That’s a rhetorical question.)

    The pages of a Romance are, as usual, years ahead of what’s being represented on TV and in film. A lot of authors are writing heroes and heroines of any number of combinations and have been for quite some time. Sadly, covers are often whitewashed or, for self-pubbed work, the stock art just isn’t there.

    For me, the problem of how to interpret the presence of non-white romance heroes and heroines is one that’s fraught in every way. But we need the discussion.

  27. Jeannie Lin
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 10:20:30

    @Thalia – That is a very interesting question about the line between preference and fetishization. I think the key is whether the external features of a person and stereotypes surrounding them overshadow the ability to look beyond them. I don’t think it’s fetishization to prefer to date Asian men because you find their features attractive. Everyone has certain preferences. But when people assign automatic traits and dehumanize those men, perhaps that is fetishization?

    Well, that wasn’t very clear at all, was it? The de-sexing of Asian males is damaging, but I was wondering if going to the other side, objectifying them as sex objects, does any good or is it a case of two wrongs?

  28. Jeannie Lin
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 10:23:37

    @Rebecca – I think you may have a good point there. Though Carolyn has pointed out that Jet Li’s asexuality seems to apply in mainstream film regardless of the race of his leading lady — and such a shame, he’s so intense and quietly alpha.

    If you extend the paradigm across all races, I think men of many cultures have no problems dating outside their race, but feel protective of who their sisters, daughters date.

  29. Jeannie Lin
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 10:27:23

    @Carolyn – I wondered myself if Asian film in general was less sexual in nature. At least in films without explicit material, i.e. Lust, Caution. I know my mum was shocked to see overt kissing in Hong Kong film a couple years back and she attributed it to the influence of American film. At the same time, though there might be less on screen displays of affection, there was no shortage of obvious romance and sexual tension between characters.

    And I’m with you on the shortage of availability of attractive stock footage.

  30. Suleikha Snyder
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 11:14:55

    I’m still bitter, all these years later, that Jet Li and Aaliyah never got to kiss in Romeo Must Die, and I’ve always been frustrated by how Asian men are portrayed as sexually non-threatening, passive beings in media. Sure, they can kick ass, but there’s no sexual threat with it, no encroaching on the virility of the western male.

    The Slanted Screen is a solid documentary about the treatment of Asian men in film, and a lot of the concepts discussed are still relevant today.

    at what point does a ‘liking’ or ‘preference’ cross the line toward objectification or fetishization?

    Thalia, I think when you stop thinking of people as individuals and start thinking of them as a collection of traits related only to their status as a minority. When it doesn’t matter that there’s a person under the bronze skin and behind those coal-black eyes. When it’s all about the Exotic Other being hot rather than, “Wow, this guy is revving my engine something fierce because HE’s hot!”

  31. Jeannie Lin
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 11:55:33

    @Suleikha – Thanks for the recommendation for the Slanted Screen. I’ll see if I can somehow get my hands on it.

    Also thanks for the response about fetishization. I was trying to get at something like that, but couldn’t get my head around it.

  32. Suleikha Snyder
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 12:01:45

    I caught it on IFC or AMC a while back and found it very thought-provoking!

    Re: fetishization…I really want to do a panel about it at a convention some day. I think a discussion of equality vs. fetishization in romance fiction could really be beneficial!

  33. Jeannie Lin
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 12:33:39

    @Suleikha – Have you checked out the Popular Culture Association? They have a romance track. Too late for the conference this year, but perhaps in the future:

  34. Violetta Vane
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 12:47:52

    Great post! I’d just like to chime in from an m/m romance perspective. I think there’s definitely an issue in m/m of Asian men being a) underrepresented and/or b) fetishized. But they’re there. They’re definitely there.

    The influence of yaoi is really strong, for good and for evil. I’m Japanese-American but I’m not really into it, myself.

    My co-writer and I have a book coming out from Loose Id in June called Hawaiian Gothic. One hero is a Hawaiian-born Filipino-American MMA fighter; the other is a native Hawaiian surfer. They have a tormented friends-to-lovers relationship, a paranormal quest based on Hawaiian mythology, and a lot of hot sex, some of which involves wrestling moves.

    We do touch on racism against gay Asian men, but decided to keep a very, very light touch. Since there are almost no white people at all in the book, that gave us the freedom to create three-dimensional AA/PI characters all over the moral scale.

    In terms of M/F romance, I’ve been reading AM/BW books, some of which are fantastic. I highly recommend “Gold Mountain” which is the story of a Chinese railroad worker and a black restaurant owner who fall in love in the old west.

  35. Jeannie Lin
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 13:02:36

    @Violette – I’m not as familiar with Asian male representation in the M/M genre, so thanks for chiming in.

    I’ve heard other recommendations for Gold Mountain — will have to check it out.

  36. Suleikha Snyder
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 13:08:11

    Jeannie – I haven’t! Thank you for that link. It’s worth looking into.

    Violetta – Since there are almost no white people at all in the book, that gave us the freedom to create three-dimensional AA/PI characters all over the moral scale.

    I’m having a lot of fun doing that in my own works as well! And not only does the moral scale get to shift, but so does the visual/narrative scale, because you don’t necessarily have to write your characters being viewed through a predominantly white gaze. i.e. An AA/PI or South Asian character is not going to look markedly different to the people surrounding them.

  37. Thalia
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 23:27:28

    A lot of responses, which is awesome! I’m doing a graduate course on race and this topic has come up, but only briefly – I don’t think I fetishize (personally, although maybe I shouldn’t be allowed to judge my own attitudes subjectively?) since I don’t [seem to] have an exclusive preference for any particular race or ethnicity but it is interesting to examine why we may find a racial or ethnic type attractive – there are huge intersectionalities between race and sexual politics.

    @Jeannie Lin

    Well, that wasn’t very clear at all, was it? The de-sexing of Asian males is damaging, but I was wondering if going to the other side, objectifying them as sex objects, does any good or is it a case of two wrongs?

    I don’t think my question was all that clear either – but I was trying to inarticulately take your question a step further and ask if traditionally desexualised automatically become fetishized in the attempt or movement toward sexualising them? In answer to your question, though, I tend to feel that if they’re viewed solely as sex objects (which I would argue might well qualify as fetishization) then it’s an inclination toward two two wrongs because it’s not establishing them as people, as individuals, as fully developed characters.

    @Suleikha Snyder

    When it’s all about the Exotic Other being hot rather than, “Wow, this guy is revving my engine something fierce because HE’s hot!”

    I think I agree – I say ‘think’ just because I’ve been doing a lot of reading on race and sexual politics and examining why you like who you like is a difficult and long and arduous process of reflection and deconstruction. It’s been interesting to, in classes, figure out where the line is around cultural appropriation and ‘othering’ and just a basic enjoyment/appreciation which applies to culture, yes, but can be extrapolated to sexual politics – if white men prefer Chinese women, exclusively for all intents and purposes, does it have the same impact in reverse circumstances? Is it okay as long as they date them and form relationships that go beyond the superficial? Or is it problematic regardless?

    These aren’t questions anyone has to answer but they’re things that have come up in my reading on sexual and racial politics and in class discussions and I’m always interested in people’s thoughts!

  38. MaSir Jones
    Mar 21, 2012 @ 01:58:19


    Here’s a blog that I posted on a list of authors besides Amy Tan where the Asian female’s main love interest is a white male. Here is a link to the blog.

    Also, “The Slanted Screen” is on YouTube

  39. Jeannie Lin
    Mar 21, 2012 @ 07:44:40

    Thanks MaSir, I’ll check out the link and YouTube. Apparently there’s a Vietnamese restaurant called the slanted door that’s Google blocking me.

  40. Miss D
    Mar 21, 2012 @ 10:58:43

    Great commentary. I am still bitter about “Romeo Must Die” cause Aaliyah & Jet Li were scorching together. Anyhoo, I don’t know if I’d go with favorable but it’s a step, at least, away from the total de-sexualization of Asian men. I really do feel for how Asian men are portrayed seeing as how I’m a Black female and we don’t get a much better portrayal.

    I did read a book where the male lead was Asian-American and the female lead Black that was enjoyable. It’s called ‘Steady’ by Ruthie Robinson if you’r interested.

  41. Jeannie Lin
    Mar 22, 2012 @ 12:13:09

    @MissD –

    I attended a panel with Brenda Jackson at RT 2010 and was surprised how interested Black women readers were interested in seeing Asian heroes. It might have something to do with what you said, both groups being marginalized. It might have something to do with Black women recognizing and being vocal about Asian men being attractive. 🙂

    The one book I remember reading with an Asian male/Black female pairing was in the Lotus Blossom chronicles by Jax Cassidy. I really enjoyed it — her hero was the kind of quietly powerful man who can be a strong lead without being overbearing and plus it takes place in Los Angeles, my home town.

  42. Gaby
    Mar 24, 2012 @ 03:14:14

    it would be annoying when arleny all the hottest girls of your people actually go out and seek caucasian males to start families with due to social privallage, I think the government promotes white male/asian female couples because theyre always on tv dating adds etc, Some punk put out the stereotype that asians are submissive who will do anything a white man says just because hes white? its retarded to me, hollywood is trying to convince asian women they MUST have a white husband to succeed.:@

  43. Tracey Livesay
    Mar 25, 2012 @ 18:57:09

    This is an issue that a lot of minorities face: when we are sexualized as white people are, is it objectification or equality? And i think the answer is always the same: it depends. It’s not a clear cut issue. Context, point of origin, forum, all of these must be taken into account. I can’t give you clear cut rules. It’s like Supreme Court Justice Stewart and pornography: I know it when I see it.

    I will say that my latest Asian actor crush is Rain from Ninja Assassin. Oh my goodness, he is beautiful! And I DO objectify him! 🙂

  44. Jeannie Lin
    Mar 26, 2012 @ 07:07:08

    @Gaby – I wouldn’t go so far as to say the government is promoting it, but I do agree it is a very common pairing in media. There are many Asian females who do date/marry Caucasian males — myself being one of them — and so some of the media is indeed selling to that audience. I remember seeing an Amazon Mom ad that featured an Asian woman and a Caucasian man and smiling.

    So there definitely is a fine line here — I’m not criticizing that media shows portrayals of interracial couples. In fact, I think they should. Glenn and Maggie are such a couple. But if they’re going to show white men with Asian women, then it’s inexcusable that they don’t show Asian men as romantic heroes as well.

  45. Tracey’s Seal of Approval: Rain, never go away! « Tracey Livesay's Blog- Mimosas at Midnight
    Mar 26, 2012 @ 07:08:34

    […] The Asian Hero: Objectification or Equality- Rain, I’m objectifying you!! […]

  46. Jeannie Lin
    Mar 26, 2012 @ 07:11:43

    @Tracey – Definitely good points. You made me think of a comment on the Dear Author website where someone said maybe a little objectification isn’t always bad — it could be a first step to familiarity and acceptance. So if more women get to drool over pictures of men like Rain, it’s a step towards thinking of Asian men in a way they’re currently denied — and eventually that leads to a fuller picture — even if for now it’s only drooling over him as a sex object.

    If we think that media representations are often two dimensional and are objectifying by nature, yet we agree that more media representation and more importantly, more varied media representations is a desired outcome.

  47. Jeannie Lin | Award-winning historical romance author
    May 28, 2012 @ 06:07:21

    […] found an interesting comment on my reflection on depictions of the Asian male and sexuality on Tumblr: This is an interesting, if not confusing, read. While I’m not familiar with Lin’s […]

  48. hchalice
    Sep 05, 2012 @ 00:12:40

    Hi Jeannie, you may find these forum posts informative on media representation from an Asian male perspective: (especially the media portrayals and television categories).

  49. Lindsay
    Feb 10, 2013 @ 13:46:57

    What a great post! I’m working on a romance series that has an asian male as a romantic lead. I’m excited but nervous, wanting to do him justice and make him a person, not a stereotype. I love romance but it can be such a white world and it is time for the genre to be more reflective of our diverse world. One character at a time, I guess. What a wonderful, thoughtful discussion. I look forward to reading the suggested books (and yours!) too. 😉

  50. Andreas Ahrlund
    Dec 27, 2013 @ 20:46:25

    Honestly dudette, youve got to start watching actual Chinese movies, not the ones by american directors with asian actors-

    Take “Hero” with Jet Li for example, ALL the female roles are BOTH love interests, as well as active heroes and drive the plot forward, as well as making decisions.

    Even though they have a love-part to play, the characthers are just as important as the male ones.