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Techno-Orientalism: Imagining Asia in Speculative Fiction, History, and Media

Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    What will the future look like? To judge from many speculative fiction films and books, fromBlade RunnertoCloud Atlas, the future will be full of cities that resemble Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Shanghai, and it will be populated mainly by cold, unfeeling citizens who act like robots.Techno-Orientalisminvestigates the phenomenon of imagining Asia and Asians in hypo- or hyper-technological terms in literary, cinematic, and new media representations, while critically examining the stereotype of Asians as both technologically advanced and intellectually primitive, in dire need of Western consciousness-raising.

    The collection's fourteen original essays trace the discourse of techno-orientalism across a wide array of media, from radio serials to cyberpunk novels, from Sax Rohmer's Dr. Fu Manchu toFirefly. Applying a variety of theoretical, historical, and interpretive approaches, the contributors consider techno-orientalism a truly global phenomenon. In part, they tackle the key question of how these stereotypes serve to both express and assuage Western anxieties about Asia's growing cultural influence and economic dominance. Yet the book also examines artists who have appropriated techno-orientalist tropes in order to critique racist and imperialist attitudes.

    Techno-Orientalismis the first collection to define and critically analyze a phenomenon that pervades both science fiction and real-world news coverage of Asia. With essays on subjects ranging from wartime rhetoric of race and technology to science fiction by contemporary Asian American writers to the cultural implications of Korean gamers, this volume offers innovative perspectives and broadens conventional discussions in Asian American Cultural studies.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-7065-5
    Subjects: Film Studies, Sociology, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Technologizing Orientalism: An Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)

    A century has passed since British author Sax Rohmer introduced the character Dr. Fu Manchu, whose particular brand of Eastern mysticism wedded with Western science both terrorized and titillated readers and audiences alike. Appearing in 1912, the character is perhaps one of the earliest and most potent instances of techno-Orientalist expression. A figure of unnatural, unknowable peril who must be kept from acquiring knowledge lest it be used against the Western subject, Dr. Fu Manchu is at once brilliant and technologically challenged. In one part of the serial, Dr. Fu Manchu plots to strengthen China by kidnapping European engineers, suggesting...

  5. Part I Iterations and Instantiations

    • 1 Demon Courage and Dread Engines: America’s Reaction to the Russo-Japanese War and the Genesis of the Japanese Invasion Sublime
      (pp. 23-39)

      In January 1907 Theodore Roosevelt found himself embroiled in a foreign relations crisis with Japan, and San Francisco was the epicenter. The city was still recovering from the great quake and fires of 1906 and was mired in one of the Gilded Age’s worst political scandals, with many of its leaders indicted. Within the maelstrom, anti-Japanese labor groups and politicians called for the segregation of the city’s schools and a total ban on Japanese immigration. As Americans became consumed with the so-called “Japanese question,” the Japanese government cried foul; in the ensuing months, rumors of war spread through both nations...

    • Chapter 2 “Out of the Glamorous, Mystic East”: Techno-Orientalism in Early Twentieth-Century U.S. Radio Broadcasting
      (pp. 40-51)

      Asian subjects abound in early twentieth-century U.S. radio programs. From Fu Manchu and the Dragon Lady to Omar Khayyam and the Indo-Asian Consortium, stories of “yellow peril” and the exotic Orient played on the listening public’s cravings for adventure, excitement, and international affairs. Programs such asBuck Rogers,Terry and the Pirates,Omar, the Wizard of Persia,Fu Manchu, and dozens of others serialized in fifteen-to thirty-minute time slots performed the affairs of rational, modern U.S. whites against the imagined cultural and technological inferiority of the Asian Other. These and other such programs, concomitant with U.S. global expansion, flatten Near...

    • Chapter 3 Looking Backward, from 2019 to 1882: Reading the Dystopias of Future Multiculturalism in the Utopias of Asian Exclusion
      (pp. 52-63)

      Both technology and Orientalism shared a common investment in realizing a sustainable future. They converged at efforts to turn the problems of difference into nonissues or even perhaps the very rationale for expansion and development. In making cases for or against these futures, utopian/dystopian texts are test balloons for measuring possible destinies for the present.¹ Is that envisioned future one of, say, the orderly liberation of the oppressed and benighted or a chaotic hegemony of inequality and exploitation? The place of Asia in that future becomes an index of success or failure. Is the West’s future more Asian or less...

    • Chapter 4 Queer Excavations: Technology, Temporality, Race
      (pp. 64-75)

      London, circa 1855: Edward “Ned” Mallory, after spending an evening being entertained by Hetty Edwardes, a prostitute, has just walked out onto the streets of Whitechapel, to find the city utterly changed overnight. London’s on the verge of a spectacular breakdown, overrun by ne’er-do-wells of all stripes; the skies are clouded over by a miasmatic toxic haze, emanating from the expansion of London’s Underground; beneath this (or above it?), time itself stutters—not just a beat or two, but eons—and fitfully collapses. Viewing the scene before him, Mallory sees, in his “mind’s eye,” the “very sky” that “the Land...

    • Chapter 5 I, Stereotype: Detained in the Uncanny Valley
      (pp. 76-88)

      In an article titledBukimi no Tani(Uncanny Valley; 1970), the Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori posited a theory to explain how humans react to humanoid artifacts. According to Mori, humans tend to respond with increasing sympathy to a series of increasingly humanlike entities until a certain point (someplace around 85 percent humanlike) whereupon the aesthetic response drops abruptly from sympathy to profound revulsion—before ascending again (toward 100 percent humanlike) to create what looks, when graphically delineated, like a precipitous valley. For this reason, Mori’s theory has come to be known as the “uncanny valley.” Mori’s theory is usually applied...

    • Chapter 6 The Mask of Fu Manchu, Son of Sinbad, and Star Wars IV: A New Hope: Techno-Orientalist Cinema as a Mnemotechnics of Twentieth-Century U.S.-Asian Conflicts
      (pp. 89-100)

      Techno-Orientalist cinema is an “mnemotechnics,” or “memory technology,” of U.S.-Asian relations. I regard techno-Orientalist films as texts that have recorded and transmitted, from the beginning of the twentieth century to the present, the multifaceted ways that Americans have perceived and negotiated the deep, complex interconnections of Asia and America. Technologies that communicate memory from generation to generation are technologies of “cultural memory.” Jan Assman states that “cultural memory” comprises memories of events experienced by a community that are “maintained through cultural formation (texts, rites, monuments)” (Assman and Czaplicka 129), such that members of the community who were not alive when...

    • Chapter 7 Racial Speculations: (Bio)technology, Battlestar Galactica, and a Mixed-Race Imagining
      (pp. 101-112)

      Today, you can choose the race of your child. Of course, one may argue that we have always been able to choose our children’s race via geographic, religious, economic, and cultural sanctions to determine with whom one is willing (and not willing) to have sexual relations. But, with advancements in reproductive technology, a woman today can not only choose the race of her child but also gestate a baby not of her (or her partner’s) racial background. As much as these advancements may evidence the progress of our growing multicultural and multiracial world, the reality of the new reproductive choices...

    • Chapter 8 Never Stop Playing: StarCraft and Asian Gamer Death
      (pp. 113-124)

      A 2012 television advertisement for the handheld Sony PlayStation Vita depicts a young white hipster playing his PlayStation 3 console in his apartment. He has just hit a home run in the video gameMLB: The Show.

      Hard rock music plays in the background of the commercial while a male voice-over intones, “It’s a problem as old as gaming itself: Stay home and just keep playing or get to work on time so your coffee breath boss doesn’t ride you like a rented scooter.” The music swells as the man picks up his Vita and continues playing baseball while walking...

    • Chapter 9 “Home Is Where the War Is”: Remaking Techno-Orientalist Militarism on the Homefront
      (pp. 125-136)

      Against the backdrop of some of the largest ever joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises in the spring of 2011, Kaos Studios releasedHomefront, a firstperson shooter video game set in the near future where players fight North Korean occupation forces on the West Coast of America. The game’s tagline is “Home Is Where the War Is.” The game opens with a fake history of the Korean invasion that starts with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s real press conference accusing North Korea of sinking South Korea’sCheonancorvette in March 2010. This event is framed as the beginning of a movement...

  6. Part II Reappropriations and Recuperations

    • Chapter 10 Thinking about Bodies, Souls, and Race in Gibson’s Bridge Trilogy
      (pp. 139-150)

      At first glance, William Gibson’s Bridge trilogy ofVirtual Light,Idoru, andAll Tomorrow’s Partiesseems to employ the typical stereotypes about Asians and race that the genre of cyberpunk has often been criticized for. Gibson’s trilogy features Tokyo or other Japanese cities as dystopic future worlds that are exotic, enticing, and cognitively estranging, as well as eccentric Japanese characters alien in their foreignness, and thus irrefutably Other. These rather techno-Orientalist details resound strongly with literary critiques of Gibson’s work, which position the cyberpunk texts as reductive renderings of Asian subjects and virtual technology. For instance, writing about Gibson’s earlier...

    • Chapter 11 Reimagining Asian Women in Feminist Post-Cyberpunk Science Fiction
      (pp. 151-162)

      Much has been written about cyberpunk’s depiction of the gendered, sexualized, and, to a lesser extent, raced body. Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, in “Race and Software,” points out the use of “high-tech orientalism” in “foundational cyberpunk previsions, from William Gibson’s 1984Neuromancerto Neal Stephenson’s 1993Snow Crash, [that] use ‘Asian,’ ‘African,’ and ‘half-breed’ characters to create seductively dystopian near futures” (306). The “high-tech orientalism” of which Chun writes has often been located in female bodies. While the female characters in classic cyberpunk are imbued with high-tech gadgetry—likeNeuromancer’s Molly’s mirror shades and nail blades—they are also “Orientalized,”...

    • Chapter 12 The Cruel Optimism of Asian Futurity and the Reparative Practices of Sonny Liew’s Malinky Robot
      (pp. 163-179)

      The cover of Kishore Mahbubani’s 2008 publicationThe New Asian Hemisphere: The Irresistible Shift of Global Power to the Eastpresents readers with what seems to be the global sign for financial growth: skyscrapers under construction. Cranes perch atop every tower, suggestive of the “all-at-once-ness” of growth in Asia. The illuminated construction site stretching into the night sky highlights the unrelenting pace of growth, which proceeds even as the rest of the world sleeps. The scene is a familiar one, prefigured by the race for the tallest building that ran across parts of Asia (Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan) in the early...

    • Chapter 13 Palimpsestic Orientalisms and Antiblackness; or, Joss Whedon’s Grand Vision of an Asian/American Tomorrow
      (pp. 180-192)

      Firefly, a cult hit television series that ran on FOX from 2002 to 2003, marked a departure from the Buffyverse, the 1990s and 2000s Californian settings of Joss Whedon’s first series,Buffy the Vampire Slayer(1997–2003) and its spin-offAngel(1999–2004). Set in the postapocalyptic ‘ Verse,Fireflyexpanded the Buffyverse to the Whedonverse—a term that denotes beloved Whedon’s growing oeuvre across television, film, comics, and online content.Firefly’s ‘Verse is decorated with English-to-Mandarin code switching, English/Chinese bilingual signs, and, as Rebecca M. Brown catalogues, material objects, costumes, and customs from all around a past-turning Orient. I...

    • Chapter 14 “How Does It Not Know What It Is?”: The Techno-Orientalized Body in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and Larissa Lai’s Automaton Biographies
      (pp. 193-208)

      Much of the criticism engaging with “race” inBlade Runner(1982), directed by Ridley Scott, examines the film’s racial politics within the black and white binary that is the axis of U.S. race relations. The character of Rachael, a replicant, has been read as a mulatto, a passing figure and as symbolically “black” (Nishime, “The Mulatto Cyborg”; Silverman; B. Carr; Locke). Larissa Lai, a U.S.-born Canadian writer, has been one of the very few to imagine Rachael as Asian (Reid; Park). In her short story “Rachel,” Lai makes an explicit critique of the logic of race and production undergirding the...

    • Chapter 15 A Poor Man from a Poor Country: Nam June Paik, TV-Buddha, and the Techno-Orientalist Lens
      (pp. 209-220)

      When Nam June Paik passed away in his Miami Beach winter house in early 2006, numerous galleries, museums, and art organizations throughout the globe memorialized him with tributes worthy of someone of his stature. His obituary in theNew York Times(January 31, 2006) celebrated him as the inventor of video art, and theTimesof London (January 31, 2006) lauded him as “one of the very few artists who single-handedly changed the course and tone of art in the 20th century.” As the first artist to experiment with and use video as a legitimate medium, Paik was influential in...

    • Desiring Machines, Repellant Subjects: A Conclusion
      (pp. 221-226)

      In “Two Cheers for Sweatshops” andThunder from the East, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn chronicle their journey from chastising the exploitive nature of Asian sweatshops to praising their economic efficacy. This is not without a measure of moral conflict, they explain, but despite their best efforts to retain their indignation over sweatshop conditions, they can no longer deny the economic benefits, which are simply too enticing: “Fourteen years ago, we moved to Asia. . . . Like most Westerners, we arrived in the region outraged at sweatshops. In time, though, we came to accept the...

  7. Bibliography
    (pp. 227-244)
  8. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 245-250)
  9. Index
    (pp. 251-260)