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If you're looking for a good portrayal of 'Chinese-ness,' watching 'The Nutcracker' is a mistake

If you're looking for a good portrayal of 'Chinese-ness,' watching 'The Nutcracker' is a mistake
A 2001 performance of "The Nutcracker" at the Hollywood Bowl. (Los Angeles Times)

To the editor: As a genuine “yellowface” American, I was fascinated by Jennifer Fisher’s admirable effort in search of an authentic yet sensitive way of presenting the Chinese-ness in the “Tea” or “Chinese” dance in Act 2 of “The Nutcracker” ballet.

To me, the most interesting part of the article is Fisher’s account of her stint teaching ballet history at the Beijing Dance Academy. Like Fisher’s students, I was not offended by the “egregious bowing and other ‘Chinese’ silliness” portrayed in some versions of the dance.

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Instead, I was mostly amused by the Westerners’ attempts to entertain the audience by showing what they perceive as Chinese, much as the Chinese restaurants here offer fortune cookies to customers — a custom I found nowhere in Taiwan.

One area the author may explore further for ideas of Chinese-ness is Chinese opera, also known as “Peking opera,” where facial makeup and hand gestures are highly stylized, providing a rich store of traditional cultural symbols that reflect China’s aesthetic experience.

Dienyih Chen, Redondo Beach

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To the editor: I recall as a child growing up in Boyle Heights in the 1950s regularly being taunted with racial harassment by people who used exaggerated ethnic facial expressions. These taunts, along with portrayals involving yellow skin color, were learned from images circulated in various media that were carried over from World War II.

All were fabricated and distortions of reality.

Today, because of the complaints by Asian American actors for more diverse character roles, the stereotypical and even racist portrayal of Asians and Asian Americans is becoming less of an issue, but this is an area still in need of improvement.

Until the portrayal of the Asian American experience can be more fairly and accurately produced in film and on stage, the stereotype images from the past, as I had experienced on the playground as a child, will continue to haunt us.

Larry Naritomi, Monterey Park

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