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April 18, 2013 5:47 PM   Subscribe

To JK Rowling, from Cho Chang.

A follow-up.
posted by ChuraChura (85 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
The follow-up is one of the best examples of a constructive response to criticism I've seen in a while. Props for that as much or more than for the thoughtful initial video.
posted by restless_nomad at 5:54 PM on April 18, 2013 [12 favorites]


I really like her response. It's so great to see smart people chewing and synthesizing instead of doubling down or denying, since that's almost nonexistent in the media.
posted by threeants at 5:54 PM on April 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I saw the movies first, and then when I went to read the books, I was hoping that Cho Chang had some character development that had been cut from the movies, and did not solely exist as a foil for Harry's affection, but no...
posted by jcreigh at 5:58 PM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Her follow-up was very well said indeed, but I'm actually sort of sorry she had to do it. Her piece was genuinely felt, and that alone should have been enough to allow it to exist. A lot of these objections are distractions from the point, almost a kind of cultural derail. Ms Rowling and her co-offenders shouldn't be able to take refuge in "yes, well a lot of Asian women say she misrepresented their feelings, so there must not be anything in it." The thing is, she didn't once claim to be representing other Asian womens' feelings, only her own.
posted by George_Spiggott at 6:00 PM on April 18, 2013 [6 favorites]


Hmm, I didn't agree with everything in the poem, exactly (I would say that Rowling's problems, race and otherwise, stem from her attempts to essentially replicate a very common British bourgeois fairy tale, namely "public" schools, and the homogenous, classless, problematic representation of such. Hogwarts is simply another, not especially original, entry into this discourse, imho.).

That said, I think it kind of sucks that she felt obliged to put together a "defence" video. Some of the bows may have been longer than others, but her core contention - that the Harry Potter series completely elides a realistic and nuanced depiction of race (and sexuality, and class, etc etc) in favour of a softish "bingo card" approach - is I feel both correct, and shouldn't even be controversial.

Bloody fans.
posted by smoke at 6:04 PM on April 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


Huh. I did pick out the 'Chang is not Chinese' point, but was really impressed with her response to that. That's one of the risks of trying to condense a serious argument into a set of punchlines, of course - sometimes you'll skip accuracy for soundbites, and sometimes people will call you on it.

I found the first video a little hard to understand, but that's a generic problem with spoken word performance - would have appreciated a transcript.

The Ginny/Cho strong/weak combination seems tricky. My impression is that Rowling has most of the girls reacting a lot to boys: if you accept that she already has that problem, then I can't see a non-problematic way for Cho to act. If she wasn't crying and being too emotional, wouldn't that turn into the 'enigmatic unemotional Oriental'?
posted by jacalata at 6:08 PM on April 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Can we get a transcript?
posted by fredludd at 6:13 PM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


If she wasn't crying and being too emotional, wouldn't that turn into the 'enigmatic unemotional Oriental'?

Well, if Rowling wrote her as a well-rounded character, than even the crying might have been less problematic. Substituting one stereotype for another wouldn't help, certainly, but that's not really the criticism.

But Rostad was making a specific point about that literary trope, so it's not totally transferrable either. I don't know if the "inscrutable Asian" thing is quite so gendered - but then, I don't know that it isn't.
posted by restless_nomad at 6:16 PM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think the poem was pretty awesome. I think the video response is a little less awesome, only because she doesn't make the point that for her to be apologizing like a nice Asian girl is just oh-so-typical.
posted by brina at 6:20 PM on April 18, 2013


Just like a muggle.
posted by Smedleyman at 6:22 PM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Rostad gave an interesting interview about how the name mix-up happened, and how it relates to her identity as a transracial adoptee.

I think its great that this conversation is happening, whether or not Cho's character is problematic. Honestly, her character was so forgettable, I don't remember enough to make a call either way. (...which maybe is the point?)
posted by tinymegalo at 6:38 PM on April 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Wait, that's how you pronounce "Rowling"? I always thought the "row" rhymed with "now".
posted by Bugbread at 6:41 PM on April 18, 2013


Transcript:
To JK Rowling, From Cho Chang
by Rachel Rostad on Sunday, April 14, 2013 at 9:22am

When you put me in your books, millions of Asian girls across America rejoiced! Finally, a potential Halloween costume that wasn’t a geisha or Mulan! What’s not to love about me? I’m everyone’s favorite character! I totally get to fight tons of Death Eaters and have a great sense of humor and am full of complex emotions!

Oh wait. That’s the version of Harry Potter where I’m not fucking worthless.

First of all, you put me in Ravenclaw. Of course the only Asian at Hogwarts would be in the nerdy house. Too bad there wasn’t a house that specialized in computers and math and karate, huh?

I know, you thought you were being tolerant.
Between me, Dean, and the Indian twins, Hogwarts has like... five brown people? It doesn’t matter we’re all minor characters. Nah, you’re not racist!
Just like how you’re not homophobic, because Dumbledore’s totally gay!
Of course it’s never said in the books, but man. Hasn't society come so far?
Now gays don’t just have to be closeted in real life—they can even be closeted fictionally!

Ms. Rowling. Let’s talk about my name. Cho. Chang.
Cho and Chang are both last names. They are both Korean last names.
I am supposed to be Chinese.
Me being named “Cho Chang” is like a Frenchman being named “Garcia Sanchez.”

So thank you. Thank you for giving me no heritage. Thank you for giving me a name as generic as a ninja costume. As chopstick hair ornaments.
Ms. Rowling, I know you’re just the latest participant in a long tradition of turning Asian women into a tragic fetish.
Madame Butterfly: Japanese woman falls in love with a white soldier, is abandoned, kills herself.
Miss Saigon: Vietnamese woman falls in love with a white soldier, is abandoned, kills herself.
Memoirs Of A Geisha: Lucy Liu in leather. Schoolgirl porn.
So let me cry over boys more than I speak.
Let me fulfill your diversity quota.
Just one more brown girl mourning her white hero.

No wonder Harry Potter’s got yellow fever.
We giggle behind small hands and “no speak Engrish.”
What else could a man see in me?
What else could I be but what you made me?
Subordinate. Submissive. Subplot.

Go ahead. Tell me I’m overreacting.
Ignore the fact that your books have sold 400 million copies worldwide.
I am plastered across movie screens,
a bestselling caricature.

Last summer,
I met a boy who spoke like rain against windows. -
He had his father’s blue eyes.
He’d press his wrist against mine and say he was too pale.
That my skin was so much more beautiful.
To him, I was Pacific sunset,
almond milk, a porcelain cup.
When he left me, I told myself I should have seen it coming.
I wasn’t sure I was sad but I cried anyway.
Girls who look like me are supposed to cry over boys who look like him.
I’d seen all the movies and read all the books.
We were just following the plot.
So glad you posted this. Sincerely, thank you. She put into words sentiments that a number of my Asian friends have expressed about the HP books.
posted by zarq at 6:55 PM on April 18, 2013 [23 favorites]


MeFi's own Phire had a really well-written response to this, which you can read here.
posted by shiu mai baby at 7:35 PM on April 18, 2013 [9 favorites]


The Ginny/Cho strong/weak combination seems tricky. My impression is that Rowling has most of the girls reacting a lot to boys: if you accept that she already has that problem, then I can't see a non-problematic way for Cho to act. If she wasn't crying and being too emotional, wouldn't that turn into the 'enigmatic unemotional Oriental'?

I suppose this is the difference between The Hunger Games and Harry Potter: Rue is described briefly as having beautiful dark skin but then immediately becomes an important part of the plot, enjoying her own character arc, and it's evident that Katniss would not have survived if not for her. This character reliably created some amount of cognitive dissonance when the movies came out. A lot of middle class suburban teenagers just aren't used to not having a white hero or a group of white heroes.

Harry Potter falls into this same trap. It has only white characters as its main cast, as its movers and shakers, as its primary love interests and enigmas; Cho Chang is the poor girl who cries a lot, kisses Harry, and like Ms. Rostad stated, is set up to be the weaker flawed love interest of Harry so that he can understand what true love is. It's not so much how Cho Chang should react but rather how Rowling places her within the plot that forces her to become a stereotype. She is less the plot device or a cinematic "Diversity!" shot than a legitimate character who suffers and who feels and whose catharsis is realized in any meaningful way within the story.

On a personal level, Cho Chang becomes a character type, a representative Asian as you will, and this is more the reader's fault than it is Rowling's. We shouldn't fault JK Rowling for not writing the story that she did. But with the success that she enjoyed and with the pervasiveness of Harry Potter in Western culture, its mostly white cast of characters only serves to reinforce white dominance and middle class values in societies that are undergoing enormous changes in demography.

That there's anger at this directed at this product, no, symbol of institutionalized racism shouldn't be as surprising as it might seem. There's a long well-documented history of Hollywood typecasting of Asians. Really, there's long, well-documented histories of Hollywood typecasting every out-group and it's an indication of how racial politics can play out for someone who is growing up as the Other, like Ms. Rostad points out in her response.
posted by dubusadus at 7:38 PM on April 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Finally, a potential Halloween costume that wasn’t a geisha or Mulan!

Wow, umm... of all the movies that Disney has done to marginalize and trivialize women and non-white ethnicity, Mulan is probably not at the top of the list.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:41 PM on April 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


Thanks, zarq. And, too, thanks ChuraChura. I hope Rowling is listening.
posted by fredludd at 7:46 PM on April 18, 2013


Slap*Happy - I think the point wasn't that Mulan is bad; the point was the paucity of worthwhile Chinese characters. I mean, Mulan might be awesome for all I know - I've never seen it - but that's only one character.
posted by koeselitz at 7:50 PM on April 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


Heh, I'd wondered if this was going to hit Metafilter. I saw the gifset of Rostad talking about Cho Chang's name going around on Tumblr, and the misinformation (and the self-assured arrogance in the correctness of that misinformation) pissed me off enough to actually blog about it on Tumblr (which I pretty much never do because, well, Tumblr). Judging only by the gifset, the whole thing just seemed so endemic of that toxic "Tumblr Social Justice*" mindset of taking a tiny thing, misinterpreting it, blowing it totally out of proportion, and then using it to justify pitchforks and torches and holier-than-thou moralizing, and I had no interest in letting a total ignorance of the mechanics of my language be the pivoting point in this particular mess.

(The last time I got this pissed off about people who didn't now jack about Chinese holding court on the intricacies of the language was when David Brooks claimed that the Chinese had no word for "nerd", which...don't even get me started.)

It wasn't only Rostad's original gifset, either - there were so many rebloggers on Tumblr who eagerly added their own commentary about how awful Rowling was in her choice of this Chinese character's name, and so much of it was just...wrong.

I've since dug into the source video as well as the responses around it, which complicates my feelings on this somewhat. I really appreciated her follow-up video and wrote her to tell her thus, and I also appreciated that she was fully cognizant of her own complicity in cultural appropriations as a transnational adoptee from Korea talking about a Chinese character's experience. Her interview about it was especially eloquent and addresses many of the concerns I personally felt about her performance - if nothing else, a young woman with a Korean background speaking for a Chinese character seemed like it would exacerbate the problem of all East Asian cultures being viewed as interchangeable. I can appreciate the difficulty of distilling complex social critique into a performative piece of art, but I also feel like a poem aiming to raise awareness about cultural stereotypes and messaging has an especially high bar to clear when it comes to not perpetuating ignorance itself.

As she says, it's really frustrating that the echo chamber of Tumblr ensures that the original gifset declaring "Cho Chang" to be two Korean last names strung together will be the most widely seen portion of the video, because the larger conversation about the subtle, well-intentioned stereotyping of Asian character is definitely worth having, and I'm afraid it's going to get buried. I also wish we would have gotten a chance to hear from Rostad about her unique experiences being a transnational adoptee and coming to terms with the warring sides of her cultural identity in a context outside of this controversy.

That said, whatever else I may feel about her discussion of Chinese, I am incredibly, incredibly impressed and humbled by the grace with which she has handled all the criticism, and the self-reflection this has obviously engendered in her. We should all be so gracious in admitting our faults; I know I'm certainly not.

*If you're not familiar with Tumblr social justice, it's really difficult to distill its essence and why I find it so troubling. There are many people who use Tumblr to practice social justice and social activism in a really positive and constructive way. Rostad is one such example herself. But at the same time, there's also a particular type of attitude that I only ever see in the dark corners of Tumblr where the "social activists" seem to start out by assuming bad faith on the parts of those they're criticizing. It's a very oppositional brand of activism that isn't so much interested in education and progress as it is in the call-out culture, and it's really frustrating to watch, given how young many of the participants often are.
posted by Phire at 7:51 PM on April 18, 2013 [34 favorites]


Phire, I was just about to come in and post your blog response to the Tumblr gifset. Thank you for writing it.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 7:54 PM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Tumblr seems particularly apt for the sort of lightning-quick propagation of misinformation that is so characteristic of tedious internet shitstorms - the fact that it doesn't seem to have any decent method for countering misinformation makes it all the worse.
posted by restless_nomad at 7:56 PM on April 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


David Brooks claimed that the Chinese had no word for "nerd"

In fact Mandarin has a hundred words for "nerd": drifting nerd, floating nerd, nerd that is crusted on the surface ...
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:58 PM on April 18, 2013 [6 favorites]


...fabulous nerds, stray nerds, nerds which belong to the emperor, nerds which tremble as if they were mad...
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 8:15 PM on April 18, 2013 [10 favorites]


I'll just say that I'm a massive Harry Potter fan. I have written novel-length treatises on the books and films on this site and will happily do so again if the opportunity presents itself. When this started, I was totally tallying arguments against her in my head, and then...

...she's right. And in her follow-up she just clarifies and makes herself more right. Rowling was tokenizing like crazy. I don't think it was on purpose. I don't think she was trying to do anything beyond actually introducing some much-needed color into the age-old British boarding-school setting. But she didn't do enough with that. I think she made Cho the name (and race/culture/etc.) for a character that could have been anybody, and in doing so projected the non-characteristics onto Asians haphazardly.

I love Rowling and her books, but this critique is dead-on.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:17 PM on April 18, 2013


if nothing else, a young woman with a Korean background speaking for a Chinese character seemed like it would exacerbate the problem of all East Asian cultures being viewed as interchangeable.

I disagree. Yes, East Asian cultures are not interchangable. However, that doesn't stop the fact that they're discussed as if they are. And the thing about stereotypes (and race) is that the Asian stereotype does not care about the difference between Chinese/Korean/Japanese cultures, really. The stereotype operates; it could care less about specifics and nuance.

Thus, to not speak for a stereotypical Asian character because one says, "Hey, that stereotype does not refer to my specific national/cultural identity, and thus it doesn't concern me" is misunderstanding the way in which stereotypes are harmful.

Parallel: that'd be like a black person from the Caribbean coming to the US saying, "I'm not African-American, so issues such as the fallout from slavery, the racial tension between white americans and African-Americans, these things don't affect me at all. Thus I cannot "speak for" or against a stereotype of an African-American."
posted by suedehead at 8:23 PM on April 18, 2013


I'm conflicted about this. On the one hand, Cho was clearly an attempt to have an Asian character who does not fit the most common Asian stereotypes -- she's athletic, older (and thus in a way more powerful than Harry), and not really all that interested in him. On the other hand, her only real role is as a love interest for Harry, and that's a very stereotypical role for an Asian woman. I didn't get that she was supposed to be "nerdy" at all, she's certainly not in Hermione's nerdiness league.

Unlike many books Harry Potter actually includes lengthy descriptions of the appearance of almost every character. This is somewhat unfortunate because in most books, you can make the characters whatever race you like in your head. Sherlock Holmes, for example, could be any race or age or nationality you want because he only has the barest possible physical description.
posted by miyabo at 8:27 PM on April 18, 2013


Jed:
But Maurissa, movies couldn’t even be made without Asians.
We need them to play the parts we’re not willing to.

Maurissa:
You’re right, Jed!

WITHOUT THE ASIANS IN THE MOVIES
WITHOUT THE ASIANS ON TV
WHO’D PLAY THE GOOFY MATHEMATICIAN
THE COMPUTER TECHNICIAN
A WISE OLD HEALER FROM JAPAN
A SHORT BUT WEALTHY BUSINESSMAN
SELL KOREAN GROCERIES
DO YOUR LAUNDRY THANK YOU, PRREASE
WE’RE THE VICTIMS OF A CRIME
WE’LL BE LOVING YOU LONG TIME
IF YOUR MOVIE IS A BORE JUST
WATCH THE GROUPIE IN THE CHORUS
THAT’S ME

From, with no small amount of irony, Whedon's Dr Horrible commentary musical.
posted by Sebmojo at 8:29 PM on April 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


There wasn't anything about Cho Chang that reinforced stereotypes about Asians -- there is no indication that she is anything other than a cipher. If her name was "Mary Jones," from Welsh ancestry, or "Mary Jones," from Jamaican ancestry, or anything else, the character was simply a young girl who had a relationship with a popular boy who was killed and kinda fell apart (for very good reason) after that, confused in her emotions about Dead Popular Boy and Living Other Popular Boy. I don't find her any more or less 3-dimensional than the vast majority of other characters. Among the students, hardly anyone outside the main trio and the "first circle of friends" which would include Neville, Fred, George -- people who got multiple minutes of lines in most or all of the movies -- seem fully fleshed out anyway.

The criticism of Cho Chang as a token is spot on. There's no reason that this character SHOULD have been of Chinese ancestry, other than JK Rowling decided it would be so, possibly to intentionally "color" the crowd at the British Boarding school. That is both kinda token-ish but also an intentional nod to genuine diversity. At worst, the fact that the character was introduced with a specific ethnic name and not fully realized was a miscalculation.
posted by chimaera at 8:30 PM on April 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


The whitification of Lavender Brown is also notable.

The follow-up of this is really, really smart, well put together, and succinct as a description of social justice.
posted by NoraReed at 8:36 PM on April 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Suedehead, my issue isn't that she's speaking about Cho, but that she is speaking as Cho. Nor was I at all trying to imply that you should only care about the oppression of people who are exactly like you - god forbid, that would be miserable. I simply don't think it would have taken away from the power of her critique at all to say "I, like millions of other East Asian girls, rejoiced when I found out about Cho Chang / let's talk about the name of this Chinese character" instead of "millions of East Asian girls rejoiced when they found out about me / let's talk about my name". If anything, this would have been a really great place to emphasize the differences in East Asian cultures - "My background is Korean which means my experience is different in X way, but I am still fucking furious about the tokenization of Cho Chang, because Y."

I can speak up about the marginalization of people of colour all day long, but it's really important for me to do so with the full context of my own background and privilege. I'm a first gen Chinese immigrant, which gives me an entirely different set of experiences and perspectives as Rostad. I can call out people who are being racist jerks regardless of who they are being racist to, but I am not speaking for those other people I am speaking up in defense of. Does that distinction makes sense?
posted by Phire at 8:38 PM on April 18, 2013


I mean, Mulan might be awesome for all I know - I've never seen it

Although the paucity argument is entirely fair and justified, it is equally fair and justified to point out that Mulan is fucking awesome.
posted by mightygodking at 8:58 PM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I met a boy who spoke like rain against
windows.


This girl is seriously talented. Incredible performance, raw, and passionate, and incredibly deft phrasing...

I'm in awe...
posted by Jughead at 9:01 PM on April 18, 2013


The whitification of Lavender Brown is also notable.

Do the credits of the early films (where Lavender is purportedly depicted by an actress of African descent) actually list her as a character? I'm not talking about the IMDB: I mean the films themselves. Was there a "Lavender Brown" that existed before the role became a speaking one?

I ask because: A) It's not a stretch to believe that the fans attributed the character to an otherwise nameless extra, and B) Lavender is described as having the same colour skin as Ron.

Also, I've read the books but haven't seen any of the films, so I'll readily admit I may be missing something.
posted by The Notorious SRD at 9:07 PM on April 18, 2013


I agree with the critique, and it's missing the point to wonder if a Korean adoptee can speak for a "Chinese" character. Cho Chang is not a Chinese character, she's a stereotype and a token.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:09 PM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm only here because a friend sent me the link so I could watch the video, which he said captured some things I've been saying about the character of Cho Chang for years. But dammit, I can't let certain things slide.

I may be a Chinese immigrant, but I grew up in the American South. As a result, I can't speak for Chinese culture because I frankly don't know it that much about it. But I do know what it's like to be an Asian girl in a culture without a lot of Asians. So like Rostad's speaker, when I saw there was a character in the Harry Potter books who looks like me, I really wanted her to be the kind of character I could both admire and identify with.

This has nothing to do with being Chinese as opposed to Korean or Japanese or Vietnamese, or any other specific Asian nationality--as I said, I know very little about Chinese culture, so it's not like I act all that Chinese. My racial identity has more to do with how other people see me and classify me; it's based more on the color of my skin than on the language I speak or the traditions I follow. So had Cho been Korean, I would have reacted the same way because 1) it would have been a step in the right direction and 2) as far as my externally imposed racial identity goes, it actually doesn't make a difference. Which is a long way of saying good for Rostad for doing this piece, and her being Korean American instead of Chinese British doesn't mean a goddamned thing as far as I'm concerned.
posted by inara at 9:29 PM on April 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


J K Rowling's books owe an awful lot to British boarding school stories. At one point I went on a Billy Bunter bender and read more than I care to think of the collected issues of The Magnet. The author, Frank Richards, was by no means a xenophobe and he used a diverse cast who took turns joining in the adventures of the five (British main characters). But, every single non-British character was unique: you had the Chinese boy, the Black boy, the Jewish boy (not British enough) and so forth. Oh, and the American boy - immensely rich, Texanish accent, yeehaws and gollies up to here. Anyway, the characters were basically defined by their ethnicities but they had a more or less amused contempt for expressions of racism and xenophobia, and sometimes played it up to tease people ("Oh, yes, me velly much likee eat cat and mousee!)

J K Rowling doesn't seem to have moved far beyond that: she isn't racist, but race is a defining characteristic for her. That's a problem, for all the reasons expressed above.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:32 PM on April 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


I want to clarify that my objection to Rostad speaking as Cho Chang has primarily to do with the fact that she spoke authoritatively about the Chinese language, without knowing Chinese or consulting anyone who knew Chinese, and got it wrong. If you hone in on the specific mechanics of Cho Chang's name and make value judgments on its worth as a name, that ceases to be something universal to all token characters, and becomes specific to Chang's Chinese heritage, however shallowly it has been painted by Rowling. I agree with most of Rostad's critiques about the tokenization issue and have said so; I simply wish she had made it without feigning knowledge about the Chinese language, something easily accomplished by acknowledging her own heritage. Reasonable people may disagree.
posted by Phire at 9:35 PM on April 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'd say exactly the opposite of "every single non-British character was unique" is true in the case of Harry Potter. I actually agree with chimaera that Cho Chang is not really a racialised character, but to whatever extent she is, she's more so than the others. There are certainly more POC in the books than Rostad lists, and I wonder if she's even noticed. There'd hardly be any reason to.

Anyway, I think this is some pretty smug, cringeworthy teenage poetry, and as a WOC, I can't really admire it even if I empathise with the real and righteous sense of hurt at general neglect, disrespect and misrepresentation that underpins it. I've noticed a lot of people my age and younger on Facebook continuing to absolutely flip out about these six- to sixteen-year-old Harry Potter books from both positive and negative points of view, and while I understand that HP has been a big deal in the world and in many of our hearts, I've often thought that it would be a serious mercy if a few of these people would get around to other books at some point and get some perspective - if not any relief from things to be angry about.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 10:01 PM on April 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


How does 秋 ("Qiu" in Mandarin, "Cau" in Cantonese) sound anything like "Cho"?
Cho sounds a lot more like the pinyin "Zhou". Chang could be the pinyin "Chang" or maybe "Zhang". I know that the Chinese translation of the Harry Potter books calls her 张秋 ("Zhang Qiu" in pinyin) but the "Qiu"/秋 part has always seemed like a stretch.

While it's true that "Cho" or "Chang" could translate to either a last name or first name, it seems that they're more likely to be last names and more commonly used as last names. Or maybe JK Rowling was trying to create a really, really unique Chinese name. Maybe Cho Chang isn't even a Mandarin-Chinese character; perhaps her family speaks a different Chinese dialect (Fujian! Shanghainese! Hainanese!). After all, that would allow for even more possibilities - a much wider variety of sounds/syllables to choose from besides the standard Mandarin syllables.

I think Rostad's original point about Cho Chang's name still stands, and I agree with KokuRyu. I don't think Rowling was trying to make Cho Chang an authentic non-token character, and I don't think Rowling put much effort/research into coming up with "Cho Chang" as a name. I don't think Rowling thought "Cho doesn't sound like a typical Mandarin-Chinese name, but maybe Cho could still pass off as Cantonese since 'cau' sounds closer to 'cho' than 'qiu' and besides, it would be nice to have a more unique Chinese name for this character..."

Basically, it seems like Rowling reached for the most 'Asian'/'Oriental' name that came to mind, and stuck it on the token 'Asian'/'Oriental' character that she had created as an attempt to make her HP universe look more "diverse". Whether that name is a 'genuine' Chinese name is not quite the issue - the point is that Rowling probably didn't put nearly as much thought into Cho Chang's name as compared to the rest of her other characters' names. The quibbles that led to Rostad's followup video sort of detract from Rostad's main point, which I feel is still valid.
posted by aielen at 10:25 PM on April 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well, you know, in Fictional Chinese, every syllable has either a CH or an NG or both. It's way more convenient that way. Keeps the characters from forgetting where they're from.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 10:39 PM on April 18, 2013


I'm yellowish [first generation Chinese Filipino], but the part of this video I just can't get past is when she uses Madame Butterfly and Miss Saigon as two separate examples.
posted by ego at 10:46 PM on April 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I see no problem with Rostad making observations on Cho Chang's name - to borrow her example, if there was a Frenchman in Harry Potter named "Garcia Sanchez", she wouldn't necessarily need to be French or consult a French person to point out that the name is obviously wrong. We are given the actual spelling of Cho's name - based upon that, the Pinyin is a lot, lot more important than is being given credit to. It is the international standard for romanization, and if Cho Chang does identify as Chinese, she would almost certainly be using this standard to spell her own name. Pronunciation-wise, yes, maybe there's a little wiggle room, but if you look at the Pinyin, it's obvious that it's not Chinese given that there is no stand-alone "o" vowel in Pinyin. I view the pronounciation argument as extremely weak - it's like saying "well, you can sort of pronounce Garcia Sanchez something like Garcon Secher in French so it's wrong to say that it's not a French name" - the spelling stands for itself.

Also, agreeing that "Qiu" doesn't sound at all like "Cho" - Qiu's vowel has too much of an uplifting lilt to it that doesn't match the harsh, dull "oh" at the end like a Westerner would pronounce it. Which again, underscores the importance of Pinyin as an international standard. You can't just write romanized Chinese whatever way you think it sounds like and expect it to be recognized as Chinese - if J. K Rowling was actually doing so, which I highly doubt (she probably just threw together whatever sounded most "Asian" to her, and she did put a great deal of research into the other characters' names as well.)

From her response video, I was under the impression Rostad had researched Cho Chang's name and had come to this conclusion as well. There is a fine balance on this issue - on one hand, yes, it may be offensive for those outside of a cultural group to presume knowledge of a culture. But on the other hand, we shouldn't be telling people that they cannot call out something wrong that they do have the background to recognize as wrong because they're not "part of the in-group". Given Rostad's background and demonstrated level of introspection, I would be more gentle in my judgments of her actions and words.
posted by Conspire at 11:04 PM on April 18, 2013


I wrote on this in 2005 for a college film journal and made the two-last-names argument even. So, yay for ol' me.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:07 PM on April 18, 2013


We are given the actual spelling of Cho's name - based upon that, the Pinyin is a lot, lot more important than is being given credit to. It is the international standard for romanization, and if Cho Chang does identify as Chinese, she would almost certainly be using this standard to spell her own name.

That is a big big assumption. Most people from Taiwan, most people from Hong Kong, most families that immigrated before the 80s or so from the mainland would almost certainly use Chang as the transliteration for Zhang, one of the most popular last names in the world.
posted by kmz at 11:28 PM on April 18, 2013


How does 秋 ("Qiu" in Mandarin, "Cau" in Cantonese) sound anything like "Cho"?

To an English speaker it's pretty close. Qiū is pronounced [tɕʰioʊ55]; "Cho" is [tʃoʊ]. Don't be misled by the u in the pinyin.
posted by zompist at 11:32 PM on April 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Maybe J. K. Rowling had changnesia.
A real Chinese name requires a middle name. The lack of the middle name is the red flag for me, even worse than thinking "Cho" was a viable first name. Yes, I know, Chinese people say the surname first, but only when dealing with each other.

.
posted by w0mbat at 11:43 PM on April 18, 2013


w0mbat: That's not true for all Chinese names.

What stopped me from enjoying what is an otherwise moving poem was when she said Cho was the "only Asian" at Hogwarts - and I'm like "HELLO WHERE DO YOU THINK PADMA AND PARVATI ARE FROM ALSO YOUR US-CENTRISM IS SHOWING". A contributor to Angry Asian Girls Unite explained it better than I could.
posted by divabat at 11:54 PM on April 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


A real Chinese name requires a middle name. The lack of the middle name is the red flag for me

...

Not sure if trolling or serious.
posted by kmz at 11:58 PM on April 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Pinyin isn't the international standard for anything. It's not a terrible system, but it is a Communist system, and that has political implications (link included just to note that the official abbreviation of the Chinese Nationalist Party is not GMD).

A real Chinese name requires a middle name.

No, it really doesn't.
posted by zjacreman at 12:01 AM on April 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm not sure Cho Chang would have been using the pinyin format to spell her name... it's a convenient and more widely-accepted standard now but not everyone was using it during the time period the Harry Potter series took place. My own Chinese name isn't spelled using the pinyin format on my official documents. (As a result, it appears Korean. I wouldn't recommend my own name to Rowling if she were looking to name a typical Chinese character though.)

zoompist: I speak both English and Mandarin. 'Qiu' to my ears has more of a 'u' sound at the end and sounds more like the English word "chew" to me. That said, I see your point... it could be an accent thing - a Beijinger might have a more rounded 'o' sound when pronouncing that word as compared to, say, a Taiwanese. (fwiw, I pronounce it the same way Google Translate does...)
posted by aielen at 12:13 AM on April 19, 2013


Honestly I always assumed Cho was something more like Chou than Qiu. Though, now that I think about it I'm not sure that anybody would be given that name, since the first characters I can think of for the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th tones are all unpleasant words. (Trouble, ugly, stinky.)
posted by kmz at 12:17 AM on April 19, 2013


And oh, this Beijinger would say Qiu with more of a long "o" sound at the end rather than "ew". But then that's what Google Translate sounds like to me too.
posted by kmz at 12:19 AM on April 19, 2013


Okay, so essentially from this argument: Cho Chang's name is perfectly Chinese if she has a fairly rare/odd name, comes from a family (likely non-Mainland) that doesn't use Pinyin AND has a specific, regional accent. None of which shows up in the book.

Why are we giving J.K. Rowling more of the benefit of doubt than Rostad?
posted by Conspire at 12:21 AM on April 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Because as somebody who's actually Chinese, who knows a ton of Chinese people, who knows that Pinyin is hardly the only game in town, I never found Cho Chang's name odd. Hell, that intersection you lay out (which I don't even really agree with the bounds but even if I did) is a huge number of people.

Rostad had way better points than the name thing, and she even acknowledged it in the followup video. Focusing on it is detracting from her much more valid overall point.
posted by kmz at 12:51 AM on April 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


J K Rowling doesn't seem to have moved far beyond that: she isn't racist, but race is a defining characteristic for her.

No, not quite. More like she started out with a mainly white cast having evolved naturally (ie without too much thinking about it) out of the story she wanted to tell, then later realised that a bit of diversity might be a good idea, hence introduced some people of colour in minor roles, as the major roles had already been taken. And because they're minor roles, they get less speaking time, less room to be well rounded characters and are more in danger of being stereotypes.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:56 AM on April 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'd have liked this more if she hadn't complained in the voice of the character. Too much like entitled fandom demanding things be the way they want them to be, not the way the author intended.
I'd have liked this more if she hadn't complained about Dumbledore being gay but it not being in the books. He's not in the closet, he's a teacher at a school who has no reason to discuss his sexual preferences with his students. His coming out would a) overshadow the book it occurred in, and b) have to have a reason for it to come up when trying to help Harry save lives. Much like the sexuality of 99% of the adult characters, it's irrelevant.
I'd have liked this more if she hadn't complained about a character having two surnames, as if that's not an increasingly common naming convention, especially in fiction. That she's wrong on top of that (and intentionally made that mistake because it was pithier, even though she knew it to be incorrect) just makes it worse.
I'd have liked this more if she hadn't projected the faults of other asian characters onto Cho Chang, who is popular, sought after and strong, but has difficulty getting over her boyfriend dying. Sad, sure, but she survives, so it's not nearly as tragic a trope as stated.

And I'd have liked this more if she hadn't thought Ravenclaw was only good for nerds. Ravenclaw's an awesome house. It feels like she'd complain if Cho had been in Slytherin (dangerous Asian!), Hufflepuff (invisible Asian!) - anything but Gryffindor. Which comes back to my first point - it's standard fan complaining. It's fitting this went all over Tumblr.
posted by gadge emeritus at 3:27 AM on April 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


It feels like she'd complain if Cho had been in Slytherin (dangerous Asian!), Hufflepuff (invisible Asian!) - anything but Gryffindor.

That's actually one of the problems when you only have a few token characters of colour: no matter what you do, you're probably going to run into long established stereotypes. Anything you do with them is going to be scrutinised in a way that doesn't happen with white characters, as no one white character has to act as a stand in for a while race or ethnicity the way a character of colour so often has to.

So Rowling can have Hermione be the swot, Harry the hero, Ron the dependable if slightly dumb sidekick, Draco the evil manipulator, etc without anybody thinking that Hermione|Harry|Ron|Draco is what Rowling thinks all white people are like, because they're only one out of half a dozen main characters. Poor Cho Chang on the other hand, no matter what she does, she's the Chinese girl.
posted by MartinWisse at 4:26 AM on April 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


A Frenchman called García Sánchez would be atypical, but certainly not impossible. There is precedent for the name in Spain and French people with Spanish surnames aren't that uncommon. The name is a bit of a red herring anyway.
posted by ersatz at 5:47 AM on April 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think the fixation on the name is weird, in both her poem, in the Tumblr reactions and here in this thread. It's the weaker point of Rostad's poem but focusing on its error feels like focusing on a technicality of the larger message. Her reference to Cho Chang as a brown person does her work more disservice.

Mind you, this is a slam poetry performance by a university junior meant for a live audience of maybe a few hundred people. I'm willing to allow for artistic license to fit the medium and the delivery. Her criticism about Cho Chang being the token (Far-East) Asian, that there's reinforcement of the stereotype through such tokenisation in Western media and how these roles ultimately affect the self-image of the boys and girls who pick up on these cues is still valid.

Perhaps I am reading too much into her response but I feel she knows what bothers many of us with such sloppy token diversity characters and this was her way of expressing those thoughts. If she had collected her thoughts in essay form and formed more rigorous examples, would there be as much reaction and discussion? Would she able to express her thoughts as well? And would as many people even come across her message?

什麼是「real Chinese name」、「middle name」?
posted by tksh at 6:30 AM on April 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


'Albus Dumbledore' is a pretty hopeless attempt at an 'English' name, too.
posted by Segundus at 7:29 AM on April 19, 2013


LinkedIn search results:
Cho Chang 207 (none seem to be jokes)
Qiu Zhang 123
Chou Chang 120
Neville Longbottom 7 (seem to all be jokes)
posted by miyabo at 7:46 AM on April 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'd actually agree (despite my own participation here) that the name issue is a derail and orthogonal to her larger point, which is why it's frustrating that THAT clip was the one chosen to spread word of her performance. It's a reactionary thing, right? If a lot of people are going "Look at these gifs! Cho Chang isn't even a Chinese name!" then that's the point that's going to get pushback. If the gifs had excerpted Rostad shouting about Chang not being "fucking useless" and people watched the full context of the video, I feel like the name issue would've continued to be the sidebar it deserved to be.

But all of that is part and parcel of the problem of Tumblr as a social network (or the Internet in general...). You can't control how messages spread, or which messages spread. It can be rather unforgiving in that way, and like restless_nomad says, there's no real good mechanism for setting the record straight.
posted by Phire at 8:19 AM on April 19, 2013


Pinyin and Wade-Giles are hardly the be-all and end-all for spelling names. The name argument here seems to only reinforce the weird image of Asians having some exotic rules for spelling. When it is taken as a given that the names Eric, Erik and Erick don't actually cause anyone to assume they know where anyone is from. Of course only the first is the correct spelling those other two guys are just wrong.

Many people do not necessarily follow rules for spelling names very rigorously in any language or culture. Some in fact may have rules that don't have anything to do with the language they are trying to spell. I had to persuade the nurse for 20 minutes that the "pinyin" I wanted to use for my son's given name was "LuRay." She was adamant that there was no difference between upper and lower case letters and the proper pinyin would be LVRUI, but of course then no one would connect that with his great-grandfather. She was of course correct about the pinyin, but even with the correct pinyin people are just as hard-pressed to guess the characters in his name as they are when it is spelled in the way that I insisted it be spelled. In the end it is his name and I am giving it to him, so I think we should be allowed to decide rather than some random immigration officer, like the one that is responsible for my misspelled family name. I think someday my son will be pleased that his father won the spelling battle.

My favorite guess the ethnicity-name-game winner is an ex-coworker whose family name was Allum-poon. That is a three syllable hyphenated Chinese family name by way of Trinidad. The Chinese diaspora has been going on for so long, and China is so diverse, saying that something is not a Chinese name is as silly as saying something is not an American name.
posted by wobumingbai at 8:22 AM on April 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


Only about 14% of Chinese names are two syllable. The vast majority are three syllable, written in English as three words.
posted by w0mbat at 8:32 AM on April 19, 2013


Um, what? Every single Chinese person I know with a three-character name writes the two characters of their first name strung together. That includes myself, my dad, my sister, about 10 people I knew in high school, about 40 people I met in college, and random celebrities (Zhang Ziyi), etc.

There are people who don't, of course, like Chow Yun Fat and Fang Bing Bing, but it's by no means a hard and fast rule.

Also, the idea of "middle names" is nonsense. You would never call a Chinese person just by the second character of their three-character name (the alleged "first name"). Like, there are (optional) traditional naming conventions that specify that a generations of kids in a family share a common middle-character in a three-character name. If Chinese people adhered to the Western concept of middle names it'd be akin to giving everyone in the family, boy or girl, the same first name.

In any case, 14% of the population is nothing to sneeze at. That's 3 people out of 20. What proportion of Anglo first names have one syllable, as opposed to two, or three, or four? Are the least frequent of those names less Anglo because of their diminished frequency?
posted by Phire at 8:45 AM on April 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ah, I see the Wade Giles system does hyphenate between the two characters of a first name. My bad. The regional component is interesting there - I'm from the mainland as are most of my friends and family, and my friends from HK or Taiwan (who would be more predisposed to use Wade-Giles, if I understand correctly) tended to have Anglo first names they adopted.

(My original point stands - those two characters are one name, not separate units.)

The Wikipedia entry on Chinese names is actually super interesting and covers a lot of stuff I'd vaguely known through osmosis but never formally looked into, like school names and milk names and stuff. Highly recommended if you've got ten minutes to kill.
posted by Phire at 9:03 AM on April 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


My tart response to the first video (I'll watch the second later) is something like the following.

Rachel Rorstadt,

One hair of Cho Chang and some Polyjuice Potion does not turn you into Cho Chang. And the most obvious way to catch someone who's taken polyjuice is that they are acting out of character. This becomes plain with your very first sentence - for some reason you seem to believe that Cho Chang is an American or at least America should be her primary concern. And all the issues in America are relevant in Britain.

Some basic facts for you. The first is that if you really were Cho Chang, you would be one of the star Quidditch players of Hogwarts and as a matter of course you would have remembered Lee Jordan. But that is almost an irrelevance - merely another expose of how you are not Cho Chang and are instead, in the spirit of U-571 once more trying to appropriate Britain for America.

Some basic facts about Britain for you. Rural Britain is, by American standards, about as white as a former Sundown Town. But you wouldn't know that because you've almost certainly not even been to London (which is an outlier by British standards - for that matter it's arguably the most multicultural city in the world). But the Wizarding World isn't London. It's based on Rural Britain - in fact the entire wizarding world in Britain and Ireland combined is probably under 3000 people. Don't believe me? Hogwarts takes ten students per house per year. Which means there are about forty wizards born each year. Assume the average wizard lives to the age of 70 (given the Death Eaters and Grindlewald I think I'm being generous here despite some really long lifespans), and we have a population that passes through Hogwarts of 2800. And Hogwarts is the only wizarding school in Britain, with only two on the continent.

Which means that the Wizarding World (counting only Britain and Ireland) might just make the minimum size for a small town if you include all the house elves, the goblins, the giants, and the rest. Throw in Floo Powder and it's got the cosy distances involved for a villiage, including one bus route, a couple of pubs, a high street with a handful of shops. An even an attitude that turns "This is a Local Shop, for Local People" to levels even the inhabitants of Royston Vasey would find extreme. And the wizarding world is very, very provincial - see, for instance the approach to Muggle Studies or the converse approach taken by Arthur Weasley.

Some more facts for you. In 1991, when J. K. Rowling set the first Harry potter book, around 40% of English Local Authorities were at least 98% white - and these are almost all very rural, with the diverse counties being the cities. I checked. The 1991 census figures are online if you care to google. This is starkly incredible by American standards. By Welsh standards, it's a model of diversity - Wales had only five boroughs that were less than 99% white. For all certain Brits complain about immigration, we haven't had much of it over the years and centuries. Since 1066 England hasn't been seriously invaded (except by the Scots into Northumberland), since 1277 Wales hasn't (and that by the English), and the only people to invade Scotland since 1066 have been the English. Even that stopped. We've not had even a coup since 1688, or a pitched battle on our soil since 1741. Which leads to an unusual island with very little immigration, and the only remotely comparable country for stability being Japan.

You want to know why you are apparently a token? Hogwarts has about ten students per house, four houses, and seven years. That's 280 students. Can you guess what proportion of Britain in 1991 claimed to be of Chinese ethnicity on the Census? And what proportion claimed to be Other Asian?

Did you think it was around 3%? It was 3.6% in America in 2010. Which would make you a token if Hogwarts was meant to represent America. I'll give you a clue. For Chinese, it was 0.29% And for other Asians it was 0.36% Which means that if we assume Hogwarts to be representative of Britain in 1991, there should be approximately one person of Chinese ethnicity and one of Other Asian. (With the handover of Hong Kong and other reasons for immigration, the numbers have more than doubled in the past 20 years - but not being British you wouldn't know much about the handover of Hong Kong, would you?)

For the record my little sister was at one point the only non-white skinned person at her school.

And the rest of your complaints about tokenism are similar. If we assume that there are 66 students described at Hogwarts (as opposed to present) then the numbers work out about right even neglecting Lee Jordan. 94% white in 1991 (we've had a lot of immigration in the past 20 years - and been sensible enough to split that category). A world away from the 12.5% Latino, 12.1% Black, 3.6% Asian, 1.6% Mixed of the 2010 American census. Hogwarts is actually surprisingly diverse for a rural British school.

Your complaints about your culture? I'm going to be brutally honest here. What culture? We see throughout the books that wizarding culture trumps Muggle culture right down to Hermionie mind wiping her parents. Using British demographics and 2800 wizards, do you know how many people you have in what you call your culture within the wizarding world? 9. And 10 other Asians, some of who probably don't get on with you automatically. Do you really think you can run a culture off 9 people?

And complaining about being in Ravenclaw? J.K. Rowling used lazy stereotypes for the houses. Which house would you have preferred the person you are impersonating to be? Slytherin? A scheming oriental? Because that would have been so much better. An endlessly Hard Working Asian in Hufflepuff. Or the exotic sidekick being a Gryffendor would have made you. By using lazy stereotypes Rowling caused problems for herself. But if there was no good choice, would you really not have complained about any of the other three?

Of course a lot of your complaints about Rowling are right on the nail. After a decent start she turns the person you are impersonating into someone useless. Dumbledore is ridiculous. Not just closeted and with even the text being closeted but celibate. And dead. The least threatening option possible. And you have a good cause for anger on a lot of your other points.

But stop trying to appropriate my fucking country and pretend it doesn't have its own identity.
posted by Francis at 9:16 AM on April 19, 2013 [8 favorites]


I'm conflicted about J. K. Rowling's depiction of ethnicity in Harry Potter. The series is absolutely concerned with racism, with "othering", and with privilege (and Harry is absolutely on the wrong end of some of those privilege narratives; more directly in the narrative, Dumbledore points out that Sirius was so willing to treat his house-elf with contempt that he failed to treat Kreacher like a person with agency of his own). There's a part of me that would have loved to see Harry Potter mix-and-match discussions of intolerance in the wizarding world with intolerance in the Muggle one, rather than basically ignore the real world. Then there's a part of me that feels Harry Potter is much more effective as a story when it "escapes" into a world that suffers from all the same problems that we do.

For what it's worth, Rowling's excellent novel The Casual Vacancy deals with racism pretty explicitly, and has a number of very non-token characters of various ethnicities who play a major role in the story.
posted by Rory Marinich at 9:40 AM on April 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


When it is taken as a given that the names Eric, Erik and Erick don't actually cause anyone to assume they know where anyone is from. Of course only the first is the correct spelling those other two guys are just wrong.

You want to tell a viking explorer that?

And on thinking about my previous post, someone could have made almost every point Rachel Rorstat made - and if I'd thought they were from Britain I wouldn't have had any problem at all with it.
posted by Francis at 9:58 AM on April 19, 2013


British Chinese people generally write the 3 characters out as three words. They are mainly from Hong Kong, not the mainland, and speak Cantonese not Mandarin.
posted by w0mbat at 10:13 AM on April 19, 2013


Only about 14% of Chinese names are two syllable.

14% seems a pretty sizable exception to "A real Chinese name requires a middle name."

The Wikipedia entry on Chinese names is actually super interesting and covers a lot of stuff I'd vaguely known through osmosis but never formally looked into, like school names and milk names and stuff. Highly recommended if you've got ten minutes to kill.

Ah, that does actually bring some clarity to 1 character vs 2 character given names too.
Today, two-character names are more common and make up more than 80% of Chinese names.[8] However, this custom has only been consistent since the Ming dynasty. About 70% of all names were only one character long during the early Han and that rose beyond 98% after the usurping Wang Mang banned all two-character names outright. Although his Xin Dynasty was short-lived, the law was not repealed until 400 years later, when northern invasions and interest in establishing lineages revived interest in such longer names.[8] The Tang and Song saw populations with a majority of two-character names for the first time, but the Liao between them and the Yuan afterward both preferred single character names. The restoration of Han dominance under the Ming, promotion of Han culture under the Qing, and development of generation names established the current traditions.[8]

I was wondering why just about every character from Romance of the Three Kingdoms I could think of had 1 character given names. Zhang Fei, Zhao Yun, Liu Bei, Zhuge Liang, etc.

Whereas when I consider modern famous Chinese people, the only single character given names I could immediately think of were Lin Biao and Li Peng.
posted by kmz at 12:50 PM on April 19, 2013


My tart response to the first video (I'll watch the second later) is something like the following.

To be honest, I don't think in universe reasons for why Hogwarts is as it is are relevant. In the end it was all made up by Rowling and if she had wanted to, she could've made it far more diverse than it is now.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:56 PM on April 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


for that matter it's arguably the most multicultural city in the world

This is... a bold assertion. I

agree with Martin regarding your broader point; using rural Britain as a defence of Rowlings tokenism is not very logical: rural Britain has no wizards and yet Hogwarts is full of them. If Rowling can magic up a few wizards, a couple more swarthy types wouldn't really be a stretch.

But you are onto something, in that Rowling was replicating a long-standing, deeply problematic genre (classless, raceless, sexless boarding school fantasies) without questioning any of its fundamentals. She is far from the only one guilty of these crimes, but has probably sold more books than all the rest put together.
posted by smoke at 3:34 PM on April 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Um, what? Every single Chinese person I know with a three-character name writes the two characters of their first name strung together. That includes myself, my dad, my sister, about 10 people I knew in high school, about 40 people I met in college, and random celebrities (Zhang Ziyi), etc.

There are people who don't, of course, like Chow Yun Fat and Fang Bing Bing, but it's by no means a hard and fast rule.


Um, Phire... I have a three character name and I don't write the two characters of my first name strung together. So now you know at least one other Chinese person that doesn't :P
I'm not an exception in this respect; I know many others who don't string their first name characters together. Seems to be a 50-50 thing in my experience, although my estimate could be quite off. Just that I haven't noticed either one format far outweighing the other.
(Perhaps some people string the first two characters together to make a clearer distinction between their last name and first name, if they are in or travel to Western countries? Some people/entities have mistaken parts of my Chinese first name for my last name.)

The idea of middle names is a bit misleading in a Chinese context. Quite a number of people (not all - this depends on region / family / community/ mainland vs non-mainland) who have a 2-character first name were named following the [generation character] [personal character] format. (For some it seems to be the reverse: [personal character] [generation character].) While you wouldn't call someone by their generational character, you could call them by personal character. So... for example if you had Zhang Qiuyan and her sister Zhang Qiu Ting, you could call them Yan and Ting respectively, for short.

But anyway... yes, the technicalities of the name issue don't really affect the core of the matter, which is that Rowling created a token Asian character and probably didn't devote half as much thought to Cho Chang's name as we're doing now.
posted by aielen at 4:16 PM on April 19, 2013


This is... a bold assertion.

The two cities in the world with the largest foreign born population, both around the three million mark are London and New York (New York has less than 70,000 more - and according to Wikipedia 36% foreign born as against the 37% of London). In third and fourth place are LA and Toronto, both around the 1.5 million mark. (If we include the Metropolitan Area as opposed to the city, LA muscles in) And no one else breaks the 0.6 million mark. Bold assertion? There are at most two other cities in the world in the same league as London.

I agree with Martin regarding your broader point; using rural Britain as a defence of Rowlings tokenism is not very logical: rural Britain has no wizards and yet Hogwarts is full of them.

Then apparently you didn't read my post. Hogwarts looks like a cross section of Britain as a whole - it doesn't look like Rural Britain. The story is set in Britain. And Rachel Rorstad is complaining that it doesn't look like America. Indeed her opening point is how a story set emphatically in Britain is relevant to Asian Americans.

If Rowling can magic up a few wizards, a couple more swarthy types wouldn't really be a stretch.

It wouldn't be a stretch. And had Rowling done so that wouldn't have been a bad thing. My point is that you do not have the right to criticise a book set in Britain and written by a Brit because the Britain she writes about looks like a cross section of Britain and doesn't look like a cross section of America.
posted by Francis at 5:12 PM on April 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


When you see the family name "Chang" among Chinese emigres, it's likely to be the old-fashioned Wade-Giles romanization of the name spelled "Zhang" (张) in pinyin. However, Chang is the pinyin of another less common, but indubitably Chinese, name (常).

What stopped me from enjoying what is an otherwise moving poem was when she said Cho was the "only Asian" at Hogwarts - and I'm like "HELLO WHERE DO YOU THINK PADMA AND PARVATI ARE FROM ALSO YOUR US-CENTRISM IS SHOWING"

Before you break out the torches and pitchforks, please take a moment to reflect on the fact that many English speakers think of Indians and Asians as two distinct groups. I don't know if this classification is regional, or what; I associate Asian-including-Indian as being a British Commonwealth-ism, and Asian-excluding-Indian as being more American.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 5:45 PM on April 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


qxntpqbbbqxl: doesn't make that assumption any less wrong (not to mention regionally inaccurate, given that Asian = East Asian is a US thing while in the UK Asian = South Asian).
posted by divabat at 7:00 PM on April 19, 2013


ah, you addressed the regionalism thing. well as I said, US-centrism, but even if she had been speaking as one of the Patil Twins and went "we are the only Asians at Hogwarts!" I'd be yelling about Cho.
posted by divabat at 7:02 PM on April 19, 2013


I was thinking that too, but she addresses the Patil twins later in the poem. I also was thinking "but what about Lee Jordan! and Angelina!" but seriously, they are bit characters. Lee does like 3 things over the course of the series: he notices the Durmstrang ship, he levitates some rodents into Umbridge's office, and he comments on how Sirius is a cool dog. He is, the rest of the time, just a dude that sometimes hangs around Fred and George. Angelina gets made fun of by Pansy Parkinson, plays Quidditch, is a hardass captain, and dances like a badass at the Yule Ball.

We see throughout the books that wizarding culture trumps Muggle culture right down to Hermionie mind wiping her parents.

Then why are the wizarding communities so closely tied to their regional Quidditch teams? Hell, Hermione mind wiping her parents really has nothing to do with her attitudes toward wizard or Muggle culture; she's just trying to make them no longer a target for Voldemort.

If Rowling can magic up a few wizards, a couple more swarthy types wouldn't really be a stretch.

This exactly. And for a story that uses so many analogues for real life problems-- prejudice against werewolves, house elves, Muggle borns, etc-- there are very few people of color around, and the ones that are aren't multidimensional or interesting enough to be identifiable. Even when Rowling sort of expands Harry's little social group to include Ginny, Luna and Neville, none of the characters who are added are people of color. None of the adult mentors are people of color. The most well developed people of color are Dean, Parvati and (maybe?) Cho, and though none of them seemed to me to conform to stereotypes, none of them are really multi-dimensional or identifiable. She's doing plenty for people who are the analogues of real life social justice issues, but the people who actually are non-white are still shunted into bit player roles.
posted by NoraReed at 11:39 PM on April 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


She's doing plenty for people who are the analogues of real life social justice issues, but the people who actually are non-white are still shunted into bit player roles.

The main thing is that Rowling just isn't that good a writer and if you are going to write characters from outside your own cultural background, you need to be good to not fall either into stereotypes, or into palette swap characters where you can't really tell a character was meant to be Chinese or Black or whatever other than through their name and physical description.

Rowling however already fell into stereotypes with her white characters, then sort of seemed to realised her world was very whitebread and tried to make up for it with a greater diversity of secondary characters, with less room to flesh out their character...
posted by MartinWisse at 3:22 AM on April 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


"nerdy", "specialized in computers" also US-centric stereotypes that do not apply in Britain
posted by looeee at 6:40 AM on April 20, 2013


Um, Phire... I have a three character name and I don't write the two characters of my first name strung together. So now you know at least one other Chinese person that doesn't

Yeah, fair enough, ha ha. I don't know if you saw my follow-up, but there definitely seems to be a regional/dialect component to how names are romanized when they get carried over to non-Chinese cultures, and I imagine that has a lot to do with our differing experiences.

I also was completely unaware that people get addressed by (what you call) their personal character as well. My dad's family followed the "generational character" tradition, but within the family they get addressed by a separate, basically completely unrelated family nickname (the "milk name" addressed in the Wikipedia article). Neither he nor his two sisters are ever addressed by just their "first name" or their personal character within the family, and outside of the family they're more likely to be addressed just by their last name than anything else (小张, etc).

On my mom's side of the family, about 60% of the family have two-character names, which is also why I balk at this ridiculous idea that "real Chinese names" have three characters because one of them needs to be a middle name. I have a lot of problems in general with trying to apply Western analogues to non-Western language conventions, precisely because it causes confusion like this. I mean, is it that hard to accept that Chinese doesn't have middle names the way Anglo languages do? We even have punctuation specifically invented to deal with Anglo names, for heaven's sake... it doesn't have to be all equivalent.
posted by Phire at 2:30 PM on April 20, 2013


Rowling managed to write POC pretty okay in A Casual Vacancy, though (at least so far-- I'm about 2/3 in). And she does write a couple of foreign characters (Fleur and Krum), so she's not adverse to attempting people outside of her cultural background.
posted by NoraReed at 3:31 PM on April 20, 2013


Yeah, my entire family has 3 character names but all our first names are separate, not strung together. We are of Hokkien descent from Indonesia, so our names are romanized according to Dutch language rules.
posted by emeiji at 3:31 PM on April 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'll give you a clue. For Chinese, it was 0.29% And for other Asians it was 0.36% Which means that if we assume Hogwarts to be representative of Britain in 1991, there should be approximately one person of Chinese ethnicity and one of Other Asian

It should be noted that 'Other Asian' is a category apart from (I) Indian (ii) Pakistani (iii) Bangladeshi, which together account for the origins of around 4% of the UK population.
posted by biffa at 11:44 AM on April 26, 2013


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