Course:ASIA321/2022/Joan chen

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Joan Chen: China's Teenage star turned Hollywood's Oriental Beauty


Joan Chen was a star in China since she was 17, known as the nations darling even acknowledged by Mao's wife Jiang Qing when she was only 14. Known for both being famous in China and seeing success overseas in America, Joan Chen is a perfect example of a successful transnational Chinese Actress who embodied cultural hybridization between the East and the West. This page seeks to tell the story of Joan Chen's life while simultaneously providing our own takes on Joan Chen's Celebrity identity and performance in her films. We will analyze the impact Joan Chen had both on Eastern and Western Cinema and the relevance that Joan Chen has socially, politically, and culturally through her success in China and America.

Joan Chen's Premiere of Film: Lust, Cation in Beverley Hills California.

This Wiki Page is for those who wish to learn more about Joan Chen with a fresh take on her roles in the film industry, or for those who just wish to seek knowledge on Famous Chinese Actresses.


The Transnational film star generally associated with being a sex symbol and symbol of glamour, Joan Chen, was born in Shanghai on April 26, 1961, and grew up during the cultural revolution. She hails from a privileged upbringing of educated pharmacologists. Joan Chen was discovered on a rifle range at 14 years old by Madame Mao, which drove her to enlist as a student at the Shanghai Film Studio, then two years later she was cast in her first film, Youth, as a deaf mute, but it wasn’t until 1979 that she rose to national fame with her performance in Little Flower[1]. Joan can be labeled a successful embodiment of eastern and western cultural hybridization which is exemplified by her success as an actor and director in both the Chinese and the American film industry. Joan’s Chinese directorial debut which she also co-wrote is entitled Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl (1998) based on her diasporic friend's novelia, Tian Yu by Yan Geling. Her directorial debut is critically acclaimed by Western and global critics, however it was notably banned in China due to political and sexual content to which at the time Joan responded apologetically to the Chinese state as she paid the fee for shooting on the Tibetan border without permission[2]

Joan migrated from China in 1981 to the United States where she studied filmmaking at the California State University, Northridge[3]. Joan’s American directorial debut is a romantic-drama with no ideological motive; Autumn in New York (2000) starring popular Western actors Winona Ryder and Richard Gere. Notably this film received poor reviews, however it is historically significant because it marks the first time Hollywood beckoned an Asian ethnicity woman to direct a high-budget commercial film, interestingly the producers initially laughed at the idea of asking Joan to direct, but after Richard Gere had seen Joan’s, The Sent Down Girl, he approved of her as director which led to her stating that after one meeting with producers they were quickly impressed by her hard-working attitude[3]. Joan first broke into the American film industry with Tai-pan(1986), then snagged more attention for her performance in the multi-Oscar nominated and nine time winning biographical drama, The Last Emperor (1987) as Wan Jung, an Empress with an opium addiction. Joan garnered further attention from starring as Josie Packardin in the cult classic Twin peaks(1990-1991). In contemporary times, Joan has continued to act in both Chinese and American/Western cinema in films such as the Australian based Mao's Last Dancer (2009), Chinese based Sheep Without a Shepherd(2019) and a supporting role in the American based Ava(2021).

Joan Chen's life roles

Joan Chen and her two daughters.

Joan Chen's life roles describe as dynamic and ambitious. These roles can be divided into four main categories: new actress during the Cultural Revolution, transformation into the actress required to in the U.S., film director, and mother. She spent her youth in the restrictive era of the Cultural Revolution and received a communist education.[4] It was a traumatic past for her but led to her first directorial role in the film Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl, which reflects the tragic history of that time. She studied stage performance and several musical instruments and enrolled at the Shanghai Film Studio, where her young talent was recognized and she began her career as an actress, appearing in many propaganda films.[5] In 1981, she moved to the U.S. despite the height of her acting career in China.[6] She attended several auditions to broaden her acting career there. American directors required her to be frail, exotic, slant-eyed and sexy, and she tried to adapt to them.[4] This was contradictory to her identity as strong and tough, cultivated under communism. However, the appearance of transformation was connected to gaining the roles of "Tai-Pai"and "The Last Emperor."  Therefore, she started to gather attention internationally. In 1998, She directed Xiu Xiu as a filmmaker. It was highly acclaimed and established her as a talented filmmaker and had a powerful impact on her star image.[7] Moreover, she got married twice and adopted twin girls from China, However, she transferred custody of them to her friend in the U.S  due to her own pregnancy, which caused great arguments for and against the Chinese public.[7] She worked tried to balance a career, as an actress and director, and raising children. Shih describes her as "the most amazing thing is her ability to strike a balance between her career and her personal life." She currently limits shoots to a maximum of two per year in order to prioritize her family. Her role as a mother allowed her to break new ground in middle-aged female roles.

Joan Chen's screen roles

Hwei-Lan Gao - Saving face (2004)

Joan Chen’s screen roles have been discussed socially and racially. During the Cultural Revolution, she appeared in some films such as Little flower and Youth, and her image of the little sister was accepted by the masses.[6] Her youthful and innocent persona led her to a role model for the proletariat youth. [8] She was the youngest person ever to win the magazine's Hundred Flowers Award for her role in Little flower.[6] After immigrating to the U.S., she became the first Chinese actress to pursue a career in Hollywood.  Although she approached success through her roles of Tai-pan and The Last Emperor, she ended up reinforcing racial stereotypes by playing required Asian women including exotic, sensual and vulnerable. This limited her roles to thrillers, such as Judge Dredd, and science fiction that showed foreignness and peculiarity.[4] It contradicted her impression as a little sister, being regarded as humiliating, and drew major criticism in China.[5] Since returning to the Chinese-language film industry, she shifted from being an attractive woman to a plain and realistic character.[3]  Becoming a mother also had a significant impact, broadening her career as the orthodox mother roles seen in Sunflower and Jasmine women and the spiritually strong middle-aged woman in The Sun Also Rise.[5] In addition to these roles, she appeared in homosexual roles in What's Cooking and Saving Face.[9] She also played the roles of Empress in Marco Polo and Sui Tang Hero. Today her screen roles range from exotic oriental to realistic strong women.

Substantive analysis of the celebrity's profession

Awards and Nominations

Year Award Category Film Result
1980 Hundred Flowers Awards Best Actress Little Flower Won
Yugoslavia International Film Festival Best Actress Won
1994 Asian American International Film Festival Asian Media Award for significant contribution to Asian American media Won
Golden Horse Awards Best Actress Red Rose, White Rose Won
1995 Hong Kong Film Awards Best Actress Nominated
Hong Kong Film Critics Society Awards Best Actress Won
1998 Golden Horse Awards Best Director Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl Won
Best Screenplay Adapted from Another Medium shared with Geling Yan Won
Berlin International Film Festival Golden Berlin Bear Nominated
Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival Jury Award Won
1999 Paris Film Festival Grand Prize Nominated
Special Jury Prize Won
Mons International Love Film Festival Grand Prize Won
National Board of Review International Freedom Award Won
2000 Independent Spirit Awards Best First Feature Over $500,000 shared with Alice Chan Wai-Chung Nominated
2005 San Diego Asian Film Festival Lifetime Achievement Award Won
2007 Golden Horse Awards Best Actress The Home Song Stories Won
Hawaii International Film Festival Achievement in Acting Won
Asia Pacific Screen Awards Best Performance by an Actress Nominated
Inside Film Awards Best Actress Won
Torino Film Festival Best Actress Won
Australian Film Institute Awards Best Actress Won
2008 Film Critics Circle of Australia Awards Best Actress Won
Asian Film Awards Best Actress Nominated
Best Supporting Actress The Sun Also Rises Won
Shanghai International Film Festival Press Prize for Most Attractive Actress Shi Qi Won
2020 Huading Awards Best Supporting Actress Sheep Without a Shepherd Nominated
Macau International Movie Festival Best Actress Nominated

Acting and Directing Abilities

As mentioned previously, Joan Chen was placed in the Shanghai Film Studio Actors' Training Program at fourteen years old, which was linked with producing Xie Jin films, hence how Xie Jin selected her to star in his gritty film Youth[7] Joan continued to study at the prestigious Shanghai International Studies University, where she majored in English. Joan returned to studying filmmaking at the California State University, Northridge, in 1981, which led her to engage with directing feature films and documentaries[3]. Joan's acting talent has remained salient in China's cinematic world as she recently gave a masters class at the 3rd Pingyao International Film Festival. In terms of maintaining contributions to western cinema, Joan has a steady stream of projects and has performed a lecture and narration at Stanford University for Guy Maddin's film, Brand Upon the Brain, at the 50th San Francisco international film festival[3]. Joan's range as an actor is reflected in the myriad of films she has performed in, over 90, to be exact. Joan has been in; dramas, comedies, romantic comedies, period pieces and thrillers. She has portrayed characters with disabilities, addictions, bombshells in American action flicks and even as a widowed mother to a lesbian daughter in Alice Wu's critically acclaimed Saving Face(2004)[10]. Considering her plentiful roles in Hollywood starting from the 1980s, Joan is often labeled a trailblazer in Hollywood for opening doors of representation for Asian Americans. However, her role as an actor in Hollywood was nothing but caveat free as Joan has remarked that the United States wanted her to embody an exotic beauty. The West was looking for a stereotypical Chinese-ness that she performed but has always been critical of and has understood that the version of her was worthless[1]

Joan Chen's contribution to professional cinema, culture and beyond

Joan Chen’s contribution to Chinese cinema

During the years after the Cultural Revolution, Film studios which were exclusively state-owned, needed acting talent to recover from the sanitization of the film caused by the Cultural Revolution, which shut down many Chinese film schools and universities. Evidently, this led to ample opportunities for teen talents such as Joan to act[7]. However, the roles that Joan acted in all fell under the “little sister” category, as illustrated by her roles in Youth/Qingchun (Xie Jin, 1977), Hearts for the Motherland(Xing Jitian, 1979), Little Flowers/Xiaohua (Zhang Zheng, 1980) and Awakening/Suxing (Teng Wenji, 1981). Furthermore, these roles were immensely patriotic and had the ideological function of promoting Communism and Mao’s idealistic agenda, as in Youth, Joan’s deafness and blindness were healed by a communist cadre doctor[7]. Joan met the height of her early career success in China with her role in Little Flowers (1979), to which she received an award for her performance in one of China’s most prestigious awards, “The Hundred Flowers Award for Best Actress,” which granted her a level of national fame which she deemed a “nuisance.” Nevertheless, it solidified Joan’s contribution to Chinese cinema[1]. Lastly, her directorial debut, Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl (1998) is a salient contribution to Chinese cinema as it delineated a bleak story about the termination of hope and life, serving as an indictment of Mao’s ideation of China that is fueled by the displacement of fathers, sons, and daughters around Joan[2].

Joan Chen’s relationship with China

Joan's relationship with China can be considered tumultuous. After securing national fame in China, she left at age twenty to migrate to the United States and has never looked back. She has gone back for short visits but has found it increasingly difficult throughout her career as her father is a member of the Communist party working as a hospital head[11]. Moreover Joan has angered Chinese state officials with her film, Xiu Xiu: The Girl Sent Down which was evidently censored. A cultural tearing between Western and Chinese culture is thus a balance Joan has contend with throughout her life. Joan's family has a history of traveling overseas to pursue education. Her parents went to America for medical school; her grandfather left for England to study and sadly committed suicide after wrongly being accused of being by the Chinese state that he was a counterrevolutionary and foreign spy[12]. Joan's attraction to western culture and her family's history of traveling to the west for academic enrichment are significant reasons for her decision to depart China. Her mother was among the first group of scientists from China sent to the United States. When she got there, she sent Joan an article on Elvis Presley's funeral, where thousands of civilians had gathered to mourn his cultural impact; Joan had asked her to send a tape of his music, and after that, she had decided, 'Ok, I am going to America.'[13]. Nevertheless, Joan's departure from China has caused her ​​pain to be apart from her family. She claims that leaving China felt like treason to the Chinese government and cites her decision to leave a painful price to pay for passion.[14]

Joan's role as Mei-mei. She is often featured wearing see through tops and is highly sexualized.
Bryan Brown and Joan Chen in Tai-Pan (1986) Directed by Daryl Duke

Key societal, economic, political, moral, and historical forces that influenced the celebrity’s career

The Pervasive Orientalist Gaze And Typecasting Of Chinese Women

Joan Chen immigrated to the United States at twenty in 1981, marking her as one of the first-generation Chinese crossover stars. At the beginning of her career, she was ushered into various stereotypical and racialized roles for Chinese actresses working in Hollywood, such as the "China doll" (prostitute) or "Dragon Lady" (villainess). Joan's type-casting into Hollywood productions as the "exotic orient" or racial object of desire is also exemplified by how Hollywood constrained her with racial typecasting, demonstrated by her "oriental mistress" roles[7]

Even when Joan was praised, a nuanced racialization of her sexuality was palatable, exemplified by American critics such as Richard Corliss from TIME magazine, who labelled her "Hollywood's favourite China doll."[15] In his coverage of Joan, he notably highlights her "exotic" beauty before her talents which exemplifies how difficult it was for Joan to escape the Western male gaze that followed her in Hollywood. Even as Joan has expanded her talents and transitioned to directing, the racialized "China doll" label has followed her, exemplifying how films about China are expected to conform to a rigid formula of politics that echoes the exoticization of Asian women, a recipe which is recurring in order to be successful in the West.[16]

Joan's role in Tai-Pan(1986) conveys the racialization of Asian stereotypes she grappled with as she plays a mistress, Mei Mei, who deliberately uses "bad" English (in the form of short, broken sentences) to foster a comedic rapport with Western audiences[10]. Tai-Pan illustrates the subjugation of female Asian bodies as Mei Mei is condemned to her room by her European merchant ruler. The subjugation of the Chinese female body by a European to a claustrophobic space is evocative of how Eurocentric Hollywood was at the start of Joan's crossover career and highlights the exoticization of Asian-ethnic women that Hollywood has exerted over Asian bodies. Joan's role in Twin peaks mirrors some of her other early roles rooted in the fetishism of Asian women, as Joan plays a minority woman amongst an overwhelming caucasian cast struggling to learn English.

Her character, Josie Packard, is vain and embodies the exotic neighbour; she is written to pander to the white male gaze and acts out the fantasy of assimilation through encounters with several white male lovers[17]. However, her role in Twin peaks is significant for Asian representation in Hollywood, as it earned her the title of the first Asian/American actor to star as a recurring character in an American prime-time tv show since Anna May Wong's lead role in The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong[17]. In discussing the impact of Joan's first directorial debut in America, it is important to denote that Autumn in New York(2000) received blatantly poor reviews across the board, with critics demeaning it as tremendously predictable, short on emotion and a cliche blend of romance and melodrama. Furthermore, the vast chasm in age between Winona Ryder(22 years old) and Richard Gere(48 years old) did not go over well with critics, as exemplified by the stars being nominated as the worst screen couple by the Razzies in the 2000s[18]. However, since Joan did not cast or write the script, she was left to her own devices to salvage Autumn in New York, and ultimately failed as Joan did not receive any opportunities to direct another American film till 2020, with the release of The Iron Hammer(2020).

The Historical Impact The Cultural Revolution Had On Joan Chen’s Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl(1998)

Despite the notable mark, Joan made on Chinese cinema, Joan has a history of critiquing Mao Ze Dong, his state policies, his propensity for mass indoctrination and precisely the perils of the Cultural revolution. In an interview with Alice Shih, she mentions that while growing up in the cultural revolution, her family was inundated with the fear of losing their house and that other families around her constantly discussed their fears over how to avoid relocating[3]. Her directorial debut, Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl(1998), exemplifies her thoughts by criticizing the “sent-down movement” and Mao’s paradoxical agenda falsely labelled as building a progressive culture which led to the subjugation of Chinese youth to dangerous working conditions. The sent-down movement has had a noticeable impact on Joan, and for a good reason. Growing up in the 1970s, Joan witnessed many educated Shanghai youth being increasingly sent to remote rural farms, state farms and other mountainous areas to engage in laborious work. She takes the issue very close to heart. She utilizes her film as a vessel to illuminate how female Chinese youth were especially vulnerable to sexual abuse, with Local officials slow to respond to rape reportings[19]. Through the protagonist of Xiu Xiu, played by Lee Xiaolu (Lu Lu), viewers experience firsthand the blind admiration that people have towards state officials and adult men alike[2].

Moreover, the brutal and disturbing accounts of sexual exploitation that she faces from a myriad of peddlers and state officials convey Joan’s feminist streak. Interestingly the ending does not function to remedy the patriarchal violence but vehemently sticks to sharp political criticism over Mao’s flawed policies. However it is important to note that some critics have even criticized Joan for an over-reliance on her radical-feminist agenda which at times obscures her artistic vision as she collapses the Cultural Revolution with the patriarchal hegemony of Chinese culture.[20] As a result, by showcasing a hyper-realist depiction of female defilement and abuse which concludes with Xiu's death, the spirit of the audience is drafted down to a dark abyss in China's history while offering no hope[20] Thus Joan’s film The Sent Down Girl has the ideological function of illuminating the historical damage the cultural revolution had on her generation. Furthermore, it addresses the symptomatic patriarchal values it inflicted on the displaced Chinese female youth by showcasing stark visuals of the sexual exploitation female Chinese youths endured from the sent-down movement in the gruesome rape and abortion scenes[20].

A critical analysis of two films starring the celebrity under analysis

Jasmine women(茉莉花开)

Jasmine Women(2004) - Joan Chen played the role of Mother Mo.

Jasmine Women was released as a woman's film in China in 2004. The film was set in three distinctive eras: Shanghai's Golden Age, the Social Revolution Era, and the Reform and Opening-Up Era, and composed of three parts with three generations in a family, embodying the unhappy females of each era through marriage and pregnancy. In the second part, Joan Chen fulfilled the role of mother Mo who was an idealist with a strong complex that missed the opportunity to become a film celebrity due to her pregnancy. Mo grew up in Shanghai as the only daughter of a photo studio, and Joan was from Shanghai as well and graduated from Shanghai Film School, so they have roots in Shanghai, and geographically their backgrounds match. Joan also states that she is a mother of two daughters, and she values it in real life.[3] This suggests that her career as a mother and her background reinforce Mo's role. On the other hand, the social and political contradictions between Joan and Mo can be read from following scene: according to Aranburu, filmmaking was severely restricted in this period of social revolution, also known as the Mao era.[21] Joan, a teenager at the time, appeared in propaganda films and was "a role model for young people in the proletariat".[3] In this scene, Mo described the boyfriend of her daughter, who was a member of the Communist Party, that he resembles her favorite film celebrity, to which the boyfriend retorted that film celebrities are "capitalist parasites."[22] She agreed with that, but she indirectly criticized the trend of the time to eliminate entertainment by arguing that film celebrities also need some abilities. While Mo is on the affirmative side of capitalist and materialistic film celebrity, Joan was a symbol of socialism. Thus, they are socially and politically contradictory. Moreover, when the boyfriend contradicted Mo, Mo's daughter stepped on his foot to stop him from making any further gaffes. Mo also refuted him despite the restrictions on speech during the Cultural Revolutionary era. These behaviors suggest an allegory that embodies Joan's pride in being a talented actress in both China and the U.S. and filmmaker. Joan’s performance as an actress in China was the role model of the proletariat as well as a young sister, which led to imbuing the masses with those impressions.[6] However, she established her role as a mother through the film.

The Last Emperor

The Last Emperor (1984) Joan Chen played a role of the Puyi's consort Wanrong

The Last Emperor, released in 1987, is a historical film focusing on the turbulent life of Puyi, the last emperor of the Qing Dynasty. She played the empress consort of Emperor Puyi whose name is Wanrong(婉容). As for her characteristics, there is a scene where she stated to Puyi that she is good at foreign languages and dancing. Cheng also claimed that she was ambitious and eager to survive the 20th century without being bound by tradition. [23]This is similar to Joan Chen's own identity: Joan spent her childhood in the revolutionary era with various restrictions, yet she learned to play the piano and to stage performances.[5] Hence, they are modern women, which are out of touch with that times. The following scene is the wedding night of Puyi and her, and it is the first time Puyi sees her face directly. She asked Puyi, ”Is it true the Emperor has a suitcase under his bed and is going to Oxford? Will the Emperor take Wanrong with him?” [24]Because they were raised in a closed environment from childhood, they longed to escape from that life and go to a foreign country. This can be read as an allegory of Joan's desire. Joan described that the period of the cultural revolution when she grew up was a "dark time," and immigrated to the U.S. to seek a change.[25] Hence, Joan and Wanrong had the same dream of going abroad. On the other hand, there are inconsistencies in the careers of each of them. Wanrong grew up in a noble family and was received into an empress at the age of 17. She also continued to live a luxurious life as the consort of Puyi.  Joan was brought up in a relatively wealthy family, but when she came to the U.S. at the age of 20, she belonged to the proletarian class, working as a waitress to pay for her tuition.[26] So their adolescent social classes were different. In addition, Wanrong’s expression in the scene evokes an exotic and voluptuous female. At the time the film was released, Chinese actresses, appearing in U.S. films, were expected to be exotic, with slanted eyes, sexy, and vulnerable like dolls. Joan stated she was eager to adapt to it at the time.[4]  Therefore, it is not an exaggeration to say that, she promoted racial stereotypes of Asians in the West by her role. She regretted this, however, and today plays a variety of roles that transcend gender and race. In contrast, Chinese viewers at that time viewed Joan's success in Hollywood as a betrayal of China, which invited much criticism. [6]

Reception of the celebrity

Joan Chen holding her two young daughters Audrey, and Angela.

Joan Chen was received very well in China during her teenage years, even noted as the nation's darling or little sister after some of her successful roles in films. China seems to like the concept of Joan being a cute little sister figure more than America, as films starring her in America preferred to paint her image as a sexy exotic Asian woman. In America she blew up because of her role in The Last Emperor which in large was due to her beauty and sexualization to the Western Audience as a foreign beauty[27]. Her sexualization and roles as an exotic Chinese doll in Hollywood tired her. However, Due to her experience growing up in the Maoist era Joan Chen had a bad viewpoint on Mao and his policies. In fact she expressed her feelings regarding the Maoist era through her film film Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl. The film itself was based heavily on how she felt about the errors of the Maoist era and her fear of being “sent down” when she was around 9-10[8]. To film Xiu Xiu, she had to film in China with secrecy, evading the Chinese government's rules regarding film making and eluding censorship. As a result the Chinese government did not take kindly to this banning Joan Chen from filming in China and fining her for $50,000, also attempting to discourage showings of films starring Joan Chen in theaters as punishment shortly after Xiu Xiu was released[8]. Although it seems Joan Chen thought it was worth the punishment, her popularity and film viewings continued through illegal websites. When she decided to pursue film in America many Chinese netizens believed it to be traitorous or unpatriotic, but she still remained relevant and famous. In fact despite her disliking the Maoist era she grew up in she still likes China and acknowledges how far it has come[28]. In the present day, though Joan Chen's prime has passed and she is no longer regarded as one of the current most famous actresses in China, she is still regarded as a famous Actress who had an impact on both Chinese and American cinema. In fact there is only one Major scandal which had really occurred in her career and it was her adoption of two daughters who she later gave away to a trusted friend in New York after she was able to have a daughter of her own and later another. In fact many netizens used to mock Joan Chen online whenever she celebrates her daughters saying things such as “So what about your adopted daughters?”[29]. Though it seems generally more frowned upon in China than in America with Chinese netizens seemingly more critical of their celebrities. Another example of this is Joan Chen getting criticized for her return from America after “a speech on CCTV that was considered insufficiently patriotic.”[28], for reasons such as this it seems Chinese reception of Joan Chen was more critical and harsh from netizens than American citizens. Over time the Adoption scandal was more or less breezed over and didn’t hinder Joan Chen too much.

Critical literature review

Reframing the Chinese Cultural Revolution in Diaspora: Joan Chen's "The Sent-Down Girl" by Feng Lan [20]

Lan pontificates that Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl (1998), directed by Joan Chen, is unlike many representations of the Cultural Revolution. His article is a critical film review that examines how Joan Chen's film functions as a critique of the Cultural Revolution that homogenizes China's patriarchy. Rather than visualizing the erosion of material forms of China's cultural heritage, it indicts the Cultural Revolution as the dissolution of the family space as youth are forcibly seen having to abandon their families for the collective good.[20] Lan examines that when the youth are isolated from their culture and families in Joan's film, spiritual and moral damage is perpetrated as the disillusion of shared values results in a prey vs. hunter structure that asymmetrically implicates women. Lan argues that Joan's ability to expose the fallibility of Mao's policy is illustrated through the failure of Xiu Xiu to become an "iron girl," which is deceptively promised by a Party official on the farm; instead, Xiu Xiu becomes a symbolic victim of the Maoist educational Revolution[20]. Lan connotes her integration into Mao's educational Revolution through the symbolic imagery of water, a pervasive narrative device that has the dualistic function of conveying Xiu Xiu's purity and defilement with, of course, the Cultural Revolution being held responsible. In the film's beginning section, water is illustrated as contributing to the maintenance of Xiu Xiu's purity as her mother is depicted washing her in a safe and domesticated space before she is sent down, free from lecherous officials and peddlers.[20] When Xiu Xiu is depicted bathing after being sent down and is notably isolated from her family, Lan denotes that water and baths take place outside in the wilderness, exposed to the lustful gaze of wandering men. From here on, bathing becomes a symbol of defilement for Xiu Xiu's purity; each time she takes a bath outside, she is closer to her death or her completed integration into Mao's educational Revolution.[20] Thus, bathing became a corrupted reflection of Xiu Xiu's integration into the Maoist educational Revolution and how it connotes the erosion of cultural barriers and the deterioration of female safety.

Furthermore, Lan makes the case that the only man willing to help Xiu Xiu is Lao Jin, a feminized incomplete Tibetan other who lost his masculinity to China's imperialism and the Chinese patriarchal hierarchy. Thus the sent-down movement reflects the underlying patriarchal hegemony of China and erosion of gender relations due to the Cultural Revolution, as male youth who were sent down co-opted themselves with their oppressors in abusing sent-down females, rather then helping other sent down females. [20] However, for Lan, the rampant sexual abuse, suffering and the film's ending visualizing the horrific death of Xiu Xiu in icy water eschew Chen's hope of transcendence attached to the film's ending[20]. Joan's critique of the Cultural Revolution, informed by a "radical feminist," limits and fuels her diasporic perspective as Lan critiques Chen for an over reliance on the feminist framework, which imprints an equation of the Cultural Revolution with China's patriarchal hegemonic culture as crucial historical agents responsible for the Cultural Revolution and sent down movement are not depicted which Lan links to Joan's diasporic positioning as she knew her film would not be able to reach China[20] It is essential to be critical of Lan's assessment of Joan's film as having a too-radical feminist agenda which he claims obscures some of her creative objectives, especially when Joan's story mimics history and highlights women's tragedies which are often censored by the state. Moreover Lan stipulates that Joan's radical feminist agenda unintentionally exonerates the true historical agents at fault for the Cultural Revolution and the Sent down movement[20], but he does not label the historical agents himself which contribute to the tragedy evidently hampering his arguments validity.

Who is Josie Packard? Joan Chen, Lucy Liu, and the uncommon sense of pleasure By Mila Zuo[1]

In her compelling article, Zuo analyzes if there is value in the subversive and eroticized representations of Asian American women in Hollywood. By studying the performances of Joan Chen in Twin peaks and Lucy Liu in Payback, Zuo argues that said objectifiable portrayals echo resistance to the hegemonic American cultural model. Joan, who plays Josie Packard, is an exotic embodiment whose death invokes the unfulfilled desire of the men who continue to yearn for her long after. Zuo argues that Josie's death is a form of resistance. If she were to live, she would echo the assimilative demands placed on Asian American women to conform to the "model minority" stereotype or pressures of hypersexual performativity[1]. Moreover, Zuo analyzes how even though Josie embodies a subservient role as a maid for her complicity in the assassination attempt on her husband, Josie resists her in-laws in a nuanced approach by responding sarcastically, playfully wearing her uniform with the hat slanted and long red nails[1] Where some would deem Josie's position as an otherized maid serving American's an act of harmful representation, Zuo dubs the maid attire and scenes as a self-conscious parody. She asserts that Chen's over-the-top performance of Josie as a hypersexualized embodiment of "Chinese-ness" invokes pride and pleasure in Josie's liminal position between whiteness and Chineseness[1] This liminal space allows for infinite reinvention, which Zuo links to Lucy Liu's character, Pearl, in Payback (Helgeland, 1998). Pearl similarily to Josie, is written as a hyper-sexual embodiment of Chinese-ness that is receptive to the white male gaze. However, Pearl is numb and unable to feel pain or death; her bodily structures and desires are structurally invisible. Zuo thus equates Pearl and Josie's limbo of statuslessness and hidden desires as a form of resistance as they are both highly desired, but their desires, fears and immigrant others are obscured due to their inventive and fluid subjectiveness[1] However, Zuo's article raises many questions. Such as how the spectatorship of eroticized immigrant bodies can be labelled a valid form of resistance, primarily when both characters are written from the perspective of the white male gaze. Moreover, since Joan Chen's character Josie Packard, who is just as important as her caucasian counterparts, did not receive an invitation to be featured on a Rollingstone magazine cover amongst other Twin Peaks female characters[1] So it is difficult to say whether her performance functions as a form of resistance or if it solidifies her role as the exotic other on the periphery of American pop culture.

Xiu Xiu: The Sent down Girl[2]

Poon argues that although the filmmakers, including Joan, describe their film as a romantic that took advantage of the beautiful scenery of Tibet, its content reflects China's tragic history and contradicts their argument. The author also claims that the film reflects their trauma during the dark Cultural Revolution period. Film directing has been an important part of Joan's career, and a critical analysis of the film, that she directed for the first time, will provide insight into her passion and attitude toward film, not only as an actress but also as a director, and deepen our knowledge of her career through this academic article. I selected the article because Joan directed a film that reflects the Cultural Revolution period, which was both painful and an opportunity for her to become an actress, and I suppose I can read indirectly her feelings and background at that time from the film. Poon strengthens her argument with a detailed and critical analysis of the film, focusing on the Joan and filmmakers’ words and actions. She emphasizes the contrast between the filmmakers' point of view, which the film is cathartic and beautiful, and the explanation of the film's cruelty, by alternating between the two. First, She described depiction of how the policy was cruel and wrong and explained that the film is structured to enhance the tragic ending by inserting the human side of the protagonist in the film's introduction. She also argues that the casts are intentionally chosen to be socially vulnerable people who are exploited, indirectly depicting the cruelty of absolutism. On the other hand, she argues that their attitudes contradict with the film's intention by directly quoting from Joan and filmmakers. They market the film to an audience as "a fable that redeemed the innocence of a lost generation.” Joan also stated that "Xiu Xiu commemorates the last generation that came of age during the Chinese Cultural Revolution."[2] In addition to that, as proof that Joan has no anti-government ideology, Poon cites as examples that she paid a fine to the Chinese authorities. Furthermore, the author mentions that the film reflects their trauma to that era. She cites similarities between the protagonist and Joan who was a role model for the proletariat. [8]

Joan Chen: National, International and Transnational Stardom[6]

Zhang argues that Joan Chen's public image as an actress has undergone various transitions, from the little sister persona in China to the objectification of exotic oriental women reflecting ethnocentrism in the U.S. The author provides a critical analysis of each film in which Joan appears and also strengthens his point by studying the roles she played from a social perspective. He also attracts readers with unique headlines by naming each chapter such as  "My Name is not Xiaohua”.[6]  I chose this scholarly article because it describes her overall achievements and the public's impressions of her, which is helpful in understanding her development and idiosyncrasies. The analysis of Joan's impressions would allow us to trace the trajectory of how she has shaped her career as an actress. Zhang states that Joan's role as the little sister during the Cultural Revolution was extremely popular among the masses, and she used it for propaganda. To support this assertion, he focused on Joan's performance style, including her pure character and the tendency for a close-up to be used in her scenes.  It also mentioned the structure of Chinese film, which uses emotional scenes to cover up public discontent and the false history of the Cultural Revolution, explaining the factors that led to Joan's sustained popularity in China. On the other hand, he claims that Joan was idolized as a male-gazed oriental woman in the U.S., and she was imbued with an image of otherness and mystique through Wanrong, which triggered the factor, in The Last Emperor. It led to reinforcing stereotypes of Asians.​​ Moreover, her career in film directing is mentioned. Through the film Xiu Xiu: The Sent down Girl that she directed for the first time, he indicated the fact she got rid of her conventional image in both the U.S. and China, entwined with the content of that film.

Salty-Cool: Joan Chen[30]

Mila Zuo speaks of Joan Chen using the metaphor of flavors to emphasize her Salty coolness as a strategy of resistance towards expectations and stereotypes of Asian women. Salty coolness is essentially a response to the construction of asian women as either submissive or dragon ladies, someone who is like that of a desirable but deadly woman. This is a trope that many Asian women are fit into. With regards to Joan Chen she describes Joan Chen as salty cool where too much salt can spoil the dish. Joan Chen appears in Twin Peaks 1990 and in one of the opening scenes Joan Chen's face is seen in the mirror. Her perfectly made up face, the mask of her makeup reflecting in the mirror. The idea of coolness comes from the idea that you can’t get close to her and that she is wearing a mask concealing her true self. In other scenes Mila Zuo argues that Joan Chen performs different roles from apparently attempting to kill her husband to wearing a maid costume in a way that heightens her sexuality. Forced into the role of the submissive maid playing it completely ironically overacting the role of the maid to show it is all an act indicating her insincerity, this gives off a salty flavor that adds salt to the dish where she is constantly acting in some sort of role with a metaphorical mask on. The costumes and clothes she wears are always about her presentation which is always immaculate drawing attention to her. Her beauty is also part of all the masks she keeps wearing to an intentional effect. Mila Zuo tries to argue that throughout this examination of Joan Chen and twin peaks the theme of salt appears all throughout her account. Her tears are salty, she is salty, her performance is salty. She claims that Joan Chen’s character makes a series of men fall in love with her and then weep for her, weeping salty tears. Not only is Joan Chen’s character salty but she evokes saltiness in others.

Critical debates

The Construction of Asian Gender Roles in the West:

Mila Zhou's chapter on Salty cool shows the representation of Asian women in American cinema through two ways. The first being the submissive Chinese doll, and the second being the beautiful but deadly dragon lady.[30] Through the metaphors of flavor Mila Zhou attempts to show the Salty cool resistance to these stereotypes that Asian women are typically forced into. Joan Chen's rough and hard upbringing during the Maoist era in reality led to her being a tough and strong willed woman, which is in stark contrast to the typical western representation of women in Film. Joan Chen's image as a result is of that of the stereotypical oriental beauty, beauty being the first thought that comes to mind with Joan Chen for many. Yet Mila Zhou argues that Joan Chen's salty cool is a strategy of resistance towards these expectations and stereotypes of Asian women.

Despite this argument it seems that the majority of people in America saw Joan Chen as an oriental exotic beauty with those features being a major highlight of her popularity. We believe because of Joan Chen's roles in film and the way she was represented in many of her films both in American and in China Joan Chen does not succeed in overcoming the stereotypes of an oriental beauty. This is not to say that she is only an oriental beauty but rather the argument that she is using salty cool as a strategy of resistance towards the roles she is forced in does not mean that Joan Chen succeeds in overcoming the stereotypes or contributing to the image of the Submissive Chinese doll.[27]

Joan Chen's Opinion on Maoist China Through Xiu Xiu: The Girl sent down:

Poon argues that the beautiful scenery of Tibet and the romantic stance that Joan Chen tried to capture in Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl is a direct contradiction to the reality of the time she was filming. Joan Chen was filming the end of the Cultural revolution which obviously was gritty, cost many human lives, and was a dark time in history during which Joan Chen was actually raised in. She emphasized the juxtaposition between Joan's point of view, of the film being beautiful, and the films dark and cruel tones. Poon argues that the film is structured to enhance the tragic ending, and the cast was intentionally chosen to be socially vulnerable people who were exploited. Contradicting the films intention as stated by Joan and filmmakers who market the film to the audience as "a fable that redeemed the innocence of a lost generation."[2]

Though Poon argues that Joan Chen is contradicting herself and her intentions, we believe that Joan Chen was in fact not a fan of Maoist China often repeating the fact that she thinks China has come further from where it used to be.[28]We also believe that although Joan Chen may have been trying to show "the innocence of a lost generation", Joan Chen was fearful of being a girl who was sent down, and fearful of the policies during the Cultural revolution.[8]So in no way do we believe that Joan Chen genuinely supported and enjoyed the Cultural revolution or the Maoist era. In fact the Chinese government banned Joan Chen's Xiu Xiu, and banned her from making films in China, so to say that "Joan has no anti-government ideology"[2]seems to be a bit of a stretch. Especially when Joan Chen has openly expressed the tough times of the Maoist era refusing to censor her film and the sexual exploitation that occurred in Xiu Xiu representing the cultural revolution.

Born from a family of educated individuals hoping to broaden their cultural horizons. It is no mistake that Joan Chen has become a star emblematic of cultural hybridity, which she has maintained through dutifully working in the Eastern and western film industries. From confining little sister category roles rooted in patriotism from her early China career, to hyper-sexualized roles pandering to the white male gaze in the West, Joan has evolved as an actress by through unconventional means. Despite the scandals she had suffered and being called a traitor by Chinese netizens when she decided to pursue her passion in America. Joan Chen's accomplishments and impact on both Chinese cinema and American cinema is not to be understated. Joan Chen offers interesting insight into the Mao era as a film maker who grew up during this time, and is a prime example of the contrasting roles that Oriental women would be given in American and in Chinese films.

Works Cited

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 Mila, Zuo (2014). "Who is Josie Packard? Joan Chen,Lucy Liu, and the uncommon sense of pleasure". UCLA: Center for the Study of Women – via escholarship.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 Poon, Wena (2000). "Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl . Joan Chen, Allison Liu, Cecile Shah Tsuei". Film Quarterly. vol. 53, no.3.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 Shih, Alice (2007). "Actor, screenwriter, director, Chinese, American, woman, mother: who is Joan Chen?". CineAction. no. 72 – via Gale Literature Resource Center.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Rehak, Melanie (May. 23 1999). "The Way We Live Now: 5-23-99: Questions for Joan Chen; The Revolution of Little Girls". New York Times Magazine. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Kerry, Brown (01 May, 2015). Berkshire Dictionary of Chinese Biography Volume 4. Massachusetts: Berkshire Publishing Group. pp. pp 78-85. ISBN 1614729751. Check date values in: |year= (help)CS1 maint: extra text (link)
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 Zhang, Jie (2014). Joan Chen: National, International and Transnational Stardom. In: Wing-Fai, L., Willis, A. London: Palgrave Macmillan,. ISBN 978-1-349-44005-4.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 Zhang, Yingjin (1998). "Joan Chen: National, International and Transnational Stardom". Encyclopedia of Chinese Film. London: Routledge. pp. 96–97. ISBN 9780203195550.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 Faison, Seth (April 29 1999). "China Bans A Filmmaker For Eluding Censorship". The New York Times. Check date values in: |date= (help) Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name ":10" defined multiple times with different content
  9. Lynn, Jamie (Jul 18, 2007). "Joan Chen on work, life and "Home"". Afterellen.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Khoo, Olivia (2013). "On No Longer Speaking Chinese". Crossover Cinema Cross-Cultural Film from Production to Reception. Routledge. pp. 66–82. ISBN 9780203097212. line feed character in |title= at position 17 (help)
  11. Margulies, Edward (Mar 04 1990). "Me JOAN CHEN: The Movie the Last Emperor made Her a Household Name in the West, and Earned Her an Academy Award Nomination, But Joan Chen Still Doesn't Know if She's really Chinese Or American. And Sometimes She:Thinks it's Not really Important what She is". ProQuest: 116. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  12. Chen, Joan (Apr.12th 2008). "Opinion Exchange: Joan Chen: Understand: China Has Come Far". Star Tribune. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  13. Dretzka, Gary (Jul 28, 1999). "Her Own Revolution". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  14. Beresford, Bruce (2009). Mao's Last Dancer. Great Scott Productions Pty. Limited.
  15. Corliss, Richard (April 1999). "Once the transpacific princess of good films and bad, Joan Chen is now an award-winning auteur". TIME. line feed character in |title= at position 54 (help)
  16. Lu, Sheldon H. (December 31st, 2017). Chinese modernity and global biopolitics : studies in literature and visual culture. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 115–129. ISBN 0-8248-3111-X, 978-0-8248-3111-0 Check |isbn= value: invalid character (help). Check date values in: |year= (help)
  17. 17.0 17.1 Zuo, Mila (2022). "Salty-Cool Maggie Cheung and Joan Chen". Vulgar Beauty: Acting Chinese in the Global Sensorium. Duke University Press. pp. 73–112. ISBN 978-1-4780-2271-8.
  18. Santoso, Danang (2010). "ANXIETY OF WILL KEAN REFLECTED IN JOAN CHEN'S AUTUMN IN NEW YORK MOVIE (2000): A PSYCHOANALYTIC APPROACH". Universitas Muhammadiyah Surakarta: 1–15 – via Google Scholar.
  19. Ho, Denise (March 2021). "Across the Great Divide: The Sent-Down Youth Movement in Mao's China, 1968–1980."". The American Historical Review. 126: 290–291 – via Oxford Journals.
  20. 20.00 20.01 20.02 20.03 20.04 20.05 20.06 20.07 20.08 20.09 20.10 20.11 Lan, Feng (2004). "Reframing the Chinese Cultural Revolution in Diaspora: Joan Chen's "The Sent-Down Girl"". Literature/Film Quarterly. Salisbury University. Vol. 32, No. 3: 193–198 – via JSTOR.
  21. Aranburu, Ainhoa M (2017). ""The Film Industry in China: Past and Present."". Journal of Evolutionary Studies in Business. vol. 2, no. 1: pp. 1-28. doi: Check |doi= value (help).CS1 maint: extra text (link)
  22. Mandarin Says Tess (Aug. 16, 2020). "Chinese movies in mandarin - Jasmin Women 茉莉花开 - Ziyi Zhang 章子怡 etc". Youtube. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  23. Cheng, Yujia (July, 2019). "The Last Emperor Film Analysis From the Technique to the View of the Western World". Atlantis Press. doi: Check |doi= value (help). Check date values in: |date= (help)
  24. Tencent Video(腾讯视频) (1987). "The Last Emperor(末代皇帝)".
  25. Martin, Michel (Host) (Mar. 15 2012). "Joan Chen: No More Concubine, Dragon Lady Roles". NPR. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  26. Min, Anchee (01 Jan, 2014). The Cooked Seed. United Kingdom: A&C Black. pp. pp. 25. ISBN 1408838206. Check date values in: |year= (help)CS1 maint: extra text (link)
  27. 27.0 27.1 The following is a conference paper presented at the Thinking Gender plenary panel on February 7, 2014 and the Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference on March 20, 2014. It is a condensed and adapted excerpt taken from a dissertation chapter on the transnational politics of Chinese feminine beauty and Chinese female film stars.
  28. 28.0 28.1 28.2 "'Little Flower': Chen Chong". China Daily. September 25, 2003.
  29. Tan, Tammi (January 26, 2021). "Before Zheng Shuang, Joan Chen Was Once Accused Of Abandoning Twins She Adopted After Having Her Own Daughter". Today.
  30. 30.0 30.1 Zuo, Mila (2022). Vulgar Beauty: Acting Chinese in the Global Sensorium. Duke University Press. pp. 73–112.


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