Playful Yellowness: Rescuing Interculturalism from Millennial Orientalism

  • Daphne P. LeiEmail author
Part of the Contemporary Performance InterActions book series (CPI)


This chapter investigates performing “yellowness” in a playful but sincere way, as a recent trend of portraying Asianness and presenting Asian bodies in performance. Three methods are examined: yellow face, yellow drag, and yellow play. A number of performances, both theatrical performances and online cosplays from the 2010s are discussed. Postracial and transracial discourse, colorblind and diversity casting, as well as a form of renewed model minority mystique and yellow phobia all contribute to the formation of the practice of playful yellowness. Instead of engaging in critical dialogues and negotiations about cultures, aesthetics, and powers, which are essential elements of intercultural theatre, playful yellowness as a form of Millennial Orientalism acts as a racial and cultural equalizer and poses a threat to intercultural performance.

Works Cited

  1. Auerbach, Taylor. 2014. Interesting Korea Choice! Blonde Brazilian Man Obsessed with South Korea Undergoes 10 Rounds of Surgery to Look ‘More Asian’. Daily Mail, June 2.
  2. Barba, Eugenio. 1991. Introduction: Theatre Anthropology. In A Dictionary of Theatre Anthropology: The Secret Art of the Performer, ed. Eugenio Barba and Nicola Savarese, 8–12. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  3. Bryant, Nick. 2017. The End of Anglo-American Order. BBC News, June 9.
  4. Catanese, Brandi. 2011. The Problem of the Color[Blind]. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Cooper, Michael. 2016. Reviving ‘The Mikado’ in a Balancing Act of Taste. The New York Times, December 25.
  6. Doran, Gregory, and Catherine Mallyon. 2012. Facebook post. October 22.
  7. Fisher-Lichte, Erika, and Riley Jo. 1997. The Show and the Gaze of Theatre: A European Perspective. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press.Google Scholar
  8. Frey, William H. 2014. New Projections Point to a Majority Minority Nation in 2044. Brookings, December 12.
  9. Gass, Henry, and Francine Kiefer. 2018. Trump Says He Wants a ‘Merit-based’ Immigration System—Here’s Why That’s Easier Said Than Done. Christian Science Monitor, February 4.
  10. Hazelton, George C., and Harry J. Benrimo. 1997. The Yellow Jacket. In The Chinese Other: 1850–1925: An Anthology of Plays, ed. Dave Williams, 229–299. Lanham: University Press of America.Google Scholar
  11. Hillman, Melissa. 2013. In the Land of the ‘Color-Blind’. The Bay Area Magazine 38 (1): 14.Google Scholar
  12. Kai, Jin. 2015. Are We Living in a ‘Chinese Century’? The Diplomat, January 23.
  13. Kim, Claire Jean. 1999. The Racial Triangulation of Asian Americans. Politics and Society 27 (1): 105–138.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Kim, Tammy. 2016. An Asian-American Reimagination of Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘The Mikado’. The New Yorker, December 27.
  15. Knowles, Ric. 2010. Theatre & Interculturalism. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Lee, Robert G. 1999. Orientals: Asian Americans in Popular Culture. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Lee, Josephine. 2010. The Japan of Pure Invention: Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Lei, Daphne P. 2006. Chinese Theatre and the Eternal Frontier in Nineteenth-Century California. In Operatic China: Staging Chinese Identity Across the Pacific, ed. Daphne P. Lei, 25–85. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. ———. 2011. Interruption, Intervention, Interculturalism: Robert Wilson’s HIT Productions in Taiwan. Theatre Journal 63: 571–586.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. ———. 2014. Orphan á la Crouching Tiger. Contemporary. Theatre Review 24, 4.
  21. ———. 2015. Dance Your Opera, Mime Your Words: (Mis)translate the Chinese Body on the International Stage. In The Oxford Handbook of Dance and Theatre, ed. Nadine George, 669–690. Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Liu, David Polumbo. 1999. Asian/American: Historical Crossings of a Racial Frontier. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  23. McCormack, Simon. 2014. Brazilian Man Xiahn Nishi Has Plastic Surgery to Look More Asian (PHOTOS, VIDEO). Huffington Post, June 4.
  24. McIvor, Charlotte. 2016. Migration and Performance in Contemporary Ireland. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. McNulty, Charles. 2015. ‘The White Snake’ at Old Globe Is a Sprightly Fables of Attraction. Los Angeles Times, March 29.
  26. Mitra, Royona. 2015. Akram Khan: Dancing New Interculturalism. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Pappenheim, Mark. 1998. Helping to Mend Broken China. The Independent, September 6.
  28. Pavis, Patrice. 2010. Intercultural Theatre Today (2010). Forum Modernes Theater 25 (1): 5–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Proctor, Bernadette D., Jessica L. Semega, and Melissa A. Kollar. 2016. Income and Poverty in the United States: 2015. US Census Bureau, Current Population Reports, P60-256. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office.Google Scholar
  30. Quartz. 2016. The Full Apology from the Chinese Company Behind the Racist Laundry Detergent Ad. Quartz, May 30.
  31. Rafu Shimpo. 2012. Public Forum on ‘Nightingale’ Casting Controversy in La Jolla. The Rafu Shimpo, July 19.
  32. Rogers, Amanda, and Ashely Thorpe. 2014. A Controversial Company: Debating the Casting of the RSC’s The Orphan of Zhao. Contemporary Theatre Review 24 (4), Winter: 428–435.Google Scholar
  33. San Francisco Examiner. May 16, 1887.Google Scholar
  34. ———. April 26, 1891.Google Scholar
  35. Spiegel. 2017. Paris Disagreement: Donald Trump’s Triumph of Stupidity. Spiegel Online, June 2.
  36. Squires, Catherine R. 2014. The Post-Racial Mystique: Media and Race in the Twenty-First Century. New York/London: New York University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Steen, Shannon. 2010. Racial Geometries of the Black Atlantic, Asian Pacific and American Theatre. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Trueman, Matt. 2012. Royal Shakespeare Company Under Fire for Not Casting Enough Asian Actors. The Guardian, October 19.
  39. Tuvel, Rebecca. 2017. In Defense of Transracialism. Hypatia 32 (2 (Spring)): 263–278.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Wilson, August. 1998. The Ground on Which I Stand, a Speech on Black Theatre and Performance. Callaloo 20 (3): 493–503.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Zimmerman, Mary. 2013. The White Snake: A Play. Chicago: Northwestern University Press.Google Scholar
  42. ———. 2015. Making the Impossible Happen: Playwright and Director Mary Zimmerman on the Inspiration for The White Snake, Interviewed by Catherine Foster. Program Notes, The White Snake, 10. San Diego: The Old Globe Theatre.Google Scholar
  43. Zung, Cecilia Sieu-ling. 1964 [1936]. The Secrets of the Chinese Drama: A Complete Explanatory Guide to Actions and Symbols as Seen in the Performance of Chinese Dramas. New York: Benjamin Blom.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of DramaUniversity of California, IrvineIrvineUSA

Personalised recommendations