Beneath the white gaze: Strategic self-Orientalism among Chinese Australians

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Human Relations, 2017, 70 (7), pp. 781 - 804
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© 2016, © The Author(s) 2016. This article analyses the ethno-cultural identities of Chinese Australian professionals through a postcolonial lens. Drawing on in-depth interviews with 21 participants, it explores how they engaged in self-Orientalism; casting themselves as exotic commodities for the benefit of white people and institutions. In particular, they enacted Chinese stereotypes through ‘mythtapping’ and ‘mythkeeping’ in order to secure recognition under the white gaze. As mythtappers, professionals presented themselves as custodians of an ancient and mysterious culture that offered organizational wisdoms for ‘the West.’ As mythkeepers, the professionals allayed white anxieties by surrendering themselves to white Australians as pathways into their communities. However, the professionals’ Orientalized identities are not passively determined, but are in some cases tactically and strategically resisted through ‘mythbusting.’ The article contributes to postcolonial theorizing by demonstrating how imperialist ideologies constrain the lives of people beyond the colonizer/colonized dichotomy and by illuminating the potential for their resistance against Orientalization.
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