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Asian Mystique: Dragon Ladies, Geisha Girls, and the Myth of the Exotic Oriental Hardcover – April 5, 2005

3.7 out of 5 stars 53 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Prasso, a former Business Week Asia editor, asks if Westerners can look objectively at the Eastern region, blinded as they are by "issues of race and sex, fantasy and power." It's this worldview-one the author admits succumbing to and feeling a "sense of loss" in giving up-that clouds cross-cultural relations. Prasso's ambitious agenda focuses on both Asian women and our perceptions of them, exploring the historical and pop cultural roots of the "Asian Mystique" and ending with a "reality tour of Asia." Her stories about the lives of Asian women from diverse cultures and socio-economic backgrounds are compelling. The Japanese woman who inspired Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha shares her distaste for the novel's "misinterpretation" of her "flower and willow world." A Chinese investment banker struggles with modern demands and traditional expectations. With the author in tow, a Filipina prostitute navigates a seedy red-light district. Prasso has an almost voyeuristic fascination with sexual mores, and the result is a frank, at times graphic, exploration of how some Asian women cope with stereotyping-and with Western males looking for one-night stands. But when the author moves from reportage to social anthropological analysis, the book loses focus. Self-conscious ruminations, such as the incongruity of dancing with Filipina prostitutes to Madonna's "Like a Virgin," sometimes intrude and distract. In addition, Prasso never really gets a grip on the Asian Mystique's effects on foreign policy, concluding, not surprisingly, that it is "much harder to measure and more difficult to prove." Nevertheless, Prasso's work and travels have opened her eyes, and this book might do the same for others.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Prasso, who has lived in Phnom Penh and Hong Kong and written for Business Week, nearly turns the fascination of Western men with Asian sexuality into a subject of numbing correctness. Fortunately, though, her determination to explore "our relationships and interactions, our misconceptions and stereotypes" doesn't suck the life from her compelling topic--perhaps because she is not above taking readers into the girlie bars of Bangkok and Manila, the personals ("Red Hot Asians") of the Village Voice, the cinemas and TV screens of West and East, even the home of Mineko Iwasaki, who inspired Arthur Golden's best-selling Memoirs of a Geisha. Using this frame of reference effectively, Prasso explains the symbiotic nature of Western fantasy and Asian fulfillment--often to great profit--of that fantasy, the roles that Asian women play and defy in the West, even the dangerous implications of this still-active fantasy upon global politics. Especially interesting are her observations on the emasculated role of Asian men in Western media--picture, for instance, Jackie Chan even kissing a Western woman. Alan Moores
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs (April 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586482149
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586482145
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.5 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,205,286 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Ed Uyeshima HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on August 7, 2005
Format: Hardcover
As the Asia editor for Business Week with fifteen years of experience on that continent, author Sheridan Prasso has a wellspring of observations to contribute to Western misconceptions about Asia, most of which are routinely based on fantasy, positive or negative. As a Japanese-American myself, I am quite familiar with many of them, as even transplanted Asians experience the same stereotyping. The impact can be felt on the diplomatic and business fronts, but the most common application of these myths is the area of personal relations, in particular, the "yellow fever" that some Western men have in idealizing Asian women as feminine, attentive and seductive.

Prasso seizes on "Madame Butterfly" as the archetypal story of Western notions about the Asian mystique: a delicate Japanese woman with undying love for a dashing American naval officer. It is the loyal, self-sacrificing Asian beauty who is betrayed by a fickle Westerner. The fable continues to regenerate in various iterations such as "South Pacific" and "Miss Saigon". In fact, women are either passive and sexually obtainable geishas, or cruel, domineering "dragon ladies" like Tsu Hsi, the empress dowager of China, who was falsely rumored to be bedding men forty years her junior. Asian men don't get off any easier, as they have been branded vulnerable and emasculated when they aren't considered sneaky and inscrutable.

Prasso divides her book into two halves. The first part analyzes the mistaken notions that Westerners have about Asia and how Asians often reciprocate by catering to such stereotypes. For instance, at a nightclub in Bangkok, Prasso surveys white male customers who are greeted with the available flesh of delicate Asian bodies and drawn by a cultural dynamic akin to a candy store.
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Format: Unknown Binding Verified Purchase
No one likes to be called out on his or her game. And this book calls all parties out on their prospective games.

Much as countless women (from a particular economic group) found a term to identify their discontent after reading Betty Friedan's 1963 book Feminine Mystique, Asian Americans will undoubtedly find in Prasso's book The Asian Mystique, a cohesive explanation of the strange behavior and perception towards Asians from the West.

Prasso does an excellent job documenting the visual etymology of the Asian Mystique in the popular imagination of the West, starting from Aphrodite, through centuries when China and Japan closed its doors to foreigners- forcing outsiders to "roll their own" and create a persona out of hearsay and thrice-removed tales - till present times, where Hollywood entertainment, mainstream media, and the Internet (including Amazon reviews) controls visual perception as fact.

Prasso points out that in the last hundred years , Asian actresses had only two roles available to them (dragon lady, or vixen prostitute (see Live Free or Die Hard for proof), but that's still one more option than what is available to the Asian actor. A chapter on the systematic emasculation of Asian men in the mainstream West deserves praise as this is something that has been discussed for many years in the Asian-American online community; actors like Jet Li, Jackie Chan, and Chow Yun Fat are allowed entry onto American screens and near Caucasian actresses, but are never allowed to kiss or touch any of them.

One of the most valuable items Prasso points to is the discrepancy between general Asian etiquette (that of "giving way to get your way") versus Western values (aggressive affirmation of the self as a declaration of individual need).
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Format: Hardcover
As a Viet Kieu, I am impressed by Sheridan's knowledge of Asian women and i read with delight and deep interest her book "Asian Mystique." It is well written, concise and deep in knowledge as well as in thought. No one in the past has dug deeper into the Asian woman psyche than she has in her book.

Asian women are far from being simple or submissive, as the tale goes. They are not only subtle and gentle, but also complex, goal oriented, calculating and can be domineering. They have been known to topple kings, emperors, and governments in the past without even holding officially a position of power. They therefore are not weak, but simply display self-controlled inner strength. In Vietnam, they are known as the Noi Tuong (Minister of the Interior: they run and control the household) compared to the Ngoai Tuong (man: Foreign Minister dealing with outside business). Their real power lies in their pulling the strings behind the scenes, in an unsuspected, unacknowledged, and at times Machavellian manner.

The author's book, which attempts to unravel the Asian woman psyche, is an important tribute to the often misjudged and underestimated Asian women. It is a work of art and labor as well as a literary achievement. In time I'm sure it will turn out to be a bestseller.
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Format: Unknown Binding
As an Asian American woman who has lived and travelled in Asia, I am so pleased that someone had the idea and courage to write a book like this!!

When the film "Memoirs of a Geisha" came out, I was living in Japan. It was so interesting because on Western English websites and movie review sites etc, people loved this film! However, even though there was a hard marketing push for this film in Japan and it played up and down the country, Japanese people largely were not only disinterested in the fim, but couldn't relate to it and couldn't care for it.

I feel that "The Asian Mystique" helps to explain massive incongruities like this that exist between the 'east and west'.

Some reviewers have said that the main points of this book were that 'stereotypes are wrong' and that 'Asians are people too'. I disagree. What has been left out of their 'analyses' of the book is Prasso's main point: that Westerners have seen, described and promoted a paradigm of Asia, including Asian men and women, that has been completely twisted, incorrect and not based in reality. And that this paradigm not only continues today but is actively confirmed and reconfirmed.

Prasso says at the end: let Asians describe themselves! This is a highly political idea, in that Westerners (I mean White Westerners) have rarely if ever, allowed other groups to explain and describe themselves in their own terms. I couldn't agree more! Everything that one hears about the East is filtered through a Western lens, whether it is books on Asia or movies (Letters from Iwo Jima, Kill Bill, Lost in Translation, etc).

Although I'm American, I find that I'm constantly confronted with DEEPLY EMBEDDED stereotypes of what people who look Asian are supposedly like.
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