The Simpsons on China

First the hilarious South Park dodgeball episode (I hear that one provides great discussion material for the classroom), and now this! I’m definitely going to have to see this episode.

Sign in the Square

Via Wayne.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. I thought it was pretty lame, actually – lots of reliance on tired police-state misconceptions. There were probably a couple of good laughs in it, but I can’t remember them.

  2. Kikko Man Says: June 21, 2005 at 2:08 am

    “reliance on tired police-state misconceptions”

    Since when does police-state humor get tired? Are you one of those humorless Yale-ies Groening always warning us about? Since when is China not a police state? What, being an American living under the patriot act making China seem a little less oppressive?

  3. Americans are so fixated on 1989 Tiananmen Square, are the Chinese fixated on 1993 Waco Texas? The U.S. government still denies any wrongdoing in slaughtering 74 men, women, and children. Does that pop up in Chinese entertainment at every mention of America?

  4. Df,

    Even though I am a non-American who used to be fixated on TAM Square but no longer, your comparison to Waco is not exactly valid. One, Waco was never an international sensation that TAM was partly because Waco was not by students and not about politics. Two, Timothy McVey “erased” the US government’s guilt of Waco if there was one in anyone’s mind. The morning of Oklahoma City, G Gordon Liddy was laughing and chanting aloud for it on radio before realizing he really should shut up which he did, but I bet Janet Reno was laughing day and night in Justice. She’d drink one and say: Kudos to the old Chinese wisdom: 塞翁失马,安知非福 (sai4 wong1 shi1 ma3, an1 zhi1 fei1 fu2: old man lost his horse but who’s to say it’s not a blessing)?

  5. Did the Simpsons do a dodgeball episode too? I thought that was Southpark.

  6. Kikko Man: I’m all for police-state humor when it’s done well; what irritated me was the “lame” part. I haven’t really watched the Simpsons in years, in part because they seem to have devolved from tight, smart, plot-based humor to a format which bounces them from one cheap joke to another.

    There were a couple of funny lines in the episode, to be fair — particularly Homer’s response to a character who’s just mentioned her “Great Communist Motherland,” and Patty (or is it Selma?) talking to a Chinese official “one soulless bureaucrat to another.” Oh, and the joke John has the image of above – you know, the one that won’t get past keyword filters – is pretty funny too.
    Still – I wish they’d done a smarter job of it.

  7. Matt,

    Oops, you’re right… that was South Park. My bad. I saw it a long time ago. I’ll fix that.

  8. I can’t really comment extensively because I haven’t seen the episode, but some of the jokes are lame. Not the ones about human rights or Tibet or whatnot, but Mao suits? People not knowing when to clap at a rock show because of authoritarian indoctrination? Hello, those jokes might have been spot on in 1983. Have any of the Simpsons writers noticed anything that’s changed about China in the past 20 years? There’s plenty of stuff they could have lampooned (e.g. rampant piracy of anything imaginable) that would have been way funnier and way more up-to-date.

  9. Yea, that Southpark episode was a killer.

    Now that I think of it, I remember I was showing some of my students some episodes of The Family Guy one time. (There are a surprising number of gutshots at China on that show, too.) It was the episode where Peter decided to make his house into a country where he was president and so he invited all the famous dictators from history over for a barbecue.

    Mao was center-stage, floating around in the pool, and the kids couldn’t believe it.

  10. Da Xiangchang Says: June 21, 2005 at 5:11 pm

    I gotta see this. Looking at the photos on the site, there didn’t seem to be many Mao suits–which often isn’t the case with other American productions (see, for example, the Austin Powers moment in the Chinese classroom). I wonder if Lucy Liu put on an accent in the skit like she did in Shanghai Noon. The world’s still screwed up when a Chinese-American broad has to fake a stereotypical Chinese accent to get work. 🙁 Which makes me wonder why Lucy Liu didn’t get any roles in Memoirs of a Geisha. Instead, atrocious English speakers like Zhang Ziyi and Gong Li got roles! 🙁 With the exception of Quentin Tarantino, Hollywood just doesn’t understand Asians.

  11. …and Quentin Tarantino does?

  12. Kikko Man Says: June 22, 2005 at 7:24 am

    Understand Asians? Who? Why would women who are not Japanese and obviously don’t look Japanese be chosen for Geisha anyway??? There are so many good, hot Japanese actresses. Lucy Liu as a better choice? That’s funny. She’s even more “Chinese” looking than Gong Li.

  13. Does any have a working .torrent to this episode?

  14. Da Xiangchang Says: June 22, 2005 at 8:01 am

    I really don’t buy the argument AT ALL that Japanese and Chinese look any different. IMHO, Northeast Asians–Koreans, Japanese, Chinese–are all indistinguishable from one another. I’ve brought up the argument before that nobody ever has these games distinguishing Danes from Germans from Austrians, yet people are always getting all excited over Koreans, Japanese, and Chinese. It’s really intellectually retarded. And my problem with Memoirs of a Geisha isn’t that Zhang Ziyi doesn’t look “Japanese” (cuz she DOES), but rather she can’t speak English well in an English-speaking movie. The movie would’ve been much better served with Asian Americans (like Lucy Liu) in the lead roles. Otherwise, the movie will continue the stereotype that Asians cannot speak good English to American audiences (like The Last Emperor, Snow Falling On Cedars, etc.). Hollywood doesn’t seem to get the difference between Asians and Americans with Asian ancestry!

    I don’t particularly care for Tarantino’s movies, but he’s an Asian film aficionado, and I don’t sense any of the liberal racial nonsense I see in most Hollywood productions.

  15. Adam – Wayne’s post links to one, I think – that’s where I downloaded the episode.

    Ah yes:

  16. DXC wrote:

    The movie would’ve been much better served with Asian Americans (like Lucy Liu) in the lead roles.

    Enough Lucy Liu! I’d like to see some new Asian Americans make it into the screen, myself. Unfortunately, Hollywood seems pretty content with a choice of like 3.

  17. Although I quite often disagree with Da Xiangchang often on his concepts of Chinese pathological self-hatred, I do heartily agree with him on this matter. If the film needs to emphasize the foreigness of a player, then that player should speak with a French, Italian, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, or whatever Accent. In “Snow Falling on Cedars”, there is no foreigness, she is an American, why would she speak funny English. And “Memior’s of a Geisha” is all in Japan, so there is no emphasis on “foreigness” at all. They will all speak English, we will pretend that it is really Japanese. As far as more Asian (Asian-American) actresses (I sorry, I believe actors is the required word), that is a matter of supply and demand; probably a lot of supply, perhaps not as much demand?). When Gung Fu first came out, that White guy did alright, but now we would probably want the real thing, a Bruce Lee type. If they redid Charlie Chan, we would, I think, want the real thing, not some white guy pretending to be a yellow guy, same with “The Good Earth”, etc.

  18. Ke Meng Says: June 23, 2005 at 3:16 am

    Lucy Liu is a mediocre actress. None of her acting is truly impressive. And she is not good-looking at all based on the East Asian standard for beauty.

    Chinese, Korean and Japanese are easily distinguishable in East Asia. Just as people in China can tell which part of the country another Chinese comes from.

  19. Kikko Man Says: June 23, 2005 at 10:53 am

    Da Xiangchang, sorry to make this personal…. with your constant whiney baby whitey doesnt understand Asians thing you really seem the fool. If someone was making a movie and they wanted an Italian they wouldn’t get a friggin Dane. If someone was filming a WWII flic you wouldnt have Greeks playing the damn Nazis. Your arguement is bologna. Youve lived in the US way to long if you think all North Chinese, Koreans, and Japanese look alike. Some do, but Gongli and Zhangziyi are extremely classic looking Chinese chics. Nothing Japanese about them at all. Oh yeah… and since Geisha were often chosen for the stereotypical Japaneseness, it only makes since they very “Japanese” looking actresses would be chosen. Normally I wouldnt even be a stickler for such acuracy but it is a period piece about classic looking Japanese women.

  20. What’d Homer say to all this?

  21. Da Xiangchang Says: June 23, 2005 at 1:40 pm

    Soy Sauce,

    Again, there are no physical differences between an “average” Korean, Japanese, and Chinese. Had Zhang Ziyi been a Japanese actress, you’d undoubtedly be saying she is among the “classic looking Chinese chics.” Chics? Is it chic to spell “chicks” “chics”?

    As for the whole braindead Japanese looking different from Chinese argument, why don’t all of you take this test and tell me your results. If you score even 80% right, I know you’re lying:


    You’re right: Hollywood needs more Asian-American actors. Hollywood, despite being by populated by liberals, is a very conservative place. However, part of blame should be on the Asian Americans themselves: very few AA actors are really all that talented. Instead, they’re just waiting for the right role to appear, and since roles are written by pink screenwriters, they won’t come, which begs the question: why aren’t there more AA filmmakers? Besides Wayne Wang (a truly mediocre talent) and Justin Lin (Better Luck Tomorrow guy), I can’t think of any others. I’m sure if an AA actor also had the talent of, say, Tarantino or Shyamalan or even Sylvester Stallone (hey, he WROTE Rocky), he/she could end up a major star, far bigger than Lucy Liu. After all, Jackie Chan and Jet Li enjoy salaries well north of the $10 million-a-pic mark so it ain’t totally racism that’s keep AA actors down.

  22. OK, I got 9 out of 18. That must mean I am half-ass. There has been just too much DNA plasm spread around to make locality specific correlations with race. People are always coming up to my wife and speak to her in Chinese, thinking she is Chinese. When I was in Vietnam, a Vietnamese friend was working for a Japanese company. When his boss came over from Japan, we would go to one of the local Japanese restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City. Without exception that I am aware of, the waiter would always speak to my Vietnamese friend in Japanese, and if they spoke to his Japanese boss, it would be in Vietnamese. I suspect for the Japanese boss, a rather humbling experience. And for my daughters, Chinese think they are Chinese, Mexicans think they are Mexicans, Italians think they are Italians, Greeks think they are Greeks, they can’t even get their race pinned down.

    It was Bruce Lee that came up with the idea for Gung Fu, or whatever it was called; but it was racism that kept him from starring in it, but now I do not think there is any racism involved, just as DXC says, need good talent and good scripts, etc. As for Hollywood actors being conservative in selecting roles, etc., that is just old fashioned connections, guanxi is everywhere, it is not a Chinese invention.

  23. Ke Meng Says: June 23, 2005 at 4:19 pm

    I doubt Hollywood are actually desperate for talented AA actors. I think it’s still difficult for the westerners to accept that the screen hero has an Asian face. Also at least now Hollywood couldn’t produce excellent asia-culture-oriented films and personally I don’t believe they can in the future. There are enough talented actors and filmmakers here in Asia and they can tell good stories themselves.

  24. Does Harold and Kumar count as a good American movie with Asian leads?

  25. Kikko Man Says: June 24, 2005 at 5:55 am

    Good job “big” sausage… attack my quick haphazard typing/spelling but none of my arguement…

    Isnt that bait and switch? You still didn’t address the fact you whine on and on about whitey not understanding Asians or it being beyond them. You have no idea what color I am or my “background” and you are making all the assumptions. If there is anyone out there that will aggree with you that Zhangziyi and Gongli are “japanese” looking and could get away with playing a Geisha, please chime in?

  26. Da Xiangchang Says: June 24, 2005 at 1:33 pm


    Great story about the Vietnamese person. It proves my point quite well. However, I DO see a difference between Southeast and Northeast Asians. I mean, Cambodians and Thais look quite different from the Chinese and Japanese just like Sicilians and Greeks are different from Swedes and Russians. It’s the North/South factor, which is very much real.

    Ke Meng,

    Another problem with AA actors is they bring nothing new to the table. With a black actor, they often make movies better cuz they have the whole black thang going on. Like Will Smith made I, Robot a lot better than if his character was just played by a boring pink guy. With Smith, he can make jokes like telling the cat the relationship would never work cuz “I’m black, you’re a cat.” Black actors often just make movies better because black American culture is very distinct and often very funny. But what do AA actors bring besides looking different from others? NOTHING. What, after all, could be more boring than Russell Wong and Rick Yune?

    Soy Sauce,

    Take the test, dude, take the test. That’s my proof.

  27. Just to add further fuel to the Big Sausage/Soy Sauce debate, I want to throw in my 2 cents about the choice of Zhang Zhiyi and Gong Li for the choice for Memoirs of a Geisha.

    This is one area where I can wholeheartedly agree with the Sausage if for different reasons. There is no problem with the casting of Memoirs of a Geisha, except for those who chose to make it so. All the loud protestations of occidentalism are in fact an inverse manifestation of this same situation. There exists an overwhelming fixation on accuracy, or more precisely creating an idealized image of a certain foreign culture which nonexistant in the original source material.

    There are two principal factors that many have used to bemoan this movie, I will address the technical first. The use of non-Japanese actresses is irrelevant to this issue, because the main qualifier on being an actor is their ability to convey emotion and diguise themselves as someone they are not, e.g. acting. Race is a non-issue because the primary/only requirement for the actor is to be able to fulfill a role. No rule exists which states only a particular actor of a certain race/nationality can play a role of that aforementioned race/nationality. Simply because any such rule is flat out ludicrous. We no more expect a Scottish actor to play Macbeth than we expect that only a Danish actor can take the lead in Hamlet, why make the case for exceptionalism here? Being Japanese does not by virtue make an actresses more suitable for the roles in Memoirs of a Geisha anymore than being from Swaziliand. In this case, a young Japanese actress is likely to have more in common with a young Chinese actress than either would with an antiquated historical courtesan. As I stated, the role of a thespian is to take on the facade of someone else, and convince the audience that they are something they are not. If non-Japanese actors are not allowed to play Japanese roles by virtue of not being the proper race, should not this rule be universally true when applied to actors of all nationalities. From now on, anyone who plays the role of any Roman must be Italian, English actors must play English roles, French actors must play French roles, and American actors must play American roles. WWII film extras, all German soldiers must actually be Germans! Does this sound the least bit ludicrous? Well it should. As for the sensitivity of the casting agents behind Memoirs, their first casting location was actually in Japan. The problem? They didn’t find any suitable actresses of proper talent or recognition available(thats not to say there aren’t any in Japan, but that Spielberg and co couldn’t find any for this particular role).

    Hollywood has a history of using a diverse cast in creating cinema focused on a foreign culture(and likely an equally prolific future) with some remarkable successes. I think practically everyone has mentioned examples such as The Good Earth or the Joy Luck Club, both of which are generally regarded as great Cinema. It was no problem when a mix of caucasian and asian actors were used in The Good Earth because the acting was superb as the essence of storytelling was maintained(The leading actress was so good, she won an Oscar for it despite being authencity handicapped in playing a Chinese woman). The same was also true of the Joy Luck Club where a gamut of Japanese/Korean/Vietnamese American actresses filled roles of certain Chinese characters. Was their non-Chineseness enough to detract from what was otherwise a drama about the different lives of older women and their modern daughters? Not in the least. Memoirs of Geisha, at the core level is likewise, not a grand historical or cultural narrative, but rather a romance story set in a particular setting. For all those Hollywood naysayers, it is not only American cinema that regularly uses actors of varying backgrounds for particular roles but everyone. For example, the Japanese film The Silk Road used an entire cast of Japanese actors to play Chinese characters, obviouslly this even more culturally “insensitive” than Memoirs of a Geisha but you know what? It wasn’t a big deal.

    That Kikkoman has taken umbrage over the issue of Chinese actors playing the role of Japanese women in a Hollywood production is what I would term the quintessential Japanophile complex. John addressed this issue earlier when he talked about foreign expats in China and Japan and I think it warrants addressing this issue again. It would not be unfair of me to say that some people are so finicky and infatuated to their ideal notions of Japaneseness and undiluted exoticism that they go to absurd lengths to rationalize inanities to preserve their monopoly on it.

  28. Da Xiangchang, I understand what you were writing about, but even in regions where the physical differences are rather significant, there has been enough extraneous DNA injected into the population to bring about serious modification of the racial type. Thailand today consists of about 10% Chinese stock, Vietnam probably even higher percentage of Chinese stock, plus smaller portions of French, Japanese, and American (of various flavors) as to modify the DNA structure considerably. China itself has changed over time, Northern stock has moved into what were a “Chu” and “Yue” area, Northern stock has received large doses of Northern peoples (plus various amounts of Caucasoidal stock from periods as early as neolithic times to modern).

  29. Kikko Man Says: June 25, 2005 at 12:51 am

    Jing… we are not talking about extras but the main leads… and just to point back to my earlier comments, I also don’t think being overly “true” to ethnicity is actually that important. The thing is when your character is a geisha and does embody the physical ideals of a culture it actually might make a little more sense to match those ideals. Personally I don’t give a flip. Hollywood will suck either way… won’t say anymore… about this… promise John.

    And I’m NOT a Japanophile… Kikko Man is Swahili for Daxiangchang… irony?

  30. Does anyone know how to say dodgeball in Chinese?

  31. Matt – 躲避球

  32. fantastic, thanks Brendan. like a dummy, i found it as the translated title of the movie right after I commented here, doesn’t seem to be in too many english-chinese dictionaries though… do the kids in China play this during gym class?

Leave a Reply