Playfully becoming Chinese: making up ‘Asia’ in SEAsia?

by ebaulch

In Indonesia these days, there is a propensity among (non Chinese) pop
musicians to take on Chinese stage names, for example, Mulan Kwok,
Meichan and Baim Wong. There is another artist called, I think, Ferry
Chow, but I cannot find the reference (an interview in Gadis magazine)
to confirm it. This strikes me as something new, that is distinct from
the rise of Chinese stars such as Agnes Monica and Leonie. I am slowly
starting to think about how to read this, and in doing so shy away
from treating it as peculiarly Indonesian, related to the
liberalisation of public expressions of Chineseness, and lean towards
beginning to explore its interAsian dimensions. This playful (Mulan
Kwok recently changed her stage name to Mulan Jameela without turning
a hair!) adoption of Chinese stage names reminds me of how some young
men I worked with in the 1990s would adopt scary, English-sounding
nicknames, and invoke the cultural power of AngloAmerica.
Alternatively, the adoption of Chinese stage names invokes East Asia,
the metropolis, hence constructing ‘Asia’, of course, in a certain
way. At the same time, in an age of Idol and MTV, the construction of
an ‘Asia’ centred on East Asia does not overtake that of an
Anglo-American metropolis.

It appears that some things have been written about the construction
of Asia in East Asia (or in ‘East Asia plus one’, including Singapore
– Chua Beng Huat), but little about the production of Asia in
Southeast Asia. My question is: does anybody in this group undertake
or know of any such work, or have an interest in comparing examples of
Southeast Asian celebrities ‘playfully becoming Chinese?’

(Emma Baulch)

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