Restaurant Ad Takes “Asian Exoticism” to the Extreme

By admin
Published: Monday, March 17th, 2008

Chinese Laundry ad 3.17.08

Update:

As this press article reveals on the restaurant’s own website, the ad is only part of a larger marketing campaign that exploits women’s bodies. Chinese Laundry‚Äôs restaurant walls are decorated with “black and white semi-nude photographs,” and on opening night:

“For the VIP party only, Elkhay outfitted that private dining room with a model, scantily clad in red silk, to serve as a live platform for the wide selection of sushi that was set down on leaves… Once the model left, another female, wrapped in a sheet, appeared, only this one was a photograph, larger than life-size, embossed on the table.”

Objectifying Asian women on paper is bad enough. Actually using them as objects (i.e. serving platters) is reprehensible.

NAPAWF Denounces Ad Campaign for “Chinese Laundry” Fusion Restaurant

METRO WASHINGTON, DC – The National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF) joins community members and activists in expressing deep objection to an ad campaign printed in February and March of this year to publicize a new Asian fusion restaurant owned by Chow Fun Food Group, Inc.

A print advertisement in last month’s Providence Monthly magazine signaled the upcoming opening of Chinese Laundry, an Asian fusion restaurant in downtown Providence, RI, built on the site of a former Chinese laundry business that closed six years ago. The advertisement prominently featured a black and white image of a faceless nude female torso with traditional Chinese characters tattooed down the side of her body, and a black banner containing the text “see what you are missing” across her breasts. A bar of text across the top of the advertisement read, “good things come to those who wait.” Earlier this month, the advertisement was again printed in Providence Monthly, this time with the words, “the wait is over.” Click here to sign a petition denouncing the ad. In an apparent response to public objection to the advertisement led by Asian American activists, Chow Fun Food Group owner John Elkhay recently announced that the ad campaign will be pulled.

This is only a first step. NAPAWF denounces the Chow Fun Food Group for leveraging, in this marketing campaign, the lowest common denominators of Asian female exoticism and the commodification of a generalized Asian culture. NAPAWF is also disturbed by the flippancy with which the restaurant appropriated the name “Chinese Laundry” without recognition of the significance that line of business played in Chinese American history and oppression.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Chinese Americans were largely forced to enter the laundering business due to intense discrimination that closed the door of opportunity to most other forms of work. Chinese Americans came to be associated with the laundry business because, as with railroad work during the mid-19th century, it was one of the few available industries that Chinese workers could enter into to pursue a livelihood. Mr. Elkhay clearly missed the mark in naming his restaurant “Chinese Laundry” to “honor the time honored traditions of those before us,” as Mr. Elkhay has stated.

Similarly, the advertisements’ evocations of passive, faceless hypersexuality resurrect the struggles that Asian American and Pacific Islander women have historically fought against. For centuries, Asian American and Pacific Islander women have been represented as objects of submission, foreignness and sexual exoticism. The advertisement is proof that this “orientalism” continues today.

NAPAWF calls on Mr. Elkhay to take seriously his own proclaimed desire to respect the cultures that he seeks to profit from, by acknowledging their histories and realities rather than packaging them into offensive and oppressive pop culture quips. We urge Mr. Elkhay, as a successful business owner, to wield his powers of publicity in ways that are constructive to dismantling, rather than propagating, culture and gender oppression.

Send a message to the Chow Fun Food Group! Click here to sign a petition calling on Mr. Elkhay to issue a formal apology and discontinue this “business practice.” Please contact Bonnie for more info or if you would like to get involved in local campaign efforts.

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