Chinese Tropes in the Media

Kungfu, Chinese dragons, and the Giant Panda are the typical things that come to people’s minds when they think about China. The Great Wall and the Forbidden City appeared in many movies that contain Chinese elements. If you have seen the posters on campus lately or like Chinese food, you probably also know that the Chinese new year has just passed. From an artistic perspective, the Chinese are famous for the use of red color to express celebration as the color always appears in Lunar New Year and wedding ceremonies. In anime or comics, Chinese characters are often portrayed as loud, straightforward, make much account of the traditions, and wear Tang suits all the time.

Example one: The character Po in the movie Kung Fu Panda

The computer-animated movie Kung Fu Panda includes the Chinese tropes of both Kungfu and Panda that make audiences think about China at the moment when they see the name of the movie. The Giant Panda is the national treasure and one of the most well-known symbols of China, which makes it the best candidate for the main character in a Chinese Kung fu story. Po, the Kung fu Panda himself, was raised by his foster father, Mr.Ping, who owns a noodle house and always wants his son Po to follow the tradition and inherit the shop. The noodle house is a traditional type of Chinese restaurant that can be seen on almost every street in China. There were many scenes in the movie which portrayed how much Po loves traditional Chinese food such as dumplings and noodles. The scene of chopstick-battling between Po and his master best represents the combination of Kung fu and the symbol of Chinese tradition from the movie. All characters are wearing traditional Chinese clothes, including but not limited to a tang suit and bamboo hat.


Example two: The 1989 book cover of The Joy Luck Club

The book cover of The Joy Luck Club from 1989 used Chinese dragons, traditional rolling-cloud patterns, and peony, the national flower of China, to convey the information that the book is about a story full of Chinese culture. Compared to another version of the cover which focuses on portraying the relationship between mother and daughter, the 1989 version is a typical trope that reminds people of China. The joy luck club in the novel is where a group of immigrated Chinese ladies plays mahjong, a traditional Chinese game in which you are able to win money. The rolling-cloud and peony patterns used on the cover are the typical patterns used on the cheongsam, a traditional Chinese female clothing during the period of the Republic of China. The mother generation of the characters was born and raised during this era, and it is always seen as elegant for ladies to wear cheongsam when playing mahjong. However, the Chinese dragon is not something that will be on a female’s clothing as it represents males, especially the emperor.


Example three: The poster of Turandot

Ricordi’s poster of Turandot, an opera by Giacomo Puccini, portrayed Turandot, the mongo princess, by showing her yellow skin, the Jade earrings, and the coronet that can only be worn by the royal family members. The dragons in the background are also supposed to convey the message that this is a Chinese princess. However, the use of dragons to present royal identity is too general. Turandot is a princess, which means the dragon patterns will not be allowed to be used to represent her as it is the symbol that only belongs to the emperor, her father. Moreover, the traditional coronet for females is called phoenix coronet as phoenix represents female in Chinese culture, while the princess wears a dragon coronet in the poster. Nonetheless, the poster successfully conveys the message that the story is about a Chinese princess using the trope, even though it is not realistic enough.


Sources cited: 

“Kung Fu Panda 3 Review.” Den of Geek, 29 Jan. 2016, 

Tan, Amy. “The Joy Luck Club.” Nielsen Library, 

“Unfinished ‘Turandot’ Premiered at La Scala.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 8 Dec. 1993,