Guest post by Koda Li: Representations of Chinese people in Doctor Who

Doctor Who as a long-living sci-fi television show engages extensively with issues relating to ethnicity and race, especially the representation and portrayal of difference ethnic groups.

As a Chinese person who is a huge fan of Doctor Who, I naturally wonder how the show engages with my own culture and people.

Driven by this interest I wrote a paper in which, among the myriad of human ethnicities and alien that have occurred, I am concerned solely with the representation of Chinese people and how it changes. I compared the representation in the two eras of the show – Classic Who (1963-1996) and New Who (2005-) – although the scope of my investigation is limited to the end of Season 12 of New Who.

I first investigate each era separately using textual criticism, outlining the major features of its representation, and then compared them to see what changes occur. I found that both eras rely on self-referential discourses, pursuing similar tropes, including the Yellow Peril (specifically demonizing Chinese females) and Orientalism, thus undermining the self-proclaimed progressive values of New Who.

Toward the end of the paper, I used some responses that I collected from various viewers of Doctor Who to try to further illustrate my conclusion and uncover the mechanism of such unchanging representation. I argue that most audience and scriptwriters’ lack of accurate knowledge of Chinese people and culture necessitate them to refer to existing stereotypes and discourses.

In the end, I call for more engagement from the BBC with Chinese culture in order to improve the previous problematic representations. 

Download the paper here.