Can Orientalism Explain Stereotypes About Chinese Food?

There are some ideas that, despite their nakedly obvious racism, persist in the popular consciousness and subtly inform how we see different people. One of these ideas is that East Asians, particularly the Chinese, eat everything, including animals that Westerners think are taboo to eat. This idea has obvious connections to the theory of Orientalism in that it oversimplifies Eastern culture to make it appear opposite to similar concepts in the Western world: Chinese cuisine becomes savage and antiquated, which in turn makes the Western palate seem more civilized and sophisticated. Indeed, the unsubtle recent resurgence of this idea carried the message that Chinese food was “dirty,” with people in the early stages of the pandemic fearing they would contract COVID-19 if they ate at a Chinese restaurant.

While historically the concept of Chinese food has been met with fear and derision by Europeans and Americans, there is still an element of fascination that is also present in Orientalism; the East can supposedly offer “wonderful flavors wholly unknown to any American,” despite the fact that the menus of most Chinese restaurants in the US during the late 19th and early 20th centuries consisted of mostly Americanized hybrid dishes (this was done on purpose in order to destigmatize Chinese food and attract American customers). Even though Americans now have access to authentically prepared Chinese food, most restaurants that cook this way are extremely expensive and cater to a high-class demographic, so “real” Chinese food is still largely inaccessible to the American public, thus obscuring the real culture behind the food.

While the blatant fear surrounding Chinese food has significantly died down due to its rise in popularity across America, the sinophobia displayed at the start of the pandemic shows that we as a population have not detached ourselves from the racist systems of thought that form this attitude. In order to improve our views of foreign cultures and cuisine, we have to dismantle the West’s image of the East and get to know the reality of those places. To start, we could clear up the confusion surrounding the “exotic animals” that supposedly make up the Chinese diet. While markets that sell exotic or endangered animals like bats and pangolins do exist in China, they are fairly rare and very expensive to shop at, so your average Chinese person mostly eats dishes made with chicken, pork, beef, or seafood. And just like in the States, eating habits can vary based on the region of the country. By drawing back the biases and stereotypes, we can begin to recognize our similarities to and celebrate our differences from other cultures.

When Will We Stop Stereotyping People?

“Orientalism” is a way of seeing that imagines, emphasizes, exaggerates and distorts differences of Eastern peoples and cultures as compared to that of Europe and the U.S. It often involves seeing their culture as exotic, backward, uncivilized, and at times dangerous.

One of Edward Said’s central ideas in Orientalism is that knowledge about the East is generated not through actual facts, but through imagined constructs. These constructs imagined “Eastern” societies as fundamentally similar and sharing the characteristics that are not possessed by “Western” societies. Said argued that such knowledge was and is built through literary texts and historical records which are often limited in terms of their understanding of the authenticity of life in the Middle East. He further said that a long tradition of false and romanticized images of Asia and the Middle East in Western culture has served as an implicit justification for Europe and America’s colonial and imperial ambitions. 

How did this happen?

Said outlined a theory where Orientalism arose out of a need for the West to define itself as the opposite of a counterbalancing entity. Europe found this counterbalancing entity in the crusades to be the East. The West found itself in positions of political and military power over what it saw as the East and subsequently used this power to subjugate it. Once a tradition of superior values of the West and a static view of the East developed, the tradition solidified. And it was and is difficult to break free of these constructs. However, we have the ability to make our own history and help remove these stereotypes from society. 

Therefore, it is necessary for groups of people to speak for themselves and create discourses of their own history. They must share and dialogue with other people groups with the goal of true knowledge of the other and not merely political and “scholarly” knowledge.

Orientalism provides a critical theoretical framework through which people can explore numerous issues including: participating in systems of inequality, affirming commitments to social justice, and supporting those harmed by stereotypes and oppression, particularly those viewed as coming from the East. Conceptually, it also helps people make sense of certain types of knowledge construction associated with cultural competence, negative perceptions of Arab and Muslim women, aspects of international social work, Islamophobia, anti-Arab sentiments, speech, and practices, and more. 

So, how can we overcome this issue?

I think as a society we must realize and accept that people everywhere are just as good or bad, just as varied, and have the same fundamental needs and concerns, as people everywhere else. We all live and breathe on the same planet, Middle Easterners are not aliens from far away, they are human beings, just like “us” Westerners. That is the biggest, and first, step to overcoming Orientalism . Additionally, educating yourself and encouraging those around you to do the same about this lens will help grow awareness to avoid the consequences and move past it. 

TGSM – The Musical

A Rachel Czuba Theatricals Production

Full Length Musical. Family Drama, Forbidden Love Story, Political Drama

The God of Small Things: The Musical

Music by:Rachel Czuba
Lyrics by:Arundhati Roy
Stage Adaptation by:Rachel Czuba
Based on the Original Novel by:Arundhati Roy

Inside the Playbill


The God of Small Things is a modern musical adaptation of the haunting work of art produced by Arundhati Roy. The story takes place in multiple time zones, interpreted through lighting cues and age changes of the characters by switching them out with younger actors. This musical centers around the generational and familial trauma of the past, and how politics affects the world around us.

  • Setting: Ayemenem (1969 + 1993)
  • Dancing: Light (no dancing experience necessary)
  • Genre of Music: Jazz with hints of Bollywood
  • Cast Size: Small (10 people at most as ensemble)
  • Casting Notes: Adult and child versions of Estha and Rahel
  • Ideal For: College or adult productions, may need a modified version for High School production


The Play: 

  • “Before [Velutha] emerged through the trees and stepped into the driveway, Rahel saw him and slipped out of the Play and went to him. Ammu saw her go. Offstage, she watched them perform their elaborate Official Greeting” (166). 
  • ‘“Must we behave like some damn godforsaken tribe that’s just been discovered?” Ammu asked. “Oh dear,” Margaret Kochamma said. In the angry quietness of the Play (the Blue Army in the greenheat still watching), Ammu walked back to the Plymouth, took out her suitcase, slammed the door, and walked away to her room, her shoulders shining. Leaving everybody to wonder where she had learned her effrontery from” (171).

The Play is how Rahel sees the interaction between her family and the white newcomers. They’re acting a certain way to impress them, and both Rahel and Ammu recognize and express their frustration with this.


The exoticization of Ammu and the twins’ family when interacting with Margaret Kochamma and Sophie Mol (two white people), represents Orientalism. “Orient” means East, from where the sun rises, in relation to the Western perspective. This shows the power dynamic and the “ideal Other”; EUROPE / orient (POWERFUL / powerless). 

  • “They were a family of Anglophiles. Pointed in the wrong direction, trapped outside their own history and unable to retrace their steps because their footprints had been swept away” (51). 

Anglophiles are lovers of British culture, and, in this case, Estha and Rahel’s family despise themselves because of this. Chacko and Ammu’s father, Pappachi, had a blind devotion to the English. Edward Said defines Orientalism as “a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient.” Connecting these two instances; the Play and the family’s title of being Anglophiles, Orientalism presents itself as the Westerner’s encouragement of the Easterners to judge themselves in terms of Western criteria. 


Main Characters
Estha – Estha is Rahel’s older twin brother by 18 minutes. He’s a serious, intelligent, and nervous kid who wears “beige and pointy shoes” and has an “Elvis puff”. 
– Requirements of Character: Must be a Bass, with acting experience
– Young Estha: Alto with acting experience

Rahel – Rahel is Estha’s younger twin sister by 18 minutes. She’s impulsive and wild, intelligent and straightforward, and is treated less than her brother. 
– Requirements of Character: Must be a Mezzo – Soprano, with acting experience
– Young Rahel: Soprano with acting experience

Ammu – Ammu is Rahel and Estha’s mother. She is strict and her twins feel as though they might lose her love, or are unworthy of it.
– Requirements of Character: Must be an Alto, with acting experience

Velutha – Velutha is an untouchable, who’s smart and a carpenter at the pickle factory. He’s a mentor for the twins and has an affair with their mother. 
– Requirements of Character: Must be a Bass, with acting experience

Chacko – Chacko is Estha’s and Rahel’s uncle. He has a child, Sophie Mol, with his ex wife, Margaret Kochama.
– Requirements of Character: No singing, must have acting experience

Baby Kochamma – Baby Kochamma is the twins’ maternal great aunt. She condemns the twins, Ammu and Velutha’s love, and herself, causing not only misery for herself but also misery for everyone else. She is one of the antagonists of the story.
– Requirements of Character: No singing, must have acting experience

Supporting Characters
Sophie Mol – Chacko and Margaret Kochama’s daughter, Estha and Rahel’s younger, white cousin. Her arrival leads to the downfall and tragic events that occur throughout the novel.

Pappachi – Chacko and Ammu’s father, an entomologist, who abused his wife and daughter. His “moth” is what controls Rahel’s obsession of achieving Ammu’s love. He is one of the antagonists of the story.

Mammachi – Pappachi’s wife and Chacko and Ammu’s mother. She owns the pickle factory and is blind.

Featured Character (ensemble)
10 people who will play the protesters, the ex-spouses, the Orangedrink Lemondrink man, etc.

Act One (songs)

  1. Paradise Pickles and Preserves
  2. Pappachi’s Moth
  3. Big Man the Laltain, Small Man the Mombatti
  4. Abhilash Talkies
  5. God’s Own Country
  6. Cochin kangaroos
  7. Wisdom Exercise Notebooks
  8. Welcome Home, Our Sophie Mol
  9. Mrs. Pillai, Mrs. Eapen, Mrs. Rajagopalan
  10. The River in the Boat
  11. The God of Small Things


Act Two (songs)

  1. Kochu Thomban
  2. The Pessimist and the Optimist
  3. Work is Struggle
  4. The Crossing
  5. A Few Hours Later
  6. Cochin Harbor Terminus
  7. The History House
  8. Saving Ammu
  9. The Madras Mail
  10. The Cost of Living

“It was a time when the unthinkable became the thinkable and the impossible really happened.”

The God of Small Things