Chinoiserie is Clearly French for “Hella Tacky”


From 8Asians reader brotherparish:

There is a debate at this blog over whether a home decor scheme — Chinoiserie — is offensive to Asians. Your opinion would be welcomed.

So being gay, it’s technically in my contract that I have a nominal interest in interior design. (Yes I DO subscribe to Apartment Therapy on my feed reader, thankyouverymuch.) Chinoiserie is the Victorian and European trend of using Asian-themes that began in the 18th century — a quick Google Image search reveals a lot of wallpaper full of flowers, cherry blossoms trees and peacocks. You know, kind of like the decor of a midwest Chinese restaurant, but instead of a Chinese restaurant, it’s a living room resided by a very rich French Mary Poppins. All of that said, CasaSugar has some examples of modern Chinoiserie arrangements, and with any other themes in interior design some of it actually looks pretty good in moderation.

Chinoiserie is racial, sure. But is it racist? Depends on the context, of course. Who lives there — a middle-upper class Asian-American power couple in their mid-30s? A female professor with her PhD in Asian studies, who happens to be white? A rice queen named Brett? Me?

That said, NONE OF WHAT I SAID APPLIES TO THE ABOVE PHOTO. Clearly, the image above isn’t Chinoiserie; it’s more like Liberace’s house, if Liberace took an Asian houseboy, made him watch Mickey Rooney during sex and then took a couple hits of acid while throwing up all over the house. Folks, that’s a silhouette of a coolie holding a parasol carved out of MDF. In fact, I’m going to convince myself that the above photo was taken in the 1970’s and that the inhabitants died of a tragic LSD overdose in 1975. Or that it’s the bedroom of a very nice, well intentioned elderly couple in Idaho. And then I’d be more than happy to sit them down, explain why these images convey inappropriate stereotypes, and SHAKE THE LIVING BEJESUS OUT OF THEM.

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About Ernie

I'm the creator of 8 Asians and one of the editors. While I'm a regular blogger to the site as well, think of my role as Barbara Walters on "The View," except without the weird white hair. During the day, I'm a Developer for a major Internet company and live in the San Francisco Bay Area. I've also been writing in my blog,, for seven years.
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