Note: this discusses a little bit of the current season – so possible spoilers if you haven’t been watching.
When I saw this headline on Facebook, I wondered why no one had written about this yet. I’m a fan of HBO’s Silicon Valley, but not a fan of the character Jian-Yang. I find Jian-Yang’s accent a bit extreme and his behavior a bit too bizarre and weird. He kind of makes me feel the same way whenever I see Long Duk Dong in Sixteen Candles, just a little bit disgusted. I mean, at times, Jian-Yang does make me laugh, especially more recently with his “hot dog, not hot dog” app, and I think Jimmy O. Yang does a great job of handling the writing, but as the Wired article expresses:
“Meanwhile, Pakistani immigrant Dinesh spectacularly screwed up both a CEO position and a relationship—the entire point of his character is that he’ll never be as smart or as savvy as Gilfoyle. (For proof of this, look no further than their tiff on last night’s episode, which Gilfoyle won simply by maintaining that he did.) Chinese immigrant Jian-Yang is written as even less smart—his big pitch this season was a collection of eight octopus recipes—and the developer’s greatest achievement thus far has been cheating Erlich out of a year’s rent by taking advantage of a loophole meant to help the unfortunate. Dinesh and Jian-Yang might be just as brilliant as their counterparts, but Silicon Valley never shows it.
Not every white character on Silicon Valley is a genius, of course. And that’s the point. White characters can be dreamers like Peter Gregory (Christopher Evan Welch) or dumdums like Big Head (Josh Brener). But its Asian characters, who represent the quarter of Valley workers who are Asian or Asian American, are shuttled into the same little boxes society has kept for Asians for centuries. For a show that’s constantly questioning what keeps innovation and progress from happening, it should ask the same of itself.”
I’ve been living and working in Silicon Valley since August 1999, and I have never met someone who acted like Jian-Yang. And I’ve also worked for Chinese companies and worked with a lot of Asian and Asian Americans. I must admit, I don’t think I’ve met anyone like Erlich or Gilfoyle, but at least those characters are not, I believe, based on any racial stereotypes.
After writing this post, I did a comment regarding the Wired article from a Facebook friend of mine who said:
“My boyfriend is friends with Jimmy O. Yang and Jimmy O. Yang came up with the Jian Yang character on his own. His character reminds me of my former roommate who was straight up from China. She used to smoke in her room, make stinky Chinese dishes with dried octopus and rarely washed her dishes.. it’s a stereotype that, at least to me, hits close to home and is pretty accurate to my life experience.”
So it’s interesting to hear that Yang came up with the character. Yang came over to the U.S. from Hong Kong when he was 13. Maybe he’s not as familiar or as offended to a Long Duk Dong character (well, Jian-Yang isn’t that bad). Still, not a big fan of the character and hope Jian-Yang evolves as the show progresses.
For the most part, I think Dinesh’s character has been treated fairly, except for the fact that Gilfoyle often antagonizes Dinesh for not having a girlfriend or friends (except that he does in Season 3 for part of the season). However, I was really disappointed to see that Dinesh wasn’t CEO of Pied Piper for more than an episode – I really liked seeing the cocky, arrogant, self-assured – should I say, white-washed Dinesh being portrayed.
I don’t know how many more seasons Silicon Valley can go for (it’s been renewed for it’s fourth season already), but I really do hope that the show can develop Jian-Yang into a more realistic, but also still funny character.