The term “Dragon Lady” is often used to describe the stereotypical cold, heartless, vixen that many Asian women are projected as in film and television. From Anna May Wong’s portrayal of “Shanghai Lily” from the iconic Shanghai Express to Lucy Liu’s portrayal of “Ling Woo” in Ally Mcbeal, these hypersexualized and dehumanized archtypes of Asian women on screen are unfortunately all too common among an already underrepresented pool of Asian female characters .
My photo series, Da Ma Jiang, was originally going to be titled Dragon Ladies. I set out shooting with the intention of creating a flat scene of just that, Dragon Ladies! A bunch of hypersexualized Asian women in fishnet and leather, layerede with tacky traditional Chinese robes, taking part in quite possibly the most Chinese activity ever: playing Ma Jiang, eating sunflower seeds, and drinking BaiJiu. I had my models look almost dragon-esque with reptile-like contact lenses, and pose dramatically, like the non-human dragons they were.
However, during the shoot, and especially after looking at the printed photos, I slowly realized that the scene that I had meticulously staged could be precieved in an entirely different way. I was viewing the women (and two men) in the scene with the perspective the media had projected and forced onto me. I saw them as flat “Dragon Lady” tropes. However, stepping out of that perception, and looking at the finished product, I suddenly saw dimension in the women. I realized that this could just be a neutral scene of Asian women and men playing MaJiang. The fishnet, leather, and chains seemed to distort the the game of MaJiang to a different reality, but it was nonetheless a game of MaJiang. The women all had their own personalities, and owned their sexuality. Just interacting with the models themselves proved to me how multidemensional and independent they just were.
Therefore, I decided to name the photo series, “Da MaJiang”. Which means “Playing MaJiang” in Mandarin. It’s up for the audience and to use their own perception to precieve the women in the series as “Dragon Ladies” or something more. Perhaps both.