China dolls

China dolls
One fascinating way in which transnational images of both Chinese and Western fashion trends and bodily dictates circulate is through toys, and specifically dolls. As Inderpal Grewal has shown, the links of the doll-market to the fashion industry and modelling world are complex and problematic. Doll-designers market their products in response to both global and local trends, and in turn the response of consumers of this commodity, from little girls to their parents, is informed by and informs global trends and bodily and clothes fashion.
The first doll-icon to ‘go Chinese’ could not be anyone but Barbie, from Mattel Inc. Barbie is the reigning global and transnational queen of dolls. Barbie dolls and accessories take in about $1.5 billion a year worldwide and account for about 30 per cent of Mattel’s sales. It was in 1981 that Mattel issued the Oriental (Hong Kong) Barbie with the ‘the new oriental head mould’ and a Cheongsam dress. In 1993 Mattel released Chinese Barbie in a two-piece cherry-blossom dress with long black hair. In 1998 Fantasy Goddess of Asia Barbie, holding a fan, made her debut, along with an 1998 exclusive Barbie called Golden Qi-Pao Barbie, designed to commemorate the first anniversary of the British hand-over of Hong Kong to the Chinese. A Qing dynasty princess and a doll in ‘China chic’ Shanghai Tang-style clothing are planned, but apart from the costumes and dark hair, the dolls are meant to look like the original Barbie.
The Chineseness of the transnational Barbie is only skin- and clothes-deep. In this sense, at least at a first glance, Barbie’s global ‘queendom’ is being challenged by Yue-Sai Wa Wa, the doll-child of Yue-Sai Kan.
Recently voted in a national poll in China as one of the most influential women in the last twenty years, Emmy-award winner Yue-Sai Kan is the founder of Yue-Sai Kan Cosmetics, China’s leading cosmetics company, as well as the bestselling author of, among other works, Etiquette for the Modern Chinese. Yue-Sai Kan launched the Yue-Sai Wa Wa doll line in order to ‘serve as a role model for girls everywhere and help merge Eastern and Western cultures’. Yue-Sai is the name of the character, from the doll’s creator, and wa wa is a way to say ‘doll’ in Chinese. In the intention of her designer, this doll ‘is an Asian role model designed with shiny black hair, almond-shaped eyes, and porcelain skin tone’. She is also ‘an Asian-American girl, who studies hard in school, respects her parents, and is kind and generous to her friends, and was designed to enrich the lives of children around the world’. Each doll is packaged with a sophisticated wardrobe, designed to reflect both Eastern and Western fashion. So Yue-Sai Wa Wa can also be the ‘Panda Protector’, who comes with a backpack full of polar-tech gear and her own panda bear to tend to, or the fashionable Shanghai girl, dressed up in ‘silken Kung-fu pink pyjamas’. Though she says that she created the doll in response to the fact that there were no ‘Chinese dolls’, only blue-eyed blondes, Kan also admitted that she learned from Barbie that the doll itself had to be curvaceous. Kan said that she needed to create an exaggerated body for Yue-Sai Wa Wa, with Barbie-like long legs and expansive breasts, in order for the clothes to fit well. ‘Short legs and a small chest just didn’t work,’ Kan said. In the end, even Yue-Sai Wa Wa has to bow to the standards of fashion and bodily beauty set by Barbie and the Western capitalist market.
Grewal, Inderpal (1999). ‘Travelling Barbie. Indian Transnationality and New Consumer Subjects’. positions, east asia cultures critique 7.3 (Winter).

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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