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China Girl

by

David Bowie



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

In this song, the singer warns the China girl that he will destroy her culture by imparting Western values of materialism and superficial beauty ("I'll give you television, I'll give you eyes of blue, I'll give you a man who wants to rule the world"). Paul Trynka, the author of David Bowie's biography Starman, claims the song was inspired by Iggy Pop's infatuation with Kuelan Nguyen, a beautiful Vietnamese woman. She was staying at the studio and Bowie encouraged the couple's relationship. It has also be argued that the song is about heroin addiction, as "China White" is slang for the drug.
Iggy Pop wrote this with Bowie. It first appeared on Iggy's 1977 album The Idiot. The song did not see commercial success until later performed by Bowie. Iggy Pop was a very influential musician, but he didn't sell a lot of albums and was often low on cash. The proceeds from this gave him some financial stability for the first time. (thanks, Angelique - Allentown, PA)
Stevie Ray Vaughan is the lead guitarist on this song and most of the album. Bowie discovered him after seeing him at a music festival. Bowie got him to play on his album and asked him to tour with him, but Stevie surprisingly declined. He believed in his group Double Trouble and thought they could make a go of it on their own.
Bowie's version of this song was produced by Nile Rodgers, and was much more slick than Iggy Pop's version.
The video was banned in many countries, but it went over very well on MTV. It won the first ever award for Best Male Video at the 1984 Video Music Awards. New Zealand waitress Geeling Ng was chosen by Bowie to play his object of affection. She is now a TV presenter. Ng recalled to Q magazine June 2009: "David was my idol. When I met him, it was terrifying. But he was very easy to get on with." She added: "David and I started dating soon afterwards, but I didn't enjoy the lack of privacy."
In the video, Ng has a beach romp with Bowie. She told Q magazine: "Can I point out, contrary to popular belief, David and I did not have sex on the beach! It was shot at 5am; the water was freezing and wasn't a great lubricant and we were being watched by a film crew and joggers passing by. Not very romantic."
In the film, The Wedding Singer, Drew Barrymore's character, Julia, sings this song in a nightclub.
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Comments (39):

The film was filmed at Long Reef beach on Sydney's northern beaches, I surf there and have done for 35+ years.
- Pekay, Warringah, Australia
That's maus; like cat and mouse game in a cat house!
- MICHAEL, SAN DIEGO, CA
Also as I learned in 'vulgar' standard German: 'ich lieben sie mause, wollen sie zug-zug?' to come-on to a 'street walker' (I love you honey, would you like to have sex?).
- MICHAEL, SAN DIEGO, CA
I thought that this video was about the Japanese invasion of British Manchuria; like in the movie "Empire of the Sun" (an axis force member of Nazi Germany).
- MICHAEL, SAN DIEGO, CA
Let's take this song and video at face value...It's a love song, a western man full of western values falls in love for a chinese girl, get's addicted to her, misses her when she's not around, loves her wildness, is scared of succumbing to her totally........references to Nazism, power, and domination are his attempts to warn her to stay away even though he wants her he doesn't want her corrupted....
- steve, london, United Kingdom
Stevie Ray Vaughan almost did do the tour, however Bowie told him that he would have to where the costumes and dance the choreography as the rest of the band. The other comments made are true about why SRV did not as well however the reason that SRV gave to Bowie was the dancing.
- Dave, Norfolk , VA
I find it interesting, that in 1983 Bowie was a huge fan of an Icelandic Band called Kukl, whose female singer had a somewhat asian look. This girl later became famous as Bjork ....
- Holly, Hamburg, Germany
That Song Was recorded In LE Chateau D herouville That Was managed at the Time by Yves Jaget there was also a T Rex Album recorded there
The song was written at the wery Lat minute Cause Iggy was inspired By a "china girl" (vietnamese in fact) That lived in a big house sdepending of the castle So he meet That Girl in the Park and wrote the song very quickly That Laday was at the time the wife of a frenchy Singer So I will not Write her Name in here but it starts with a K
- AeroK, paris, France
I always thought it was about a relationship between the male abuser and his female enabler. The first part (verses through the first part of the bridge) depict a man looking for his woman and growing more and more agitated. The second part ("My little China Girl...to Rule the World") has the guy at a moment of remorse, telling the girl to go away from her, and the final part (And when I get excited..."Just you shut your mouse") is the girl enabling the guy and, in a way, saying she's not leaving.
- Don, Munster, IN
Bob from Lakewood, you are a complete and total idiot for writing this huge heap of crap about psychotic people being 'mentally afflicted' and them not knowing they're experiencing an illness. I despise intolerably ignorant and dumb people like you and hope you all die out within the next minute.
China Girl is one of the great songs.
- Ella, Basel, Sierra Leone
I find it a bit exaggerated to call Joey Feer a racist. In the LP version, you can recognize that Bowie kind of imitates the way a prototypical non-native Asian speaker of English would pronounce the sentence "just you shut your mouth". It's not only the pronunciation of "mouth" but the whole diction that sounds somewhat "non-native". Hope you allow me to say this given that I'm a non-native speaker, too, and we all have our troubles with your nice little "th"es. Anyway, a nice detail in the song, makes the speaker appear somewhat dubious and ambiguous (like Bowie in the video).
- Karina, Blieskastel, Germany
Finding out more about the idea I wrote about below, I did find out that Iggy Pop and David Bowie moved to Berlin around the same time to wean themselves of their drug addictions (don't know how it would help but that's what WP says). This was among the songs they wrote together in Berlin, which could explain the swastika thing, because through the division of the city, you could see the effects of WWII and the "swastika" era "in the whites of your eyes." So that explains mixing swastikas, stumbling into town, and drug addiction all together.
- Ian, Paddock Lake, WI
I don't argue that it's about drugs. It definitely is. After all, Iggy did co-write it. It's a portrait of an addict, possibly himself. The swastika and sacred cow thingy might refer to when he lived in West Berlin in the late '70s, during which he recorded the landmark "Heroes." And Joey Freer from NY, you are a racist.
- Ian, Paddock Lake, WI
Actually, Bob in Lakewood, OH, many people with a mental disorder DO KNOW that they have one. All of my clients do. Also, its the BIPOLARS who most often suffer the feelings of grandiosity - NOT the psychotics. Don't state facts if you don't know what you're talking about.
Jeff Chudner, MA, CGACII
- Jeff, Long Beach,
David Bowie Says Oh Baby Just Your Shut Your Mouse than mouth because the china girl can't say mouth.
- Joey Freer, Kingston, NY
"what people seemto be forgeting when they comment this song is that its iggy pop's lyrics not david bowies and no its not about hitler and his whore
- Dyce McDycson, that one, CA" absolutly true. personnaly I think this song had a different meaning with iggy Pop and Bowie used it in a commercial way, I have the feeling he tried to give a sentimental meaning, the oriental attract by an occidental and this feeling occident tries to dominate world in destroying cutures and traditions.
- e-clown, perpignan, France
I don't dispute the double meaning with drugs but you should play this song for yourself slowly and sing it and you would find a real intensity in it beyond what you hear in it's pop rendition.
- Nick, Amityville, NY
I believe it is about The Gentleman's love for an Asian maiden, but I'm a romantic. BTW, he and Geeling Ng, the video model, were sweethearts for real as well! (how romantic! Of course, they are long since parted).
Didn't know she was 16 though
- Rayna, Pembroke pines, FL
what people seemto be forgeting when they comment this song is that its iggy pop's lyrics not david bowies and no its not about hitler and his whore
- Dyce McDycson, that one, CA
"Visions of swastikas in my head" may refer to the decorative use of the swastika in Buddhist art and architecture, which Western visitors tend to notice, as David Bowie may have, in his travels to Asia.

"Men who want to rule the world" may refer specifically to the British Emprire, which dominated China from the Opium War until WW II. David Bowie, being English educated, would have been sensitive to this fact. In this sense, "China Girl" is China itself. That "china girl" also can mean opium is interesting when considered in this context.
- B, New York, NY
I always thought the song was about Eva Braun and Adolf Hitler - "Visions of swastikas in my head, plans for everyone" referenced the Final Solution; and "I'll give you eyes of blue" referenced the Aryan race. I definitely don't think it's about an Asian woman, I think he's using 'China Girl' as a simile for 'China doll' or a beautiful looking young woman, for example, Eva Braun. Get it, I know I'm right!
- Kathleen, South Weymouth, MA
Stevie Ray Vaughn didn't join the "Serious Moonlight" tour because he was only going to be paid something like $300/wk for the multi million dollar tour.
- Christine, Fort Worth, TX
I know reference lyrics for the song say "Men who want to rule the world" and "It's in the whites of my eyes" but if you listen to the song it really sounds like he's saying "I'll give you Man O' Wars to rule the world" which could be a reference to so-name warships, just a way to say, I'll give you everything you want, make you powerful but my influence on you won't necessarily be a good thing. The other line sounds like "It's in the way of my eyes" which comes after "Visions of swastikas in my head, plans for everyone." Maybe he is frustrated with not being able to see the real beauty of the world and other cultures, the ideals of a fanatical regime are coloring his view of the world. Of course I could be completely wrong. :)
- DV4067, Bloomingdale, NJ
Call me crazy, but I always heard:
"I'll give your man the reigns to rule the world"
Is anyone else hearing that?
- Larry, Portland, OR
People can read into a song many meanings, that's the beauty of a good song. At the simplest level, it's just a man warning his Chinese girlfriend to watch out, 'I'll ruin everything you are.' But knowing the Chinese, she's probably one step ahead of him. Hehe! He'll get ruined if he's not careful. And apart from all that, China Girl is a catchy little number, a commercial success, just like modern China.
- kenny, clydebank, Scotland
I know that the song was written in Berlin, the "visions of swastikas" may just be about where they were physically; no metephore.
- Desi, Thornton, CO
You're wrong actually. It's someone talking to his drug, and his drug talking to him. It is an abusive relationship in some ways, and that's where the conflict and the tension in the message comes from. And I can't think where Americans pushed their way into somewhere in China threatening to give them televisions, or blue eyes, or dictators (like they don't have enough of their own.) I'm sorry. I just don't see what you're talking about. And if American culture is so awful, then why is it adopted by people all over the world? "I'll ruin everything you are"? A song about someone's drug problem and also about American influence in Asia? Are you serious? I mean I'm sorry actually. You just don't make any sense. Actually.
- Bob, Lakewood, OH
It was a song about both actually. It's a double refence to the Drugs and the American influance in eastren cultures. Overall it's a hell of a song and Sean your absolutly right...More of an Iggy song than a Bowie Song.
- Stuart, Lethbridge, Canada
"china girl" is one street name of an opioid that is similar to thorazine and other anti-psychotic drugs. that's what I found when trying to understand this song. he seems to be psychotic and have great anxiety and he uses "china girl" to calm himself. "I could escape this feeling with my China girl" seems to be explained when seen in that light.
here is the course of his medical condition: 1. "I stumble into town..." this is the high anxiety. 2. "My little China girl, you shouldn?t mess with me...etc" this is a symptom of an emotional conflict, a barrier to his getting the proper treatment for his condition, because he doesn't want to believe he has a condition (mentally afflicted people don't know they're experiencing an illness) 3. "And when I get excited..." in this third part his emotional equalibrium is restored.
I think the part about the swastikas and the whites of his eyes and etc., is the sort of manic, anxious state he gets into, and for which he needs an anti-psychotic drug. "when I get excited"
"I'll give you television...etc"... I don't know. it's awfully hard to make much out of this strictly from the lyrics. but from the tone of it, I think it's the climax of his anxiety. and the musical climax of the song also. a psychologist might identify it as feelings of grandiosity that psychotics have.
The fact that there is an actual Asian woman in the video doesn't mean it's about an Asian woman. Rock lyrics usually make veiled references about drugs.
and I think it's not likely that it's about any aspect of America culture or history, because "I could escape this feeling with my China girl
I feel a wreck without my little China girl" isn't explained by that theory.
I think it's about self-medication. nothing more.
- Bob, Lakewood, OH
It's the first ever video clip where you can see that David Bowie has different coloured eyes
- Tasos, Athens, Greece
david bowie had actual sex with the young girl in the filmclip. her parents tried suing bowie for sex with a minor.. though the girl was 16 and consented
- marlow, perth
Thanks, Micello of Auckland, for that random fact. The girl in the vid always fascinated me, seeing her tell David to shut his mouth. David's reaction is godhead. Ha! Ha! The song's lines about the sacred cow and the swastikas are godhead as well. Yeah, this hit is definitely about the westernization of other nations, no doubt about it. But, quien sabe?
- Leya Qwest, Anchorage, AK
This song is about Americanization of other cultures
- J, someplace, United States
Drew Barrymore (as Julia) in "The Wedding Singer" sings a line from this song in praise of Bowie.
- Eric, Cincinnati, OH
its not abput heroin, its about a solduer's relationship with an asian woman (presumably vietnamese in Saigon where the soldiers recreated). after some vague lyrics about the war, etc. ("I stumble into town, just like a acred cow, visions of swatikas in my head...") he explains to her why americans/their culture are not something to be wished for ("my little china girl, you shouldn;t mess with me, I'll ruin everything you are...I'll give you television, I'll give you eyes of blue, I'll give you men who want to rule the world"), to which she replies, appropriately given her "job", "...and when I get excited, my little china girl say, ohh baby, just you shut your mouth... she says shhhhh..."

More an Iggy song than a Bowie song. Its great to see it done by Iggy
- Sean, Phoenix, AZ
China Girl is about heroin (china white)
- Paul, Essex, England
RANDOM FACT - The girl featuring in the video is Geeling Ng, an actress/model from New Zealand. She had parts in various b-grade tv shows in the late 80's/early 90's, and now features on the cooking segment of the "Asia Down Under" show on New Zealand's TVONE (Sunday @ 8.30am). She also works at an Auckland restaurant "Soul".
- Micello, Auckland, New Zealand
I believe this was originally banned from MTV because it showed 2 seconds of Bowie's butt during the scene on the beach. It was later edited. USA Night Flight showed the original a few months later.
- john, seattle, WA
video was filmed in australia.....
- pete, nowra, Australia
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