The Great Wall at Badaling, China
"China Girl" was written by David Bowie and Iggy Pop when they spent their party days in Berlin. Iggy put his version of the song on his album The Idiot
first in 1977. Back then it had kind of a sad, dark undertone to it. However, when Bowie released his version on the album Let's Dance
, it became a pop hit with a Chinese-scale nuance, so often heard in movies or television when the scene is in an actual Chinatown or somewhere in the Chinese mainland.
The video for "China Girl" was filmed appropriately enough in a Chinatown district; in this case, the city of Melbourne. It featured a girl named Geeling Ng, who's really Vietnamese. When the video for the song was originally filmed, it featured Ng lying naked with Bowie in the surf, making reference to the film From Here to Eternity
. When it was shown on TV, it caused a stir, but also won an MTV award.
The song can be interpreted as Bowie warning the China girl about destroying her culture so he can infuse Western values on her, something that goes to the heart of the debate: is China better off with a dose of Western ideals? You know, all that materialism and rugged individualism that can be so brutal but effective. Here, have some color TV and blue jeans - see how great this lifestyle is. By the 2000s, China became more industrialized and a major world power, maybe at the expense of some culture. They also produced loads of cheap goods that Americans gobbled up, leading to an economic catastrophe as Americans stopped saving and kept buying.
The Disney version of China at Epcot Center
There is an interesting subtext with the intercultural relationship, since the song talks about a romance between an Asian girl and a white guy - from the perspective of the white guy - but this macroeconomic angle is much more interesting. According to the noted economist Marc Faber, by 2050 China should be the world's largest economy, by far. The economies of the United States and India, neck and neck for the number 2 spot, will be about 60% the size of China's. Along the way, they'll eat up resources like oil and food and continue to grow their already massive population. If they decide to flex their military or economic muscle, it will have a huge impact on the world.
While Bowie's character may get his way by integrating the China Girl to his Western ways, we're just now getting a look at how it may turn out, and the China Girl will have all the power.
China Girl Songfacts
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