Editor’s Note: Ranier Maningding is a copywriter and mastermind behind the social justice page “The Love Life of an Asian Guy“. The opinions expressed in this piece are solely his own.
I first heard about the Mr. Chan’s page after someone shared a Facebook post they made for a “Corona Chinese New Year Special.”
It’s a shitty racist meme for sure, but I was more curious to know who the hell was behind the Mr. Chan’s account. Who would be this bold and open about their racism, and what kind of person would put their business in jeopardy just to get a cheap, racist laugh?
So I dug a little deeper and found that Mr. Chan’s is the name of an event that takes place every Friday at a bar in Prahan, Australia called Pawn & Co., “the first bar in the Universe where everything is for sale, from the chair you sit on to the glass you hold.”
If you visit the website and social media pages of Pawn & Co., their Saturday and Sunday events seem like the typical party photos you see on someone’s Instagram stories. When you switch over to the Mr. Chan’s account, every photo is slapped with a Fu Manchu logo and partygoers and DJs are seen wearing Asian rice hats. Their entire feed looks like the typical racist fraternity and sorority parties that have gone viral in America, except the party happens every Friday.
From stale jokes about MSG and sweatshops to broken English captions, their decision to focus on only racial stereotypes, symbols, and jokes proves that Mr. Chan’s wasn’t an event created out of admiration for Chinese or Asian culture, but as a marketing gimmick so Pawn & Co. could sell more drinks.
Mr. Chan’s tries to side-step this criticism by expressing love for Jackie Chan and martial arts, and their venue is littered with frames of Jackie Chan as if to say, “Us? Racist? We LOVE Jackie Chan!”
Similar to anti-Black racists who admire Kanye and Drake but hate Black folks, it’s also common for anti-Asians to praise Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee and still harbor racist views of Asian people.
Then I found a photo that made sense out of everything:
As I combed through dozens of Mr. Chan’s posts, it was clear (by the somewhat infrequent number of actual Asians in their photos) that some of the patrons probably didn’t know about Pawn & Co’s habitual racist marketing. Some of them might have stumbled into the bar with a group of friends from out of town, or got kicked out of another bar and wound up at Pawn & Co. on a random Friday night.
But many patrons, including the over 20k followers they have on Facebook and 2k on Instagram, know exactly what’s going on. The anti-Asian racism didn’t fly over their heads. The Jackie Chan photos, the broken English, and the Coronavirus jokes aren’t just marketing gimmicks, they’re pillars of the Mr. Chan’s brand culture and they’re designed as a way to get patrons to “loosen up.”
The idea is, if you’re willing to laugh at these shitty racist Asian jokes, then you’re probably the same type of “fun” person who also likes to party and spend money on drinks. It might sound like a stretch, but the marketing strategy of mixing racism and themed-restaurants and bars is not new.
One Cup of Escapism and Two Cups of Racism. Shaken
In the mid-1930’s, Tiki bars and Tiki-themed restaurants were a huge hit in the United States. Americans were in the thick of the Great Depression, and Tiki Bars served as an affordable way to escape the reality of a failing middle America and retire to Hawaii where apparently, White people are allowed to act however they want with zero consequences.
Loosely modeled after Polynesian aesthetics, American Tiki was a bar subculture designed for middle-class Whites. Early illustrations of American Tiki often depict white men being showered with attention by topless Brown women while the Brown male figures are off getting drunk and fighting people. Without saying anything, this menu cover from Trader Vic’s sure says a lot about how White people saw themselves as the center of a culture they weren’t even a part of — a culture that didn’t even exist nor did it represent the reality of actual Polynesians.
By adopting this “party like you’re on vacation!” mentality, Tiki culture gave White folks permission to throw caution and morals into the wind and ignore the culture they were horribly misrepresenting because at the end of the day, it was a business that made money and gave White patrons a reason to cut loose.
Same Racism, Different Generation
As much as I detest early Tiki culture, at least Trader Vic’s had the decency to change their problematic ways. There is no excuse for a modern bar like Pawn & Co. and Mr. Chan’s. Not today. Not in 2020. Not when the availability of information on real Asian culture is out there, accessible, and free. Not in a place like Australia where 10% of the population is Asian.
But who am I kidding? These people clearly don’t really care about Asian culture or Asian people. As much as I’d like for a place like this to shut down, I also know that when one racist shop shuts down, five more pop up. Truthfully, I don’t think writing this article will do much to change Mr. Chan’s, nor will it stop racist White folks from using ethnic cultures they know nothing about as a backdrop to sell more shots.
However… Just because there are no consequences for racists, doesn’t mean we should stop speaking up. My hope with this article, and every story we cover about a racist establishment, is to place a breadcrumb that the Asian community can look back at 10 years from now and think, “Thank god that place shut down.”