December 9: A country’s national identity is very much like an individual’s identity. Each country has a name, a past from which it traces its origins and a few distinguishing characteristics that make up its overall personality. Yes, nations have personalities. Just like human beings, those countries with strong personalities are the ones with a sure sense of who they are.
Kan Yue-sai appears to be sure of who she is. That might explain her annoyance that her country of origin, China, is not bothering to instill any of that awareness into Chinese children. What else would explain the complete absence of dolls that look like the Chinese in a Chinese market? Are Chinese children expected to identify with dolls that look like American?
Kan Yue-sai, who is a television personality, is hoping to reverse the tide with the launch of her Yue-sai doll.
The irony is that Kan is herself an American citizen.
This new doll is raven or black-haired and wears lots of traditional Chinese clothes. It has a traditional empress outfit and the Chinese cheong-sam, a high-necked dress with a slit at the side. The idea behind the launch of these dolls is to tell little girls in China that Asian is also beautiful.
A report that appeared in The Times of India writes that the inspiration for the doll came to Kan when she visited China in 1997. Kan, a resident of New York, went to shop for a Chinese doll for her neighbour back home.
Thus began a search that would take Kan through the departmental stores of all the major cities in China looking for a doll that looked like a Chinese girl. But she failed to find even one. After more searching, all Kan could find were a few outdated Chinese theme dolls wearing the clothing of the ’50s. Sadly out of sync with the rest of the times.
She found nothing Chinese “real modern and beautiful… instead what I found were blonde haired dolls, mostly with blue eyes,” Many of them the impossibly thin and the world-famous American export, Barbie.
So Kan made her own Chinese doll. And sold it with all her might.
Looks like the strategy worked. At a four-storeyed toy emporium on Shanghai’s Nanjing Road, the Yue-sai doll is displayed at a stand next to its American counterpart, the children’s favourite, Barbie.
Do you think she will be able to replace Barbie in the affections of children, at least in China?