Archive for November 3, 2009

Let me begin by stating that I applaud the intent and subject matter of your book.  Integrity and character in leadership needs to be discussed and should be an important part of leadership development.  But the “theme” you have chosen and the application of that theme (particularly in your media clips) reveals a serious insensitivity to Asian culture and to the Asian-American community.

My contention is not about the content of the book itself (i.e. – the material that discusses integrity and character).  It is with the way in which you choose to co-opt Asian culture in inappropriate ways.  Let me cite Edward Said in Orientalism where he states: “Orientalism can be discussed and analyzed as the corporate institution for dealing with the Orient – dealing with it by making statements about it, authorizing views of it, describing it, by teaching it, settling it, ruling over it: in short, Orientalism as a Western style of dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient.”

Mike and Jud, you are two white males who are inappropriately co-opting another culture and using it to further the marketing of your book.  You are not from our cultural framework, yet you feel that you have the authority to represent our culture before others.  In other words, you are using what are important and significant cultural symbols to make a sale or to make your point.  It is an affront to those who are a part of that culture.  You’ll notice that there are a number of individuals that take offense at the ways you misuse Chinese characters.  You also confuse aspects of Japanese and Chinese cultures.  These are two very distinct and ancient cultures that you did not take the time to understand before using those symbols as a fun way to market your products.

Here are some examples of the more glaring and egregious offenses:

This video clip is extremely offensive and portraying Asians in a cartoonish manner in order market your merchandise.  Particularly offensive is the voiceover of a white person doing a faux Asian accent:

This image presents Asian as sinister enemies:

This quote reveals an insensitivity to the Chinese language and mocks Chinese names: “There is a killer called Zi Qi Qi Ren. No, this is not some communicable disease, but it certainly is deadly. This funky Chinese word”

The use of Chinese characters and kanji in a non-sensical manner.

Other offenses:

The confusion and conflation of Chinese and Japanese cultures.

The use of Asian symbols, like a Japanese garden, kimonos, samurai swords in a non-essential manner that does not honor the heritage or culture of Asians.

You are taking a caricature of Asian culture (the martial arts warrior, the ninja, etc.) and furthering the caricature rather than engaging Asian culture in a way that honors it.

The bottom line.  You are representing a culture that you do not know very well to thousands of people.  You are using another culture to make your message more fun.  That is offensive to those of us that are of that culture and seek to honor our culture.

What specific things can you do:

(1)    Issue a PUBLIC apology on your blog and other venues.  To let the Christian community know that you have wounded your brothers and sisters in Christ.  Whether that was your intent or not, that was the outcome.  Admit your wrongdoings and seek forgiveness in a public manner because your offense was in a public setting.

(2)    Immediately remove the offensive material or material that co-opts the Asian theme.  They can be reposted, but with significant edits and after significant consultation with the Asian-American community.

(3)    Drop the entire martial arts theme.  It adds NOTHING to what you are trying to say.  And as evidenced by the outpouring of concern, it distracts from your true message.

(4)    Consult with leaders in the Asian-American community (there are many to choose from) and discuss ways to increase sensitivity (both for the authors and for Zondervan).

I appeal to your sense of Christian brotherhood/sisterhood. Your actions have deeply wounded many of your brothers and sisters in Christ.  Lead with integrity by admitting wrong and be willing to make changes to address these wrongs.

I appeal to your sense of integrity to what is the main message of your work. Christians should be above this kind of childish characterization of another culture, particularly, when the topic of your book is on character.  Show the character that you are calling others to emulate.

Take ownership of your actions.  Admit failure. Don’t justify it.  Seek ways to understand those that you have hurt and seek ways to redress these wrongs.  Isn’t that the ultimate expression of character and integrity?

Specifically to Zondervan:-

This is your second egregious offense in the last few years.  Clearly something is wrong with the structure and system of this publishing company that allows and even promotes cultural insensitivity to this degree.  Maybe the answer comes from the pictures in your catalog and your website that show your editorial and publishing staff.  Every single person is white.  Please do not let this learning moment to pass by.  Address the structural issues at Zondervan that allows this sort of offense to continue.

So here’s the e-mail exchange I had with Mike Foster.  One of the authors of the Deadly Viper book:

I sent the initial e-mail:

Really guys,

What is the point of making an allusion to “Kung Fu” and having a dragon on the cover.  You need to respect the culture.  Not mock the culture.

Mike’s response:

prof rah…seriously?

dont you think its a little ironic that an associate professor of evangelism is practicing the philosophy of “judge a book by its cover”

do this…read the book first….then feel free to make any judgments or voice any concerns on its content….



My response:

The cover is what is offensive.  Why would you put gibberish Chinese characters?  Is that any kind of respect for the language and for the culture?  I am not judging the material.  I am judging the presentation.  There should be accountability for both the content and how you are presenting the content.   You are mocking Asian culture with your superficial use of our cultural symbols.  Some of your video clips are way out there as well.  What’s with the Japanese gardens?  How does that relate directly to what you are trying to present?  What’s with the monks and the “grasshopper” language.  Is that trying to honor an ancient culture or just using the culture for your own profit and gain?

Do the ends justify the means?

Here’s Mike’s response:

i realize you have an agenda.
i realize you see what you want to see.
im saddened that you are offended and angered by us shooting a video in a japanese garden.
not much i can do here except say good luck in life and what ever you may be trying to accomplish.

btw the kanji on the cover say ninja. warrior. assassin.

peace . . . m.

Not so nice.  Now he’s posted this on their blogsite in response to my posting:

soong chan rah…though i have done my best to respond to your concerns through email, send me your examples of how Deadly Viper is being disrespectful, offensive, and placing Asians on the margins because we use the themes, messages, and imagery of the Asian culture to make a case for living with integrity and character…also i would like for you to suggest the direct solutions to your concerns…i will post it on the Deadly Viper blog and you can have the desired discussion..peace…mike.

Too late to respond.  But I’ll have a longer blog post detailing the problems.  Calling for help.  If folks want to add contributions, I’ll add to this blog and to the post I’ll put on their blog.

Why can’t Christian publishers get a clue?

Recently, I received my copy of the Zondervan catalog. In one of the circulars, there was an advertisement for a book called Deadly Viper Character Assassins: A Kung Fu Survival Guide for Life and Leadership.

So the “Kung Fu” part got my attention, as well as the dragon on the cover and the Chinese characters. I guess I was hoping against hope that it was the story of an Asian-American Christian rather than another example of Asian culture being pimped out to sell products.

More to be said, but here are some choice samplings of their work:

At Catalyst 2007, where their session opens with “Kung Fu fighting” music: HERE

A facebook advertisement video: HERE

Some images they use on their website and facebook:


I’m trying to engage in dialogue with the authors. Not a good response so far, but if given the chance what would you say to them?