Kung Fu fighting as a means to sell Christian books

Posted: November 3, 2009 in multi-ethnicity, Social Justice
Tags: , , , , , ,

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?

  1. […] that it is even associated with Christianity (though sadly, not surprised).  Check out more info here, on the book’s website and on their FB Site (the video called “Deadly Viper Series […]

  2. seonghuhn says:

    Thanks for standing up to this.

  3. Ben says:

    I too was really disappointed to find out that it was 2 white guys writing the book. It seemed like a given if they’re using this imagery and vocabulary of martial arts that one of them has to be Asian (just to even legitimately pull it off). But no, they’re white dudes that look like me, and so it’s funny that it’s a book about truth, but the whole premise of this book of truth and character is built on a big facade. I guess it’d be like going to a hold in the wall Mexican joint looking for some good authentic Mexican and the employees are all Australian. What sort of character is built on a “pseudo-reality” you build for yourself?

    Anyway, it is ironic and disappointing, yet their use (in the marketing) of great design and relevant visual media is captivating. I’m wondering if others even question the marketing.

  4. Venus says:

    I agree that it was not a smart move by the authors to use another person’s culture and symbols as a metaphor for the idea they want to get across. However, I can’t help but feel a little sorry for the authors. I’m sure they meant no harm by it and it probably never even occurred to them that it would offend anyone. Many white people rarely think about race or offending someone of another culture. I’m glad that you are bringing it to their attention, but go easy on them. I’ll bet this is the first time anyone has actually opened their eyes to this. I know the first time someone called me out on my ignorance, I was thankful that they did so gently.

  5. Paul Sun says:

    I feel like we are re-living the era of the Blackface during the 19th century where white people painted their faces black to play stereotypes and caricatures of the black community. I guess we can call it Yellowface today. Even the resource DVD is casted with all white people, the voice over is a horrible actor with a ridiculous asian accent, and even their video descriptions are offensive, racist, and disturbing.

    A sentence used to describe their Assassin of Concealment video:
    “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”

    They continue by showing videos of goofy Martial Arts mistakes.

    I believe they have great intentions but executed horribly and ignorantly.

    I also can accept that they are unaware of their offense. I’ve recently learned that the white-privileged were never pushed to be aware or to even ask those questions. However, Mike’s response to your letter, is what upsets me even further. How he doesn’t even try to consider or explore why we would be offended. Instead, he assumes we are too sensitive. Of course i guess a white man should instruct us, asians, on what should and shouldn’t offend us.

    Mike, please open your eyes, your heart, and your mind a little more and explore the TRUE mosaic of culture in this world.

  6. Irene Cho says:

    Exactly Paul! It’s also how black people don’t like being limited to being viewed as gang bangers. The Cosby Show was pivotal in breaking the stereotype that blacks were uneducated, underachieving robbers on welfare. In the same manner, why must Asians be constantly portrayed as these villainous yakuzas or grocery store owners? I guess having strong work ethics and overcoming the odds even though one’s an immigrant is grounds for mockery.

  7. Joe says:

    Thanks for speaking up and being a voice of reason.

  8. gar says:

    Wow… I’m speechless.

  9. DYdaktix says:

    Marketing FAIL.

    I’m sure the content is good, it seems to be getting good ratings on amazon. But the usage of stereotypes and inaccurate portrayals of Asian cultures is painful, not only to Asian and Asian Americans, but to the wider body of Christ.

  10. […] 3, 2009 by Kate A friend just sent me a link to this post on Soong-Chan Rah’s blog: Why can’t Christian publishers get a […]

  11. Caleb says:

    Prof Rah,

    With all due respect, your comments and your followers comments have not been done in a manner of “conversation” rather in a manner of hostility. There is not much grace, mercy, or spiritual sensitivity. There seems to be a lot of bitterness and anger being directed at these men… and I doubt that these men are true source of this.

    It seems like this issue is becoming a circus rather than a conversation.

    You can say that “I don’t understand” at all… but in many ways I do understand your feelings and the feelings of others…

    Still, there has yet to be presented an attitude of forgiveness. If people really feel offended, remember God gave His Son for us while we were still sinners. Christ forgave our sins when we trusted Him, even though we may not have understood the full weight of sin. His blood covers sins that we commit that we aren’t even aware of.

    We should have that same attitude.


    • Irene Cho says:

      How can there be forgiveness when there hasn’t really been an apology given out yet? Mike has made a short apology statement but he contradicts his own website’s blog entry of “I’m sorry”. He’s not in stage 4 and maybe if he were and started from stage 4, then all of this anger would also not have been ignited. I don’t discount that some of us (including myself) have been very openly expressive of our feelings but I will not apologize for what needs to be said. We have been a community that has been very quiet about such things for a long time and no matter how unintentional their actions were, a flippant “I’m sorry” is not acceptable.

  12. caleb says:


    I never said you should apologize for your concerns. Just b/c you didn’t get a humble reponse doesn’t excuse a lack of mercy or humility on the part of the offended

  13. […] vocal (and effective) activists on these types of issues, inspired this latest movement with his initial blog posts about the Deadly Viper book and a promotional video on Facebook. Soong-Chan’s open letter to […]

  14. Tristan says:

    @Caleb – I agree with you that forgiveness should not depend on apologies on the part of the offender. However, just because we forgave (and/or are willing to forgive) someone does not mean that we are not hurt, disappointed, or angry anymore. As I’ve been reading several blog entries, comments, and tweets, I get the sense that people are expressing their thoughts and emotions about something they have been deeply offended and wounded by…it’s difficult to tell what exactly people are saying and where they’re coming in an online, public forum, isn’t it? But obviously, people are really angry. We all know that if we aren’t standing in their shoes, it’s hard to understand why someone else is angry. That’s why it’s important to listen…and do it without judgement, particularly when we’re not the offended party. // It seems like you’re trying to respond from a theological perspective, and though I think you’re right about our Christian responsibility to walk in a spirit of forgiveness, I also think that you’ve missed the point. Yes, people could be more gentle in their expressions of disappointment, frustration, and anger, but the issue at hand right now is cultural insensitivity. Now…I have a growing sense that it is an important part of American Evangelical culture (of which I’m a part), just as it is in other shame-based cultures, to be nice (in the name of being respectful, well-mannered, or civilized), no matter what. The unspoken rules seem to state that if you’re Christian, you must smile even though you’re angry, and apologize first even when you’re the one who’s been wronged…because that is supposedly what Christ would do. It never seems to be okay to be publicly angry or sad unless something “legitimate” has happened, like a death or something sacrilege. As far as I know, the Word of God never says that we always need to be nice or even friendly. It does say that we need to love God and love one another. And as I’m sure you know, love doesn’t always feel good. Proverbs 27:6 says that the wounds of a friend are better than the kisses of an enemy. Perhaps that’s another way that we can understand what’s happening here.

    My friend (on the phone) wanted to share with you: “You’re totally right about forgiveness, but sadly, ‘forgiveness’ is used too many times as an excuse for complacency and a reason not to act/move towards change. At the end of the day, we’ve got to be able to move forward together and create a community that’s centered around justice, one that wants to see issues of equality and racism addressed in practical ways. Yes, forgive by all means, but how do we change things? Sometimes that doesn’t mean that we’re nice…hopefully we all want the same thing, the Kingdom of God coming to Earth. This includes helping the poor, taking care of the homeless…and racial equality is one of them.”

    Also, I can’t tell if you agree that something needs to change, or if you have no real problem with the DV Kung-fu presentation…just because someone is pointing out something wrong in a way that’s not agreeable to you doesn’t necessarily mean they’re wrong…right?

    Brother, thanks for being a part of this conversations and sincerely engaging. I hope these thoughts help clarify where many of us are coming from. I would love to hear your thoughts on the actual issue of the use of Asian culture and what could be done to help mitigate the unintentional wounds given to the Asian/Asian American community who is struggling with the authors’ initial responses.

  15. Sherri says:

    Prof Rah,

    Thank you so much for the initiative you have shown to help the authors and many others see how wrong and painful actions such as these are to the Asian community – and to community in general. I pray that healing and growth will be the result of an honest and difficult dialogue. It’s especially nice to see this difficult conversation being spoken with loving words that will help move things in a positive direction.

    However, while I agree with much of what you have said, I do not understand the decision to post the personal email interaction between you and Mike. It is not surprising that Mike was defensive at first – that his work was offensive was new information to him; otherwise, he wouldn’t have done it in the first place. Your initiation of this information was a great service to him, but it was a process that he needed to enter into.

    It seems to be a reasonable assumption that when you send someone a personal email, that email is intended for that person’s eyes only. It’s a trust you put into the recipient, and you generally use different words than if it were for the public’s eye. Copying the email interaction into your public blog seems to be a betrayal of that trust. My guess is that every person commenting on your blog, including you, has sent emails that we have later regretted. I know that I have sent many that later I wished I could retrieve. Or that included thoughts that were intended solely for the recipient, and I would be horrified to know they were placed on a public site. It seems obvious that Mike’s responses to you were intended solely for you. In this situation, I felt like I was reading something that I was not supposed to be reading. Your inclusion of this dialogue on your public blog does not seem to be a loving action and does not seem to be have been edifying to Mike in any way. And it seems to have escalated an already difficult situation.

    Other than posting the email dialogue, I believe that your words and actions have been loving and have been on a positive solution side. I believe that God has used you these past few days to move his kingdom forward in this specific area. While some of my words in this comment may not seem so, I truly am grateful that you took initiative in this matter.

  16. […] you can read the initial blog posts that started the controversy: Soong-Chan Rah’s post is here; Deadly Viper’s post was taken down yesterday, but you can see a follow-up […]

  17. […] Clarify your own position and understanding of the issue. Read through the blog posts by myself and others, including the open letter to Zondervan (feel free to reference and copy in […]

  18. […] Asian cultural symbols for their own profit. You can read a series of blog posts on the subject here (where you can see some icky promotional pictures) and here. Please note that the Facebook videos […]

  19. Mike Dyson says:

    This is a great book that uses a creative and marketable means of delivering a great message. Must one be of Asian descent to use martial arts and Kung Fu references to talk about Christian principles? If so, there are a plethora of successful Caucasion authors out there who are guilty of this same charge. If Christians wrote books with the same approach, where would the appeal be? To bash an innovative book like this would indicate a lack of understanding in the area of advertising and marketing. If it gets the attention of a non-believer, then it has served its purpose.

  20. Would it be inappropriate for two Asian-American guys to use the motif of cowboys and the wild west to promote strong character? If done well, it could be pretty effective and I, as a European-American, wouldn’t be offended that they “used” American historical characters in such a way. Is there a difference? If so, please explain.

  21. […] the back and forth between Zondervan (a major Christian publishing house), the team that put out the Deadly Vipers (a book using some pretty lame Asian stereotyping, published by Zondervan), and a group of Asian […]

  22. […] been reading various blogs about the whole situation with Deadly Vipers. In some ways I have been encouraged and inspired and in other ways I have been […]

  23. Luis Padron says:

    As a hispanic evangelical I’d like to chime in and say, as respectfully as possible, that everyone should really try their best to grow up and recognize the authors intended no harm. I hasten to add that in all probability no harm is likely to come to asians, blacks, latinos, native americans, martians, and transdimensional beings from the future because of their book. Finally, I invite the authors to use any and all latino stereotypes in whatever other books they may plan for the future. I, for one, can laugh at myself, my culture and the numerous stereotypes.

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