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To JK Rowling, from Cho Chang

Over the weekend, the Tumblr-verse went crazy about the slam poem, To JK Rowling, From Cho Chang.

In it, college student Rachel Rostad uses Cho Chang’s role in Harry Potter to frame a discussion about the racist presentation of East Asian girls and women in the media, with particular focus on the common trope of Asian girls crying over white men.

However, the speech has been getting some criticism, especially over its assertion that “Cho” and “Chang” are both Korean surnames, not Chinese names. In response, the poet has posted another video discussing these issues which, if the Youtube numbers are anything to go by, has been seen by a lot fewer people.

She apologizes for the inaccuracies in her speech and for misrepresenting people, but makes several more excellent points about the way that East Asian women are represented in fiction. It’s a shame that her poem has become represented by these mistakes, as people are using them as a reason to ignore the actual message of the poem, and to avoid actually addressing the problems it explores.

It’s not really my place to argue what is and isn’t racist about Cho Chang’s portrayal, and I’ve been learning a lot by following both these videos and the discussion on Rachel Rostad’s tumblr. But arguments that Cho is problematic — because she cries all the time, because she’s made to seem “weaker” and more emotional in order to make Ginny seem better — have a lot of validity to them. This doesn’t mean that JK Rowling, or Harry Potter fans, are racist or sexist (at least, beyond the subtle, insidious, subconscious “isms” that plague even the most well-intentioned and conscientious of us). But it is still problematic, and it does say something about tropes, and how we expect both female characters and East Asian characters to be. And those issues are always worth challenging when we find them. Especially when we find them in things that we love.


Rhiannon Thomas is the author of A WICKED THING and KINGDOM OF ASHES. She lives in York, England.

4 thoughts on “To JK Rowling, from Cho Chang

  1. I watched both videos some time ago, but I just now read this post.

    I agree that she had a lot of valid criticisms, but I also think that it’s very fair to criticize *her* for the errors she makes in her original poem (many, but not all, of which her follow-up video clarified).

    It’s not so much that she made mistakes; we all do that. But she proceeded to eviscerate JKR on those faulty premises, in a series of angry accusations based on those mistakes. It’s particularly ironic that she accuses JKR of racism for not bothering to check the ethnicity of Cho’s name, when the poet herself was the one who was actually guilty of that lapse. She made some extreme accusations with nothing to back them up, which did not inspire me to trust her as a source of information, and so I don’t think it’s unreasonable for her audience to regard the entire poem with skepticism as a result. Careless invective hinders the efforts (of both herself and others) to convince their audiences that there is an actual problem.

    Given the anger and looseness with facts of the original poem, I was very pleasantly surprised by the follow-up video. She’s a person I’d love to hear speak (or, better yet, perform) on the issue of race in fiction… I’d just like her to check her facts first.

    1. Of course it’s fair to criticize the mistakes that she made, but it doesn’t negate the importance of a lot of what she’s saying. According to her second video, she did do her research on the name, but was misinformed.

      I didn’t get the feeling she was eviscerating JKR. She used Harry Potter as a way into the discussion, because it’s memorable and most people are very familiar with it. But it was just a way into a broader criticism of the presentation of Asian women in fiction, and she made a lot of valid points.

      As for the contrast between the first and the second video… there’s a particular structure to that kind of poetry, which she was using. Obviously, she’s going to be less forceful when simply recording a vlog discussing it.

      1. I’ve no idea if you will see this comment but as a Bulgarian, I can say that Victor Krum is NOT a Bulgarian name. The right surname would have to be Krumov. I did feel a bit offended by it even though I love Harry Potter!

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