query about the "Asian smile"

Andrew Port's picture

Dear colleagues, 

Apologies for this intrusion by an interloper (my own field is modern Europe, with a focus on post-1945 Germany)!

I am currently finishing up a book on German reactions to genocides that took place in other countries after 1945, and one country I focus on is Cambodia. In the course of my research, I have repeatedly come across, in German press coverage and elsewhere, the trope "Asian smile" in reference to the Cambodians. The subtext seems to be that luking beneath the ubiquitous "Asian smile" is a much darker side...

Do any of you know where I can find out more about this stereotype/trope? I would be extremely grateful for any suggestions! Please feel free to reply via H-Asia or at the following email: andrew.ian.port@gmail.com.

Thank you in advance!

Hi Andrew,
With regards to Cambodia, the British Commissioner General for Southeast Asia (1948-55) Malcolm MacDonald wrote an unpublished novel "A Khmer Smile". MacDonald's meaning was in reference to a stereotype of Khmer sculpture in Cambodia - which in his eyes displayed a sort of "Mona Lisa" enigmatic smile. MacDonald was personal friends with Norodom Sihanouk and wrote a factual book "Angkor and the Khmers" in the 1950s. Perhaps the stereotype you are referring to is a trope with its origins in European interactions with Cambodian art, which may have influenced how they expected actual people to behave?
Not sure if that's much help or not!
Alex