Repurposing a rather long reply in another group for this.
So, let’s preface this with the fact that no one can stop you from writing whatever you want. Nor should they.
You also cannot please everyone and often, you’ll annoy someone, somewhere.
Why and how you write is entirely up to the individual author.
So, cultural appropriation is a weird thing to discuss since it started from discussions about whites generally taking from other cultures (generally black and Native American) cultural aspects. The most common example being the Native American headdress and using it for things like Halloween.
In that context, where a ‘big’ culture overtakes and uses a ‘smaller’ cultures important culturual touchstones, it’s clear. However, the question of whether you could appropriate from a culture like China that is rather dominant is a question.
Certainly, cultures or groups can be negatively potrayed but isn’t that just plain old racism? Fu Manchu and the like if you look at Chinese potrayals specifically.
Writing in non-native genres
That being said, there is some degree of annoyance when we (I maybe) see people write in genres like wuxia/xianxia/etc genres when those genres are not native to their own cultures. I figured I’d illustrate some of the reasons why.
On a pure publishing (trad) perspective, there is still significant roadblocks for PoC authors to get their authentic works published. Even when they do get it published, such works are often paid significantly less than a ‘white’ authors work of the same form, which often leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
If you’re curious, you can look up the many, many examples out there, especially in the PublishingPaidMe twitter tag and spreadsheet.
Self-pub, there’s obviously no actual gatekeepers involved, though there are other impediments in the way. Among others, cultural barriers to being a writer are prominent among many PoC family’s (‘you want to be a what? how is that going to pay?’), financial barriers and geographic ones are promiment.
However, that’s not even the most egregrious problem.
Perhaps the biggest one is the lack of research done by authors and the use of harmful stereotypes. It can be as simple as the lack of research on pronunciation of names or the context / method of naming (e.g. putting family names last instead of first for Chinese / Asian works) to using stereotypes that can be harmful.
On top of that, western authors often miss the context and the rhytmn of conversations and lives or even westernise such conversations and interpersonal relations. It then comes off as inauthentic to actual Chinese/Asian readers. The funny thing is that, sometimes these accidental or inadvertent mistakes make the work more marketable to Western audiences who find it more relatable.
Are they wrong not to do the research? I’d say so, personally, and it’s why I struggle sometimes reading works or are thrown entirely out of what would be great works because of small idiosyncratic things.
I think the more harmful aspects of this is that such works actually then potray or push harmful or just plain wrong views. Like men coming up to Japanese girls and wanting them to say ‘kawaii!’ just because that’s the only image in their mind.
Research, care in the writing and understanding helps, obviously. Sensitivity readers which are a major thing among trad pub can be useful, but the danger is that you’re often seeing commentary from a single perspective.
Sidenote – this is compounded even more when you are looking at a culture and nationalities like the Chinese who have had multiple waves of immigrants, where the diaspora has happened over centuries. Then, you have writers (like me) whose perspective of ‘their’ culture is rather different from say, a Mainland Chinese or even Hong Kong Chinese. I’m sure those from India, Pakistan, etc. also face such difficulties.
Genre Specific Problems
On top of that, wuxia works have a long and storied history; with very powerful (and culturally important) thematic elements within them. Individuality vs conformism, honor vs tradition & obedience, etc. (Mind you, some of those same themes are forgotten too by more modern, Chinese Mainland writers, but that’s another discussion entirely). So, you have that addition of subtext to add on to do it ‘right’, as different as that definition of ‘right’ might be.
Xianxia of course has its own history, though some of the more recent iterations by Chinese webnovel writers have created their own tropes. And whilst it’s understandable that people make fun or, or poke holes at the ‘common’ tropes, sometimes those actions are rather mean-spirited rather than loving, because there’s a lack of understanding of why some of those tropes are what they are.
Lastly, you’ve got danmei itself. For those who don’t know, danmei are the homosexual love stories (see Untamed) that are being written and are wildly popular in China. Western authors trying to write danmei, well, I don’t know if it’s any more problematic than writing any other genre, but…
There’s numerous concerns surrounding writing danmei IN China itself, with the repression LGBTQ+ people experience in the country. Writing in the west, we generally risk nothing… but are such writers at least providing money / audience / etc to those Chinese writers they’ve read and drawn inspiration from? Or are they just taking without offering anything back?
Just some things to think about. End of the day, no one can or will stop another writer from writing whatever they want in whatever genre. There might even be a large audience for whatever you write, whether it’s genuine or not. There’s often an argument that less authentic works actually do better, because they’re more palaptable for Western audiences.
Just try not to do harm and, hopefully, do some good with the money (if you are professionaly publishing) or attention you get.
At least that’s what I’d ask.
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