Yuja Wang: I’ve decided to take control of my own narrative

The New York Times has gone into one of its periodic convulsions of political correctness over the Carnegie Hall show of Iggudesman & Joo, and their willing straight guy Yuja Wang.

Their concert with Ms. Wang was riddled with jokes about her sexual appeal and Chinese heritage that ranged from unpleasant (“God, she’s so hot”) to offensive. (“It smells of sweet and sour chicken,” Mr. Igudesman said of a box with Ms. Wang inside.)

Yuja made it clear in a statement that she knows exactly what she’s up to.

But the Times persists: The concept, whatever its good intentions, tempts comparisons with the history of African-American performers in blackface, acting out stereotypes of themselves for predominantly white audiences. It also risks feeding the common perception of Asian-Americans as perpetual foreigners…

Read here.


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  • Joshua Barone is another of the School of Talentless Critics – who projects his own failure and inadequacy onto those unfortunate to have him ‘review’ their performances. Long after Barone has been rightfully forgotten, people will be replaying and enjoying Igudesmann, Joo, and Wang. Someone needs to tell this self-righteous little twerp that this show is *comedy* – something about which a spiteful little hatemonger would have no clue.

    Frankly [redacted: abuse].

    • Mysteriously Mr Barone’s abuse not only goes [unredacted] in the NYT – he’s even paid to write it. He can certainly hand it out – but like most critics, he can’t take it.

    • “[redacted: abuse]”

      Damn girl, given your first paragraph, I can’t imagine what you could’ve possibly said in your second that was even more abusive and got redacted.

      Further, you seem to know an awful lot about Joshua Barone, and have formed some thought-out opinions about him, for someone you think will be “forgotten”, clearly, you haven’t yet.

      Did he give you a bad review once?

    • Hi, Viola da Bracchio — Joshua Barone here. I’m just now seeing this, so I missed whatever was redacted. But feel free to email me at joshua.barone@nytimes.com. I’m happy to hear your thoughts and carry on a conversation about the piece there.

  • This was one of the most ridiculous articles I have read in a long time. I can’t believe a hack like this can get space in the NYT. No sense of humor or critical reasoning skills. People just can’t accept that Yuja does what Yuja wants and most times she is really good at it. Learn to live with this!

  • There are indeed problems with how Asians are often characterized in Western classical music. Most Asian musicians have been relatively quiet about this problem. So I’m happy to see Jennifer Koh and Yuga Wang address the topic so forthrightly.

  • To be fair to Yuja, she is (as far as I know) Chinese and not Chinese-American (despite having spent her teenage year, thus formative years, at Curtis), which means that, although she is in many ways an *acculturated* American, she does not share in the history of the racial discrimination and stereotypes faced by Chinese-Americans, she does not share the dual identity of Chinese-Americans, and quite frankly, in the rarefied confines of Curtis and the urbane cultural centers of New York and LA, she probably never experienced direct discrimination even as a Chinese, much less as a Chinese-American.

    So, no, she is not attuned to the racial issues raised by the NYT as affecting her in any meaningful way.

    And why would she? The burden of Chinese-Americans is not hers to bear. She’s Chinese, what does she care?

  • Convulsions indeed.
    I used to have a full subscription to the NY Times, but finally canceled last year as articles like the one discussed above became increasingly frequent and the nomination of Sarah Jeong to the editorial board was the final straw for me.
    Good food section with inspiring recipes though…

    For in depth articles I have found a new home instead at the excellent

    • The abandonment of the British Labour Party by several of its sitting members might just be the turning point against the regressive Left. Here’s hoping. One of the spokesperson described a litany of offences from anti-semitism, authoritarianism, identity politics, lack of freedom of speech, grievance. Somebody has finally awoken (better late than never) to the toxic politics which is inspired by its Kremlin ideologies and behavior.

      Yes, it’s been a terrifying ride – but it may be running out of momentum.

  • To quote the great singer, Nat “King” Cole: “I don’t care what the critics say. They get their tickets for free.”

  • If anyone is wondering why President Trump was elected, here is one of the reasons. This PC garbage is just too ludicrous for words. It was a rowdy comedy show, and nobody forced Yuja Wang to participate in it.

    And btw, the argument made by Koh is problematic. So it’s ok to speak about the “Russian passion”, but not about the “Asian reserve” ? National character and certain traits typical of paricular ethnic groups do exist, and many of their aspects are likely heritable via genetic and epigenetic pathways.
    Nobody is suggesting that all Asian musicians are “all technique and no soul”, but it is certainly true that on average, many of them play in a relatively cautious and reserved manner.

    Here are two anecdotes: first was relayed to me by the former student of Dorothy DeLay – supposedly, she was so fed up with the lack of emotion in her Asian students’ playing, she hired a sports psychologist to motivate them. Second, a Chinese violinist (a friend of mine) told me that expressing emotion just “isn’t the Chinese way”, and so she has trouble “connecting” with the Romantic repertoire.

    • “So it’s ok to speak about the “Russian passion”, but not about the “Asian reserve” ?”

      You do recognize the utter irony of your comments, right, in today’s world? Welcome to the 21st century.

      If only Trifonov would take off that middle-management business suit of his (on stage, he always looks like he just got out of work, emerging from a humid subway) and moussed up his hair a bit when he played, and Kissin is as dowdy as a grandfather, and if only Yuja Wang and Lang Lang would wear a normal dress and business suit, and forewent the gel on their hair, for once, when they played…

    • Mark writes: “National character and certain traits typical of particular ethnic groups do exist…likely heritable”

      Sorry, but this is twaddle. Take “English-ness”. Recently the English had a reputation for the “”stiff upper lip and lack of emotion”. This only dates from the 19th century. In the 18th century the English had a reputation for being the most emotional people in Europe, and “perfidious”. In 1400 the English were thought to be violent, barbaric and heartless; in 1300, peaceful and cowardly.

      It is obvious that these can’t be heritable and aren’t real characteristics. (Unless you believe the medieval claim the English had tails.)

    • Anecdotes are neither historiographical nor scientific. The way you reason demonstrate a lack of education. By the way, Asians are probably only reserved in front of a redneck like you, as they really have nothing to say to you. If you force yourself to learn an “Asian” language and familiarize yourself with yourself with their history, arts and culture, you will forget about your “reserve” garbage very soon. You can start with a Jackie Chan movie and go see how reserved it is.

  • She may know what she was up to but, for some onlookers, she missed the mark. In her piano playing, Ms Wang’s intention brilliantly matches her effect. Perhaps she should leave deep social commentary to others.

  • She may known what she meant, but for others, Ms Wang’s effect was less clear. In her piano playing,
    Ms Wang’s intentions brilliantly unite with effect. Perhaps she should leave deep social commentary to others.

  • You know, “political correctness” is merely about being cognitive to the fact that some language and policies are offensive to some groups of people. When you complain about political correctness, you’re basically saying that you don’t care if other people find your speech to be insulting or offensive.

    • Monsoon writes: “When you complain about political correctness, you’re basically saying that you don’t care if other people find your speech to be insulting or offensive.”

      Er…this is a problem. Should I decide not to tell my neighbour he shouldn’t beat his wife because I might hurt his feelings? Should I decide not to tell Sue Sonata I don’t like her opinions since I might hurt her feelings? Frankly, in an open society I should have the right to say things other people don’t like. The mere fact that someone is offended absolutely does not mean I have no right to say something.

  • I didn’t see the show; if I had perhaps I’d say he doth protest too much. But he’s writing about a very current topic.

    But what I really tire of is commenters like present company who get into the “Critic is a failure so can only criticize…” motif. Instead of actually arguing against any particular point made by the writer. Is success as a practitioner in the field a prerequisite to write critically about something? If so, there are a lot of professions that are going to have to clear out their ranks.

  • Good gracious, NYT! Learn to laugh a little, not everything has to be seen through the narrow prism of political correctness and identity politics! We are still allowed freedom of expression in this country, no?

  • Every publication understands that Yuja Wang is clickbait, whether it’s the NYT with its TWO articles on this event three days apart by the same reporter, or Slippedisc, or the Washington Post. We all click, so articles and blog posts about Wang will continue to be written.

    NYT readers also need their daily doses of tsk-tsking about racial issues, and with blackface so much in the American news of late, it was simply too irresistible a comparison for the reporter to omit.

  • Yuja Wang: a wonderful, inventive musician with a great sense of humor, and, more importantly, of self-worth.
    Reviewers, critics, commentators and bloggers: Feh!

  • I’ve very surprised that Norman doesn’t understand what’s at stake here. Yuja is a hugely influential and high-profile artist, and for her to reinforce damaging stereotypes about Asians is incredibly short-sighted.

    The tired old ‘argument’ that it’s just a bit of a larf innit doesn’t wash. It never did with the Black and White Minstrel Show, and it wouldn’t if anti-semitic stereotypes were aired.

  • Comedy is always based on surprise, and usually on some degree of discomfort. How funny you think this kind of pointed comedy is is often dependent on how much discomfort you’re comfortable with, if that makes sense.

    Another thing is, people on the receiving end of stereotypes are usually a lot more accustomed to (comfortable with, if you will) hearing them bandied about than the people who, wittingly or not, perpetuate them. If, for example, as a white person, you are careful never to say anything stereotypical about black people (for example), then the people you associate with probably don’t do it either, and so it’s natural to think it doesn’t happen much because you almost never see it. So when we see a black person commenting on the little racist moments that occur throughout their day, we think they must be oversensitive and blowing things out of proportion (or even making things up).

    How this relates is: someone doing comedy about that kind of thing may start from a perspective that is further along the spectrum, if you will, than most of their audience. So what they think of as “pointed comedy,” their audience might find simply distasteful. As a fan of Richard Pryor in the 70’s, I remember a lot of white people finding his comedy ugly and racist. As a mixed-race teenager growing up in a largely black neighborhood, I couldn’t understand why.

  • It is a real problem when people just refuse to be politically correct. Humour is fine, as long as it is our kind of humour, and is mocking someone else, and not threatening to make us uncomfortable. So many of us SD readers like to make lewd comments about Yuja Wang, and that’s ok and funny because it is us mocking her. But now she is mocking us mocking her, and that’s unsubtle and crude and offensive. She’s showing that she’s aware of the mean things we say, and she is showing that she’s just going to do her own thing anyway. And we realise that we are just mean, and small minded, and sexist, and racist, and most of us can’t even play the piano very well. But we judge her anyway. We’re keyboard warriors, and that’s what we’re good at. Actually it’s the only thing we’re good at. Oh dear. Where is it leading to ?

  • As far as “professional” critics are concerned, with so much “amateur” criticism on the internet, for ex, this site, are paid critics really as influential or as important any more?

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