Created By: Unknown Troper on April 6, 2010
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Inscrutable Oriental

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Throughout the years, people from the far East have been depicted as being not quite as willing to visually express their emotions compared to their peers. If treated positively, a character who follows this trope can come across as being a calm, cool, and fairly collected (if a bit eccentric) person who may also serve as a source of wisdom and encouragement.

If treated negatively, characters this applies to can come across as being overly dour, uptight, dull, and all around boring fellows who seem to have trouble comprehending concepts like leisure or fun.

This can be shown tropewise as being The Stoic in more serious and/or positive portrayals. And as the The Unfunny or Only Sane Man in more comedic and negative portrayals. The Old Master may also be this trope.

All in all, this trope can be described as the Eastern counterpart to Germanic Depressives.

Examples:

Anime and Manga

Film

Literature

  • The Asian Knight of the Cross from The Dresden Files.
  • A Tree Grows In Brooklyn is a rather racist book (1943) and features a Chinese Launderer character who's stereotypical in other ways, but it actually calls out this trope. The young protagonist sees the Chinese man as a wise mystic and assumes he's listening thoughtfully when she talks to him, when in reality he doesn't speak English and is just waiting for her to leave.

Live-Action TV

Video Games

  • Shen Yu in Evil Genius is described as "inscrutable".
Community Feedback Replies: 29
  • February 27, 2010
    SKJAM
    Often referred to as being "inscrutable" in older, less enlightened works.
  • February 27, 2010
    Unknown Troper
    "Often referred to as being "inscrutable" in older, less enlightened works."

    And Jeffrey Archer novels.
  • February 27, 2010
    ParadiscaCorbasi

    also, I believe "Oriental" is derogatory these days and "Asian" the inoffensive turn of phrase.
  • February 27, 2010
    Bisected8
    Oriental's perfectly acceptable in Britain at least (I've never heard it used in a derogatory manner).
  • February 28, 2010
    MatthewTheRaven
    It's standard language in British English (Asian implies Indian, Pakistani, or Bangladeshi), and as a racist trope, we can use Oriental in the same way as Magical Negro - Inscrutable Oriental.

    Examples: Fu Manchu and every variation on him (Ming the Merciless, The Mandarin from Iron Man, and so on).
  • February 28, 2010
    henke37
    Zinc in AAI.
  • February 28, 2010
    DomaDoma
    The Japanese fellow at the temple in Lost is thus far one of the most inscrutable characters in an altogether inscrutable show.
  • February 28, 2010
    Unknown Troper
    Charlie Chan (if you ever read the books) is a fairly good example

    And many and sundry novels about Westerners in China who don't work much, before the Boxer Rebellion, or during the Russo-Japanese War

    I'd give details, but i'm hoping I've erased most of it from my memory
  • February 28, 2010
    STUART

    The new guy from the Temple in Lost is named "Dogen".
  • March 1, 2010
    ParadiscaCorbasi
  • March 1, 2010
    TJ
    • Gremlins: the store owner who sold Gizmo.
  • March 2, 2010
    MatthewTheRaven
  • March 2, 2010
    arromdee
    Overlaps with Yellow Peril because of historical circumstances leading to both being used.
  • March 2, 2010
    NatetheGreat
    From The Love Bug:
    Tennessee Steinmetz: It's a matter of talking their language. You have a little feel for tradition and some courtesy, you'd be surprised you can unscrew the inscrutable.
  • March 7, 2010
    onlysomuch
    Japan from Axis Powers Hetalia
  • March 7, 2010
    DaibhidC
    Laquered Tablet, the Agatean (ie Fantasy Counterpart Culture Japanese) ambassador to the Brown Islands in GURPS Discworld Also is described as follows: "Someone once told him the rest of the world saw Agateans as inscrutable, and he decided this was a good idea. He is very inscrutable, and goes about with several rather large guards selected for their inscrutability."
  • March 8, 2010
    SaniOKh
  • March 9, 2010
    Unknown Troper
    • A Tree Grows In Brooklyn is a rather racist book (1943) and features a Chinese Launderer character who's stereotypical in other ways, but it actually calls out this trope. The young protagonist sees the Chinese man as a wise mystic and assumes he's listening thoughtfully when she talks to him, when in reality he doesn't speak English and is just waiting for her to leave.
  • March 9, 2010
    mack
    • Senor Chang on Community invokes this trope in his first appearance.
      Change: I don't wanna have any conversations *strokes imaginary beard* about what a *cackling* mysterious, inscrutable man I am!
  • March 10, 2010
    Idraena
    Lu-Tze from Discworld.
  • March 10, 2010
    AyameHikaru
    Justified Trope. Values Dissonance. Most Asians/orientals DO appear inscrutable to Westerners, because it's part of their upbringing to hide or repress what they are feeling. For them, showing emotion in public is right up there with picking your nose. It's gross, and people tend to look at you wierd if you do it. (Note that if you're Western, they forgive you for showing emotion. After all, we don't know any better.)
  • March 10, 2010
    hummingbirdcake
    Lau from Shadow Unit invokes this trope too. It's even on her character page.
  • March 10, 2010
    Bisected8
    Another western equivalent is British Stuffiness.
  • March 10, 2010
    MatthewTheRaven
    @Ayame Hikaru I'm actually not sure if it's so much an Asian/Western thing... I mean, certain Asian groups are stoic (stereotypically Japanese), but other groups are a lot more openly emotional (ever been in a Chinatown?). And while Americans or Mediterraneans are stereotypically extroverted, other Western cultures like Britons, Slavs, and Germans are known to be more stoic.
  • March 14, 2010
    bluepenguin
    Yeah, Matthew The Raven's right, in my experience -- and even with Japanese culture I'd say it really applies only to men and maybe to older women. So watch out for those sweeping generalizations there.
  • March 14, 2010
    randomsurfer
    On Northern Exposure the Native Americans generally were inscrutable, with the exception of Ed Chigliak who I considered pretty "scrutable."
  • March 17, 2010
    DarkSasami
    I have such an awful urge to call this Secretive Asian Man.
  • March 23, 2010
    MatthewTheRaven
    But that would mean something completely different and completely ignore the long history of the term.
  • April 4, 2010
    MatthewTheRaven
    LAUNCH IT!!!
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