Born David Robert Jones on January 8th, 1947 in South London, the artist created the stage name David Bowie in 1965 to avoid being mistaken for Davy Jones of the Monkees. He has had many successful singles including Space Oddity, which was inspired from him watching the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. The inspiration for his song Heroes depicts the story of two lovers amid the division of East and West Berlin. Naturally, the song China Girl evokes images of David Bowie penning a song in a downtown Kowloon bar after meeting a beautiful Hong Kong woman, perhaps after performing at a concert.
China Girl was written by Iggy Pop and David Bowie together while they were working in Berlin and achieved popularity after being released on Bowie’s 1983 album Let’s Dance. Inspiration for the song came from a woman who was not Chinese. At that time, Iggy Pop was having an affair with a Vietnamese woman named Kuelan Ngyuen. Kuelan and Pop could not communicate at all because of a language barrier – he spoke only English; she only spoke French. The two frustratingly communicated through hand gestures, body language and probably made ample use of the middle finger. The lyrics of the song depict this inability to effectively communicate (see: “Oh baby, just you shut your mouth, She says shhhhh….). Other Bowie fans and lyrical sleuths have said that China Girl is actually a song about heroin because a street name for heroin is China White. Reading through the lyrics, there does seem to be some heroin related subtext, but to each his own.
Directed by David Mallet and David Bowie, the music video for China Girl stars Geeling Ng, a woman of Chinese ancestry. Geeling was working as a waitress when Bowie noticed her and he requested she act as the China Girl in his music video. She went on to star in the 1983 historical drama Illustrious Energy and appeared as a contestant on Dancing with the Stars. Ng has been quoted as saying, “It just opened a million doors”, regarding her performing in the China Girl video.
The music video has Chinese themes being that is was filmed mostly in Sydney, Australia’s Chinatown. The video includes Ng running with a Communist Flag, Bowie and Ng drinking tea at a Chinese restaurant, and Ng colorfully dressed in a Peking Opera costume.
China Girl Song Lyrics
I could escape this feeling, with my China Girl
I feel a wreck without my, little China Girl
I hear her heart beating, loud as thunder
Saw they stars crashing
I’m a mess without my, little China Girl
Wake up mornings where’s my, little China Girl
I hear her heart’s beating, loud as thunder
Saw they stars crashing down
I feel a-tragic like I’m Marlon Brando
When I look at my China Girl
I could pretend that nothing really meant too much
When I look at my China Girl
I stumble into town just like a sacred cow
Visions of swastikas in my head
Plans for everyone
It’s in the whites of my eyes
My little China Girl
You shouldn’t mess with me
I’ll ruin everything you are
I’ll give you television
I’ll give you eyes of blue
I’ll give you men who want to rule the world
And when I get excited
My little China Girl says
Oh baby just you shut your mouth
She says … sh-sh-shhh