Kuei-jin: The Exotic

As I said, I will be talking about this roleplaying rulebook called Kindred of the East (KotE) and I have. But first, I made a mistake in saying that KotE dealt in South Asia. I was misremembering but for any South Asian readers, despair not! White Wolf already covered the region, or at least just India, in the main Vampire: The Masquerade books. You get the Ravnos clan which are basically Indian vampires organised into the Hindu caste system and whose western brethren are stereotypes of Roma people.

The Ravnos was also originally written as just stereotypes of Roma people, complete with the clan nickname “Gypsies”. And White Wolf also once released Gypsies, where Roma people are more magic than even vampires and werewolves.

Then you also have the fanatical Muslim assassin Assamite vampires.

As for vampires in Africa, well, I would be making a complete arse of myself talking about cultures which I have nearly no familiarity with. But looking at their track record so far… The title is Kindred of the Ebony Kingdom for anyone curious, by the way.

So after saying all that, how well do you think KotE would fare?

First, a little bit of background for those not familiar with Vampire: The Masquerade.

Vampires in this universe are called “Kindred”, apparently because all of them can be traced to the Biblical Cain. Which the game spells as “Caine” because the extra E is cool, I guess. While the African Kindred –who all call themselves “Laibon”– attribute their origins to various African gods and legends, THEY ARE WRONG BECAUSE THE WHITE PEOPLE’S VERSION IS THE CORRECT ONE.

The vampires in East and Southeast Asia are not Kindred however. They’re called “Kuei-jin” entirely different species because you got to have the exotics. Before we move on, let’s laugh at that name.

“Kuei-jin” is a combination of the Chinese word for ghost (pronounced “gui” in Mandarin, “gwai” in Cantonese, romanised as “kuei” in Wades-Giles which is a shit system of romanisation) and the Japanese word for people. The sentiment behind it is that the vampires of Asia are now working together and so they adopted a multicultural name.

It’s a wonderful name! I shall begin writing it in Chinese and passing it on, telling everyone that this is our new name:

鬼人

“Oh, so we are now the Gui Ren?”

Now I shall write it in kanji and pass the news on to my Japanese friends:

鬼人

“Oh, so we are now the Kijin? Could also be pronounced Kinin though.”

No! What’s wrong with you two? It clearly says gui-jin! I’ll ask the Koreans how it’s pronounced! And I’ll write it in hanja:

鬼人

“Oh, so we’re the Gwi-in?”

Yeah, you can write down the pronunciation in Japanese kana. I’m not sure about the Korean hanegul. But it’s impossible to write have it in Chinese phonetically and still have the name mean what you want it to. LOL anglocentric arsefaces!

In case you have already suspected from the poorly conceived name, the answer is yes. Despite the Kuei-jin supposedly having a pan-Asian flavour, everything about them is Chinese and Japanese. Most of it Chinese.

And if you were suspecting something else, answer is also yes. The only Chinese name in this book is the calligrapher’s. Seems like in a book so heavily based on East Asian culture, East Asians are only good for giving you fancy symbols to paste all over your product.

Wow, did I just devote nearly 600 words to how this book is shit without having even gotten to its meat?

I'll give it points for having an atypical Asian Font.

I’ll give it points for having an atypical Asian Font.

This chapter opens with a tiny story and um… I’ll let it speak for itself.

He steps into the hailing night. Tokyo neon shines on Spanish leather. With a smirk, he eyes the gaudy skyscape and chuckles at the reedy streetsong whine. The little monkeys had done a marvelous job of copying everything that was tacky and soulless in the West.

Prime feeding ground.

His mind’s eye dancing with samurai flicks, the Ventrue crosses Naka Meguro street. Tiny people in bright colours make way for the stranger. None pose any threat. Behind this man lies the weight of centuries, a Cainite’s strength and the power of a clan.

Ah fuck it! I don’t feel like typing out the rest of this. These couple of paragraphs speak plenty already anyway.

Insert random Zen quote.

I pull out some choice quotes from this chapter.

Although Asia offers unthinkable riches and oceans of blood, Kindred who come here do so fearfully. Since the nights of the galleons, Western vampires’ attempts to exploit this land have met with dismal and horrific failure.

And yet Western mortals have had large success. These must be the worst immortal shadow overlords ever.

Something something the Orient something something and we got a header which reads:

The Middle Kingdom

Blue Dragon, White Tiger also used that term for China, as does a bunch of things I noticed. Funny how the anglosphere would use the translation of Zhongguo (You know, the name the Chinese gave to their nation when they adopted natonalism.) when they want things to sound all exotic, but still insist on a corrupted pronunciation of a long-gone dynasty in all other matters.

Anyway, I wonder if this section talks about China exotically! Oh, the suspense!

Westerners have long spoken of Asia’s exoticism, of it’s alien ways and rules. In the World of Darkness, they are correct, more so than they realise. The Asian World of Darkness is referred to as the Middle Kingdom by its supernatural denizens, and in many ways it is truly a world unto itself.

Okay, that was unexpected. So the Middle Kingdom is now East and Southeast Asia?

Also, did the book just blatantly admit that it is taking Orientalist vomit and treating it as reality? That’s not right, you’re supposed to try to argue that you’re paying tribute but look like a total monkey anyway.

Then the rest is talking about how the Middle Kingdom is a shithole because of its skyscrapers and frantic workpace and slums and governments making people disappear, things that never happen in Whitelandia obviously. All of that on top of all the supernatural creatures which people knows are out there in the shadows. Because Asians are a superstitious and cowardly– No wait, I swear that I’m not a rich white American guy who goes out every night beating on the poor!

Look, pretty picture!

From far, the words might look okay. But up close, it's either gibberish or it's really shit handwriting.

From far, the words might look okay. But up close, it’s either gibberish or it’s really shit handwriting.

We also learn that:

Collectively, supernatural beings are known by many names but often refer to themselves by the Chinese word “shen”.

Even if they’re not Chinese? And if they were, then no. Just no. That word has multiple layers of meaning and… I just don’t want to bother explaining. I just want to point and laugh at the ignorant yang gui zai.

Conversely, the Middle Kingdom’s mortals, as a rule, have learned to ask fewer questions. Let the Night People walk their roads, the amahs say, and they will let you walk yours — unless joss frowns on you.

I never knew what a joss was so I decided to wiki it. Turns out it isn’t even a corruption of a Chinese word or name (For example: Confucius, Mencius). It’s a corruption of the Portuguese “deus” and the concept behind it is not Chinese at all.

It goes on to insert the Chinese concept of Yin and Yang worlds, which refers to the world of the dead and the living respectively. Except in this game book which respects its source greatly, the Yang world is host to other types of supernatural creatures like shapeshifters.

Oh yeah, guess what the World of Darkness setting calls the Chinese underworld? The Dark Kingdom of Jade!

JADE JADE JADE JADE JADE! I love ’em jade! I live in a house built from jade, sleep on a jade bed with a soft fluffy jade pillow and jade blanket. I eat jade with jade cutlery on a jade bowl and drink liquid jade from a jade glass with a jade straw. I sit on my jade toilet and piss and shit jade, then wipe my jade bottom with jade tissue paper.

Fuck, this is going to be a long one, it seems. Let’s look at more pictures.

asiancaricature1

asiancaricature2

Mr Leif Jones has obviously never met any East Asians.

I then skim through pages upon pages to bring you more of Mr Leif Jones, because fuck, I was only on the seventh page.

illadvisedpastiche

Aw look at that, Mr Leif Jones appropriated the East Asian name seal. Isn’t that fucking kawaii ^_^?

Yes, that picture is supposed to be a pastiche of Asian religions. It has a second half too, but it’s not really interesting. But yes, while we’re on this page, let’s look at the religions.

It does admit that it is being simplistic about the description, which is understandable given the limited pages so I won’t get on that case unless it’s particularly headdeskable. However, the admission is headed by a “Purists Please Note”. And what do we often use the term “purists” for, especially in a nerdy medium? And what subject are we dealing with here?

Yeah.

Once again, Confucianism is classified as a religion. Typical. And somehow they would say that “Daoism” is more of a philosophy than a religion, which while somewhat true, has more in common with the definition of religion in that it actually discusses deities and has a pantheon. I struggle to understand the thought process.

And atheism gets attributed to Communism. Yeah, game book, you are being simplistic out of necessity but this is just…

Anyway, the game mechanics are heavily influenced by Daoism and Buddhism. A kuei-jin would choose a dharmas, which acts similarly to clans in the main Vampire game in that it decides the powers you get. In its lore, there are five mainstream dharmas which were created by this ancient dude called Xue.

Xue’s name is supposed to mean either “blood” or “study” depending on tone. Except… If you write his name down, not only would I know which tone to use, I would also know what his name means.

The five thing is supposed to be from Daoism, specifically the wu xing concept where things can be arranged into systems of fives. It manifests itself again in the game’s wu mechanic, where kuei-jin would organise themselves into a five-person group, preferably each of a different dharma.

The term wu is supposed to be able to mean either “five” or “house” depending on tone. You know the rest.

Blah blah blah, kuei-jin can do cool shit, blah blah blah and here, talking about real world places!

History of China with vampires, history of Japan with vampires, history of Korea with vampires. Stop it right there with Southeast Asia! Why is the Vietnam war and the Khmer Rouge regime titled under “Silly Little Wars”?

Moving on, real world locations. So what do we have for Bangkok, Thailand? The Wretched Hive of Scum and Villainy. I’m serious. It really does say that. Drugs! Prostitution! Everywhere all the time!

And what do we have for Singapore?

Singapore, a financial dragon of the Middle Kingdom, is beginning to recapture some of its nostalgic glory from the pre-World War II era.

The fuck you talking about? The only people who can be nostalgic of pre-World War II glory are the British colonisers. What would the Malay natives, the Chinese, and the Indians have to be nostalgic about. Oh, I wish we went back to those days when the British ruled over us and we had nothing to worry about. We just had to do what they demanded of us! Glory of the British Empire ^_^

It goes on to recall William Gibson with the whole “It looks Disneyesque but it’s a dictatorship” thing. Thailand has Mos Eisley, Singapore has Dictator Disneyland. How broad minded and totally in the know of the complex socio-political environment these characterisations are. Could have fooled me into thinking that they really do care about our troubles instead of only wanting set pieces for them to play in!

Now we narrow in to some choice spots. Singapore’s Chinatown and Little India:

Both of these slices of ethnicity look as if they were lifted straight from the spots at Epcot Center’s World Showcase. The “restoration” projects of these areas went overboard with the bright paint and kitsch, and nowadays few tourists visit these towns, unconvinced of their “authenticity”.

Who cares about the people who live and conduct business there? If you have a name which suggest ethnicity, you must make it a playground for white people! Doesn’t matter that it is a place in Asia lived by Asians, it is not authentically Asian unless there is nothing modern there! Except toilets, because I need a place to evacuate my faeces!

So, how’s the nightlife?

The nightlife of Singapore centers on Orchard Road. Bars, tattoo parlors, and highly secret prostitution houses, ever watchful of the law, flourish here.

Look, game book, I know you can’t help but want there to be seediness in every Southeast Asian country. I’m not saying there isn’t prostitution in Singapore. I’m just saying that you got the seedy road.

Oh, what’s this about the Great Leap Outward? The kuei-jin have concentrated power in the Chinatowns of various US cities and they are waiting to strike? Yellow Peril much?

So yeah, this is the kind of book KotE is. Some of you may be wondering why I’m talking about something released in 1997. The answer is that it is still relevant. People still play KotE. People still talk about it and want its resurrection in the new World of Darkness line. And more importantly, the tropes and attitudes in the book are still present in popular culture at large.

And here’s a bit of a confession. I got into Vampire: The Masquerade when I first saw a preview of the video game Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines in a magazine. As a teenager who religiously read Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles and listened to the likes of Cradle of Filth and Theatres des Vampires (and still like vampires), I had to get that game. Before the Internet was a constant, I would look up the source material and read about the clans and sects and then continued searching until I could laid eyes upon the core rulebook.

When I discovered Kindred of the East, I was quite excited. It was like that made vampires just for people like me. Of course, I know now that’s not true. I devoured the core rulebook and then the Bone Flowers supplement because they were my favourite Dharma. I was quite aware of stuff like the names, but I didn’t know much about Daoism and Buddhism then so I had no idea that the way they were appropriated into the game systems produced some misconceptions. Still, whatever problems I had with the book, I ignored them.

When I did finally get to play Bloodlines, I also ignored the stereotyped depictions of its Asian characters. I liked Ming Xiao, leader of the Kuei-jin in LA. Hell, my avatar is a concept art of her, which I much prefer because it isn’t all Orientalist. I did not know it then but the reason I liked her was because I wanted to be her.

Well, only the cool parts. I don’t want to wear the abomination they call a qipao and I don’t want to have a face which look like it was made by someone who thinks them Asian faces should have exaggerated markers.

Also, I ignored the misogyny in the game. I didn’t give a thought about how terrible the black characters were written. Or the whole deal with upper class = good quality blood, lower class = poor quality. It’s a very very very problematic game, though just one cog in the vast machine of oppressive media portrayals, itself part of a larger complex.

So I guess what I’m saying is fuck Vampire! In fact, fuck most things!

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11 thoughts on “Kuei-jin: The Exotic

  1. I remember this game, and I used to own it.

    It too was purged because the exotification and the East-West dichotomy got really fucking old.

  2. IMHO, VTM:B was particularly disappointing because none of the problematic elements had any reason to be there. They could just as easily have left all that out, but it’s like they took a perfectly good game and decided it needed to be offensive, almost as an afterthought. There was no reason why the game needed a panty-flashing Japanese schoolgirl in Chinatown, for example. Not that an inherently problematic game would have been better, of course.

    Oh, and definitely agree about Ming Xiao.

  3. Good lord, that artwork… it’s like something out of 1940s US propoganda posters!

    And… and saying the little monkeys had done well to copy the west… I know money was a racial slur directed at black people, but good lord, using it here against Asians is not good at all… ugh…! Did you burn this book when you were done?

    Just… exoticism and alien rules and customs?! It’s China, not the planet Mars! >_<

    The thing is, that Exoticism is still around… a convention in Vancouver has Tia Carrere as a guest and they called her exotic… -_-

    • That’s the thing, though, all that Year of the Lotus crap was not even supposed to be Chinese! It was this weird pan-Asian thing that sort of mashed together cultures who have about as much in common as France and Norway.

  4. The thing that really irritates me is that this would have been an awesome alternative take on vampire mythology if it weren’t for the Exotic Orient (TM) crap. Conceptually, if you strip away the orientalist bullshit, it would have been a fascinating thing to explore. But, alas.

    • It’s true. Daoist internal alchemy provides a pretty good basis for something like that. There’s even a historical Daoist text which references a type of false immortality where the one becomes like a ghost and must drain life energy to survive.

      A lot of Southeast Asian cultures have stories of scary blood-drinking monsters too.

      Japan doesn’t have a native vampire legend so in popular culture, they just use the modern Western vampire, sometimes the Chinese jiangshi.

      Speaking of which, you’d find that people in these regions are generally familiar with the image of Dracula even if they don’t know the story. Chinese pop culture, which already has the jiangshi, also uses the modern vampire. Sometimes, they would combine traits from both Western and Chinese conceptions. For example, the Hong Kong TV series My Date With A Vampire, has blood-drinkers who look human and retain their emotions and memories but are not affected by daylight. The vampire-detective protagonist and the Japanese vampire CEO villain (of the first season at least) were turned when they accidentally released a vampire king dressed in Qing official robes like a jiangshi, probably because he was a Qing official. And the show also had a Vampire Huntress Female Lead who uses Daoism instead of Christianity.

  5. Blast…from my…past! Never thought I’d see this shit again!

    Then you also have the fanatical Muslim assassin Assamite vampires.

    As for vampires in Africa, well, I would be making a complete arse of myself talking about cultures which I have nearly no familiarity with. But looking at their track record so far… The title is Kindred of the Ebony Kingdom for anyone curious, by the way.

    White Wolf presented African vampires as being the bad-asses their mortal counterparts were not. In fact, I will always remember some line about how “unlike the human natives, the vampires didn’t just roll over” or some BS to that effect.

    I tell ya…in addition to fanfiction, RPG tells you a LOT about the society it’s written in.

    • Roll over? It’s a given that they would have researched history so the question is: How the fuck could they have read all that stuff and thought that there was any rolling over?

      Oh wait, I forgot that they don’t really care about the people they’re basing their products on.

      Somewhat similar, there was this one line in Kindred of the East about how in World War II, “Japanese vampires rose up against their Chinese oppressors”. Meanwhile in actual history…

      But hey, we’re in the business of fun! History is only a tool to be used to get fun. Especially someone else’s, but it’s not good to have the people to whom it belongs to write the stuff. The more dire the conflict, the better! Conflict is good! Irony is good too, so add that in if you can!

  6. I tried to convince my play group to try Kindred of The East, but they always preferred classic Masquerade so i never gave it a shot.

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