“China Girl” was released as a single from his album Let’s Dance (1983). The UK single release of Bowie’s version reached No. 2 for one week on 14 June 1983, behind “Every Breath You Take” by The Police, while the US release reached No. 10.
Paul Trynka, the author of David Bowie’s biography, Starman, claims the song was inspired by Iggy Pop’s infatuation with Kuelan Nguyen, a beautiful Vietnamese woman.
“China Girl [Edit]” (Bowie, Pop) – 4:14
“Shake It” (Bowie) – 3:49
“China Girl” (Bowie, Pop) – 5:32
“Shake It [Re-Mix]” (Bowie) – 5:21
On the US 12″, “Shake It” is called the “Long Version,” although it’s identical to the UK’s “Re-Mix”
The UK 12″ single’s cover was slightly different from the US cover (they’re mirrors of each other), and the flip side of the UK 12″ includes dates for the 1983 Serious Moonlight Tour in the UK (specifically the London, Birmingham, Edinburgh, and Milton Keynes shows).
The music video, featuring New Zealand model Geeling Ng, was directed by David Mallet and shot mainly in the Chinatown district of Sydney, Australia. Along with his previous single’s video for “Let’s Dance” with the critique of racism in Australia, Bowie described the video as a “very simple, very direct” statement against racism. The video consciously parodies Asian female stereotypes. It depicted as a hypermasculine protagonist in an interracial romance. The original video release includes the two lying naked in the surf (a visual reference to the film From Here to Eternity). Unedited versions were banned from New Zealand and some other countries at the time. The uncensored version was issued on the 1984 “Video EP” issued by Sony on Betamax, VHS and LaserDisc. Versions of the video included on subsequent video and DVD compilations (including EMI/Virgin’s “Bes Of Bowie”) are censored to remove the nudity. The original video went on to win an MTV video award for Best Male Video.
BBC reviewer David Quantick commented on Nile Rodgers’ production, arguing that “nobody but Rodgers could have taken a song like ‘China Girl’, with its paranoid references to ‘visions of swastikas’, and turned it into a sweet, romantic hit single”.
The song was a regular for Bowie’s live shows for the rest of the 1980s (appearing on concert videos in 1983 and 1988 — Serious Moonlight and Glass Spider, respectively). It was rehearsed for his appearance at the 1985 London Live Aid concert but along with the songs “Fascination” and “Five Years” was eventually dropped due to time constraints. Additional live versions of the song appear on 2009’s release of a 1999 performance for VH1 Storytellers and on a 2010 release, entitled A Reality Tour, recorded at Bowie’s November 2003 concerts in Dublin, Ireland.
Iggy Pop version
Iggy Pop – vocals
David Bowie – keyboards, sax, toy piano
Carlos Alomar – rhythm guitar
Phil Palmer – lead guitar
George Murray – bass guitar
Dennis Davis – drums
David Bowie: Vocals
Stevie Ray Vaughan: Guitar
Nile Rodgers: Guitar
Carmine Rojas: Bass
Omar Hakim: Drums
Rob Sabino: Keyboards, Piano
It appeared on the following compilations:
Bowie: The Singles 1969-1993 (1993)
The Singles Collection (1993)
Best of Bowie (2002)
The Best of David Bowie 1980/1987 (2007)
Nothing Has Changed (2014)
The soundtrack for the film The Wedding Singer featured “China Girl”.