The video

In February 1982, David Bowie invited director David Mallet to Switzerland to work on storyboards for the videos for ‘Let’s Dance’ and ‘China Girl’.

A week later they were filming in Australia with an English producer and cameraman, and a small Australian crew.

Appearing with Bowie in the ‘China Girl’ video was Geeling Ng, a Chinese student and model living in New Zealand.

The video became notorious for its shots of Bowie and Ng appearing to have sex on the beach, in homage to the film From Here to Eternity.

Can I point out, contrary to popular belief, David and I did not have sex on the beach! It was shot at five am, the water was freezing and wasn’t a great lubricant, and we were being watched by a film crew and joggers passing by. Not very romantic. David and I started dating soon afterwards, but I didn’t enjoy the lack of privacy.

David was my idol. When I met him it was terrifying. But he was very easy to get on with.

Geeling Ng
Q magazine, June 2009

Parts of the video were also shot in Sydney’s Chinatown district. Bowie and Ng became a couple for a brief time after the shoot.

Acting opposite David was terrifying, because he had a long history as a performer and I was a model and waitress. And in the storyline we were meant to be intimate. The first album I’d ever bought was Ziggy Stardust and I owned all his others, so it was overawing, but he was really generous as a performer. There’s a scene where I sit up suddenly, as if woken from a dream, and David leaps on top of me, and I sat up and gave him a full Liverpool kiss in the face. “Oh my God, I’ve just killed David Bowie!” But he laughed and said, “I’ve got a hard head.”

He was unfailingly polite, charming and a gentleman. For us to act as boyfriend and girlfriend, we did the obvious thing in Sydney – purely as method acting. After the shoot, I got a call: “Do you want to come to Europe with me?” I became a bit of a groupie for two weeks. I knew it was a passing phase. I was 23, we lived in different worlds, but he gave me an experience that I’ll never forget. We were whisked out of back doors of hotels, flying in private jets, David hiding from fans under a rug in the limousine. It was like being in the movies.

Geeling Ng
The Guardian, February 2013

The video was initially banned by the BBC’s Top Of The Pops due to its nudity, although an edited version was later shown. This censored cut was included on later video compilations, although the original version was included on the David Bowie Video EP, released on VHS, Betamax, and LaserDisc in 1983.

The uncensored video was uploaded to Bowie’s official YouTube channel on 7 March 2019.

The ‘China Girl’ video won an MTV video award for Best Male Video.

Bowie claimed that the videos for ‘China Girl’ and ‘Let’s Dance’ were intended to promote cultural integration and to fight racism.

Very simple, very direct. They’re almost like Russian social realism, very naive. And the message that they have is very simple – it’s wrong to be racist! But I see no reason to fuck about with that message, you see? I thought, ‘Let’s try to use the video format as a platform for some kind of social observation, and not just waste it on trotting out and trying to enhance the public image of the singer involved.’ I mean, these are little movies, and some movies can have a point, so why not try to make some point. This stuff goes out all over the world; it’s played on all kinds of programs. I mean – you get free point time!
David Bowie
Rolling Stone, 12 May 1983
Previous song: ‘Modern Love’
Next song: ‘Let’s Dance’
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