Jie Jie asks:
How much does age difference matter for Chinese people? I’m in my late twenties and I happen to like a Chinese guy who is in his early twenties. He mentioned the term 姐弟恋 the other day. He asked me if I know what that means. I don’t know if I should be worried about his question. Could that mean that he regards me as a craddle-robber or a cougar?
However, he has literally told me that he likes me.
Could age be a barrier between us? Would a couple where the woman is slightly older (in my case, 5 years older) judged negatively?
Jiědì liàn (姐弟恋) is how the Chinese describe “Cougar” relationships, where an older woman dates a younger man. It might seem strange to be seen as a “cougar” when you’re still in your twenties. But this is after all China, a country known for being pretty ageist against women when it comes to relationships.
You’ve probably already heard about the shengnu phenomenon (China’s leftover women — those who are thirty and older, but still single). One of the biggest reasons why women seem to “expire” at thirty is captured in this article on CNNGo:
In China, it’s widely believed that the ideal childbearing age for a woman is between 24-28. So those who have hit 30 are “leftovers.”
In China, people marry in part to fulfill that filial duty of having their one child and continuing the family line — and that “ideal childbearing age” sure doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room for larger age gaps, such as the one you describe. The average Chinese would think jiědì liàn is just crazy. After all, if you date to marry, as most Chinese do, they might think, why would you want to be in a relationship so unfavorable to having children?
Could this be a barrier to your relationship? If he thinks like this, or his parents do and he refuses to go against their wishes, then yes. But there’s a chance that’s not the case. After all, from my experience, the Chinese men that date Western women tend to be a little more unconventional, and less likely to bow to tradition — perhaps even this Chinese guy you know.
Jiědì liàn, with your age difference, is about as common as sighting Pandas in Sichuan — but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen. Look at examples from foreigners like Jo Kelly-Bai, who is happily married to a Chinese man 14 years her junior, to Chinese couples such as Meteor Garden stars Barbie Hsu and Vic Zhou (see photo), where she was almost five years older (sadly, they broke up a few years ago).
As for why he mentioned the term jiědì liàn to you, I can’t say for sure what that means. Maybe it’s another way of suggesting he’s interested, and this is what we could become — or maybe not. But if you give him some time, you’ll find out for sure whether he just thinks of you as another Jie Jie friend, or something more. 😉
What do you think?
Do you have a question about life, dating, marriage and family in China/Chinese culture (or Western culture)? Every Friday, I answer questions on my blog. Send me your question today.