Titanic’s Reverse-Cinderella Story and the Appeal of Western Women to Chinese Men

Jack holding Rose in a movie still from Titanic
(downloaded from official Titanic movie site)

“Chinese are drawn to the reverse-Cinderella tale—the story of a poor man falling in love with a rich girl, and of love trumping all else.”

That’s what I read in a Wall Street Journal article last week, which cited this as the reason why the movie Titanic is so popular in China. It continued:

…some of the most successful love stories in China touch on similar themes, catering to “Chinese audiences’ psychology of a normal male hungering for the touch from a ‘fairy.’

The theory behind the film’s draw stands in stark contrast to urban China’s increasingly money-driven marriage culture, in which many men complain that without a house and a car they have little chance of attracting a woman’s affections, or her parents’ approval.

When I read this, I had to wonder — was the attraction of Western women to Chinese men also a sort of reverse-Cinderella tale, in a sense? Maybe most Chinese men with dreams of a yangxifu aren’t as poor as penniless Jack Dawson who rode in the third-class section of Titanic. But perhaps the cache of having a Western wife, of a woman who could open up opportunities to him (such as study or work abroad, or more), could work like a reverse-Cinderella story to some men?

Of course, my Chinese husband John loved Titanic, so I asked him about it.

“You know, in China there is a naive romantic dream out there, just like in those old classic movies and Titanic,” he said.

“But did your naive romantic dream have anything to do with why you became interested in me?”

He smiled as his face blushed. “Sure, a little.”

Well, I could see that. John’s always been a dreamer — in love and in life. And if Titanic and other reverse-Cinderella stories happened to give him an extra nudge in my direction, well, I’m grateful. He’s the love of my life, as fierce as the love that Jack and Rose shared onscreen, and I’m glad our “hearts will go on” together. 😉

What do you think? Do you see Chinese men (such as those who grew up in China or other countries in Asia) and Western women in love as another reverse Cinderella story like Titanic? Why or why not?

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17 thoughts on “Titanic’s Reverse-Cinderella Story and the Appeal of Western Women to Chinese Men

  • April 30, 2012 at 2:15 am
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    You know, when I actually grew up watching Cinderella in the theatres in my town, most of the nude/erotic scene has been cut off. But seeing what I saw in Titanic, gave me a sense that this is what I want to be. I am Jack and I am there to seek my Rose. One great inspiration, if anything

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  • April 30, 2012 at 5:37 am
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    so u mean that maybe for some chinese boys the idea of having a western gf/wife could be attractive because this might open up opportunities for them? …
    Having a chinese boyfriend myself(who happens to love titanic), I have to say,that some of my other foreign friends at first told me “u know,maybe he just wants to practice english” also I heard “maybe he thinks that if u get married,he can live abroad” … I know those are not the reasons why he is with me, but lets face it, It might be something that crossed his mind at some point, but I’ve never ask him directly… also I have to say… I’ve heard Chinese men disapproving other boys’ girlfriends because they are not beautiful or “rich” (-_-) … they explained ,if girls get married because of money men can do the same, its convenient…
    I think maybe this mentality is the same in western countries but we dont say it in that brutally honest way LOL …
    my point is .. honestly I would prefer the idea that my bf is with me without thinking in this reverse Cinderella romantic dream… maybe im wrong for thinking in that way…but its just that…the way I think lol 🙂

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  • April 30, 2012 at 8:02 am
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    British ITV made a new version of Titanic that shows all passengers on the ship across class status. It focuses on how the drama affected them instead of using a love story theme. Maybe the real appeal of Jack and Rose love story is the American ideology of free to choose. You are poor and on your way to land of dream of America. Then you met this rich girl who also wanted to be free. Class divide did not stop them from falling in love. It has great appeal. I am not sure how much it is about using one another by marrying up. It is probably the Chinese interpretation of this whole thing. In a cross-cultural relationship, do you and your partner view the romance the same way?
    Titanic was on its maiden voyage to America amid waves of immigration last century to the New World. The movie drama focuses on that aspect of the inspiration more than anything else. Plenty of Chinese still fancy America that way too.

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  • April 30, 2012 at 12:54 pm
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    I don’t know. As a Malaysian Chinese man, I have never thought about it. Maybe I have never considered the west as the place where all your dreams come true. Maybe I never had any dreams at all to talk about in the first place. I have always cheered for the underdog. Whether man or woman. That’s all I know. But what you conjectured may be true with how the Chinese men in China view Titantic as a sort of reverse Cinderella thing.

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  • April 30, 2012 at 12:56 pm
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    I don’t know. As a Malaysian Chinese man, I have never thought about it. Maybe I have never considered the west as the place where all your dreams come true. Maybe I never had any dreams at all to talk about in the first place. I have always cheered for the underdog. Whether man or woman. That’s all I know. But what you conjectured may be true with how the Chinese men in China view Titanic as a sort of reverse Cinderella thing.

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  • April 30, 2012 at 1:30 pm
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    I loved Titanic and for some odd reason was always fan of “reverse Cinderella story,” where the man is poor and the woman is wealthy. (No idea why.) Still, something to think about. I did hear from a friend that the Chinese woman he was with was demanding and expecting him to pay for every single thing, and, according to him, when he refused to pay for something and she had to pay for it, she broke up with him. I would guess a lot of immigrants, both men and women fall into the Cinderella story, poor women and wealthy men being more popular choice (although also heavily stereotyped,) and poor men and wealthy women somehow more acceptable, I hope. IF I do end up with someone, let’s hope the person will be with me for me and not for only opportunities I can give him.

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  • April 30, 2012 at 3:59 pm
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    Hmmm now I’m curious about South America! Gotta ask my hubby tonight…

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    • April 30, 2012 at 4:59 pm
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      @Han, thanks for the comment! I wonder what Cinderella you were watching, b/c I don’t remember any nude/erotic scenes in the story I know… 😉

      @Pamela, I definitely agree, we all want our loved ones to be with us for the right reasons, and not just b/c they can get a leg up from us. I guess I was just thinking about maybe what might even bring a guy in China to consider the idea of a foreign woman. I would hope, though, that the guy wouldn’t want a woman only because she was from a foreign country, just as hope is true for your bf.

      @Dan, good point about the aspect of free love conveyed in Titanic, I never thought about that one.

      @ordinary malaysian, thanks for the comment. I like that you’ve always cheered for the underdog, I am very much the same. 😉

      @Sveta, Interesting point about the whole “man must pay for everything” issue in your friend mentioned, it is something many talk about. I do love reverse Cinderella stories too, I wonder if there is a feminist aspect of it? Something about a woman being the one who perhaps raises up a man appeals to my feminist side I guess. 😉

      @Andi, I’d be curious too, do tell us what you find out!

      Reply
  • April 30, 2012 at 7:04 pm
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    Recently two students of mine asked me to take movie The Titanic as the topic for our weekly discussion. One of them is a 20 yrs old university student, the other is a 30 something primary school teacher. They are both female and the latter is married with a child.

    They both loved the film and particularly the love story between Jack and Rose. You could see stars in their eyes as they melted on their chairs and talked about it.

    When I asked them what they think would have happened if the ship had safely arrived to her destination, they both firmly agreed that the relationship itself would have gone shipwreck nevertheless. Why? Because Rose soon enough would have grown tired of living the only kind of life that Jack was able to offer her. The only exception: if Jack had quickly become famous and made a fortune through his artwork – which they both thought rather unlikely.

    It was fascinating to see such a stark contrast – as if it is ok to dream as long as you don’t believe in the possibility of any of them.

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  • April 30, 2012 at 7:40 pm
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    or maybe what this reveals is the stark contrast between dreams and social norms

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  • May 1, 2012 at 12:49 am
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    Some of my relatives are definitely reverse-cinderella. These guys are smooth with incredible social skills which allowed them climb SES on the back of many ex-wifes until they reach status similar to that of John McCain. They are influential people in oversea and mainland Chinese society.

    I made a joke to ask my gf to be wealthy so I can fulfill my reverse-cinderella fantancy. But, I would rather make my own success since there is negative sterotype about such reverse-cinderella in traditional Chinese society. Reverse-cinderella is despised in China as `soft food eater’ 吃软饭的.

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  • May 2, 2012 at 7:21 am
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    I’m probably the only one here who didn’t think much of the movie.

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  • May 2, 2012 at 1:14 pm
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    Hmmm its an interesting aspect of Titanic. I liked the movie more for the bravery of the characters than reverse cinderella though. But once a chinese girl assumed that I must be a US citizen because my bf was with me… so there must be some truth to it. As others said though, I would rather that the guy be with me for who I am. And somehow the idea of a reverse cindrella does not appeal to me, just as the idea of a cindrella does not. I guess I am a bit idealistic in believing that love should not be intertwined with other selfish ends?

    allroadsopen, thats an interesting observation on the part of your students. I thought they would have been happy as Rose never struck me as the type that actually enjoys or wants the luxuries she is born into. But then again, as before maybe i am too idealistic.

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  • May 2, 2012 at 8:50 pm
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    Titanic first came out back in 1998, I was a teenager then and thought it was the coolest movie ever since it had:

    1) Good looking people
    2) Good looking costumes
    3) Realistic computer graphics
    4) A romantic plot

    Now that I am in my late 20’s, its appeal certainly is less strong. I don’t think just because one likes Titanic, it is an indication of a preference for reverse Cinderella story. Now, should one be concerned about the motive of someone dating you? Yes, I think that is a legitimate concern for anyone in any situation. After all, you want to find true love, not an a**. You just have to be smart about it.

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  • May 3, 2012 at 8:23 am
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    I can only speak for Taiwanese, not Chinese, guys (and I’ve never dated one – I just live here and have guy friends, which I’m told is uncommon: expats of both genders usually have a lot of Taiwanese female friends but not so many, if any, Taiwanese male friends), but no, I don’t think so. At least not entirely. I have a few friends here with Taiwanese husbands or boyfriends – and that’s not the impression I get at all.

    Sure, with Taiwanese guys who like Western women, and a lot (if not most) do or at least would be happy to date one, there is a not so much “reverse Cinderella” but there is the same sort of “Exotic Foreigner” vibe that you get from white guys here who “only” date local women. But we’re talking fantasy and “like” here, not actual couples. With couples, it really does seem like “two people who happen to like each other and that’s it, nothing more to it”.

    But then the couples I know are mostly ABC (or Taiwanese guy raised abroad) with a foreign woman, not locally raised guy with a foreign woman.

    I have met local guys who, if I were not married, I would have dated or liked to date. I know a few who I am pretty certain – intuition says, anyway – have liked me but not acted on it because I am clearly happily married – and I never got the impression there was any sort of “reverse Cinderella” going on.

    Not to insult China (because I really do just want to lay out bare economic facts), but Taiwan’s generally more evenly developed, and has been so for longer, so I don’t think it applies here. There is not so much economic inequality between foreigners and locals – in fact, most of my local friends make more than the average English-teaching foreigner! It’s not as hard for Taiwanese people to get visas or work/study opportunities in the USA or other countries as it is for the Chinese, generally. That’s why I do feel that there is not a “reverse Cinderella” thing. The “Exotic Foreigner” thing, however, is not something that can be wiped away by a relatively level economic playing field.

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  • May 3, 2012 at 8:27 am
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    Kin – no, you’re not the only one. I hated Titanic. One of the worst movies I’ve ever seen.

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  • May 4, 2012 at 2:15 pm
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    Unfortunately, white is always affiliated with rich, privilege and snobbery and the Chinese and Asians are affiliated with poverty. Far from the truth. Usually, in a white woman-Asian guy couple, the Asian guy is upper middle class (university professor for example) to wealthy and the white woman is middle class to upper middle class. I was in Ireland last week and watched some British TV. A Chinese Singaporean guy is buying a half a million dollar house with cash and he has a white wife and yes two very smart girls. They move into an English village and the first complain is that the girls pull the GPA curve upward and the white boys who were winning the academic awards are no longer winning them. So dont know where the stereotype comes from…Most Chinese guys who marry white women are well off and in some instances very wealthy!

    Reply

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