Ask the Yangxifu: Books with Chinese Men and Western Women in Love

Books such as Foreign Babes in Beijing feature Chinese men and Western women falling in love. (image from
Books such as Foreign Babes in Beijing feature Chinese men and Western women in love.

In lieu of the usual Q&A, I decided to do a post is inspired by a previous Q&A. Specifically, the question I answered two weeks ago about movies with Chinese men and Western women — since many movies owe their existence to books, that ultimate writer’s labor of love (including at least two of the movies on that list). And, even if it is cliche to write this, well, the book usually IS better than the movie. 😉

So, here’s a list of all the books I can think of with Chinese men and Western women in love:

As the Earth Turns Silver by Alison Wong

As Katherine struggles to care for two children in New Zealand in the wake of her husband’s death, she discovers love with the Chinese shopkeeper — but must keep it secret because of the racism and prejudice of this era, just on the brink of World War I.

Blonde Lotus by Cecilie Gamst Berg

The semi-autobiographical — and humorous — story of Kat, a Norwegian who accidentally ends up in China, and eventually ends up teaching Chinese, Chinese culture and, most of all, Chinese men (about, that is, the finer “pleasures” of life).

Cloud Mountain by Aimee Liu

This novel set in the turn of the 20th century revolves around Hope, an English tutor who, despite being engaged to an American professor, falls in love with Liang Po-yu, her Chinese student. What tests them is their eventual marriage — in a time when interracial couples faced enormous prejudice — and relocation to China, where Liang puts his life and family in danger in his efforts to build a democratic society.

East Wind, West Wind by Pearl Buck

Kwei-lan, a traditional young Chinese woman on the eve of her marriage, tells the story of her brother and his American wife, Mary, who struggle against the cultural conventions of China. A feminist perspective on women in China.

Foreign Babes in Beijing: Behind the Scenes of a New China by Rachel DeWoskin

A woman who dared to love Chinese men on screen (and off), as well as Chinese culture. DeWoskin writes about it all with passion and humor.

The Girl from Junchow (aka The Concubine’s Secret) by Kate Furnivall

The sequel to the Russian Concubine (see below). When Lydia Ivanova discovers her father is not dead, but imprisoned in a labor camp, she escapes China with her stepbrother, Alexei, for Russia. There, Alexei deserts her, she rediscovers Chang An Lo, her former lover, and ultimately confronts the shocking truth about the only family she has.

A House Divided by Pearl Buck

The third book in Pearl Buck’s The House of Earth trilogy pulls Yuan, the grandson of Wang Lung (the central character in The Good Earth), far from Shanghai to study in the US, where he flirts with loving an American Christian girl, Mary.

The Last Chinese Chef: A Novel by Nicole Mones

A sumptuous story of Maggie, a recently widowed American food writer who discovers love in Sam, a half-Chinese half-American chef in Beijing, while confronting the destructive past her husband left behind from love affairs in China.

Lost in Translation by Nicole Mones

The story of Alice Mannegan, an American translator in China with a thirst for Chinese men, who discovers love — both lost and found — while on an expedition for Peking Man in the Mongolian desert.

The Love Wife by Gish Jen

What happens when a busybody Chinese mother hands down a Chinese nanny to her son and his very blonde, very American wife — with two adopted Chinese children and one blonde biological child? Find out in this dark comic story about cultural identity and domestic warfare.

The Lover by Marguerite Duras

A teenage girl living in French Indochina in the 1930s falls into a forbidden affair — the first of her life — with an older Chinese man, forcing her to grow up faster than she ever expected. (Also a movie.)

Mae Franking’s My Chinese Marriage: An Annotated Edition by Mae Franking

A rare window into the world of a Western woman who married a Chinese man in the early 20th century, despite the estrangement of both families. Half a love story, half a collection of letters that capture the times in which they lived.

Mao’s Last Dancer by Li Cunxin

Li Cunxin is a poor rural Chinese who skyrockets to fame as a ballet dancer. But when China sends him to Texas as part of an exchange, he falls in love with an American woman and America, and wants to defect. (Also a movie.)

The Natural Laws of Good Luck: A Memoir of an Unlikely Marriage by Ellen Graf

In her mid-forties and divorced, the last thing Ellen ever expected was to travel to China and marry a Chinese man she knew for less than a week. But the unspoken connection between then brings this unlikely pair together, and sustains them through the trials and tribulations of their new cross-cultural relationship.

The North China Lover: A Novel by Marguerite Duras

An extension of Duras’ first novel, the Lover, with more of a focus on the intense affair between the young girl and her Chinese lover.

Repeat After Me: A Novel by Rachel DeWoskin

A tale of cross-cultural love between an American girl and a Chinese dissident (and, later China) — and how, when things fall apart, you can find the strength to move forward from unlikely people and places.

The Russian Concubine by Kate Furnivall

Lydia Ivanova and her mother live as impoverished exiles in the International settlement of Junchow in 1928. But when Lydia, who pawns stolen goods, becomes the target of a criminal gang, she finds a savior — and someone to love — in Chang An Lo, a kung fu master.

Son of the Revolution by Liang Heng and Judith Shapiro

Most of the story revolves around Liang Heng’s personal suffering during the Cultural Revolution. However, the last few chapters of this book document how Liang Heng and Judith Shapiro incredibly fall in love, and marry, in a China just barely open to the world.

What do you think of the books on this list? And did I miss any good reads with Chinese men and Western women in love?

UPDATE: Added the Love Wife by Gish Jen; Cloud Mountain by Aimee Liu


Do you have a question about life, dating, marriage and family in China (or in Chinese culture)? Every Friday, I answer questions on my blog. Send me your question today.

14 Replies to “Ask the Yangxifu: Books with Chinese Men and Western Women in Love”

  1. Another good one is Cloud Mountain, by Aimee Liu, where she tells the story of her grandparents, who fell in love around the fall of the Qing dynasty and spent the next 30 or so years in China. While some parts of it are a bit disturbing (I would say it isn’t all love and romance for the couple in question, they have some pretty intense ups and downs) it is really fascinating how they managed to raise a pretty large family and do fairly well for themselves at a time when it was not at all acceptable to marry outside your own race.

    Thanks for the list — there are some here I haven’t read yet!

  2. Seems like all scandal stories mostly from yesteryears. How about a white woman of Dutch/French origin from South Africa falling in love with a Chinese guy in South East Asia, settle down and raise kids. The kids are now in their late teens and early twenties, but the mother’s family back home think that she is still unmarried…she has not told them yet…well that is a real life story of a white South African woman married to a prominent surgeon in a South East Asian country, but since the kids are super-smart and the first daughter graduated from Stanford at the age of is no scandal and no one will be interested in reading their life history.

    1. @AmericanFamily and Jessica, thanks so much for suggesting titles I missed! I’ve added them in.

      @Grace, thanks for sharing that story. Well, it is true that many of the stories listed are still set in the past — writers love to set their tales during those tumultuous days of war, or overwhelming bigotry. Still, that doesn’t mean we can’t stop passing on the stories of real people, making a real difference out there.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Christine. Repeat after me is a really great book, I enjoyed it much more than Foreign Babes in Beijing, so I highly recommend reading it.

  3. I have written a poetry memoir, Breathing Rice: An East West Love Story, about marrying my Chinese husband in 1972 in Florida. People were surprised that my family was supportive but my husband’s family was not. (initially). It is still hard for some Westerners to understand that some cultures would not be happy to have an American join the family. I have loved blending cultures and the struggles and humor that comes of it was a gift to both families. We now have 4 inter cultural marriages of the 8 grandkids of my parents-in-law with more to come, I foresee.

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