Ask the Yangxifu: Getting a Chinese Foreign Student To Notice You

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A woman at a Western university has a crush on a Chinese foreign student, and wonders how she can get him to notice her? (Photo by Magda Dlugaj)

Mizu asks:

Well, there is this Chinese guy in my college that I find very attractive but the only thing is that I have no classes with him and I’m not too sure on how to approach him. I think he might be a year or two ahead of me. He’s usually alone with his Mac or with friends that he only talks for minutes and leaves. I’ve tried my best for him to notice me but he doesn’t seem to be interested. He looks very shy and maybe has a little bit of trouble speaking English [he’s usually carrying a portable translator, that I’ve seen] I’ve tried and thought of a way of making small talk, but the only thing that comes to mind is asking him for help in learning Chinese, but I don’t want to offend him in any way or weird him out. I’m a very shy person when it comes to guys that I crush on, I’ve never made a move on a guy with a different ethnicity than mine, so I’m not too sure what are the dos and don’ts in this case or if there’s any. Any suggestions or advice in talking/make him notice me is helpful, thank you.

Side note: I’m not too sure if our ages should matter in this case, I’m 19 not too sure about his; he must around 19-20.


I get the sense that this guy appears uninterested for a couple of reasons. First he assumes you’re just like most Western women and just not interested (or even downright negative about Chinese/Asian men). Second, English is not his native language, which adds anxiety to an already anxiety-inducing situation (talking to women) in a culture that’s not always that friendly to him (see my first point). So I’m not surprised he wouldn’t make any move in your direction.

Now, if you really want to get his attention, just say something to him in Chinese.

I don’t think it’s fair that Chinese will adore you for speaking Mandarin even worse than a toddler in China, while Americans might regard my Chinese husband as a child for speaking English with a slight accent. But I didn’t make the rules here — and this generally works. I would start with something more casual like “Ni Hao” (hello) — rather than the more revelatory “Wo xihuan ni” (I like you). Of course, you might not understand what he’s saying back to you (in the event you just started learning, perhaps to impress him). But then that’s an opportunity to tell him you’re a beginner struggling your Chinese — where you then ask him, could you help me?

Believe me, this is so empowering for him. For once, he has the chance to help someone else with something he’s good at — his own native language. Most foreign students rarely get this opportunity, and I think he’ll be proud to be the one guiding you through Mandarin. Give it a try.

It’ll boost his ego, and be an opportunity for him to solve your problem — which, as I mentioned in last week’s article, is a great way to get Chinese men to spend time with you. Good luck!

What do you think? What advice do you have for Mizu?


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.

29 Replies to “Ask the Yangxifu: Getting a Chinese Foreign Student To Notice You”

  1. I think it’s a very good idea to ask him to help you with your Chinese. That’s easy question and also easy for him to answer. And later on while you’re studying you can find out if the wants to be more than just your tutor. Good luck!

  2. Mizu, I think Jocelyn has made a correct assessment of the Chinese guy. He is probably not confident of himself, what with his lack of facility with the English language as you have hinted and you a westerner. But start with saying “ni hao” (how are you) and see where it gets you. Of course, give him the best smile of yours! People will normally reponse to a warm, sincere smile. And good luck!

  3. well i was in the exact same position as Mizu with my boyfriend, I had seen him around the college and thought he was really cute and we didn’t have any classes together. So I thought the situation was doomed but one day by chance there was a sports day sign up and I was helping out at the volley ball desk with my friend and the guy i liked walked by our stand and I asked him would you like to join the volley ball team? and he said oh nono sorry. Then after that day me and him kept bumping into each other everywhere in the library, in the canteen and at first we just said a polite hello and how are you and then one day I was brave and asked him would he like to sit with me and have lunch and then we got to know each other and exchanged numbers and eventually he asked me out.

    So I suggest you should join some sort of sports club that perhaps hes in and then try and get to know him that way. Personally I’m a little worried that if you ask him for help with Chinese straight away he will just be freaked out or just think you purely want him to teach you.

  4. Most Chinese dudes in America are repulsed by white women, who they see as too easy and likely to carry social diseases. White women also have the stigma of reduced fertility, or God forbid refusing to have children at all (any Chinese family’s nightmare). Those Chinese dudes who actually have the stones to ask white women out generally get the cold shoulder. Of course there’s going to be that upper 0.01% of super alpha male Chinese dudes who will do well, you’ll get 1-3 of those per university. But these guys will do well no matter where they are, USA, China, North Korea, etc.

    How to approach the silent Chinese dude? Tough…tough. Get his attention, and then play the crazy foreign girl. Be aggressive and make all the moves a man usually makes in a relationship. He’ll secretly love it but protest that he doesn’t like it. This gives him a plausible excuse to give to friends & family, “I’m a good Chinese boy but look at this crazy foreigner, I can’t tear her off me!” This lets him save face and nobody is the wiser.

  5. My friend, Li, (I’m not interested in him though) helped me with my Mandarin a lot during lunch last trimester during school. Chinese guys and Chinese people (from what I noticed) enjoy, or like helping foreigners learn Chinese.
    Mizu, I agree with Jocelyn, ask him for help in Mandarin. He’ll probably be happy to help.

  6. The Language Barrier is generally a huge issue for Chinese-born Men studying overseas in North America.

    This is not to say that Chinese men are completely shy. When they are surrounded by people of the same nationality who speak the same language, you will see them completely open up. Isn’t it so much easier when you can relate with someone who understands you on a social and cultural level?

    Jocelyn makes an excellent suggestion to go and approach him using the “Mandarin-learning” approach. You can carry it over to school, cell phones, computers, lunch, etc. Sometimes you do have to spell it out for him. A big problem with Asian society is that our decisions tend to be more collectivist than individual (stems from our shame culture). If his friends do not approve of you, it makes things a lot more difficult.

    The key is to be patient. Sometimes it doesn’t work the first time, but that’s because Chinese men tend to make decisions when things are absolutely one-hundred-percent clear. Usually that ends up being in the very analytical mathematic/statistic/science realm. If he does kind of get into the analysis-paralysis, be accomodating. Maybe he just hasn’t experienced having to deal with a situation like this.

  7. 在大多数中国男人的心目中,我感觉在选择一个西方女性作为自己的另一半时的问题上都不是很自信!在不考虑太多的因素情况下,其实许多人都希望取一个西方女性作老婆。

  8. 舒国阳:这个”其实许多人都希望取一个西方女性作老婆“我没看过所以我不相信,可是我希望是。

  9. As a Chinese-American male who was born in China and didn’t come over until he’s a teen, I find this post and others’ comments on it really fascinating.

    Harland may be exaggerating a little but I don’t think it’s far from the truth. Speaking for myself, I’ve tried and dated white girls (sorry, there were no good looking Asians around me or they were taken) since high school. I did get a lot of turn downs (but many ended up becoming my good friends) and some successes. I can totally understand how someone who’s a FOB (no disrespect here since I was one myself once) or someone who’s just not determined to date a girl outside of his own ethnicity would feel. Intimidated is a strong word, but it really fits this situation for a lot of Chinese guys.

    Jocelyn’s point was great! I think there were suggestions for you to join sports clubs and meet the guy there. Well, if there is a Chinese student association that’s open for everyone to join, that would be an even better than sports club. Because he’s probably the most open at an environment like that. That’s probably the one place he would find as close to home as possible. Or, if you know one of his friends or one of your friends knows his friends then ask them to introduce him to you. Go out on a group date/activity day and get to know him.

    One of the Sarahs (sorry there are a few of you with that name) wonder if it makes a difference that the girl is not white but hispanic or native American. Well, I’ll tell you that physical attraction is only part of the equation. I have three male cousins. I am dating my lovely white girlfriend, one is dating a hispanic girl (for 7 years), one only wants to date Chinese, and one is not even sure. So, I don’t think it matters. If there is chemistry between the two of you, it will work out fine.

    As with 国阳’s comment, I think it’s partially true. A lot of kids in my generation (the 80’s) who grew up in urban centers with western film, music, and ideologies; our value system is shaped in part by our Chinese traditional culture but also influences from the West. I had friends who would fantasize of dating someone who is white or other ethnicity and from the West. Because to us, we really dread of marrying our moms one day. We are afraid that we would lose our freedom. Trust me, it’s really depressing sometimes just to think about that. A more superficial reason would be that any Chinese guy gets a girl from the West would be seen as a “hero” for the race and gain “face” for the country. My girlfriend and I were in San Fran once and we were getting foot massages after a long walk along the hills at a Chinese operated massage place. When they learned that I was dating my girlfriend, they gave me thumbs up. It was funny.

  10. @ Sean – Thank you very much for responding to my question about ethnicity. It kind of made me worried that even if he did like me, he might not want to pursue anything with me. ^_^

  11. Wow. Thanks everybody for the comments and suggestions! I appreciate them. Where to start, I’ve thought about joing a club, but there is no clubs he is in [ as far as I know] This happened some time ago, I don’t know why I didn’t mention this before, but one day he was looking for a wall plug to charge his Mac but everything was taken, I looked behind me and there were extra plugs, but only a few seats near it, so as shy as I am, I told a friend of mine to tell him if he wanted to sit at our table, and just so we won’t make him uncomfortable, we moved to another table. He agreed and thanked us five times xD That is as much as “interaction” we’ve had. I rarely see him in college, sometimes I see him a lot and sometimes I don’t, so asking him to teach me Madarin or just saying “Hi” to me is kind of hard when he’s not around. And like I’ve said before, he isolates himself with his computer and it makes it much harder to approach him. I know if I was him, minding my own business, I would be confused if a random girl would come by and just said “Hi” and just asked me to teacher her my native language. I will try every suggestion giving to me here when I see the right moment. Thank you guys so much, and Jocelyn for answering my question.

  12. 呵呵,兄弟姐妹们太能说了,一个比一个的评论长!~-~!this time i try to say something in my poor English,but i think all of you would know what i mean even there are many mistakes in my expressions!
    @WhiteGirl ,hehe,it seems you can speak Chinese,great!how is your a 24 year-old Chinese man who born and grew up in China,now still live in yichang city , Hubei province ,i think what i think could more or less stand for many youngs’ opinions.many Chinese want to but not do ,just like me~-~!finding a foreign gf is not so easy for all these very ordinary people ,no matter she is white or black or come from Western counties or Asia,it is much more complex than finding one from his onw country!
    哈哈,Sarah,did you get what i mean .~-~,i think you maybe need to learn some Chinese according what you have described,but you have had a very great teacher now~_~.i think this would be a great and interesting topic for a long time in your two future ! i hope you two would be forever happy!
    as for Sean,老兄,你的汉语学得怎么样呀,呵!i almostly agree with what you said ,but something you disbribed is too westernized,for example this sentence”Because to us, we really dread of marrying our moms one day.We are afraid that we would lose our freedom”.that is not why we want to find a western gf or marry one,i think.good luck with you!
    @Mizu,sorry ,as a chinese man i really do not have any good advice for you ,but i think you two would get together!i think there two problems with that luck guy.fistly it is the language barrier,as a authentic Chinese man(`-`) ,i really sometimes do not know what to talk about with a foreigner in English ,this maybe need some time,seconly ,it is maybe that he is really not confident of himself ,maybe you need to help him gain his confidence~-~!by the way ,we chinese almost are very very sensitive to fatness ,almostlywe all like thin girls~-~!good luck with you!

  13. 国阳,

    我想我的中文水平大概是初三左右吧, 毕竟我已经多年没有系统地学习中文。读书看报是绝对没有问题, 只是总是执笔忘字。写论文大概是不行但写评语还可以胜任;总算没有白学十多年的中文。

  14. @ 舒国阳,
    Thank you for your comment. From reading many comments to my question and the ones posted here to mizu’s as well as other Q and A’s on this site, I feel like he does have interest in me. I was thinking that the next time I go I’m going to ask him to help me with something. However, you bring up fatness, and I’m not a skinny girl. I was re-reading the comments here and I didn’t find the comment I was looking for so I think it was on my Q and A, but someone said that Chinese are collective and the opinions of his friend (I’m also assuming family too) is important to him. So I’m kind of thinking of not trying to pursue because, let’s say he does have interest in me, if his family is touchy to the fact that I’m not skinny, will he just turn me away? Still though, I will talk to him and maybe even if nothing happens, I may make a friend out of it. ^_^

  15. Language barrier may not be that much of a problem in the heat of the moment, but it WILL get in the way majorly in the long run. Instead of you learning Chinese, it might be easier for him to master English or Spanish.

    Quizas Olga nos podria dar algunos consejos?

  16. @Sarah
    no,you need not to worry about that ,maybe i mean “overweight”.in china now ,parents usually do not intervene in their sons’marriages too much, usually ,if they like ,their parents like! but things somehow are different for girls. if i want to marry a chinese girl ,firsly i have to ask her parent ‘s permission.if her parent do not like me or not agree with our marriage ,things would be very hard and tough! if we get married without their permisson ,her parent maybe would cut ties with her daughter ,her brother maybe would never talk to her,her relatives would blame her….,i know many cases like this in my life !family and relatives are very important to chinese!

  17. @ 舒国阳
    Yeah my family is the, “If you marry the person, you marry the family” type as well. But my mom always tells me that whomever I decide to be with, she will respect my decision (as long as he doesn’t make me cry). Thank you for trying to clarify, I did not misunderstand you. I am overweight, which is why I was surprised that he seemed to pay extra attention to me. I mean, I heard that Asian men prefer thin or slender women opposed to bigger girls. So like I said, when he paid more attention, I began to actually notice him and that’s how I ended up liking him. If he didn’t do that, I would have not given him a second thought thinking only that he was attractive but pointless because it would not go anywhere. Do you know what I mean?

    Again, thank you for always replying to me. I really appreciate it.

  18. @sean
    i am sorry ,i do not really get what you said well,especially these sentences”So like I said, when he paid more attention, I began to actually notice him and that’s how I ended up liking him. If he didn’t do that, I would have not given him a second thought thinking only that he was attractive but pointless because it would not go anywhere”.i can understand every sentense ,but i can not get very clear what you have described ,~-~,sorry! my poor English
    i think you should not take think like”Asian men prefer thin or slender women opposed to bigger girls” as a barrier between you two!if you two really love each other ,that would never be problem!
    呵呵,it seems that is not so good to talk here,~-~,if you are interested ,~-~here is my e-mail address [email protected] or [email protected]!good luck with you!

  19. “Most Chinese dudes in America are repulsed by white women, who they see as too easy and likely to carry social diseases.”

    Nope! Wrong! Scared of white women is more like it….it may be due to perceived lifestyles, but more due to their perception of her family…probably racist and folks like Alexandra Wallace of UCLA simply do not help. Pretty certain that even Asian men thinking of asking a white female on a date dropped the idea after Wallace put her racist rant on youtube!

  20. Hmm — this is a tricky question. I’m a Chinese American, but can try to see if I can give some perspective. What I generally notice in the US (and now in the UK) in universities is that most of the Chinese-Chinese (by this I mean Chinese born international students) tend to stick to themselves. To be honest, I’m not quite sure why (they’re even a bit cold to me and I look like them!).

    That being said however, I think showing sensitivies to Chinese culture is defn. a very good start. In the UK right now, I am way more attracted to women who are appreciative of both my American and Chinese cultures (though difficult to find as that may be — oddly enough, most Europeans prefer my Chinese side to my American side). However, if you are truely interested in him long term, you have to be yourself. So if that means you are generally a outgoing and confident American woman, then you cannot pretend to be otherwise just to win his affection. He will have to like this about you himself. Maybe the approach would simply just ask him out to coffee in the typical American fashion without any excuses (or just.. hey I want to learn more about your country or something like that). Remember, if he will ever like you, he will have to like your Americaness as well.

  21. @ ZR,

    What you say is very true and we agree but we just trying to not scare him away on our first real conversation with him. We’re not trying to be someone who matches him, we just want to make him feel comfortable. I know that if someone from another culture came up to me and treated me different than I am used to, even if the person is very friendly, I would become shy and probably so to the point of really seeming like an introvert and that may make the person talking to me feel unwelcome as well.

  22. I’m not sure greeting him with “Ni Hao” such a good idea, especially if he doesn’t know you at all.

    In the west, I often get westerners saying “Ni Hao” or “Ni Hao Ma?” towards Chinese person as a mockery, they often say these in mockery tone too.

    I’m sure you Chinese guy heard this before from some white guy idiots, who make a fun of him for being Chinese.

  23. @Bernard.

    She ended up chickening out anyway but I think what you said is good to know. I think that’s like how people used to come to me and do that wailing thing with their hand over their mouth on and off stopping the airflow. You know, that thing that kids do when they’re playing “Cowboys and Indians”…Well playing the Indians…As if all us Natives go around do that…idk…I think I got off topic.

    Thanks for the advice. ^_^

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