Ask the Yangxifu: On Jiedi Lian, China’s Cougar Love

Barbie Hsu and Vic Zhou, hugging
Jiedi lian (China’s version of Cougar love) is rare — but it can happen, such as when Vic Zhou and Barbie Hsu, stars of Meteor Garden, dated. (photo from

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.

12 Replies to “Ask the Yangxifu: On Jiedi Lian, China’s Cougar Love”

  1. 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.”=====Yeah,it true. In traditional China, generally speaking, men married with women who are younger than men two or three years old.”simple and honest Ge Ge & missish and shy Mei Mei”^_^ LOL. But times sure have changed,many young people don’t care that old tradiational thought now,just like me. Frankly,fall in love with a mature “Jie Jie” is also great.

  2. My former in-laws in Hubei had friends who were 18 whopping years apart–and the wife was the older of the two. They had a long marriage lasting for decades (and for all I know are still married now). But when the husband turned 50, he refused to walk on the same side of the street as his wife.

  3. Very true that traditionally Chinese people prefer the wife to be at least one or two years younger than the husband but as Pi_min said, nowadays 姐弟恋 aren’t so uncommon anymore as times and mores change. Unless, of course the gap in age is so large it shouldn’t be a problem. Whether or not the guy accepts the 5 years difference, it is difficult to make out from the little that is said. But the ways of the heart are indeed mysterious and difficult to fathom. Who knows, when love blossoms, what is a 5 years age gap? So, take heart, magic may yet be in the air.

  4. Like those before me, most people I have met in larger cities are perfectly happy dating whomever their hearts desires (and sometimes ego as well). But it seems that in the smaller cities where the twenty-first century has yet to poke it’s head still do care what those around them think of them.

    From what I see, Chinese still date to marry, and marry to continue the family line. It is not all that often do I see, hear or experience men or women casually dating.

    What gets me is the whole “leftovers”. Chinese leftovers…well they are not so tasty. But left over Western food? I wonder what China would have called single women over thirty if they had pasta or pizza in their traditional food?

  5. I would say, that go for it Jie Jie! As Jocelyn said the Chinese guys that date and marry foreigners aren’t probably the most traditional ones, and are already being adventurous to even date a laowai girl. My Chinese boyfriend is little bit over 3 years younger than me and sometimes joking and calling me 雪芳姐姐 Xuefang Jiejie (as my Chinese name is Xuefang).

    So good luck and remember to come back later and tell us have your relationship with the guy developed to the next step 😉

  6. I wouldnt read too much into the casual mention of ‘cougar’. Of course, it depends on your understanding of him as a person. Sometimes, my boyfriend is quite direct and abrupt but only because english being his second language, he doesnt always follow the mannerisms and etiquette.

    Also I agree that men who date foreign women are already quite non traditional. So he may not care about age as much. Plus 5 years isnt all THAT much I think. According to my boyfriend, people in the bigger cities have a MUCH different thinking and are not so traditional in their mindset. even if they may come across as more traditional.

    All the Best!

  7. I think this topic is amusing. Not in a bad way, and I feel that people should date whom* they want. I find it amusing because really, 5 years isn’t that much but even in my family, I’m an American, if I dated anyone younger by a year is pushing it and more than two is cause for cradle robbing jokes. Of course, that’s also only because I’m a girl…I think…None of the guys in my family, except one who dated someone 20 years younger (and looked down upon behind his back), have dated anyone more than a year or two younger, were teased. Sorry for all my bad sentence structure. lol

  8. An Australian girlfriend of mine married a Chinese man 7 years her junior – it does happen. They’re a really wonderful couple! They have been married several years and have a son.

  9. It is difficult to say because you run the risk that it may not work and you have become older, but is it not a risk in any relationship? I know many friends who have been in a relationship with someone since high school, and been together for 9 to 10 years and then breaking up. Oh, I should mention they are Chinese…. and well, for the girl, it’s a pickle. So, what I mean to say is that these risks exists at any age level. You might even hear that 2 childhood sweethearts had got married in their early twenties and by their early thirties, they have divorced… again, the girl is already in that ‘danger zone’ age.
    I would really tell you to just think how you feel about him and if you think it is love, then, you choose. In most cases you have seen in previous posts of encouragement, age and giving birth has not much to do about you loving and being loved. If you do find love with that guy and feel great with him as much as he feels great with you, then, was age ever the issue?

    All I can say is that you should listen to your heart and your head, but don’t let your head rationalise too much because love is irrational… Your head only tells you the obvious (is the guy reasonable, handsome, violent, caring…etc), but your heart will tell you if you love that person despite all that your head keeps telling 🙂

  10. Coming late to the discussion, but just want to say that I am 32 and have dated several Chinese guys who are in their 20’s, and either don’t care or prefer an older woman.

    And in my opinion, OP, your friend likes you 😉

  11. Ni hao. No offence, but the fact you’re even asking strangers on the internet shows that (at least subconsciously) you’re not really sure and perhaps don’t really see any long term future for the relationship.
    People should stop caring what others think and just get on with it. Live for the moment and enjoy dating in the now. We’re a long time dead. Happy New Western Year!

    Ps – I guess you’re not still dating now. Do tell -x-

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