Ask the Yangxifu: Staring in China at Couples of Chinese Men-Western Women

Tom asks:

About several months ago, i asked about how to say “i love u” to a foreign girl.

Thanks to your advice, she has been my girlfriend now. We really have a lot in common and we both think that our relationship can be better — that is to say, she can be my fiance. But,there is a problem between her and i. When we go shopping, go to cinema, or eat out, there always are many, many people looking at us with a strange expression. In fact, i have foreseen that embarrassing thing will happen on me, but i really don’t know that that will be so embarrassing.You know,because of my major, i have to stay in china and it means that i have to tolerate those things constantly.I always do my best to ignore them,but it is really difficult, because u can see them everywhere, even in my family.

I think ur husband has ever met the same situation, too. So, i am wondering if u and ur husband could give me any advice on how to avoid or adapt to this. Hope to hear from you soon.


Tom, sometimes — as my Chinese husband told me — it’s all about perspective.

You see “strange expressions” and feel embarrassment when people gawk at you and your girlfriend on the streets of China. But my Chinese husband John sees something completely different. “They’re amazed that I could get a foreign wife.”

In fact, most people are looking at you in awe, as I wrote last year in my survey of stereotypes about couples of Chinese men and Western women:

To many Chinese, having a foreign girlfriend or wife is the best bling money can’t buy. Like cruising in a BMW or popping open a bottle of Moet (part of the worship of all things foreign in China, chóngyángmèiwài or 崇洋媚外) , we suggest he’s truly “made it.”

With a foreign woman by his side, that Chinese man casts a powerful aura around the world in China. People  crown him as lihai (厉害, awesome), gaping in awe at his good fortune — and his social status soars.

Now, I’m not in any way suggesting you turn your girlfriend into the equivalent of a living, breathing Mercedes Benz to show off to the world. But keep in mind that many of those “strange expressions” hide a quiet envy — that you’re one of the few Chinese men who could pull off this relationship.

Here’s another way to look at it. Chances are, some of these people have never seen or even imagined the possibility of a Chinese man-Western woman couple. In a world where couples of Chinese women and Western men are a mao a dozen, you and your girlfriend are like real-life ambassadors, showing them another, rarer side of the coin.

Now, with family, it’s a slightly different story. You just started dating, so the two of you are still a novelty to everyone. But after almost seven years of marriage, I can tell you the novelty wears off a bit. I still get a look or two from distant relatives, a sudden pride when I walk through their door, or a “wow, she’s beautiful” from someone I’ve never met. But the subject usually changes faster than you can say “have you eaten?” and I have those moments where I’m just family (albeit, family from another country 😉 ). It does get better.

I can’t say the same for being out in public, however. My Chinese husband and I still turn heads whenever we walk the streets in China, even after years of marriage — so I suspect the stares will never go away for you either. And apart from avoiding the streets entirely, or hiding your Western girlfriend’s entire head, there’s nothing to guard against it.

But you always have a choice on something more important: your interpretation. Embarrassment or pride? Strange expressions or awe? None of the above? You decide.

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


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.

39 Replies to “Ask the Yangxifu: Staring in China at Couples of Chinese Men-Western Women”

  1. Once again, good advice Jocelyn! I think the staring will never stop if you stay in China. There is always someone who haven’t seen a couple like you before and I do agree that most of the looks are envy “Hod did he do it? Got such a beautifult foreign girl!”.

    But I do understand that getting used to the stares isn’t easy. We foreigners might be ok with it because we are used to it. People stare at us all the time. But for the Chinese boyfriends it’s something new and probably makes you feel wierd.

    My Chinese boyfriend still need time to get used to it even though he isn’t hiding me in the closet 🙂 But at the same time he sees those looks, he remembers the pressure that dating a foreign girl brings him. People tend to think that only tall and handsome Chinese guys with money and good job are able to get a laowai girl. So every look from others reminds my boyfriend how he isn’t as well-off as he should be.

    To all the Chinese guys with a foreign girl: Try to forget the stares and remember that they are just jealous you have such an amazing girlfriend. And try to forget the possible pressure too and concentrate on making your girl happy 😉

  2. I think that’s a positive way to approach the problem of being stared at. Treat the stares as worship of all things foreign. The alternative is unnecessary stress and tension. In China maybe it is true that people stare at AMWW couples out of awe and so you guys are lucky. Here in Malaysia, it is likely to be out of resentment or jealousy. inter-racial marriages here are not as common as one would expect considering Malaysia has a multiracial population. When I was dating a Malay girl, people used to stare at us and so I can relate to the the uncomfortable and uneasy feeling of being stared at. Here it is doubly worse, for often people stare because they are not happy that you are dating a person of another race. To compound the problem, a Chinese man who wants to marry a Malay girl, for example, has to convert to Islam. But I am all for inter-racial relationships and marriages.

  3. My husband only really understood what I meant about getting unwanted attention as a foreigner when it started happening to us as a couple. Being stared at is uncomfortable, no matter whether the attention is negative or positive. It is embarrasing to be singled out as being different.

    However, it is something you’ll have to get used to if you stay with a foreign woman. If you get married and have children the staring will only increase. Yes, it is annoying, yes, it is ignorant, but the good news is that you being with your girlfriend is helping to normalize multicultural relationships . Perhaps the next time those people who stared at you run across a Chinese man hand in hand with a Western woman the novelty will have worn off and would-be starers won’t find anything to gawk about.

    Finally, talk to your girlfriend about how you feel. This is actually something you now have in common, as she has likely been on the receiving end of stares (and “hellos”) since she arrived in China. It isn’t just you they’re staring at, they’re staring at her too, and unlike you, when you’re not together she probably STILL gets stared at, whereas you can go back to being a regular non-attention drawing Chinese guy when you are on your own. So ask her how to she copes with it and tell her you’re having trouble dealing with the staring. She will probably be able to help you a lot because she has been there! You can draw strength from each other and through knowing that you are facing this issue together.

  4. 如果是我我想我 would never feel embarrassed 。崇洋媚外,i think there are this kind of people in any country ,not all american think all american things are the best (no offense ).but there are really some chinese overdo it and make me sick !i almost do not like anything about japan !at the same time i have to admit that so many things really make me disappointed ,and i just think it is not apt to use “崇洋媚外”to describe why chinese people are very interested in this kind of relationship ,that is not the main reason ,we do not equal with good foreign goods with good western women !

  5. “Here it is doubly worse, for often people stare because they are not happy that you are dating a person of another race.”

    Man are you brave, a non-Malay dating a Malay girl in Malaysia…even a moslem Indian will have a lot of trepidation!

  6. I have big curly hair and before I went to china all my chinese friends warned me that i was going to get lots of stares because of that. But they told me that these stares are because the people are curious and probably haven’t seen many foreigners in real life before. As for the inter racial couple thing we got a lot of stares when we were in the Chinese countryside but in the cities like shanghai and Nanjing we didn’t get to many.

    I think the best way to think about the stares are that they are just curious and inquisitive. Even in my hometown in Ireland the first time I brought my boyfriend to the town we got lots of stares from Chinese and Irish People living in the town because they had probably never seen a Chinese man dating an Irish girl. Even today me and my boyfriend were in the bank together the bank clerk stared at me like I was from another planet, and he was Irish.

  7. Probably your girlfriend gets stared at with you our without you… so to her the staring issues is one that joins her every time she leaves the house.

    It used to really bother me (a western woman), but after being in Shanghai for 6 years, I got to where I no longer noticed the starting so much. Visitors would point it out and I would become conscious of it again or if I went to another city I would notice the staring more.

    My husband also used to be bothered by the staring. When we first went to China as boyfriend/girlfriend, he refused to hold my hand in public (which he commonly did in the US), but gradually, that changed. When we went to China with child a few years later, the staring was worse (and everyone mistook our son as a daughter). The really annoying thing then was that every Chinese person seemed to think they had the right to touch my child with their germ encrusted hands.

    After being in Shanghai longer, we got used to the staring. Also, I think you can learn places to go where people get more used to seeing multiracial couples and there is less staring in those places. Avoid touristy (for chinese) places, that is where the staring is absolutely the worst.

  8. I get stared at whenever I m with a Caucasian woman even though we’re not a couple. It has to do with the novelty. Or as pointed by Jocelyn, it means that the guy has truly “made it”.

  9. One advice: if you truly love your girlfriend, then you shouldn’t be bothered by stares. Use the time and energy to enjoy the relationship you have!

  10. As others have pointed out, your gf probably is used to the staring. I had a male friend come to visit me in the previous city I lived in. He’s a tall guy. We would be walking on the street and people were staring. I didn’t really notice. I remember him saying to me, “Wow, so many people stare at us!” I just said, “Oh I didn’t notice. Welcome to my world! It doesn’t help that you’re a lot taller than the locals either.” I got the feeling he liked it, to be honest.
    Another friend had a Western gf and another Chinese guy said to him that he is the envy of all Chinese men and he is very proud of him. It made my friend laugh a lot.
    I guess all you can do is try and block out the attention…And take pride in the fact you have a lovely lady on your arm 🙂

  11. When I was studying abroad in Beijing (am Chinese American), I had a (white) American girlfriend who was with me in Beijing. Because I have a thick rural accent when I speak Chinese due to where my parents come from and am quite dark and thin, people would always mistaken me for a peasant or migrant worker.

    One of the best comments we’ve ever received was: “What is a peasant doing with a white girl?!” I thought that was pretty funny.

    Though to be honest, I didn’t really notice the staring, most likely because I was a naive 19 year old at the time… who knows?

  12. @Grace, it isn’t really that bad. But people do stare and this makes it very uncomfortable especialy when it is out of resentment. I wasn’t brave, just the heart speaking. Chinese men-Malay women marriages do happen and I am glad to report that such unions often turn out fine. I don’t know, but I think the Chinese people’s strong sense of the importance of the family helps.

  13. Yes, in China people can stare at you in such way that you almost feel them with your back.
    But when it comes to Chinese men with White girls, I agree with Jocelyn, that most people just envy you.
    So, you can start feeling like a rock star and give autographs 🙂

  14. The unwanted attention is the things I don’t want to , and it becames a problem to me. Everytime I went to dinner or take a publish transportation with my girlfriend in Beijing( shanghai now), I will try to talk low and ignore the looking from around. Only my closest friend and my family members know I have a girlfriend(probably around five). my ex sense that and we talked, she think I am not proud of her.

    This is a problem for me, I don’t mind attention but I already get used to it in America(imaging that you are the only asian face on the bar area and frat house). But things are when I am Chinese in China, I always pro-China with a bit so called “nationalist”, so if I like China so much, why I choose a white girlfriend, am I sending the signal that Non-asian girls are better than Asian girls?

    I need to merge into China society, but three years of dating non-asian girls made me changed my dating habit/behave, I definitly have a problem to get along with asian girls now. Before that, I never had a problem like that.

    For the author and the readers here, have you changed a bit after you dating non-asian females/asian males? do you think that changed your mindset a bit, and hence distance you from your own social circle? well, I am running away from the topic…

  15. To Frank,
    you don’t become less Chinese if you date white women or women of other racial background. You think too much !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  16. when I was dating asian guys in china, I was totally amused by the stares and not at all embarrassed. they might be envious because the guys has a foreign girlfriend or if they look disapproving, my rebellious side comes out and I feel even more proud for dating this guy^^ it’s the same thing in germany, people also stare, they are more surprised and disapproving, but well,it just amuses me to no end.

  17. Well, I’m moving to Beijing in a few months time (bf got a job in China). I was forewarned by my friend, who used to live in Guangzhou, that the staring is the norm when you’re out with a westerner. Seeing my bf is an Westerner and i’m Chinese Malaysian, i’m pretty much bracing myself for the inevitable.

    Like what the article had mentioned above, My friend also commented that CMWW couples are considered somewhat a pride in eyes of the Chinese, however the view is reverse when it comes to WMCW couples. Trust me, it’s not something both my bf and i are looking forward to when we’re in Beijing.

    Frank – I don’t think i have changed much since dating my bf, well, it helps that we’re in Oz not China. I’ve always know that i can’t be with a traditional Chinese guy (sorry to use this term but i can’t think of a better term). I always prefer Westerners or ABC, because we able to communicate well. Actually, one of my chinese guy friends did say i’m just too westernise for his liking (I’ve been in Oz for more 20 years).

    hmmm….Personally speaking, who knows, if he’s a kind person and we get along well, anything can happens…:)

  18. “Like what the article had mentioned above, My friend also commented that CMWW couples are considered somewhat a pride in eyes of the Chinese, however the view is reverse when it comes to WMCW couples.”

    The reverse is true in the US. However, there are places in the US, where even a WMAW couple dare not go!

  19. Hi Grace, guess what? I’m a “Grace” too…:) ha!

    I am suprised to find out that there are some places in US WMAW relationships are frown upon.

  20. “I am suprised to find out that there are some places in US WMAW relationships are frown upon.”
    Try the rural areas of GA, AL, LA, MS, SC, WV, AR, TN, KY, MO and TX and also NC and Southern Virginia. Or try northern parts of Idaho, around Hayden Lake, or the eastern part of Colorado full of John Birchers and even some of the southern suburbs of Denver….Littleton, Evergreen, Conifer, Pine, Lone Tree, Castle Rock, Simla, etc.
    In fact one evangelical school, Bob Jones University issued a religious decree forbidding interracial dating back in the 1960s because both white and Asian families opposed their kids dating each other..and the decree was not lifted until 2000.

  21. Also if you are an Asian woman try holding hands with a white guy and walk through a group of white women…you will get the stares!

  22. Yes, it’s a matter of how you choose to respond to the stares and attention. It’s important to remember that most of the time, people are really just curious.
    Humour goes a long way – my husband jokes all the time that when we are out together, people must think he is a foreigner too!

  23. It does not matter whether the unwanted attention is positive or negative. There’s always that element of intrusion of privacy & dehumanization to it.

  24. My son, of mixed parentage gets more than stare. He is accorded with celebrity status sometimes: more soft toys (in airlines), photographs, pinching, gleeful rubs…etc regardless of the settings i.e. eastern or western hemisphere.

    I do emphatize. It can be very annoying although the intention is benign.

    I have to reassure my boy that he is normal and the people mean no harm.

  25. You know… I love how you brought up perspective. That is very true. It is all about how you choose to see it. All foreigners get stared at, we get used to it and it becomes part of the daily routine. But to a Chinese man, they do get kind of tiresome after a while. Flattering, but still tiresome.

    But I do strongly agree with you. It is all about how you choose to see the whole situation. There are days when it will get to you, and there are days where it is kind of enjoyable. I would say to talk to your girlfriend about the situation and tell her how you feel. You might be surprised with her response. Chances are she might just give you some of the pointers she has picked up during her time here in China.

  26. This guy is very lucky better than I do. I was played around one us-girl last month. Poor on me but whatever, i should say, congradulation to my bros here. But i think we dont need to care about how the other people looks at you when we are walking on the street. Because we are just human like a normal person walking on the street. If they star at you, i feel like being a superstar on the street. so why not?!

  27. “With a foreign woman by his side, that Chinese man casts a powerful aura around the world in China. People crown him as lihai (厉害, awesome), gaping in awe at his good fortune — and his social status soars.”
    As a Chinese man I find that to be very sad and embarrassing. But I hope that’s not the case with the majority of couples.

  28. I read this article before a recent trip abroad with my boyfriend. And boy, did I notice the stares! And I was glad to go into it with a positive outlook (so, thank you!).
    But, while I like your advice that it’s all in your interpretation whether you’re going to take a stare as a positive or negative thing… I found it was pretty easy to decipher whether the intention was positive or negative in most situations, and it made it hard to lay my own interpretation on top of that.

    I also experienced the surprising “Wow, you’re so beautiful” from complete strangers, usually younger people. And there were others who stared, and I could tell they were thinking something nice. Older Chinese men though, tourists in this case, were usually the worst. They’d stare with their mouths open and keep their eyes on us even if we moved away. At one point my boyfriend found it necessary to teach me the phrase “kan shenme kan?” … “what are you looking at?”

    I think I took away some good things from the negative stares though… 1) it was kind of a bonding experience for us, it’s a little isolating to have a room of strangers staring at you, but at least you’re experiencing it together 🙂 and 2) we got to have more conversation about (and look forward to) our planned move to a bigger, more accepting city in the US.

    Interestingly, I found that his older relatives were more accepting and welcoming than the younger ones though. His grandmother kept wanting to hold my hand and sit next to me in pictures! What a welcome surprise 🙂 I think most of the others, his parents and cousins, liked me, but were as scared to use their English as I was to use my Chinese, so we both came off as sort of stand-offish. I think in the future we should just bring lots of alcohol and maybe the languages will flow a little more freely 🙂

  29. I’m lucky that I don’t notice these stares anymore or that any Chinese guy I’ve been with has been in Beijing so it’s not so bad. However I do believe that staring is simply because it is something different and is almost a reflex that people can’t control, like people would stare at someone in a wheelchair, or a tall girl with a short guy, or a obese man, or someone walking around dressed up as a panda. There is no need to put foreign women on a such a pedastool i.e. your husband states he believes “They’re amazed that I could get a foreign wife.”
    What exactly is it that makes foreign women better than Chinese? Maybe it is important for John to put a positive spin on the attention, but in general I think the whole fuss around foreigners in China needs to be turned down a notch.

  30. I found the worst thing (WMAF) was what they said.

    The stares were annoying. The whole groups staring and commenting were worse. But when they started loudly discussing me/us, and I could understand most of it, that really sucked.

    It got to the point I couldn’t really go outside in China. I found the only way to be left alone was to be alone, with a big beard, and look fully 神经病. Otherwise it was a constant barrage.

    Not good for introverts in the slightest, in hindsight. And a crying shame, because I love the culture, the food, the lifestyle and the people… I just want to be left the hell alone sometimes as well.

    Add a partner in to the mix, and it really kills a romantic walk, that’s for sure.

  31. My boyfriend is Chinese and no matter which country we visit, the funniest looks come from Chinese girls who walk together with… foreign men 😉 Those girls always first check me out, then stare at my Kai… and I can see that they really can’t understand how can I be with a kind of guy they wanted to run away from 😉 Many people think that only really cool guys can get a laowai gf indeed ( and by “cool” I mean rich and tall…:-P ), they dont know that our partner’s personality is what really matters to us, and looove…!

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