Ask the Yangxifu: London Woman Wonders About Chinese Man At Office

Businessman at work
A London woman wonders if a Chinese coworker in her Beijing office is interested in her. (photo by Celal Teber)

London Girl asks:

I’ve been in China for 2 months. I’m based in Beijing and work for Chinese company who like to employ a few foreigners.

On my first day I was introduced to a very pleasant Chinese guy. As soon as I met him he told me he has relatives in the UK, studied in US and has travelled in Europe. Since these past 8 weeks we talk nearly every day at work about our interests and whats in the news, etc. He also follows European sport and knows my team.

One day at work he spoke to me in German! Then he said somebody told him I also speak German. So now we converse in German. This makes me feel that he’s been talking about me?

From reading some of your advice it would appear that Chinese men are friendly although would not go out of their way to befriend someone if they weren’t interested.

He’s a little younger than me. I’m in my early thirties and he’s mid twenties. Although everyone thinks I look early twenties…so I know age might not be an issue…

However I’m a little scared about misinterpreting my feelings for him. And I’m not sure if he will actually suggest something outside of work. Im concerned about ruining my work values if I befriend this guy even more…


The potential for romance in the workplace is like flowers in the Spring — they can either be beautiful, or make you horribly sick.

I’ve seen both sides of it, the life-crushing breakup and the love of my life, both with Chinese men, both in China.

At the worst, I fell in love with a Chinese man who sat next to me in the office — yes, his desk was exactly beside my own. Ah, it was glorious for about a week. That is, until I hit the great wall of office regulations: no dating between employees. After that, it went downhill from there, for many reasons. But, even today, I still wince when I think of the aftermath of our breakup — how he became this robot of his former self, never even hinting that, at one time, we had actually been lovers. The devastation forced me to take long walks outside during lunch, and fabricate any excuse I could to leave the room I worked in. (Of course, because I started leaving the office more often, I came into contact with John, another one of my coworkers, and fell in love with him…so there was a happy ending).

The truth is, many Chinese meet their potential spouses at work, so it’s not out of the ordinary to fall in love over that annual report, or weekly review. You wouldn’t really be “ruining work values” — provided, of course, that the company doesn’t explicitly ban it. And many companies don’t. In fact, my employer in Shanghai specifically welcomed spouses to work together, so it’s usually not a problem in that sense. The real problem, as my story above suggests, is the potential social devastation, should things fail, and you still have to see him at work. Which is probably the best reason of all to proceed carefully.

But I’m guessing you’ve thought some of this through, weighed the risks, and would welcome jumping into the “friends and beyond” zone? Okay then.

So then this comes to your question, of interpreting his feelings for you. Obviously, he has been talking about you, otherwise he wouldn’t know about your German. He’s certainly interested in having some kind of friendly relationship with you, given that you talk nearly every day about topics of common interest/sports. But, from what you tell me, even I’m not sure if he just wants to be only a friend, or wants more.

The only way you could really know is to get him to come out with you, outside of work. Fortunately, there’s an easy, face-saving way to do this — by inviting him out with a group of your friends. This is exactly what the Chinese do when they’re trying to check someone out as a potential date, but don’t want to commit social suicide by facing rejection with them. After all, it doesn’t hurt if a guy turns you down for something that you’re already going to do with a group of other people, right?

If you want to do this, corral together a handful of your friends for anything from dinner out to karaoke to something else fun of your choice — about four or so other people (not including you and this guy) is probably fine. Make sure at least one of them is a Chinese girl you know and trust, so you can pick her brain afterwards (as in, do you think this guy is interested in me?).

If he declines to come, it doesn’t necessarily mean he isn’t interested. But if it becomes a regular thing — as in, every time you try to include him in a group activity, he says “no” — you’ll know the wall of his feelings stops before friendship, and never goes beyond the workplace. You’ll also know it without the pain of rejection that comes from asking him to go somewhere only with you, a situation that can feel dangerously close to “date.”

And, even better, you’ve got a social night out — with friends — to look forward to. Because, even if he’s not your Mr. Chinese Right, your Chinese friends might just know a perfect one they’re waiting to introduce you to.

Good luck!

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.

15 Replies to “Ask the Yangxifu: London Woman Wonders About Chinese Man At Office”

  1. So am I right in thinking that Chinese guys would never ask a western woman out directly?

    What do they think about seeing older women?

    I personally think Chinese men are charming!

  2. if i m interested in a western woman, i would ask her to go out with me. sometimes, you have to take chances. who knows ? by the way i would like to share a story about me and a western woman a few years ago. i got to know her through a friend of mine who’s a colleague of hers. after a while, i decided to do something OUT OF THE ORDINARY. i began sending flowers to her almost daily to her workplace, but of course i told the people at the gifts shop not to tell her my name if she were to ask. after a few weeks, i showed up at her office, after work, to ask her to go out with me. i asked her about the flowers i sent to her. and she was like………all i m going to say is she was a bit surprised. and she did go out with me a few times. but in the end, because of her work commitment she had to go back to the europe. so london woman, if your chinese guy is interested in you, i hope he asks you out.

  3. This is why I enjoy Jocelyn’s site so much. She gives useful suggestions that are culturally specific but allow enough flexibility for differences among the men of that culture.

    As for the question asker, 2 things come to mind. The first is that she should examine closely her feelings. Often, when someone has just moved to another country, it’s easy to become attached to the closest person. Given that she spends so much time in the office, it’s only natural that those are the easiest to attach to. But office romance is not necessarily the healthiest or easiest relationship to maintain, as Jocelyn’s past experience shows. Perhaps casting a wider net at first and meeting more potential partners would be helpful. After all, you hardly know the guy, and anything going badly would cause issues at work.

    The second thing is that the man in question may not know that you’re single. Heck, that’s why I don’t even approach women older than 25 anymore; they’re *highly* likely to be involved or married. This is doubly true for foreigners. I would wonder if she has a husband in the UK. Of course, this goes for the reverse as well. Check out his status before anything happens. Chinese men can be notorious about hiding a mistress here and there.

    1. @Sally, thanks for the comment. Do Chinese guys never ask a woman out directly? While it has happened to me before, I’ve seen many more men who will tend to be a little less forward about dating. So if you are interested, it doesn’t hurt to make that first move in some way, such as my suggestion of group dating.

      As for older women, while it is true that many Chinese have a bias against women over 30, and the average guy does prefer a younger woman, not every Chinese man will insist on this. After all, I’m older than my husband.

      @sam, thanks for the comment. Wow, what a story! I am so impressed by what a romantic move you made with this Western woman. Even though it didn’t work out for you, I salute your chutzpah — and hope you find your dream woman someday soon.

      @Richard, thanks! Good point on examining your feelings carefully, because it is indeed so true that it’s easy to get attached quickly to people when you’re all alone, in another country. Also, I agree with your thought that he may not even know you’re available. And, yes, do proceed w/ caution with any man you don’t know well (see my post on dishonest Chinese men for more insight into this).

  4. Let me chime in with a quick tidbit to Jocelyn’s advice. When it comes time to plan the outing, always ask “What’s your schedule like?”

    That way, you can discover what nights he has free and when he doesn’t and can plan around that. That simple line works WONDERS for planning any date with a girl or guy.

    Once you know when both you and he are free, you can then start planning the shindig, call up your friends, and then casually mention it to the co-worker that you’re going bowling or something on the night that you’re both free. Voila!

  5. Hi all, it’s my first post here, well but I am sure Jocelyn for sure know who I am. I am just a local HK guy who likes western girls.

    to Sally: I dont think any Chinese/HongKongese man will never ask a western woman out, there are certainly different types of HongKongese man too. But I am sure, as long as the man is interested in you, you can feel that he will like to get closer to you, and provided that the atmosphere is totally comfortable. If, for instance, as a western woman, if you are always surrounded by lots of charming western man, I think Chinese man, especially those who are a bit shy, will afraid to approach you, not to mention asking you out. (He might think that you are not attracted to Chinese culture/men) So to answer your question, I dont think chinese men will never ask a western girl out, at least if there exists a western girl that I like, I would do so. 🙂

    To the author: Yes I agree, I can’t see any strong signal from the man that he is in to you. But I am glad to hear that he can speak German, has been travelling around the World, probably he’s a bit westernized, so it’s easy for you two to break the culture/language wall, which is certainly a good thing. Let’s see how it goes, keep us updated.

    PS: I am happy to see that there western woman in this blog saying that Chinese man is charming, in the past, I used to think that Chinese man is un-datable for western woman since we are not attractive from western woman’s perspective ( at least this is still quite true in Hong Kong, but sure about the case in China)

    Nice to meet you all.

    1. @AloneinHongKong, thanks for the comment! Of course I remember you. 😉 It’s great to hear the perspective of a Chinese guy, and some of the reasons why Chinese will be shy about asking Western women out.

      It is true that, as a whole, most Western women in China will tend to write off Chinese men. But I think that is going to change more and more. I have heard that many women here in the US tend to see Asian men in a neutral sense — in other words, they don’t have a negative impression, and often don’t even realize they could have a fulfilling relationship with an Asian man.

  6. To Richard,
    “Chinese men can be notorious about hiding a mistress here and there”.
    Dick, do me a favor, carefully wording your words. It is misleading for what you said since most of Chinese men don’t even have a mistress. In fact, we take our relationship seriously, at least all my friends are.
    Back to the topic, again great advices from Jocelyn. Just don’t rush it, If I were you, I will make more friends first which gives you some time to watch and learn. And believe me, your new Chinese friends may love to help you out.

  7. @AloneinHongKong – I never thought about dating a chinese guy however now living in China I think they’re very nice.

    I’m interested by what you said about Chinese guys never asking western women out…why is this? Would they never suggest anything or try to get to know the woman?

  8. People are plain afraid as is..the Osmonds had the perfect words three or four decades ago…

    There was a girl, there was a boy
    If they had met they might have found a world of joy
    But she lived on the morning side of the mountain
    And he lived on the twilight side of the hill

    They never met, they never kissed
    And they will never know what happiness they missed
    For she lived on the morning side of the mountain
    And he lived on the twilight side of the hill

    The Asian ma-western woman relationship is similar to this…literally he lives on the morning side of the mountain (the East) and she lives on the twilight side of the hill (the west)!

  9. To Sally:
    Glad to hear that you have developed interest in Chinese guys. When you said you never thought of dating Chinese guys, do you mean initially you thought we chinese guys are totally un-dateable, or do you just mean you have never thought about that?

    Again, I dont think Chinese guys NEVER ask western woman out, I just think that the dating process is a bit different. In the Chinese way, let’s say a guy met someone new, he would first try texting, calling the girls few times to get comfortable first. (This could actually take weeks or months). Now when the guy starts to feel comfortable, he would ask the girl out, but normally we dont just say “Hi, I like to hang out with you”, no we dont, instead, we try to find some excuses, like “Well I need to buy a birthday present for my mum, do you think you can go shopping with me, etc etc” Why? Because we like implication, we dont like anything that is too direct. Also have you heard about “face” or some kind of self-respect in Chinese culture, we are so afraid of failure, that’s why it takes lots of courage to ask a girl out.

    But again, dont try to generalize, there are certainly some Chinese guys who are confident enough, it’s just that in general, chinese guys dont ask a girl out in the very beginning. Hope it helps.

  10. Sorry one last comment to Sally,

    I think it’s important that if you project a feeling to chinese guys that you always hangout with Western man, woman, Chinese guys may step back a bit, as they think that you might just want to hangout with western people.

    I think it helps if you hang out more with Chinese people, then those Chinese guys might think “Oh, she is fine with us, chinese people, so we are not someone who is too special for them, so we can ask her out”

  11. I never thought about it!

    My first day in Beijing I discovered the guys are so friendly and genuine. Then when I started work I started to fancy a guy.

    I think I’ll see what happens in the New Year 😉

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