This post exploring stereotypes is a collaboration with Gerald Schmidt. We wondered about the idea of stereotypes in Chinese-Western couples — how are they different, and who has it harder? Read Gerald’s take on the Chinese man-Western woman pairing.
Couples of Chinese men and Western women are so rare, so unstereotypical, you might think we’re immune to stereotypes altogether.
Well, we may not have “yellow fever” — but, in some circles, we’re not such a “healthy” idea.
So, what are those stereotypes, and how do they affect Chinese men and Western women who love each other?
She’s his mistress
Rachel DeWoskin wrote in Foreign Babes in Beijing:
“I love you! What are we waiting for?” Jiexi [the American seductress] cried. And in this line, she hurled her Westernness at Tianming; he and the audience would instantly understand her lacerating style of seduction and wanton disregard for the sanctity of marriage as typically American….Jiexi was an import, after all, and with her came all kinds of temptation and corruption.
So when you put Western women and Chinese men together, some Chinese imagine we’re no more than his mistress — as they say in Chinese, the disanzhe (第三者) or ernai (二奶) — or the ultimate one-night stand. We’re not marriage material, but we’ll give him “a good roll in the sack.”
Sometimes, we’re even mistaken for prostitutes. Past expat female friends of mine recounted onlookers muttering “Russian prostitute” as they walk by.
It sullies the whole idea of Chinese men-Western women relationships, discouraging many Chinese men from even giving Western women a shot. But, of course, Western women don’t even need to be in a relationship to realize the problem, as Jessica reminds us:
Almost any foreign woman who has been in China for any length of time will have come across the stereotypical attitude from certain people – from the guys at the club who assume you’re theirs for the asking, to the co-worker who asks if foreign women all sleep around after marriage, to the guy who asks you out and wonders out loud if he’ll be able to satisfy your voracious sexual appetite, to your Chinese boyfriend’s parents, who tell him that you can play with foreign girls, but they aren’t marriage material.
She’s the new bling for Chinese men
One of the Western women interviewed in a study about their opinions on Chinese men had this to say:
Those men with Western girlfriends or wives will brag about them, as if these women were a BMW.
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.
Reminds me of this one interview I accompanied my Chinese husband to in Shanghai, 2009. He was gathering information for a research project; I just came along to help him run some errands, and had to tag along. But the interviewee, a leading psychologist in a hospital, interrupted the dialogue, praising me in wonder — as he eyed my husband with envy. Later, John confessed he brought me along as insurance, knowing he’d get more respect with a foreign wife by his side. (So much for credentials, eh?)
She’s just not hot enough to get a Western guy
If you’ve visited any expat forum on China, you know the insidious narrative that comes from, sadly, some of our fellow Westerners (usually in language I’d rather not print here). She just wasn’t hot enough to land a Western guy back home, so she had to settle for a Chinese.
The thing is, this isn’t just another anonymous, asinine idea on the Internet — it’s perpetuated by popular culture in the West, as this excerpt from The Asian Mystique shows:
The trumping of Asian masculinity by Western virility is clear in this exchange between Jackie Chan and co-star Chris Tucker in RushHour 2 (2001), a Hollywood movie that Chan fans in Asia disliked. Both men are comedic actors in these roles, but in no way does Tucker view Chan as a credible rival for the affections of a beautiful white woman.
Tucker: She picked me because I’m tall, dark and handsome, and you’re Third World ugly.
Chan: Women like me. They think I’m cute, like Snoopy.
Tucker: Snoopy is six inches taller than you.
“My vast knowledge of the Asian male was based on John Hughes movies and influenced by the regional racism toward Japanese at the time, so I’d already made my decision regarding Asian men; I just wasn’t attracted to them.”
“Society still makes women feel self-conscious about saying they like Asian features, or particularly, Asian guys, so even if they do, they won’t let their attraction out in public.”
“Outside of the ‘anglosphere’ — North America, England, Australia and New Zealand — things are completely different. Asian men are in general seen as dateable, sexy and interesting. Most of the world has their own media, in their own languages and subtleties, and Hollywood’s attempts to spread stereotypes about Asian men and their sexuality literally stops at the anglosphere’s edge, simply because the rest of the world doesn’t understand it and doesn’t care.”
John never saw me as another one-night stand, or some pretty thing to show off. And he sure wasn’t some last-chance for love. He’s my soulmate, and I’m his — that special someone to complement, support and love you for the rest of your life.
Chances are, we’ll have to put up with those stereotypes — and the accompanying looks, stares and judgments — for the rest of our lives. But we don’t have to encourage them. Every time someone gets to know us, and know the truth, those stereotypes collapse to the ground — only to make way for a much sounder reality: that we’re just people, and we’re beyond simple definition.
How about you? What stereotypes have you experienced or observed? If you’re a Chinese or Asian man, or a Western woman, how have they affected you?