Writer Jeff Chang, who is currently at work on a biography about Bruce Lee, had this to say about Lee’s rise to stardom in Episode 3 of Asian Americans:
Jeff Chang: The culture is waiting for this moment to shift on its axis. We needed to have at that particular moment somebody who epitomizes the search for truth, for justice. We needed to have somebody who was going to stand up for us.
Before Bruce Lee, there were just no Asian American heroes. For Asian Americans, there was a sense of, finally. Finally there’s somebody up on the screen who is as strong as we are. Somebody that embodies the kind of power you know that we’re capable of.
Randall Park: I first saw a Bruce Lee movie when I was a kid, super young, and I remember just being mesmerized by this guy. And I don’t think it was because he was Asian, because he had an Asian face. It was just because he had so much charisma and confidence. I was obsessed with him. I watched his movies over and over again and afterwards wanted to fight my brother, because I wanted to be him.
If Yao Ming had lived in Qing Dynasty China, perhaps his astonishing height might have landed him a role in a circus or onstage.
That was the life of Zhan Shicai, better known among Western audiences as Chang Woo Gow, whose towering stature (he reportedly stood over 8 feet tall) propelled him into such a career in the 1800s, including a stint in P.T. Barnum’s famous circus freak show that toured the US.
Born in Qing-era China in the 1840s, Chang Woo Gow made his first appearance abroad in London in 1865 at the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly, together Kin Foo, his onstage wife, and the dwarf Chung Mow. An article published on Nov 9, 1893 in the London Times described what Chang Woo Gow’s performances were like in that era:
Amidst a hushed room Chang would arise to the tinkles of bells and a piano playing a Polka. He slowly descended to greet his audience, and to gasps of amazement at his great height, he would gently shake hands with those nearest the front. With excitedly playing music he would “chin chin” to his audience and then, with a great flourish of gongs he would majestically regain his throne – and the exhibition would be finished.
The admission fees to this spectacle of Victorian human curiosity were up to three shillings. Chang’s employers disgracefully refused him permission to walk about town with the shameful excuse that this lowered his value as an “exhibit”. This he found untenable, and longed for a quieter life.
Indeed, as Chang Woo Gow, who went on to tour Europe, the US and Australia as “Chang the Chinese Giant”, lived an existence which the Dorset Magazine characterized as “tawdry”:
Even though Barnum paid him the handsome sum of $500-a-month to dress up in Mandarin robes or the war-mongering finery of a Mongolian warrior, Chang almost certainly wished that it didn’t have to be that way.
He was fluent in six languages, gentle, intelligent, well-mannered and quiet by nature with no natural affinity for the brash showmanship of the circus world.
Still, traveling the globe allowed Chang Woo Gow to meet Catherine Santley, who enchanted him during his visit to Australia. They married in a church in Sydney and went on to have two children, Edwin and Ernest.
The couple eventually moved to a villa they dubbed “Moyuen” in Bournemouth, England, at a time when Chang Woo Gow suffered from tuberculosis. He opened a teahouse and store selling Chinese imports there. But surely he harbored deep affection for his wife Catherine, as the report in the London times stated that in 1893 “he died of a broken heart, at the age of 52, just four months after his wife’s death.”
While doing some research for a recent article about Rachel DeWoskin’s new book “Someday We Will Fly”, which highlights Shanghai’s Jewish settlement during World War II and Japanese occupation, I discovered there was also a musical drama set in the same era called “Shalom Shanghai“ (苏州河北 in Chinese). It centers on a love story between a Jewish woman and a Chinese soldier, and the complications they faced in the tumultuous times. Here’s the short description a few years back from China Daily:
A Chinese Casablanca, a difficult moral dilemma. 1943, in a Cafe run by a Jewish father and his daughter, came Jewish refugees escaping the Holocaust, Japanese officers in love with western food and beauty, and underground Chinese fighters getting medicine for their comrades. Suzuki pursued Shana, who couldn’t afford to offend him but had in her heart only Song Yao, a Chinese resistance fighter. She had to decide whether to follow her heart or sacrifice herself to save her father. Song Yao was drawn to Shana, but he had a mission he could never overlook. And there was also Ying, a childhood friend and comrade… The story unfolds in English and Chinese, integrating popular Jewish, Hollywood and Chinese melodies from the period.
The only other English-language article I uncovered about this drama appeared in Shanghai Daily, with the title ‘Shalom’ delves into romance during chaotic era. Here’s an excerpt:
Based on a script written by William Sun, a professor with the Shanghai Theater Academy, the bilingual show portrays a love story between Jewish girl Shana and a Chinese soldier. Things become more complicated when a Japanese officer also courts Shana.
Sun says the drama’s scenes are set in a Jewish-run cafe along Suzhou Creek. It explores the intersection of Jewish refugees, Japanese officials and Chinese people co-existing in Shanghai during World War II. It also depicts the life and friendship between local people and the Jewish community during a turbulent period of history, despite differences in language and culture.
People often say that to understand the present, you have to look at the past. That’s why I started my AMWF History series, to examine interracial relationships between Asian men and non-Asian women in earlier times.
So today, I’m revisiting some rather telling quotes from posts I’ve featured for AMWF History, in an effort to raise awareness about how people have talked about Asian men in interracial relationships years ago.
As I compiled this post, I found it disconcerting (but not surprising) that a number of the opinions described below still endure, including in dark corners of the internet. A lot of people still believe interracial love is wrong.
This list of quotes is by no means comprehensive. So please, sound off in the comments with your examples too — let’s continue the conversation together.
The average American cannot understand how any human being, however inured by custom, can live in an average Chinatown. That white women should live there by deliberate choice seems to him monstrous, horrible.
She is but twenty-two years of age, remarkably beautiful and possessed of a voice that…would be a fortune. Yet three years ago, she met and loved a Chinaman.
It is also well known that not one Chinaman in a hundred comes to these shores without leaving behind a wife in China; so by the laws of China, the white wife is not a wife…
They have had six children, of whom five are living – bright, intelligent half breeds. And Mrs. Watson (her husband took that name when baptized) is still handsome and pleasant spoken.
Quong asked Margaret’s father, George Scarlett, for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Even though he was a friend of Quong’s, George refused. Quong Tart and Margaret waited until the day after her twenty-first birthday, on 30 August 1886, and married anyway. Quong was then thirty-six. The appearance of grandchildren eventually reconciled Margaret’s parents to their daughter’s marriage.
Letticie wrote her brothers of her marriage, and received a terse letter back, in which her family disowned her. How could she marry a Chinese? It was disgusting, they wrote, and she was no longer their sister. She knew she would never see or hear from any of them ever again.
Aunt Sanora told me that on one particular occasion when they were going out to dine at a Chinese restaurant, a woman had taken the time to follow them to the entrance of the establishment. As she harassed the two of them for being together, Aunt Sanora took the woman’s hat and tossed it in the gutter. Aunt Sanora remembers this woman chasing the hat down the sewer drain exclaiming, “My $100 hat!” When the miscegenation laws were repealed, it took them three days to find a judge who would marry them. When they finally did, the judge remarked, “She looks old enough. If she wants to marry a chink, that’s her business.”
Lotte fell in love with Anton Maramis, a Manadonese petty officer, and married him with her family’s support, although she battled much antagonism from the broader Australian public she encountered. Many other young Australian women faced strong opposition from families and friends to the decisions they made to marry their Indonesian fiancés and return with them to their homes once Independence had been declared.
Married or not, they earned a reputation in ultra-conservative post-war England as being “loose women” and, in another archive, Charles Foley found that government officials dismissed those married to or cohabiting with a Chinese partner as “the prostitute class”.
What quotes have you come across about how people in the past thought of interracial relationships with Asian men?
Are you a foreign woman or Chinese man in a foreign-Chinese couple in mainland China? Aliza Warwick, a researcher at Peking University’s Yenching Academy, just came out with an online survey that you could take (only takes 10-15 minutes) to help support her exploration of intercultural marriages. Here’s some background on her research:
Data from the Chinese government show that the number of marriage between foreigners and Chinese citizens in mainland China has been rising rapidly in the past several decades since China’s opening up. However, no demographic data are released about the individuals in theses marriages, such as where the foreign spouse is from originally, the ages of the individuals in the marriages, or their educational and occupational backgrounds. Anecdotes from the media hardly provide a clearer picture and instead often serve to fuel stereotypes. This questionnaire seeks to address this information gap and shed some light on this growing population of intercultural couples. The survey is part of a larger research project focused on intercultural marriage in mainland China by a Masters student at Peking University’s Yenching Academy.
You can learn more by clicking on this link for the survey, which provides further background information on the research. And if you’d like to participate, you can do so anonymously online.
Additionally, if you have further questions about the research, you can contact Aliza via email at [email protected] or via WeChat at aliza23.
Photo credits: Models: Justin Zhang, fitness coach and Youtuber (IG: NoobStrength) and Angelina Bower, beautiful fashion model (IG: musicloveandlies) Photographer: Ana Hudson (WhiteChocolatePlayer)
Zhu Zhengting, the hot new heartthrob from boy bands Nine Percent and NEX7, stared at me from an ad, with his finger lingering seductively on the lips. It almost resembled those typical images of male models or stars, using their gorgeous faces and physiques to sell everything from jeans to jackets. But there was one striking difference.
He was wearing lipstick, a soft carnation pink, to help sell it, along with other cosmetics from a brand I discovered on Alibaba’s Tmall, an online shopping center.
A man as the brand ambassador for lip gloss, even wearing it? It’s unimaginable in the US, my home country, for a guy to model makeup, let alone vouch for it. Unless of course you’re a celebrity drag queen like RuPaul.
But Zhengting doesn’t do drag, and he isn’t playing up his feminine side, despite the makeup and softness of the photograph. Instead, his intense brown eyes seem to reach out to you, as he points to his lips, as if to say, Go ahead and kiss me.
Actually, that’s the part of the idea behind having young men help sell lipstick and lip gloss, which didn’t start with Zhengting, as China Daily reported in the article Love me, love my lipstick:
When Japanese superstar Takuya Kimura attentively stares at you, applying rouge on his tempting lips in a 1996 TV commercial, does your heart skip a beat?
Of course you can’t have him, yet having a lipstick he used might just bring him a little closer to you.
It seems Kimura’s fans had the same idea. That year, thanks to him, more than 3 million Kanebo lipsticks sold out within just two months, an unprecedented sales record stunning Japan.
The article goes on to detail other Asian celebrities who became the face of other cosmetics brands and more. But it underscores the growing importance of men in marketing cosmetics.
Dubbed “Taobao’s king of lipstick”, Li needs to test more than 300 types of lipstick on his lips every day during a seven-hour live broadcast, taking no breaks except to drink water or go to the bathroom.
“Many people question me, believing men do not have enough expertise to recommend female beauty products,” Li said.
But he believes he has advantages in this field. While many women may find their lips hurt after testing three lipsticks in a row, he can test as many as 380 lipsticks a day.
“Testing lipstick can damage the lips, but I do not treat my lips as lips,” Li said. Therefore, his fans have given him the nickname “iron-lipped brother”.
What a moniker!
Of course, all of this talk of men fronting lipstick brands, even wearing or testing different colors, would likely shock a lot of folks, including my fellow Americans. In the US, any man who dares to model cosmetics would surely find someone questioning his masculinity or even sexual orientation.
Admittedly, it’s a bit surprising for some Chinese audiences, as China Daily notes in its article Love me, love my lipstick: “If some people still feel confused about men advertising lipsticks, they may feel nervous when male stars also make commercials for other more intimate women’s products.”
Nevertheless, the trend of male celebrities advertising lipstick has gained traction in East Asian countries, including China.
I don’t exactly know why this works in East Asia, but it does. And there’s a part of me that wonders, is it evidence that East Asian countries like China are redefining masculinity in a new way? Is it driven by K-POP, where members of boy bands embrace makeup as part of their look? (See: K-pop boy bands defy traditional idea of masculinity)
Personally, I find it fascinating and even refreshing that there’s a corner of the world where a man can model lipstick and still be a man. I’m not sure the same would hold true in the US.
In the end, I decided to buy the lip gloss. While it had nothing to do with the arresting eyes of Zhu Zhengting, his face, and lips, certainly left an impression — in a soft carnation pink.
Today, I’m sharing a short story a reader shared about her white American daughter Jessica, who she introduced to a lovely young Chinese man that has brought happiness to the both of them.
Do you have a story about love or anything else you think would fit this blog? Have a look at the submit a post page and then contact me today with your ideas or draft submission.
My daughter Jessica is as American peaches and cream as you get, and James, who has been in the U.S. for two years, is shy, a little awkward, respectful, brilliant and just a bit goofy. He and my daughter share a love of cats, music, Volkswagen Beetles, and all things anime and “cute.” They text off and on all day and never run out of things to say.
Ordinarily I’d be a little reluctant to let my daughter, who is in her late teens, get close to someone four years older, but James is as innocent as she is (they’ve both never dated anyone before), and I got to know James pretty well over the past couple of years and actually introduced him to my daughter.
Right after I introduced them, a group of us went to dinner for my birthday. Jessica was very shy and withdrawn. And James, knowing that Jessica’s favorite music group is Owl City, arranged with the restaurant somehow to play only Owl City music the entire time. A couple of weeks ago he bought her Hello Kitty Converse shoes, and Jessica reciprocated by giving him no-bake cookies (which I got to make, since Jessica tends to burn things up when she cooks – LOL). Next came snacks from the Asian market that James determined were all “cute,” and banana bread (baked by me, of course) was Jessica’s next thank-you offering. I’ve told her it’s okay to accept these things from James as long as she remembers to show him kindness as well and not just accept gifts as her due.
I have no idea what will happen in the future, but I love this young man and how well he treats both me and my daughter.
I wish I could tell every young Chinese man out there, both in the U.S. and in China, not to give up hope; that there are, indeed, lovely young American women who think Chinese men are desirable and fun, girls who think these young men are exactly what a man should be. Girls who are wise enough to look at a person’s heart and character instead.
I recently found this answer on Zhihu from a Chinese student in Germany, who offers dating advice to his fellow countrymen who are studying or living abroad, and translated it into English. —–
It’s my first time to answer a question, so please be gentle with me.
I studied abroad in Germany — it was a small place and Europeans made up most of the population there. Also the international students came from different European countries. My roommate M was one of these super-beautiful Nordic girls. Recently she went out on a date with a Vietnamese guy (this fellow was not as tall as she was), and she and I had a deep conversation about this issue.
Your average ABC (American Born Chinese) studs don’t have this kind of trouble. So my answer is regarding those foreign students who left China after they became adults, and my examples are based on personal experiences among European students.
My response is, sorry, it’s really hard to date European or American girls.
Let’s first start by talking about the requirements for man to date these women:
To begin with, you have to pay attention to personal appearance and posture. First you need to be in good shape. That doesn’t mean you have to be tall — you have to have the features (women think) you should have, such as biceps, and you should not have the features (women think) you shouldn’t have, such as a beer belly. These are things that can be acquired through hard exercise. People still look at muscles. It’s not a problem if you’re not tall, but being healthy and strong are characteristics a guy must have. Europeans/Americans really do have many short (shorter than 165 cm) but beautiful, buxom girls. Their boyfriends are not all tall. Looks are even less of a problem. People don’t know much about Asian features. Again, I say personal appearance, this is something I really need to mention. What is up with the few Asian guys on campus, with their hair so greasy it reflected light and the shiny collars and cuffs on their jackets? I think these guys, from when they were young in China, just didn’t have this habit of washing their own clothes or tidying themselves up. After I came here, I went to a friend’s house for fun, the way German guys were so neat and orderly threw me several blocks behind even the standards of neatness of Chinese girls. Clean yourself up, and then buy a bottle of fresh-scented men’s cologne. Don’t feel emasculated by it, this is about showing respect to others and it also reflects the quality of your life.
Your language must be good, at a minimum you should be able to have small talk with Europeans/Americans without any pressure. It’s not a problem if you have an accent. But you must be able to freely joke around, make fun of yourself, and flirt with girls. Being humorous and funny is a very important standard. Who doesn’t like to make friends with someone who is interesting? Most of the Asian foreign students I know are not good at talking. Never mind European/American girls — even the Asian girls all think they’re dull. If you’re free just take a look at all the clever postings on Zhihu [a Q&A site in China] and learn from them. Humor requires intelligence, and it is something that reflects wisdom. It would be a plus if you have character, opinions, independent values, confidence, and can intelligently communicate with girls. This is easy. With China’s 5,000 years of history, you can just choose a few amusing anecdotes from history to talk about. And if you can tell a girl about some European/American history or anecdote even she doesn’t know about, great – you will immediately look even more impressive.
Meeting those requirements would enable you at least to ask a girl out. At least the girls in my dormitory would go out with you (Can you take me with you?). This is enough. If people aren’t interested, why would they go walk the streets with you, right? Whether it develops into some kind of relationship, that’s a matter of destiny, right?
To conclude, in general the reason guys cannot get a date isn’t a matter of their Asian looks (there are some who think we look exotic), and it’s not about biology. It’s that Asian men who typically leave the country to go to school are studious. They don’t have these basic features mentioned above that attract foreign girls, and they don’t know how to improve themselves. Most of them only carry a backpack and immerse themselves in the library. To put it cruelly, these Asian men would have a hard time attracting Asian girls, let alone European/American girls. But, for some Asian men who meet the above requirements, what kind of girls couldn’t they find in Asia? They can find light-skinned, gorgeous, buxom, long-legged, well-educated girls who share the same cultural background. These men are not going to look for a foreign girl who is more independent, can’t make Chinese food and probably cannot communicate with your parents. (Of course, dating [foreign girls] is still very cool!) So the buyer’s market and the seller’s market are seriously not matched, and this has always been a difficult thing!
“But apparently this stems from a tradition whereby Russian ladies would meet Chinese men here in the forest and kind of go on dates. But I guess it’s evolved to become more of a, you know, all encompassing thing.”
Those were the remarks in a recent episode of Travelogue on CGTN, or China Global Television Network (formerly CCTV International), that piqued my curiosity.
In Inner Mongolia 2: Life in the saddle, the host of the program Tianran He walked through a virgin forest in the Hulunbuir region of Inner Mongolia, China, when he started talking about these small messages dangling from the trees: “…in the forest there’s loads of these little good luck charms, and most of them are for love, but this one’s like, I wish my dad, mom, granddad and grandma good health.”
And then he explained this came about because of these rendezvous in the woods between Chinese men and Russian women who were apparently lovers.
Naturally, I was intrigued and set off to find whatever I could about this secret tradition in one of northern China’s border regions.
And I looked…and looked…and looked. But nothing definitive surfaced among the many searches I made in Chinese. (Incidentally, the host’s description of those items as “good luck charms” is inaccurate. Chinese would call them 许愿牌, xǔyuànpái, which could translate to “wish cards”.)
To be sure, Inner Mongolia’s Hulunbuir is a very remote destination in China. It’s tucked right up in the northeast corner of the country, sharing a border with Mongolia and Russia.
The close proximity to Russia does add plausibility to stories of cross-border dating in a forest. And if parents back then were anything like today — after all, it’s not uncommon for families to oppose interracial or intercultural love — chances are couples like this would welcome the cover and privacy of all those trees.
But exactly where is this forest in Hulunbuir? Based on the trees in the video, I suspect it’s a virgin birch forest — and there is such a place in Hulunbuir: 白桦林, báihuàlín, the white birch forest or white birch corridor in Ergun (额尔古纳). This area of Hulunbuir borders Russia, making it the most likely candidate.
Chances are, I’ll have to travel there to get the full story from the locals.
“One evening, I drank heavily and the next morning I awoke to find a girl lying by my side. At the time I was incredibly embarrassed, and she was very shocked, because the night before she had also drank a lot. We couldn’t even remember who checked us into the room.”
This is the final installment of my English translation of a Chinese-language article on Vice.cn featuring interviews with four Chinese men who dated foreign women. Today’s interview is with a journalist and writer in Beijing who had many foreign girlfriends when he lived in southern Europe, including one he met the morning after a night of revelry under surprising circumstances.
28 years old, journalist/writer, living in Beijing
VICE: I heard you’ve had many foreign girlfriends.
I’ve had some. That’s because in my former media work, I would often get sent out of the country. So I would contact with many people, mainly in southern Europe. Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece — I’ve lived for at least half a year or longer in all of them, and got to know many women.
Could you share some impressive stories?
Ha ha, there are quite many. The countries I went to are relatively laid-back. The economies are not that developed, but the flavor of life is very strong and the people are very warm. I remember the first time I went out with a foreigner was with a Portuguese girl. At that time I was really young, just 24 and it was my first time to live independently overseas. One evening, I drank heavily and the next morning I awoke to find a girl lying by my side. At the time I was incredibly embarrassed, and she was very shocked, because the night before she had also drank a lot. We couldn’t even remember who checked us into the room. Later we went downstairs to the reception desk to find someone to ask about this, and then went to a bar looking for friends to inquire about what happened the previous night. The whole process was really quite ridiculous, but also very romantic. That evening we were once again having dinner together, and then continued to reserve a hotel room. Everything just happened naturally.
Have you had a long-term relationship with any of them?
Yes, she was French. But I don’t really want to share this story, it’s a little painful and I haven’t yet gotten over it.
With so many foreign girlfriends, do you feel like you’ve brought honor to your country?
No. Because my work was often overseas, my circle of friends included people of all different nationalities. To me, the individual means more than the nation.
As a Chinese guy, it’s rare to date so many foreign girls, right?
Before, I had never really thought about it, because this kind of situation is really uncommon. But after the first time I did, I realized that even thinking about this was a way of underestimating myself. Even though Chinese men in the eyes of foreigners are mostly thought of as martial arts experts or bespectacled geeks, Westerners have a really narrow understanding of us. But when it comes to actual relationships, Western women are willing to get to know me well.
So Western stereotypes about Chinese men haven’t affected your relations with foreign women?
After I got to know that first Portuguese girl, they affected me less and less. The individual differences between women are really not that big. Every person’s needs are very similar, especially emotional ones. Everyone needs to be loved, cared for, acknowledged. But because of culture, these might manifest themselves in different ways. Individual differences are much greater than differences because of country, culture or race. Once I no longer paid attention to the sense of inferiority brought by these stereotypes, I was more confident and smooth in my encounters with foreign girls. It’s like a guy from Henan chasing a girl from Jiangsu – what stereotypes would he consider?
Are there a lot of Chinese men around you together with foreign women?
Very many, and it has always been their Chinese character that attracts the girls. One friend went to university in Argentina and he said, “Actually, foreigners have a much stronger curiosity about Easterners because we’re more mysterious, and who wouldn’t want to try something new?”So the point is that, for this person, at the appropriate time their particular traits are a plus.
Did these women gain any new impressions of Chinese men because of you?
Of course. When I was dating them, I would share some Chinese culture with them and prepare some Chinese dishes for them. Although some things are cultural differences brought about by history, having a new interpretation is always better than unilaterally listening to Western media.
But does it seem easier for Chinese girls to be together with foreigners?
Because in the eyes of foreigners, Asian men have a lower status than Asian women. The typical stereotype of Chinese, or say Asian men, among other countries is: high achievers at school, introverted. These are the qualities that we carry with us. Capitalist culture distorts this notion in books, movies and the media. So who would be willing go on a date with some guy who is not even a little cool?
But for women, although some were rather quietly intelligent when they were young, when they leave the country they can easily fit right in. On one hand it’s related to how women have a strong tolerance. On the other, it’s that Western culture is more accepting of Chinese women. And when you look closely at foreign men with Asian women, for the most part they are very close to each other’s cultural traits, and it’s hard to see Western men following the living habits of Eastern women. That’s because Western men, in today’s mainstream cognition, have an advantaged position in terms of skin color and gender, the symbolic meaning of the more “advanced” human existence. So naturally it will be easier for them to find people no matter where they are.
Do you have any advice for Chinese men who want to pursue foreign women?
You only need to remember this: you and her are both people.
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