Why did I assume I’d never find a man to date in China? It’s a question that haunted white American Rosalie Zhao (who blogs at Rosie in BJ), surprised to find the love of her life in the Middle Kingdom (she shared her unforgettable love story here in the post “Enter Zhao Ming…China’s Answer to Arnold Schwarzenegger”). She writes, “With rising tensions and deepening talks surrounding issues of race in the US, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on my own prejudices.”
It’s been a couple years since my first guest post on Speaking of China. I wrote of how, against my initial expectations, I found love with a local man in China. Since that post, there’s been a rise of AMWF relationships in the media as well as a growing number of Asian men (and the western women who love them) speaking up and speaking out. With rising tensions and deepening talks surrounding issues of race in the US, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on my own prejudices. I’ve also given some thought as to why I assumed I’d never find a man to date in China, an assumption that many western women living in Asia seem to make. Then, the reason finally came to me—a man that was such a small part of my past but who I’ve come to realize had a seemingly profound impact on how I viewed Asian men and perhaps even how I saw myself.
It was freshman year of college and I was in a dating slump. The good news was that I got along fabulously with the other girls I lived with in my dormitory suite. There were five of us in total; I was the only one without a boyfriend. The two girls in the room next door, Laura and Erin, each were dating guys who attended a university on the other side of our state, which meant they were away most weekends visiting their beaus. I don’t know whose idea it was, theirs or mine, but somehow we came up with the idea of me having a blind date with one of their boyfriends’ friends. They quickly ran through their mental rolladexes (this was, of course, pre-Facebook). Who among these friends would be a good match? Laura looked up suddenly. “We should set you up with Johnny!” she exclaimed. “Yeah, he’s really cute!” Erin assured me. They shuffled through all the junk in their dorm room, eventually scrounging up a photo. Laura showed me his picture.
For a second, I was taken aback. I assumed he would be white, but he was in fact East Asian. I quickly admonished myself—what did it matter? He looked fairly cute from the photo and they eagerly sang his other praises: he was kind, smart, and 21 (old enough to buy us beer!). I decided to throw caution to the wind and join them on their next road trip across state, in hopes Johnny might be the man of my dreams. Or maybe someone fun to make-out with for the weekend. Whatever. When you’re 19 and in college, it hardly matters.
As fate would have it, Johnny was neither my future husband or make-out partner. The second I laid eyes on him I knew it wasn’t going to happen. I’m short. This guy? He was barely taller than me. He also weighed about 30 pounds less than me. The chemistry wasn’t there. I wanted a man who eclipsed me in size and strength, a man who would wrap me up into his arms and protect me from all danger. If Johnny was a little bigger and I a little smaller, maybe something could be there, I thought. Johnny, however, didn’t share my sentiments. He seemed very much into the idea of us becoming an item. He was smart enough to read my signals and not push me too hard, but he subtly pursued me that weekend and later, online.
I felt bad initially and even worse as time wore on. Johnny and I became closer friends while talking on MSN messenger and it became clear to me that he was suffering from a far worse dating slump than I was. He had been rejected over and over, to the point where he felt his efforts were futile. He was never going to find a girlfriend. I wanted to assure him that the right girl was out there, but I didn’t know how to do that without returning to an awkward conversation in which he asked why I didn’t like him. Eventually, our chats online became less frequent and I guiltily sighed with relief.
After that, I fell for my own perception bias. I viewed all Asian men as being smaller than me and therefore undatable. I assumed I could never again be attracted to them because I’d feel like an ogre in their presence. But then I came to China and discovered that Asian men come in all sizes and shapes. I also realized something else—a man’s true strength isn’t determined by his height in inches or weight in pounds; in the years since coming to China, I have found men attractive who had physiques similar to that of Johnny’s. And I have also realized that my own self-worth cannot be calculated by how small my jean size is. I don’t have to be thin for a man to find me beautiful.
I see now that I never gave Johnny a fair chance. Perhaps a romance could have blossomed and chemistry forged if I had had an open mind. Was I racist? Sizist? Self-loathing? I don’t know. But I don’t want to judge my 19-year-old self too harshly. I’m just glad that in time I was able to open myself up to the possibilities of dating cross-culturally and the idea of dating in China. I’m not sure where in the world I’d be today if I hadn’t.
Rosalie Zhao resides with her family in Hebei, China, where she writes a blog called Rosie in BJ.
Over a year ago, I wrote a post titled What’s the big deal about Asian men and bags? Even though it’s not a custom in the America where I grew up, after coming to China I came to love how men (including my husband) would gladly hold my bags for me when we’re out and about.
Lena, a Danish woman currently studying in Beijing, feels exactly the same way. She has dated the men here — and in the process, she has come to love some of those cultural differences in dating (including carrying bags for women). But the thing is, her foreign friends don’t always understand.
This is an old saying that makes perfect sense. When going to another country, it’s important to associate with the culture and the people. I don’t mean it’s necessary to change the way you are personally. But when you’re placed in another culture, there are some differences. And some of them, I do think, are important to recognize and follow so you won’t make trouble every time you walk out the door.
I’m in China right now and the dating rules here are a bit different from my home country of Denmark. Because of this, my friends and I love to discuss how “Chinese” or “Western” a boy can be. Races are also a big topic. It has nothing to do with racism towards anyone, but just about what is more attractive to us — in this case, my friends from South Africa and Italy, and me. And yes, most of my friends have different preferences.
So intercultural dating is a hot topic these days. Many people traveling abroad meet a handsome boy or beautiful girl who they fall in love with. But when reality hits them, they realize that dating between different cultures isn’t always that easy. Love is one thing but culture is another, and our own culture and behavior are very difficult to change. Furthermore, I don’t think we should try to change, but we also need to accept the other person as well and realized that they don’t necessarily need to change, even if their habits annoy us sometimes.
So last night at dinner when discussing the Chinese dating culture with my friends, we ended up talking about the classic “carrying-the-bag” issue. What is that about? Let me explain. Chinese guys are supposed to carry their girlfriend’s bag. This is the rule no matter how small, purple or bling-bling it is. My friends in this discussion are all foreigners (both boys and girls) and none of them like this. I wasn’t sure I agreed because I realized that I actually do expect the boy to carry my bag. I carry my own small fake Gucci purse but if I carry something just a bit bigger without bling, I would expect my male friend to ask if he should carry it for me. Maybe I’ll give it to him, maybe I won’t. It depends.
My friends were laughing at me when I told them the story of me and a male friend out shopping. I was carrying my bag and he had bought something. Because he didn’t have a bag, he asked if he could put his stuff in mine. I took his things and suddenly my bag was quite full. He didn’t notice. I tried to tell him, and still no reaction. I even told him that he wasn’t a real gentleman, way too Western (my other way of saying he wasn’t a gentleman) and not caring at all. He laughed at me as well and I realized that I was actually annoyed by this English guy who obviously didn’t know anything about Chinese culture. (How could he? He had just arrived and my face is pale and Scandinavian. How would he know that I expect this from every man I meet these days? It came as a surprise to me as well).
Another day, my stomach wasn’t quite well, and my Chinese male friend automatically took my little fake Gucci out of my hand immediately and carried it for me the rest of the day. I tried to take it back a few times but he was afraid of me being in too much pain. I don’t think the little purse would have made any difference but I liked his way of thinking.
After listening to these two stories, my Western friends told me that I was way too Chinese. I thought about this afterwards and I know that I am, but is it that bad then? I’ve been in the middle for a while because I know that there are some Chinese cultural behaviors that I’ll never associate with. But there are also others that I haven’t even realized I’ve already taken on my shoulders a long time ago. One reason is the fact that I actually hang out with Chinese people for fun, while many of my foreign friends don’t. It’s interesting to see this difference in our discussions. Things I never would’ve done before suddenly come so naturally now.
I’m not sure how Asian my future husband will be. But I know that if he won’t ask for my bag, I’ll probably teach him to. Not because he has to carry it around, but because it makes me feel like he’s thinking about my well-being.
Lena is a 20-something Danish girl currently studying for a semester at Renmin University in Beijing while writing about China, travel and love at http://www.lenakina.tumblr.com/.
A decade ago, my plans for coming to China included teaching for a year, two…maybe even three, before returning to the US to start my teaching career.
Dating was not part of my plan, so when it happened, I was completely unprepared for it. Looking back, I would have loved to know what I was getting myself into or at least some advice on navigating Chinese dating culture.
Since my experience was limited to just my husband, I got some additional input from two American bloggers living in China: Jocelyn Eikenburg writes Speaking Of China and Jo Kelly-Bai writes Life Behind The Wall. Both talk about their relationships with their Chinese significant others.
P.S.: Yep, it has been another insane week as we finish up the move and I prepare for a big trip in China in a few days — hence the break from blogging. But I’ll be back next week, promise! In the meantime, please excuse me as I collapse into bed right now… 😉
For the past year, Yuan Fu, a native of Shandong Province, has graciously volunteered his time to help translate a variety of posts on Speaking of China into Chinese. I thought, wouldn’t it be interesting to get to know the guy behind the translations? (I admit, even I was interested in knowing more about this fellow who magically appeared in my e-mail inbox one day, offering his talents to Speaking of China.)
So I put together this interview with Yuan Fu. As it turns out, Yuan is one fascinating and incredibly funny guy — his answers had me laughing out loud at times. I’ve provided his original Chinese responses below (he answered my English interview in Chinese — for those of you who can read Chinese, his answers are best in his native language); otherwise, you’ll have to forgive me for the simple translation of his answers into English. Trust me, if you can read the Chinese, you’ll understand just why he’s such a whiz with words.
You’ve volunteered your talents to help speakingofchina.com translate many wonderful posts into Chinese. Tell us about how you came to find this website and what motivated you to translate content for it.
I don’t consider myself a “volunteer”; I’m just one shrewd “businessman!” That’s because Speaking of China gave me more than I could possibly offer. So if there’s someone I should thank, it’s Jocelyn and her website!
I’ve always loved words and have been weaker with numbers. From elementary school I’ve been far more passionate about writing, even though only I think the articles read well. In contrast, I could barely pass mathematics by memorizing formulas. I really like feeling as if I’m “flirting” with readers through words. When you know that simply adjusting a word or phrase can completely change the reader’s experience, that feeling is really amazing. Ironically, after I graduated I staggered into profession of auditing, a world of figures 24 hours a day. So working for Speaking of China has become really important for me. After a day of getting “bombed” by worksheets, Speaking of China gives me a thread of breathing space and for the first time, provides me with readers. This is an essential change. I really cherish this opportunity.
Of course I also await the day when I will finally meet a girl who shares my ambitions and outlook on life. Among the girls who visit Speaking of China, if they’re not interested in AMWF then they’re interested in language. That’s perfect for me. In light of the fact that I often feel overwhelmed whenever I’m together with a girl I’m attracted to, I’ve learned to be careful, so I hide behind the computer. If I give it my all, who’s to say one day the perfect girl will actively find me?
Finally and most important, I’ve noticed that a lot of young Chinese guys have this kind of demand, but they don’t have a platform where they can be heard. I hope Speaking of China’s Chinese version will change that a little – that they’re not freaks in the world of love and marriage. Many of us have the same thought. If you love foreign girls then you should confidently go after them! Speaking of China can provide you with suggestions in this respect and even real-life love stories. I look forward to the future when we can receive many more “Double Happiness” stories from young Chinese men!
You actually work as an audit trainee for an accounting firm. How do you make time to translate posts?
For that we should thank the horrible traffic situation, the crowded streets and buses – that’s where I’ve finished most of the translations! Just like Ford and his Model T, I “assemble” each article in my mind starting with the easiest and most fascinating parts and then the more challenging parts of the articles. This whole process – starting from nothing to a finished product – is always exciting to me.
“Accuracy, expressiveness, elegance” is the highest standard for translation but I cannot reach it. Instead I strive to preserve a certain amount of character in the articles, (kind of like when, after suffering for a long week at work and finally making it to Friday, you can actually relax). I’m very clear about my own abilities, you don’t even need to mention the enormous gap between me and translation professionals. In front of those readers who are very serious about language, I appear like “Cub Scout” with this hobby of translation. However, with time I will improve.
You studied abroad at Cardiff University in Wales. Could you share with us your most interesting experience or experiences there?
During our graduation trip we went to Loch Ness in Scotland. That sturdy captain of the ship spooked everyone into keeping their eyes glued to the sonar screen, because the Loch Ness Monster could at any time overturn the boat. In reality this was completely unnecessary, as the Loch Ness Monster was in all of the gift shops – just 15 pounds and you can bring one home. If you buy more there’s a discount. And the “Made in China” tag left on each of them would make you realize they were Asian.
Similarly this street of luxury goods in Oxford was completely occupied by Asian merchants. Seeing this in the small village of Oxford made me suddenly feel like I was back in Beijing’s Wangfujing shopping area; I even wondered if there was someone selling fried flatbread. As it turns out the place only had French hot dogs for sale, and the taste only proved that the technique of these young Frenchmen couldn’t compare to those Henan women selling fried flatbread (for one yuan more they’ll add an egg to it).
Besides the sights and scenery, England’s good regulations gave me a deep impression. For example, how motorized vehicles must yield to pedestrians or how medical services could really be free (despite the fact they weren’t always the most efficient). Of course everything the English people now enjoy comes from the hard efforts of the previous generations, benefiting from how they became industrialized in the 19th century. They’ve waded through war, endured a recession and the inhumanity of Imperial England. So we have nothing to envy. Maybe the hard work of this generation of Chinese will give their children a better country, don’t you think? Those of us born in the 1990s should be thankful for the many things we have received from previous generations.
Yes, until this day I still regret that I haven’t dated anyone. This makes me feel as if I spent all of that university tuition for nothing. Ha ha!
毕业旅行我们去了苏格兰的尼斯湖，白白胖胖的船东吓唬大家要紧盯声呐屏幕，因为湖怪随时可能掀翻小艇。事实证明这完全多此一举，因为尼斯湖小怪兽充斥在大大小小的纪念品店中，15镑就能搂一个回家，要是多买还能打折。留意一下铭牌你就会发现甚至它们也是有亚洲血统的—Made in China.
Why did you choose to return to China after your studies?
I think it’s because my visa was going to expire, ha ha! What’s interesting is that in England when I tried really hard to find work there, more than once I heard locals complain “they’ve already had enough” of this country that in my mind appears very well developed. There was even one Londoner who sent me a text message when I was boarding my plane: he is returning to Shanghai, and he persuaded me to quickly leave this “sinking” country. The very concerned tone of his message made me feel as if I had just missed Heathrow’s last “Noah’s Ark”. I think he’s not wrong in what he said. Immigration moves from a place you are tired of to a place someone else is tired of. Still that Londoner doesn’t realize that Shanghai is the eponymous “sinking” place because the ground there cannot handle the massive weight of Pudong’s skyscrapers. Fortunately this process can be controlled!
You’re currently single, but you’ve told me you hope someday you want to marry a Western woman. Why?
First off, because you’re so beautiful. Second…aiya, I think the first reason is enough for me, ha ha! Foreign women have provided many thoughts and ideas that aren’t in my culture and circle of friends – this is something that matters to me. I started to realize that there are some things you shouldn’t care too much about while there are other things worth pursuing. In our lives we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves most of the time – we really can just not worry too much about it and move at a slower pace. Regarding “doing what you’re passionate about” or because you love a specific field so while studying you focus on that area, now it seems this is no big problem. Simply put, I discovered some values that resonated with me. I admit, my initial reason for liking foreign girls is because of their pretty looks, but now I’ve discovered many more reasons that go beyond your appearance.
One of my deepest impressions is the alcohol tolerance of foreign women. Once we went out to drink beer with some very petite German girls. After their “warmup” stage was over, I was already very inebriated. Sorry everyone, I think I just made Shandong men lose face.
Actually I’m very interested in Jocelyn, but I don’t know if John will mind. At least China prohibits guns, ha ha!
Just kidding! I mean to say, I hope I can find a foreign girl who is as interested in Chinese culture as Jocelyn is. And if she also loves Mandarin and even wants to become a translator or interpreter, that would be perfect. I can definitely be a big help to her! You see, the fascinating thing about China is that, first it is quite ancient and yet it has changed very quickly. So no matter whether you are a historian with your head buried in the old pages of our history or you want to do something modern or different, you can basically find your place here in China. So to all of the girls living in the first world, if you come over to our third world for a turn you’ll find it’s very fascinating.
Or maybe we ought to talk about what kind of person I am – anyone who loves my kind of personality is also that kind of girl I’m looking for.
I have some really cool friends in my life. These people don’t just live well, they also can bring a lot of happiness to the people around them. What’s even more appealing is that they have this kind of ability to grasp the future. Without exception, they all love to read or at least do according to that saying, “There’s nothing exceptional under the sun,” books provide them with wisdom to understand the world. I also hope for this kind of wisdom. As such reading has gradually become the biggest thing I do outside of work. Of course, this kind of life can be pretty “quiet.” Similarly, my two other biggest pastimes — traveling and making military models – are also “soundless”. One young English guy once told me with a very concerned face, “Yuan, if you want to know the meaning of the word ‘Nerd’, you’d best look in the mirror.” Ha ha, in fact I wasn’t concerned at all about my lifestyle. Ladies, it’s good to find yourself a quiet partner. In this way you’ll always have someone to listen to your stories. Plus, perhaps these guys who are always reticent are in fact the most passionate guys!
Due to the limits of writing, forgive me for not being able to provide more details. But I strongly suggest any interested ladies to come forward and have a try. Based on my understanding of Yuan, I bet I would not disappoint the vast majority of readers. 🙂
There are a lot of Chinese men out there who, like you, have the dream of finding a yangxifu – but not every guy will be successful. What do you think are the biggest barriers for Chinese men to meet and date Western women in China?
First, Chinese men lack opportunities to regularly interact with foreign women. Objectively speaking, the vast majority of Asian men cannot compare to the tall stature of Western men. This is not worth complaining about nor is it racist, this is Darwin’s evolution. Because of this, I ask Chinese men to call upon their “soft power” in more superior areas, such as being more attentive to women or smarter. In this way we can become ideal to girls. Unfortunately this kind of “soft power” is not as easy to see as the huge biceps on a guy’s arm. You have to work long and hard together in order to observe it. And this kind of opportunity to “work long and hard together” is without a doubt in unusually short supply. So it’s very possible that young men here are already excellent enough, but that women just haven’t noticed it yet.
Secondly, you should also blame the spiritual impotence of Chinese men, their sense of inferiority. Whenever I tell someone that I’m interested in finding a foreign girl, the response I receive is, “Gosh, you need lots of money to do that!” As if I don’t have this then I cannot win the battle for a spouse! Another example is when a guy is standing before someone from a developed country, we can be overcautious. Yet when we’re standing before friends from less developed countries than China, we can behave all high and mighty.
I hear from Western women out there who are looking to find a good man in China. What advice would you have for them?
To all of those ladies searching for a “good man”, I want to say your search can stop right here. Just choose Yuan. Don’t hesitate. He will become the best decision you ever made for the longest part of your future. Ha ha!
If you’re speaking of the biggest strengths of Chinese men, that’s probably that we’re hardworking. I remember there was an economist at MIT who, when asked why he was so full of confidence about China, this gentleman shrugged and leisurely replied, “Forget about all of those economic models because the Chinese are very hardworking.” Look, whenever people attempt to answer these truly important questions, we often must return to the most essential things. So if I was a woman, I would stay away from those good for nothing laggards or the men who are constantly changing their jobs – the kind of guys who think they can use women because they’re cool and handsome. Just like Lucy Kellaway of the Financial Times once said, “Find a responsible partner, even though that doesn’t sound sexy or romantic.” Then I would choose someone with similar values. For example, my father values frugality; whenever he goes shopping he always picks the cheapest items. But my mother values quality and she absolutely would not compromise her values because of price. You can imagine that this couple of such mismatched people will not live very peacefully together. However, thank the heavens, as long as it’s not time to go to the supermarket, things are fine. But if the two of them cannot agree on what kind of beef to buy, then the two of them are not so well suited for each other.
However, perhaps the silliest thing in this world is to listen to me, some 24-year-old guy who has yet to find love himself to give some advice to such experienced young women on how to find true love. So I’d best keep my mouth shut!
Finally, you currently reside in Ji’nan, China. Let’s say I’m coming up to visit your hometown. What you suggest I see and do in your city?
Oh, Ji’nan is a very embarrassing provincial capital city. Not only does it have no international recognition, here in China you almost never hear anything from Ji’nan. In fact the most recent thing I’ve heard about Ji’nan is that some guy put his girlfriend on his neck and received some praise for being a “Good Chinese Boyfriend.” Still, just because this place isn’t famous doesn’t mean it’s not fun. You should definitely see the usual sights in the city. Qianfo Mountain, Baotu Springs and Daming Lake are the three best in Ji’nan. Of course if you loathe manmade pools, Ji’nan – which is also known as “little Jiangnan” – also has a number of good places to go swimming, though they’re often hidden in the most inconspicuous places in the city and usually only locals can find them. Of course you totally shouldn’t be worried about those lewd stares, as can assure you there are far too many to count.
If you’re willing to walk a little, then we can also have a look at “the mountain”, “the water”, “the sage” – that’s Taishan, the Yellow River, and Confucius. Yes, in Shandong Province you can find all of these things that are deeply meaningful in Chinese culture. No matter what, don’t worry. Any trip with Yuan will be a happy one.
By the way, now that you mention travel, next year I’m planning on visiting China’s West (Xinjiang and Tibet). Is there anyone willing to come with me? (This is limited to single girls only! 😉 )
A few years back when I co-wrote an article titled Western Wives, Chinese Husbands (exploring what it’s like to date and marry Chinese men), we touched on the subject of money — specifically, that sometimes Western women end up being the breadwinner in the family.
I was reminded of that when I first read this post from Judith (who blogs in Dutch at Judith In China). She’s from the Netherlands and currently dating a Beijing local (who she considers her perfect match). But, “Even though I don’t earn much at all, own a house or car, or have savings worth mentioning, I am much more economically stable than he will probably ever be.”
I grew up in a middle-class family in a small town in the Netherlands. My two siblings and I basically had everything we could wish for. We went on modest holidays within the country once a year, got nice birthday gifts and our parents supported us throughout our studies. My boyfriend was born a one-child-policy son and grew up in Beijing’s hutongs. His parents are real lǎobǎixìng; his mother used to sell bus tickets and his father worked as the repair man for a large hotel. Although his parents cared for him much, they lived in one room without private sanitation. Some days all his father could afford for lunch was to share a pancake with his son.
Although our backgrounds couldn’t have been more different, we really are a perfect match.
I have been interested in Chinese language and culture since I was a little girl, and he has been crazy about Western music and culture since he first encountered it in Beijing’s early nineties. I have never had a preference for Asian men or an interest in the AMWF community, on the contrary: if you would have told me a few years ago that I would end up with a real Beijing boy I probably wouldn’t have believed you. When we met, my Chinese wasn’t that great and he didn’t speak much English, but we have been in a loving relationship for over five years now. He is very caring, makes me laugh, and makes me feel like the most beautiful girl on the planet despite being so much whiter, taller and larger than those cute Chinese girls. Most of all, he makes me feel safe.
There is one thing that keeps coming up in our relationship though. I wouldn’t call it a problem, but it is definitely something coming from our different backgrounds that will probably always linger right below the surface. Even though I don’t earn much at all, own a house or car, or have savings worth mentioning, I am much more economically stable than he will probably ever be. His attraction to Western music made him choose to become a professional musician. And although I really believe he is one of the most talented musicians in China and truly has the talent to make a stable income from his profession, it’s not easy in this industry and especially not in China.
When we met, my boyfriend was the member of a rather famous band, but he quit shortly after we became a couple. Since then he has been working on various projects on and off, some of which are more profitable than others. This means that his income was quite OK for the last two years. Although he didn’t earn millions he had frequent gigs, and combined with my stable salary I felt we were quite well off. This year however, there have been some changes in the projects he has been working on and he has barely made any money. At the same time we are looking to get married, but the only thing holding us back is not wanting to spend all my savings on an (even simple) wedding.
In some ways my boyfriend can be very traditional. As the man in the family, he feels horrible about me being the main breadwinner, and this year even supporting him to a certain extent. He doesn’t want to speak about it too much and doesn’t want to let me know how he feels, but I sense it more and more. I don’t mind sharing my income with him. We’re a team and should he one day become world famous I’m sure he would share his wealth with me just the same. But if I offer to buy him new clothes as a present, nicer lunches for him when we don’t eat together or suggest to go on a weekend trip, he says he doesn’t need it. He prefers to wear the same old shoes, eat a 10 kuai bowl of noodles for lunch and not travel much.
I feel this also has to do with a Western approach to finding a good balance between saving and enjoying your money, while he feels that we should not spend much until we’re in a better financial position. And then things such as marriage and buying a house would come first. Whereas I feel that although we shouldn’t spend all our money on an expensive holiday abroad, we can allow ourselves to enjoy an occasional weekend away within China, for example. He doesn’t want me to spend that kind of money for the both of us if he can’t contribute much or anything at all. Which means that I visit friends in other cities and he doesn’t join me, or that I go to a café to work while enjoying a latté and a sandwich while he just eats his bowl of noodles for lunch. He simply does not want to join me, even if I explicitly say I want him to.
I feel bad for him feeling this way, because I don’t see his financial situation as a problem. I fell in love with him because of the man he is, not because I thought that one day cash would come flowing in because of his profession and I wouldn’t have to worry about money anymore. I guess this is a very different perspective compared to many Chinese girls, as they often think in practical terms first when it comes to relationships (such as Ted highlighted in his excellent guest post on this blog titled “What I’ve Learned from 15 Blind Dates in China”).
I hope my boyfriend will someday get used to how I feel and that he can find a way to accept that his girlfriend’s income will probably always be more stable than his.
Judith lives and works in China and blogs about her daily life and the special things she encounters at judithinchina.com(in Dutch).
Years ago, before I had finally met John (my husband), I recall spending an evening in one of Hangzhou’s many teahouses with my friend Xiao Yu, a male colleague I met in my company.
Xiao Yu always felt like a brother to me from the first day I entered that company. Maybe it was his near-flawless English, his easygoing smile that always seemed like an invitation to sit and chat, or his self-effacing personality. Whatever it was, he was the guy I felt like I could talk to about anything.
Well, as a young single woman in her twenties still new to dating in China – and still occasionally baffled by the way Chinese men behaved with me – I was desperate for a male perspective on it all. Or rather, a male perspective on one specific thing:
Would Chinese men really date a white Western woman like me?
After my recent bad luck, I was starting to believe this might be mission impossible. In the span of one month, a guy I hadn’t even been dating (but wanted to) rejected me by saying he could never marry a foreigner, while another fellow simply didn’t return my texts or phone me – even though every time I ran into him at the gym, he kept promising nights out that never came to be.
“Maybe I’ll never be welcomed with open arms by any guy in China,” I said to Xiao Yu with a sigh.
As usual, Xiao Yu served up one of his comforting smiles to ease my pain. “No, no, not at all! Of course many Chinese men would be proud to date you. Maybe their family would even be proud, that their son could understand foreigners. It’s just, well, you’re an American. You’re from one of the most powerful countries in the world. They just cannot believe you would ever want them.”
I cocked my head and raised an eyebrow at his surprising explanation. “Are you kidding me? They actually think a woman like me wouldn’t want them?”
He shrugged. “Some just cannot overcome their feeling of inferiority.”
I was stunned and had to take another sip of my tea to mull it all over. It sounded crazy to me. To think that some Chinese men thought I wouldn’t want to date them just because I’m an American woman!
If I had known about the interracial dating reality for Asian men the world over – including Chinese men – I wouldn’t have been surprised at all. (See my article in the Huffington Post on this titled “Why Won’t Western Women Date Chinese Men?”). But it would take me years before I learned the truth – and before I began to understand part of the reason why Chinese men might rather refuse a woman like me than face the possibility of being refused by a woman from, as Xiao Yu put it, “one of the most powerful countries in the world”.
Reporter: Your survey is extremely interesting. I want to ask you, how did you first come up with this question?
Zhang Jiehai: “Chinese men in the eyes of Western women” is one of my starting points in research. In some places, it is common for Chinese to have an attitude that Western is better. This leads to a sense of inferiority before Westerners. I chose to look at Chinese men according to Western women, because, in terms of confidence and self-respect, we have higher expectations for men than women. For many Chinese men, when faced with international criticism, there are two themes that arise — one is inferiority; the other is concealed inferiority. For example, you might say to a person that something about him is not so good; his first reaction is to jump up and attack you, but really, this reaction is caused by a sense of inferiority. He’s angry because something someone else said touched something he is sensitive about. So, to solve the “inferiority” problem, the most essential first step is for you to admit inferiority. We did this survey because we wanted to look at the international world, to see if Western women already realized the inferiority of Chinese men. If so, I will once again turn around and tell everyone, your inferiority is already known, you don’t need to hide it.
As much as it pains me to read Zhang Jiehai’s translated words, I realize the truth in them. I’ve lived them through my own experiences in China. And while no Chinese man has ever admitted that they felt inferior before me and thus decided not to pursue me, I’m sure that’s exactly why some of them never did.
Since I’m now happily married to John, a native of the Hangzhou region (we just celebrated our 10th anniversary), those dating days are long behind me. But I have to wonder, what will it take before Chinese men no longer feel inferior before Westerners, including Western women? When will we finally meet each other as equals in the dating world in China?
An anonymous woman writes of the Chinese man she once dated, “He made me alive and dead. He once left me sobbing on a hotel chaise lounge, naked and overlooking the Hong Kong skyline, and I remember thinking this was what it was like for an artist’s muse to become an artist’s mistress.”
It’s a powerful story of an all-consuming, passionate love between one Western woman and one Chinese man that ultimately burned out — but will never be forgotten.
Do you have a gripping story of passion or a guest post you’re dying to share on Speaking of China? Learn how at the submit a post page.
I found myself falling in love with a man who amazed me. I’ll call him Richard. From his view on the world, to how he would take care of me, and how he invited me to China after only really being together for two months. It. Was. Amazing. He was intelligent, hilarious, and dressed impeccably, He had ambition that matched mine and was damn sexy. Tall, dark, beautiful. Strong, but elegant and delicate. Before this whole experience, I had never dated a Chinese man, let alone, someone who hailed from another country. I was two years older than him (26 and 24), and I was okay with it because of his deep maturity and knowledge and love for the world. All I wanted was to know more about him. Though I have been in love before, I had never felt the pure need I had for Richard. It was real and scary and intoxicating.
We met at a work party — Richard, a citizen of China, and I, a Midwestern girl. It was a whirlwind. Our first week together was spent in three different cities, jumping from hotel to hotel as we traveled with our work. His English wasn’t very good, and I speak no Mandarin. I almost liked how he struggled with the language, and how I had to simplify things just a bit. Instead of the usual nonsense I have to go through with native English speakers, he and I had to cut through all the crap and just say what we really meant.
It was refreshing.
Luckily, we found ourselves in the same city for the next month. Unluckily, our jobs considered dating a no-no, so we had to figure out ways for none of our coworkers to find out about the beautiful thing we had discovered. This entailed sneaking into each other’s rooms at night, only having midnight meals and gifts mysteriously being left in my room. One day, I had found a bottle of perfume hidden under my pillow. My good friend and co-worker, who I spent most of my free-time with, questioned where I got the scent. I struggled for an answer and internally swooned.
All of this sneaking was almost romantic, and added a sense of urgency and danger to all of our rendezvous’. It was entirely worth the rushed meal, just to be able to look into his beautiful eyes and feel the power he had over me. I still get chills thinking of our first kiss, outside of a sushi restaurant at two o’clock in the morning, no one else on the street. Our conversations were sparkling and we had this power over one another that was so electrically charged. My emotions ran so high for him, and his for me.
But still, most of our communication was via WeChat, where he was my only contact, and consisted of nearly 70% of my phone’s activity.
Just as soon as it all happened, Richard was on his way back to China. Now, being too many miles apart, things really got interesting.
The instant he landed in Hong Kong, he made it very clear what he wanted. Me. To not hang out with too many guys (but most of my friends are guys!) and not drink too much (but my hometown is KNOWN for beer!) and to text him from the moment I woke up, to the moment I went to sleep.
And I did. And he did. And we both became obsessed.
We texted from my morning, to way way into his night. I think each of us were only getting about four hours of sleep. Of course, we were still keeping things secret from our friends and common co-workers, so we had no time to Skype and could barely talk on the phone. Strictly WeChat. Our conversations were normal. Flirty, romantic, sexy. Up until a week before I was scheduled to leave.
A week before, his contact suddenly became slack. Not texting when he woke up, barely giving me details of his day. So I pulled back (with lots of struggle, of course). I was hurt and confused and couldn’t figure out where the change came from. All I knew is that I wanted to see him again so I could touch him, and kiss him, and have the bright conversations we were enjoying only a month ago.
I got angry. He got angry. And anger does not translate well on WeChat. Three days before leaving, I found myself awake at four in the morning, sobbing because he wasn’t responding to me. Richard assured me everything was alright, that he was busy preparing for my arrival. I understood.
When I landed for my three week trip, things got even weirder. I wasn’t greeted with a kiss. I wasn’t greeted with a hug, or even a ‘hello’.
“Wow that is a big suitcase.”
My first night in Hong Kong was spent kissing, then fighting, then making love, and fighting again. I felt like I was in a music video. The trip was off to a bad start and working things out was difficult. He was acting strangely. I was acting strangely, our whole vibe was different than it was before.
After a good talk and couple days of me wandering this foreign city by myself, we were better. But looking back, maybe we were faking our happiness. The controlling side of him took over, and my people-pleasing side was brought to surface. Our personalities clashed. Without the secrets, and sneaking, our ‘love’ was different than before. I thought he was urgent before to keep us from getting caught. But as he rushed me through a fantastic dinner, I saw a side of his personality that I didn’t like. And when I protested, he would call me selfish. I would fall to my knees and give in, abandoning half of my food.
We had our ups and downs, and told each other we loved one another. We fought passionately, made love passionately, and I felt pain in my gut when I made him mad. It was a dangerous relationship.
After three weeks of traveling, it was time to part. I think we both knew it was our end. When I landed, he messaged me making sure I made it home okay. I
told him I had.
And that was it.
Though the specifics in my tale are lacking, the feelings stirred up just by writing this assure me the experience ever even happened. It makes me want to message him. But I know I can’t. I know we are both better off. This whole ordeal is two months old, and I still feel like my life is lacking a certain something, something toxic.
Maybe it was the lust, the passion. The way he would hold me at night, like I was a life-raft. He made me alive and dead. He once left me sobbing on a hotel chaise lounge, naked and overlooking the Hong Kong skyline, and I remember thinking this was what it was like for an artist’s muse to become an artist’s mistress. I wanted to think I had the power, but if I really thought that I was a fool. He didn’t have it. I didn’t have it. The power was in us, together.
And I think letting go of that power is the worst thing I have ever done.
Though preferring to remain anonymous, the author is a young professional with bad luck in love.
“I’d never dated or been attracted to Chinese men before,” writes Marissa Kluger — not until she met ZJ in Xi’an, a city that stole her heart away.
Marissa’s blog Xiananigans has been a pleasure to follow over the years (right down to her “explosive” Chinese wedding, where she dons the most gorgeous red wedding gown I’ve ever seen). Here’s the story behind it all, from how she discovered Xi’an and ZJ to how they eventually moved it to her hometown in New Jersey.
My first trip to China, in 2007, happened to be a three week intensive course abroad, a general education requirement instituted by Goucher College, my alma mater. Xi’an ended up being one of our destinations. Besides inspecting the soldiers at the Terracotta Warriors, bicycling around the Xi’an City Wall, and navigating the alleys of the Muslim Quarter, we met with an alumnus teaching at Xi’an International Studies University.
The city of Xi’an compelled me to return four years later to teach at Xi’an International Studies University. I’m a fairly indecisive person but I had made up my mind after listening to the alumnus’ anecdotes about his job, travels, and experiences. Meeting his students further cemented my longing to come back; they were inquisitive, interested in cultural exchange, American politics and exposing me to as much Chinese culture as several hours would allow.
Although I knew they would show us around their dorms, the campus, and give us small gifts, I was overwhelmed by their warmth, affection, and extroverted personalities. In many ways, they toppled every notion, or better yet, stereotype I read about Chinese students. We met students from universities in other cities during our travels, but XISU students left the deepest indent.
I also saw it as a one-year opportunity to do something outside-of-the-box before starting a career, although at that time I had little idea about what I’d be doing; I hadn’t even declared a major, still opting for that looming “Undecided” title. My parents thought I’d give up on the idea as I still had three years of schooling. They were supportive of the decision, also seeing it as a good opportunity, hoping I’d pick up the language and gain other valuable experiences that could propel whatever career path I chose forward.
In 2009-10, my final year at Goucher, I applied for a position at the university. Three months went by without a word, so I began applying for jobs in my chosen field in the Greater New York City area. A ray of sunshine appeared just a week before commencement…I had received an email from the university offering me a teaching position for the next academic year! When my college girlfriends offered their congratulatory sentiments, they also foreshadowed that 缘分, or fate would lead me to at least date, perhaps even settle down in China. I dismissed this as I didn’t really put much stock in fate.
I arrived in Xi’an in late August 2010, and luckily I had the first month of September free, as I had been assigned freshman. Freshman have mandatory military training, and four years ago, this lasted an entire month. I took this chance to meet up with a very good friend of my former private drum instructor and his Chinese wife. Lu Min Lu, I called her Daphney, helped me settle in and introduced me to the nightlife Xi’an offered. She took me to Park Qin, a bar frequented by Xi’an expats. ZJ worked at Park Qin.
The first time ZJ and I met, I insisted on getting his phone number on behalf of a British girl. I initially cut in for several reasons: I was looking for Chinese acquaintances who might become friends, most of my college friends were guys, he was easy to talk to and charming. I, of course, did all of this not knowing anything about Chinese dating culture, or that ZJ considered himself “traditional.”
After getting his phone number and exchanging texts, we agreed to meet up on his next day off. Shortly after that first meeting, I went back to Park Qin and spent hours talking to ZJ about movies, music, college, culture and more. We had a lot in common, he spoke directly, didn’t seem shy or introverted, much like the students I met in 2007, but I didn’t see this going in a romantic direction. The American girlfriends I emailed back home were elated: “I told you.”
It was about a month later that ZJ and I began dating. In the early stages of our relationship, we looked more like friends. We weren’t affectionate in public and our relationship remained a secret. In February 2011, I met ZJ’s parents during our Chinese New Year visit to his hometown. He prepared me very well for that first visit, explaining that to his parents, bringing a girl home, let alone a foreign one, meant to them we were serious.
I met his best friend from high school as well as extended family from both his mother’s and father’s side; I felt more comfortable than I initially thought in an environment so different from Xi’an and New Jersey. ZJ cared, translated and interpreted for me; his way to show affection manifested itself unlike any previous relationships. I liked the nuances, subtlety of it all, and more importantly, started to fall for him, and so upon returning to Xi’an, ZJ moved in with me.
When the holiday season approached, ZJ fostered my homesickness by taking me out for Peking duck on Christmas, a tradition commonly observed by Jewish-Americans. I went home for three weeks in January 2013; I wished he could have traveled with me, to meet my family and friends. I missed him when I went home for two months in 2011, staying in touch via Skype, however, those three weeks felt utterly painful. I enjoyed my time at home, but a sense of relief washed over me when I touched down in Xi’an a week or so before heading to his 老家 for Chinese New Year.
We had already started discussing getting engaged and this discussion was met with approval by 老爸, 老妈, 大哥和二哥. ZJ proposed to me on June 8, 2013. The timing of the ceremony, the set-up, and the ring were all a surprise to me. He told me we were celebrating his birthday; I saw this as slightly suspicious, but didn’t give it a second thought when he shot me down over WeChat when I asked if he planned to propose.
I wore an ankle-length red gown, one of three dresses purchased on Taobao for the ceremony held in the countryside. I opted for a red princess-poofy gown, complete with fur-like trim, flowers, taffeta-like mesh, all in red. I changed into a red lace qipao in order to toast the guests, wearing it with a qipao-style top as a jacket in hopes of keeping out the cold. I even wore all red undergarments. My youngest sister made the trip from the US, served as pseudo-maid of honor, taking on my hair and makeup. We also had a few foreign colleagues from the university attend. 爸爸和妈妈 Zhang, my brothers and sisters-in-law ensured the shindig, a once-in-a-lifetime affair, could be watched over and over again (there’s a video!). We had a honeymoon of sorts, to Lijiang and Dali, and I say of sorts, because my sister and friends of ours tagged along.
We had traveled to Guangzhou for the petition in January and a couple of months after all the wedding excitement died down, we traveled back again for the medical and interview portions. ZJ didn’t pass on the spot, as we had to send additional documents. A week or two later, we had ZJ’s passport with the appropriate visa in hand. I couldn’t believe how relatively quickly and pain-free the process had been! More foreshadowing…
We’ve now been in the US for two and a half months. We live with my parents in the house I grew up in. I work part-time for Starbucks while I pursue other avenues. This is the first encounter ZJ’s had with my parents and friends, with the exception of my youngest sister, who also lives at home. He just received his social security number last week. When we went to the department of motor vehicles earlier in the week, they weren’t able to verify his status, meaning we have to wait before he can obtain his driver’s license. In other words, the ease we experienced during the DCF process meant more obstacles after landing stateside.
It’s not all bad news, though. I never imagined I’d be a 26 year-old “we”, returning from four years in Xi’an, and struggling to figure out what comes next. I would never take it back, or trade it in for an “easier life.” Much like the processes we’ve gone through in the last year: getting our red books, preparing for our Chinese ceremony, navigating the DCF process, prepared us for the ups and downs of a new life. I underestimated the adjustment moving to the US would be, but my husband never did.
This is why I love him. When I’m losing it, he remains calm, rational, and thoughtful. When I’m overly emotional, which is pretty much all of the time, he’s calculated and prepared to counteract my moodiness by jokes, sarcasm, or a story. He knows exactly when I need solitude, a hug or a kiss, encourages me to not only pursue my dreams, but to do so independently.
His sense of humor is infectious, and he’s grown into a more talkative, outwardly affectionate individual. He supports me in all my endeavors. Our marriage and relationship may not be conventional in the eyes of some, and we may be opposites, but I always foresaw, if I did marry, ending up with my “other half.” You see, I didn’t think I would marry, especially in my mid-20s, not because I don’t believe in the institution of marriage, but after a failed serious relationship in college, preferred to bask in dating solitude.
It’s laughable that there are Western women in China who write off Chinese men. I’d never dated or been attracted to Chinese men before, but I’m very attracted to my husband: appearance, intelligence, and personality-wise. If I had written them off, the handsome, caring man sitting to my right reading the local paper wouldn’t be in my life.
Marissa Kluger married her Chinese husband ZJ a year ago. They live in New Jersey. She reminisces about Xi’an and muses about life in the US at Xiananigans.
When Marghini wrote that her Chinese boyfriend “just never thought a Western girl could ever be interested in him,” it was as if she channeled my good buddy Xiao Yu from 2002. Back then, he offered a nearly identical explanation for the frustrating experiences I had with a number of Chinese men who drifted in and out of my life — and never responded to my subtle flirtations. (I would meet John only months later, who ended all of those frustrations for good!)
Marghini’s story speaks to a reality that, like it or not, exists not only in China but around the world. But it’s also inspiring to see how she and Mr. B still managed to fall in love in spite of it!
The first thing I thought when I met Mr. B for the first time was that he looked very weird. I had arrived in Beijing only few days earlier and I quickly noticed how Chinese guys usually looked, behaved, dressed, and spoke English. Then I met this guy, who didn’t look, act, dress or speak they way the other Chinese boys did, yet sported a Chinese looking face.
Coming from a small Italian city, I was never really exposed to Asian Americans or simply to people with a very international upbringing. Therefore I just assumed that face and identity had to correspond. That is the reason why I was so confused at first; I couldn’t fit that funny looking guy into any of the categories I was used to. This confusion quickly turned into curiosity, which quickly became attraction. I was captured by the fact he looked so different from anyone else and my inability to decipher him just added to my attraction. His reserved personality, coupled with my inability to fully comprehend his American accented English, didn’t make it any easier for me to understand who this charming Chinese-non-Chinese was.
Time went by and slowly I got to know the guy better. I discovered why he looked so “mixed”, being born in Hong Kong but raised in Singapore, New Zealand and the US. My attraction grew bigger and bigger and I started thinking about how to show my interest to him. Being a hot-blooded Italian lady, I was used to being very direct and open about my feelings, but this time I found myself scratching my head. I didn’t know if I had to consider him Chinese or a Hong Konger or a New Zealander or an American, and I didn’t know if any of these identities would require a different approach from what I was used to. Groping in the dark, I decided I had to keep my Italian outgoing nature at bay. I bit my tongue and tried to approach the guy in a more delicate and indirect way — just few glances here and there, a couple of sweetish emails and a lot of eagerness to engage in conversations with him. Yet I felt so lost in translation! This soft strategy kept going for longer than a month and even though I sometimes felt like I spotted some sign of interest in me, nothing really meaningful happened. Then I tried to be a bit more direct, leaving a small present on his desk with a nice encouraging note, obtaining no reaction but a “thank you”.
I started considering the idea that maybe he was just not that into me. I tried to feign indifference, but in reality I felt incredibly sad and disappointed that the Chinese-non-Chinese boy didn’t share my same interest. At some point, I just stopped trying. I thought that my attempt to date out of the box just didn’t succeed and that maybe it was not my cup of tea. Maybe I had to stick to Italians as I always did.
I would have never ever guessed that Mr. B was actually very into me! He just never thought a Western girl could ever be interested in him, so therefore he just assumed he was misunderstanding my behavior. Funny enough, this handsome, smart, talented, kind and well-educated boy was convinced he was not attractive enough to date out of his race. His upbringing in New Zealand and the US, where he had to face some nasty jokes about his ethnicity, made him believe that Western girls would never even consider dating an Asian guy. He had been struggling for his whole life, feeling too Chinese in the Western world and too Westernized in China. He felt like he never really fit. Therefore, during the whole month I spent trying to communicate my interest, he was just trying to convince himself it was not possible that a girl like me was actually attracted to a Chinese boy.
Long story short, eventually Mr. B woke up and realized that he had to take a leap of faith. So he finally invited me out. We have been together ever since our first date.
Sometimes I still don’t understand whether he is more Chinese or New Zealand, or American. I would say that different sides of his personality reflect different cultures and identities, like a crystal prism projects different colors according to the edge. That is why I fell in love with him, and why I choose him everyday — because he is offbeat, different from anyone else and really unique.
Marghini is an Italian architect who accidentally stumbled into a life in Asia and has never been the same since. She currently lives in Hong Kong with her boyfriend while they figure out what’s next for them.
A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail from a reader in Singapore I’ll call “Tom”, who wrote:
First of, thank you for spending the time and effort to share your unique marriage experience. I have been reading and digesting what you have posted thus far.
However, as a Chinese Singaporean, I find myself caught in between the Chinese and the Chinese born and raised in a Western country. There is a lot of talk about these two groups but I feel left out of the conversation. A lot of hurdles that a White female may face with a Chinese seem to be almost non-existent when it comes to the sizable number of Chinese Singaporean men who come from english speaking families, and are highly educated with good and stable jobs. Such families tend to not be overly traditional and live out western values in their daily lives.
I am adamant that I would so much happier if I could have a life partner that has the qualities of a western female. Softness and meekness, and even home cooking, believe it or not, isn’t all that endearing to me. I want a girl that behaves as if she has life in her! I want a life partner, not a little girl. If I don’t give this a shot now I may settle for someone “lesser” in my mind’s eye. If I wanted to settle I would have years ago.
Dating a Chinese guy has never been a hot topic to discuss with my friends. Some of these, I have found, have been harsh and unfairly judgmental. One even tried to warn me: “Don’t even think about it.” Their reason: they simply found the cultural differences too large.
When the author describes her judgmental friends, I’ll be willing to bet they have a very fixed and limited idea of “Chinese men” and subsequently what it means to date them. Chances are, not a single one of these women could imagine a guy like Tom.
There is incredible diversity when it comes to Chinese men — and more often than not, it looks completely different from the stereotypical images you hold in your mind. As an example, just look at these posts by China Elevator Stories, Sara Jaaksola, The Mandarin Duck, and Ember Swift about their own husbands, who are all so unique in their own right!
It’s almost crazy that things like this even need to be said. But then again, it is crazy that a lot of women come to China and then automatically cross Chinese men off the “dateworthy” column in their minds, as that World of Chinese article mentioned (a phenomenon I’ve sadly observed as well).
So ladies, don’t always assume he’s too conservative or traditional for you to date just because he’s Chinese and you’re an independently minded Western woman. For all you know, he could be like Tom.
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