‘The Chinese Exclusion Act’ on PBS Reminds Me Asian Stereotypes Haven’t Changed Much

The other night, I had the chance to stream The Chinese Exclusion Act, a nearly two-hour film documenting the events that led to America’s one and only piece of legislation targeting a specific nationality and race, as well as the aftermath and eventual repeal. The Chinese Exclusion Act was signed into law in May 1882 and didn’t end until December 1943.

Much of the film centers on the mid- to late-1800s, and yet it feels timely because many of the stereotypes originating from that era still persist to this day, continuing to shape US media portrayals of Asians as well as how many Americans still view the rise of Asian countries such as China.

Here are 4 stereotypes from the 1800s that have still survived – sometimes in slightly different forms – to this day, as mentioned in The Chinese Exclusion Act.

#1: The stereotype of Asian men as “inferior”

A few years ago, I wrote Debunking the “Model Asian” Myth: Five Ways Asian-Americans Still Face Discrimination for Hippo Reads, which includes the following paragraph:

Justin Chan spoke for generations of Asian men when he wrote, “Are Asian Men Undateable?” in Policy Mic. Years of pernicious stereotypes have branded Asian men as emasculated, weak, asexual, and even too small in a certain department—essentially, editing them out of the most eligible bachelor pool. Not surprisingly, Freakonomics calculated that an Asian man would need to earn $247,000 more than a white man to be equally appealing to a white woman. That’s like requiring every Asian guy to own a Bentley before asking out the white girl next door.

So it shouldn’t be surprising that, back in the late 1800s, when Yellow Peril took hold, white Americans cast Chinese men as being inferior to white men, as experts point out in part 1 of The Chinese Exclusion Act (emphasis added):

John Kuo Wei Tchen, Historian: So what happens is that class and racialization converge – get confused. And the “Coolie question,” and the Chinese question, really become the big question nationally of labor and class.  Can the American man compete with this degraded Asian male form of labor?  They don’t eat as much; their nerves are farther away from the surface of the skin, so they don’t feel as much; they eat rats.  You know, all this  gets played out even more and more around not just class lines and racialization, but also around gender.  The Chinese male is inferior – is not the same as white manhood, right.  So you have that famous cover – “Meat versus Rice.” American manhood vs. Asiatic coolie-ism,?   And, of course, the Asian male is inferior – but tenacious, because there are a lot of them.  So they’re dangerous because they’re so many of them, right.  Not because they really rival the actually superior white male.

#2: The stereotype of Asian women as “sexualized”

A major stereotype that still persists is this idea of Asian women as sexualized and subservient (see Kristina Wong’s post earlier this year titled I Give Up On Trying To Explain Why The Fetishization Of Asian Women Is Bad).

And again, we see echoes of that stereotype in the late 1800s in America, prompting the 1875 passage of the Page Act, which forbade the immigration to America of those coming to work under contracts and as prostitutes. The latter prohibition was aimed squarely at Chinese women, as The Chinese Exclusion Act explains (emphasis added):

Scott Wong, Historian: There developed this sexist, racist, misogynist attitude among Americans, that Chinese women were naturally prone to become prostitutes.  And, therefore, Chinese women, who wanted to come to the U.S., had to prove that they were never prostitutes; that they weren’t prostitutes then; nor would they ever become prostitutes.  Now, of course, one can’t prove what will not happen or happen in the future.  So many women chose not to even go through that humiliation. So we had that first act that’s passed, that is very racial and gender-specific.

#3: The stereotype of Chinese “stealing jobs/opportunities from Americans”

When major elections roll around in America these days, there’s one thing you can count on – those politicians claiming China is “stealing” jobs and opportunities. And as Chinese students still comprise the largest group of foreigners studying abroad at US institutions of higher education, you’re sure to hear complaints from Americans, alleging Chinese are also “taking away” slots at colleges and universities that belong to American students.

Sadly, this narrative has hardly budged from the late 1800s, when white workers concocted this stereotype that Chinese were also plundering their economic opportunities back then, as The Chinese Exclusion Act noted in years following the California Gold Rush (emphasis added):

Narrator: As surface gold in the river beds became scarcer – hydraulic mining run by companies increasingly displaced the lone prospector panning for gold.

Ling-chi Wang, Scholar: A lot of white independent prospectors went bankrupt and became unemployed. But instead of turning their anger against the gold-mining company and the water company for exploiting them, they turned against the Chinese.  They say: “Ah, the Chinese were here.  They take away our jobs.” And so that is really the beginning of white working-class agitation for Chinese Exclusion.

#4: The stereotype of Asians — including Chinese — as “perpetual foreigners”

Back in 2016, Christopher Hoffman penned the post Perpetual Foreigners: A Reflection on Asian Americans in the American Media, commenting on a racist segment aired on Fox News titled “Watters’ World: Chinatown Edition”, and noted the following:

The larger problem is the segment clearly challenges the American identity of Asian American citizens in Manhattan’s China Town. Frank H. Wu’s Race in America Beyond Black and White defines this idea of Asian Americans as the “perpetual foreigner.” By assuming Chinese Americans have a better relationship with the country of their ancestral heritage, Watters is placing Chinese Americans in a second-class citizen role, unable to fully adopt all the characteristics to become a full citizen of the United States of America. This idea of the “perpetual foreigner” is not limited to Chinese Americans, but a xenophobic image many Asian Americans from a variety of Asian backgrounds must face.

This xenophobia can be traced back to the late 1800s and the Chinese Exclusion Act itself, where people believed it was impossible for Chinese to ever be fully American, as The Chinese Exclusion Act explains:

Martin B. Gold, Attorney: It really did two things.  One is an exclusion from immigration, and the other thing was an exclusion from citizenship.  at the time there were approximately 105,000 Chinese in America.  Now, they were just two-tenths of one percent of the overall American population.   So what happens to the people who are already here – people legally in the United States?  And what that law said was, “These people cannot assimilate.  They are too different in terms of their culture – in terms of their appearance – in terms of their language – the clothes that they wear – and the food that they eat – and the gods that they worship.  They cannot assimilate into the American population.  And in that sense, they are different from European immigrants.  So we’re going to make, as a Congress, a judgment.  We’re going to say that because they are an unassimilable population, they cannot come to the United States, and those that are here cannot become American citizens.”

If you haven’t yet viewed The Chinese Exclusion Act, I highly recommend streaming it — and noting how the legacy of oppression still lingers to this day.

What do you think?

11 Critically Acclaimed AMWF Movies Worth Watching

Yes, Asian men and White women can love on the big screen and make for enlightening cinema. If you frequent art house theaters and film festivals, or simply want a more sophisticated pick for a change, here are 11 critically acclaimed AMWF (Asian Male, White Female) movies you don’t want to miss, in alphabetical order.

The Big Sick (2017)

Technically, “The Big Sick” is a rom-com, complete with an AMWF couple at the center of the story (Kumail Nanjiani, played by himself, and Emily Gardner, played by Zoe Kazan), which is set in Chicago. But the true heart and soul of this film surfaces when the Pakistani American man finds himself in close quarters with her white American parents, with some unexpected and even heartwarming results. Given that “The Big Sick” received an Oscar nod for original screenplay and many singled out Holly Hunter’s performance as worthy of a nomination from the Academy, any savvy filmgoer should have this movie on their watch list.

Columbus (2017)

The romantic indie drama “Columbus,” with the unusual pairing of an Asian man (John Cho) and a white woman (Haley Lu Richardson) in this architectural mecca of Indiana, has delighted audiences and critics alike, leading many to decry its absence at the Academy awards. As I wrote earlier this year about “Columbus”:

Here’s the best part about “Columbus” – it’s a beautiful movie to behold.

Granted, it might not be an obvious choice for those moviegoers who tend to pass on anything that feels a little too “art house.”

But for those people who delight in great cinematography (the shots really are gorgeous), nuanced stories filled with great depth and feeling, and real-to-life characters, this is a joy to watch.

Many top film critics have named “Columbus” one of the best films of 2017, and it currently has a 97 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and an 89 on Metacritic.

If you haven’t read it yet, check out my post 4 Reasons the Movie ‘Columbus’ (#StarringJohnCho) Made Me Cheer, Beyond its Romance.

The Crimson Kimono (1959)

How could you not love a 1959 film with such a daring movie poster for its time, not to mention being way ahead of the curve on race? Starring the legendary James Shigeta, one of the first Asian American actors to show his sex appeal in the movies as a romantic lead, “The Crimson Kimono” offers plenty of gripping action and a love triangle with an AMWF twist, at a time when interracial love was still taboo and illegal in many places around the world (including America). Since this film is preserved by the Academy Film Archive — yes, the same Academy behind the Oscars — it should be on the list of every serious film buff, whether you’re into AMWF movies or not.

The Edge of Seventeen (2016)

This American coming-of-age teen flick drew loads of critical acclaim for Hailee Steinfeld’s turn as the protagonist Nadine, turning it into a must-see among AMWF movies. But you should also watch “The Edge of Seventeen” for Hayden Szeto, in his breakout role of Erwin Kim. As I wrote last year for WWAM BAM!

Thank goodness for the new teen movie The Edge of Seventeen, just released in late 2016.

The film features one of the most refreshingly unstereotypical portrayals of an Asian man in a teen movie – the breakout role of Erwin Kim, played by Hayden Szeto.

And surprisingly, The Edge of Seventeen even shares some common ground with, of all movies, Sixteen Candles (Vanity Fair noted “Steinfeld’s character is derivative of Molly Ringwald circa Sixteen Candles”). Who’d have thought?

If you’re hungry for a good teen movie, one with a positive portrayal of an Asian guy, you must see The Edge of Seventeen, featuring Hayden Szeto.

Ae Fond Kiss (2004)

In “Ae Fond Kiss,” cultures collide in the world of AMWF movies when a Pakistani Muslim man and white Irish Catholic woman come together in Glasgow, not long before his arranged marriage to a cousin. The pushback and prejudice from his family and her colleagues will feel like familiar territory to many interracial and intercultural couples. But what makes this story different is that the film shows sympathy to both sides. Plus, there’s strong chemistry between the leads (Atta Yaqub and Eva Birthistle) — and plenty of passion behind closed doors. The film took in numerous awards across Europe, including two at the Berlin International Film Festival and one at the Cesar Awards, and will surely delight anyone looking for a more thoughtful portrayal of the challenges of interracial and intercultural romance.

A Great Wall (1986)

This movie — which tells the story of a Chinese American family visiting relatives in Beijing — enjoyed critical acclaim and was the first American film to be shot in the People’s Republic of China. It also happens to have a rather memorable moment in the history of AMWF movies. As I wrote a few years back:

When Kelvin laid with a white girl on the couch and kissed her in this 1986 movie, some dubbed it the “makeout scene heard ‘round the world” because it was one of the first movies to ever feature an Asian guy and non-Asian girl doing just that. Kelvin brings some serious sex appeal to the scene — his sultry eyes, and even the sensual way in which he pulls at her blouse — despite the fact that they never actually “do it” in the movie. Plus, I love that Kelvin is so alpha, which shatters that despicable “all Asian guys are so emasculated” stereotype.

Whether you’re watching for the groundbreaking cinematography, the exploration of cultural divides or just Kelvin Han Yee, “A Great Wall” is worth it.

Japanese Story (2003)

This quiet romantic drama that sets an AMWF pair — actors Toni Colette and Gotaro Tsunashima — against the backdrop of Australia’s mining country does tug at the emotions (and ilicited a few tears from yours truly). But despite the fact that their love affair is unexpected, it’s also a powerful one that will stay with you long after the credits are over. Given all the Australian awards this film garnered in 2003 — including winning for best film, director, actress and cinematography — any art house movie fan will want to watch “Japanese Story.”

The Lover (1992)

In “The Lover,” a French teenager in Indochina falls into an illicit love affair with an older Chinese man, making it one of the steamiest pairings on this list of AMWF movies. As I wrote a few years back:

My pulse quickens just thinking about Tony Leung in this movie, based on the book by Marguerite Duras. He may not be the hottest looking guy on this list, but he pulls off some of the most orgasmic sex scenes I’ve ever seen in a movie, let alone a movie featuring an Asian man and white woman together. Let’s put it this way — you’ll probably have to pause the movie every time they visit his “bachelor pad” to reach for one of the following: your partner, a cold shower, or a vibrator.

But besides all the sex appeal, the film also received an Oscar nomination for best cinematography and was the seventh-highest grossing film for 1992 in France, where it also earned several Cesar Award nods and won for best music written for a film.

Mao’s Last Dancer (2009)

This inspiring movie based on the memoir of the same name charts the rise of Li Cunxin from a rural impoverished boyhood in China to world-famous ballet dancer in the US. It’s worth seeing just for Chi Cao, who plays Li:

Chi Cao … had me before I even saw the film. Blame it on that photo … where he’s cradling the leg and torso of Amanda Schull (who plays Liz), while studying her with eyes that seem to yearn for more than just perfect point technique. Who wouldn’t want a “private lesson” with him? Chi Cao shows incredible sex appeal, even playing a newcomer to the US who stumbles through his first steps into the world of dating and sex, and shines in some stunning dance sequences that will also have your heart racing.

Plus, “Mao’s Last Dancer” attracted a slew of Australian movie award nominations, including for best film, and won for its original music score. And any serious art house filmgoers will delight in the ballet sequences — they’re just as moving as the story itself, which happens to feature two AMWF romances.

Never Forever (2007)

What happens when a prim white American housewife in New York makes a daring proposal to a Korean immigrant working at the dry cleaners, and unexpectedly falls in love with him? “Never Forever” is quite a sexy affair, with bedroom scenes (and a surprising fantasy) that just might leave you sweating too. But it’s the strong performances by Vera Farmiga, Ha Jung-woo and David McInnis that elevate this emotional romantic drama into something worthy of art house accolades among AMWF movies. It debuted at Sundance and won at the Deauville American Film Festival.

Pushing Hands (1991)

This first feature film from Oscar-winning director Ang Lee probes the cultural spaces that unite and divide an elder Tai Chi teacher and grandfather from Beijing and his son’s family in America, including the white daughter-in-law who doesn’t see eye to eye with him. Any East-West intercultural couple or family will find the cultural clashes in “Pushing Hands” relatable. And under the expert direction of Lee, the film becomes a timeless classic, including among all AMWF movies.

What other critically acclaimed AMWF movies would you recommend for savvy filmgoers?

Olympic Speedskater Shaolin Sandor Liu Has a Cool China Connection Beyond His Chinese Father

While Jun and I were watching China compete in the men’s 1,500m speedskating event at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, we happened across a fascinating young man among the competition: Hungary’s Olympic speedskater Shaolin Sandor Liu.

Shaolin Sandor Liu Chinese

After seeing his name, I knew one of his parents must be Chinese. Turns out, besides his Hungarian mother, he has a Chinese father.

But that’s not his most fascinating connection to China. Here’s what I discovered on his athlete page at the Olympics website:

He and younger brother Liu Shaoang were given the opportunity to train in People’s Republic of China earlier in their career. “We were really lucky. When we started there was a world championships in Hungary and the Chinese team came. My father, being Chinese, started speaking with them, helped with different things in Hungary and getting to know the country. They said since his two sons were Chinese they should come and train in China. It sounded good to him so he decided to take the chance to bring us to China and we were training there for one-and-a-half years. Before our results weren’t really good. After that time we came back from China and we won every competition.”

As anyone who follows short track speedskating knows, China has a powerhouse of a team in this sport, with a total medal count only second to the leading country, South Korea. So I’m not surprised that Shaolin Sandor Liu improved so much after training with the Chinese team.

Shaolin Sandor Liu claimed gold in the 500m short track speedskating event at the 2016 World Championships in Seoul. During the current World Cup short track speedskating season, he’s had a number of strong performances, including ranking first in the 500m event at Budapest and the 1,000m event at Seoul.

That’s why, while he only finished in fifth place in the 1,500m short track speedskating finals the other day, Shaolin Sandor Liu is still a solid contender in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. He’s set to compete in the 1,000m event Tuesday, February 13 at 19:26 Korea time. If you happen to tune in, watch for him — and why not root him on as well?

Additionally, here are few more interesting things about Shaolin Sandor Liu:

  • His parents — a Chinese father and Hungarian mother — aren’t the only reason I’ve tagged this post AMWF (Asian male/White female, in this case). Liu’s current girlfriend is Elise Christie, the short track speedskating star from Britain.
  • For curious readers who happen to know Chinese, his name Shaolin is written as 少林 (shàolín), the same as the famous Shaolin Temple in Henan province. (And according to an anonymous post online in Chinese, his Mandarin is pretty good.)

To learn more about Shaolin Sandor Liu, head on over to his athlete page for the Olympics or follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

What fascinating athletes have you encountered so far while watching the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics?

Phoenix News Weighs in on Why so Few White Women Date Chinese Men – and It’s Awful

Many of us have wondered why it is you see so many white men with Chinese women, and not white women with Chinese men. Call it the AMWF question if you will.

But if we’re going to talk about this, you’d hope for an insightful conversation.

And “insightful” is not how I would describe this piece from Phoenix News, the Chinese media outlet owned by Rupert Murdoch. Maybe we shouldn’t have expected much, given that Phoenix owes its existence to the same man who created Fox News.

The following is my English translation of the the original piece in Chinese, which is rife with overgeneralizations, stereotypes and worse:

In life, sometimes we across some beautiful mixed-race babies. Thick eyebrows. Big eyes. There are some whose hair is even golden.

Their mothers are usually Chinese and the fathers are foreigners.

For a minority of these babies, the fathers are Chinese and the mothers are foreigners, but this is also true a tiny fraction of the time.

Why is it that there are so few foreign women who look for Chinese men? In this case, the foreign women we speak of normally are white European American women.

Among Asian countries such as Japan and South Korea, there are quite a few women who want to marry Chinese men. Add to that in recent years the fact that rural Chinese men getting mail-order brides from Vietnam is a common occurrence.

So why is it that so few white European American women will go for Chinese men?

Originally, in current Chinese society, even though there is already equality between men and women, there are always some men who still have a certain male chauvinism and don’t respect women.

But the vast majority of foreign women are more independent, so [relationships between foreign women and Chinese men] are destined not to happen.

In addition, Chinese men are often quite reserved. Many Chinese men are quite low-key and conservative when it comes to relationships. They believe only dull [expressions] are genuine.

But almost all foreign women prefer a romantic and exciting life.

Our culture and ways of thinking are different, so naturally foreign women and Chinese men cannot live together.

Besides all of this, the aesthetic sensibilities of foreign women are different from Chinese women.

With all the blue-eyed and blonde men with tall noses that they’re accustomed to in their surroundings, when these foreign women suddenly look upon the typical Asian faces of Chinese men, it’s unavoidable that there will be some who are blind to these faces.

Plus, the average build of Chinese men doesn’t appear nearly as strong as that of foreign men, who have eaten beef since they were young. And foreign women care more about a man’s healthy physique.

So they will rarely choose to marry Chinese men.

In addition, there are issues in terms of religion and beliefs as well as living habits, but these reasons are not that important.

After all, love knows no borders.

You know, you’ve got to hand it to Phoenix for ending the piece on such a conciliatory note – as if “love knows no borders” could somehow excuse the rest of this piece that’s far beyond cringeworthy.

Phoenix News, do us all a favor and stop writing about why so few white women date Chinese men. Please.

Meanwhile, while my thoughts are not the last word on the rarity of AMWF couples, if you are interested you might enjoy On the Rarity of Foreign Women and Chinese Boyfriends/Chinese Husbands and Why Won’t Western Women Date Chinese Men?

Guest Post: I Got Divorced in China, and What Happened in My Marriage Is More Common Than You Realize

When you blog about love, family and relationships in China for as long as I do, you get to know lots of couples. But while there are love stories, there are also breakups and divorce in China.

Alex is someone I’ve known for years. She shared her love story here back in 2013. But her marriage with a Chinese man unraveled, ending in divorce. Her tale of divorce in China has become an everyday story she tells to the taxi drivers of Qingdao. It’s an act of courage to share stories like this and I’m grateful Alex wrote this piece.

Do you have a story, whether divorce in China or love or otherwise, that you’d like to share here on the blog? Have a look at the submit a post page and contact me today with your ideas.
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The taxi driver says, “I’m here! Where are you?”

I reply, “I’m nearly there! Wait one moment, what color is your car?” Moments later, I say to him, “Hi! This is the car I ordered, correct?”

Since 2010 I’ve realized that getting from point A to point B in China has always been a fairly simple task. When the cost of a car sets you back a couple dollars, and they are in high supply, the only time I ever worry about getting around would be during those peak traffic times. And in that case I will rarely leave the house.

Chinese taxi drivers certainly have a reputation for being curious – if anything they should be merited for their ability to test all foreigners in China on their Chinese-speaking abilities. If you can pass the first few questions of the journey, well that merits you have a certain level of experience in China.

When it comes to getting a taxi, it is all about creating a conversation. To communicate is to be human, and to tell a story is to be someone willing to share a piece of your life with an overworked, and often bored, taxi driver. This always seems to be the best opportunity for these conversations., I will never see you again, and you probably won’t see me again, so time for that beautiful exchange.

Qingdao is a city I have called home since my early twenties — a city of 8 million, with sea, mountains and locals that are beyond welcoming. To reiterate a story that I often share with those stranger taxi drivers reveals another side of those international love stories. Because not all love stories, not all magical moments are real life. And not everything we see is as it is.

I met my now ex-husband in 2010, and funnily enough a Chinese fortune-teller actually reminded me about this over a business lunch just yesterday! He was spot on that I had indeed met a love. The story of how I met my ex-husband has nearly been erased from my mind, but I cherish and hold on to the beginning where it seemed to be about love — true love, love that crosses thousands of miles — and that is what brought on my destiny.

Today I have to be brutally honest when I tell those taxi drivers that within the beautiful city of Qingdao, out of all those friendly, smiling, helpful Shandong faces there are in fact a few bad eggs.

Adultery, divorce, rumors, gossip, cheating, lying and manipulation. This side of marriage in China is more prevalent than ever – but would you ever know the truth? Of course not. It is buried so deep in “keeping face” and maintaining a reputation that what goes on after the wedding ceremony is rarely discussed. My own experience as a 22-year-old university graduate, madly in love and naïve as hell, is a simple representation.

What I have seen in only the past three months goes to show that this exists in many, many relationships. The Chinese version of “undiscussed” open relationships, staying together for the money, the kids, the face.

I wouldn’t and couldn’t endure it.

It began by discovering images on iCloud – you sneaky bastard! From that point on I became a professional private investigator. Once that “小三” (xiaosan) mistress was discovered I was basically looking to find out everything. Looking back now it was really pointless. This mistress culture is a part of many marriages in China. Perhaps this is the reason why two people can stay together for so long. Perhaps long-term monogamy is unrealistic.

What I really want to say is not a sad sob story of how I had to escape a manipulative, power-hungry businessman or how I left the company we built, that cute poodle puppy, apartment and the mini cooper car lifestyle. The life we had together from the outside looked ideal. We were set to have some great looking kids, and be able to exchange country residencies. We were on our way to building a successful company, and overall I loved this man. It was stupid love but it was true. After this entire experience I feel that marriage is about so much more than love or lust. It should be viewed as a partnership, a collaboration, and built from a foundation of reason and logic.

How I went from a married, power-couple team of wedding planners and designer to a single, nomadic dating coach in London – well, that process and series of events still surprises me. So much of what has happened, I look back on it and think, Wow, where did the time go? How did all of this happen?

So, what do these kindhearted, slightly coarse, smile-wrinkle taxi drivers have to do with it? They hear my story of divorce in China every day, because how else can I say the reason why my Chinese is spoken with some local dialect tones? How can I answer what kept me in Qingdao for over five years? I like to be open and share my story as I think so much of the reality is behind closed doors.

You would not believe the number of businessmen who find it completely normal to not inform me until the second date that they have a family and wife, but would still like to pursue me. Even today I attend dinner meetings and drinking spells with men like this, offering up this kind of proposal. After what I went through with my ex-husband, it’s odd to be on the other side of things, so to speak.

And yet, I continue to date Chinese men. I would still marry a Chinese man, but with so much more caution, and with more high-level requests as to what he will provide. I would ask for what I deserve upfront and first. I would want a house in my name, a nice car, and a wedding paid for by him, just like many Chinese women. That is the lesson I learned.

Will I find love once again in China? I couldn’t tell you because I’m not a fortune-teller. But I remain cautiously optimistic about the future. And every day, as I hail another taxi, it gets a little easier to tell the story of my divorce in China and embrace the possibilities for my future.

You can follow Alex on Instagram.
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Speaking of China is always on the lookout for outstanding guest posts! If you have something you’d like us to feature, visit the submit a post page for details — and then submit yours today.

Is Beijing China’s Best City for Western Women Married to Chinese Men?

Over 20 years ago, the TV series “Foreign Babes in Beijing” (洋妞在北京) became a sensation across China. Say what you want about the show – which Rachel DeWoskin, one of the show’s stars, described as “an apt, if tacky, example of China’s very conflicted feelings about the West“ – I couldn’t help thinking about it recently after moving to China’s great capital city. That’s because there’s one thing I’ve noticed about this city: there are a LOT of AMWF (Asian male, Western female) couples who call Beijing home.

Among the online groups of Western women with Chinese husbands I belong to, the Beijing group stands out for a very simple reason – sheer numbers. It has over 100 ladies! This blows my mind. Back in Hangzhou, I felt lucky to find one or two in the city (even though Hangzhou is pretty large, expats tend to come and go pretty quickly, making it difficult to connect to new folks). But here, there are so many women it could take me months, if not nearly a year, to meet all of them.

In my opinion, this is a good problem to have. A very good problem.

So I’ve been thinking about Beijing and its status as the unofficial epicenter of the AMWF community in China. What makes Beijing the number one city for couples of Western women and Chinese men? It’s even more intriguing to me because Shanghai appears to have a slight advantage over Beijing among foreigners as a whole (see this BBC report and this story from the China Daily).

So why Beijing over, say, Shanghai?

Is it a matter of job opportunities? (One foreign woman with a Chinese husband, who happens to live in Shanghai, once privately shared her frustrations over the city’s job market, which she considered stagnant compared to Beijing). Do more of us come as university students, landing in the one city that attracts the most foreigners to study abroad? Is it the wealth of resources in town, from great schools and hospitals to an airport connected to every major city across the globe? Or are we simply more enamored with Beijing’s rich cultural and historical traditions reflected in the many superlative sightseeing attractions here, from the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven to the Great Wall?

Whatever the reason, I’m loving this city just for the opportunity to have some good company with fellow yangxifu (the foreign wives of Chinese men) on a regular basis.

And if China’s entertainment industry ever finds out about Beijing’s pre-eminence among AMWF couples, maybe they’ll decide it’s high time for a proper “Foreign Babes in Beijing” sequel. But this time, it’ll be “Foreign Wives in Beijing.” 😉

Do you think Beijing is China’s best city to live in? Why or why not?

4 Chinese Curse Words That Sound Funny in Literal Translation, But Are Actually Serious

By Loozrboy – Watch your language, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40097524

I married a Chinese man and we share a bilingual relationship in Chinese and English. So it was inevitable that one day my language learning would extend to that forbidden territory – cursing in Mandarin Chinese.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not the kind of woman who belongs in a Quentin Tarantino movie, dropping F-bombs at gunshot speed. But let’s face it — there are moments that demand a well-chosen curse word. So why not know a few in Mandarin Chinese?

But when it comes to curse words, the most fascinating ones are the least expected. You know, words that don’t necessarily sound like curse words on literal translation. (In fact, they can actually pack a serious punch, so be careful about how you use them.)

Here are four fascinating curse words in Mandarin Chinese that, on literal translation, might sound funny to English speakers. Just remember — use them with care, because whoever hears you might not laugh in return. 😉

狗兔崽子, gǒutùzǎizi – this could literally translate to “dog and rabbit bastards.” I confess, I busted up with laughter when I first heard this curse word. That’s because I was imagining dogs and rabbits trying to mate with each other – how could you not laugh over that?

That said, this curse word actually packs a punch. It’s the Chinese equivalent of SOB. Now you know.

畜生不如, chùshengbùrú – “No better than wild beasts.” The first time I heard this choice curse word, it fell from the lips of an elderly relative in the family, after her husband chose to rudely light up his cigarette indoors despite her pleas.

I love that woman.

While the translation sounds tame enough, it isn’t in Mandarin Chinese. I’ve seen folks translate it as you f***ing beast or simply a-hole.

王八蛋, wángbādàn – you could rewrite this classic curse word into English as “the king of eight eggs.” “egg of a tortoise.” But if you think it’s sounds just as innocuous as the literal translation, you’d be wrong. It actually comes off more like a really strong term for “bastard” or even that bad word for anus. Careful guys.

鬼子,guǐzi – who hasn’t heard this other classic curse word that translates as “devil” or “demon” or “foreign invaders”? Besides, “gui” can also mean “ghost,” so you could be forgiven for thinking this isn’t all that strong.

Except you’d be wrong on that. It actually can be as potent as that World War II ethnic slur against the Japanese — yeah, that word — which is also one definition for the term.

Whoa.

Do you have examples of curse words that sound funny in literal translation, but pack a punch in reality?

“You Must Be Russian” – On Mistaken Identity in China and America

“She must be Russian…even her hat is Russian.” 😉

“Are you Russian?” someone asked me the other day here in Hangzhou.

It felt like a total a palm-in-face moment. After all, hadn’t he read my CV, which explicitly stated I was an American, in bold letters?

But the truth is, I had heard this same question – which more often came out as a statement (“She’s Russian”) – hundreds of times here in China. I can’t tell you the many times I’ve been standing on a metro or riding the bus, and all of a sudden I catch someone whispering in Chinese that I’m Russian, never knowing that I understood their every single word.

The thing is, I do understand where this comes from. Because I’ve heard many other white foreign women married to Chinese men share similar stories of being called citizens of China’s Northerly neighbor. Given Russia’s promixity, it’s not surprising.

But yet…sometimes the conclusion isn’t flattering either. Not when some people think we’re Russian prostitutes.

Sadly, I’ve heard stories from white women in China who were stalked and even nearly raped because someone assumed they were “for hire”. My Chinese husband, who has seen how some men look at me (and not always in a good way), makes it his duty to “protect my butt” from wandering eyes.

But here’s the fascinating thing in my case – Americans have also mistaken me for being Russian. Yes, Americans.

In fact, when I was at university, I was stopped on two occasions and explicitly asked if I wasn’t from Russia.

I had to confess feeling a little strange. What was it about me that prompted them to think this? Then again, this is America, a country where news giant CNN actually ran a map showing Hong Kong as part of South America.

Come to think of it, now that’s a true palm-in-face moment.

Do you have any stories of mistaken identity?

Are China’s AMWF Couples Rarer Just Because Only 25% of Foreigners in China Are Women?

A couple weeks ago, I happened to share a Global Times article titled, “When a Chinese Man Loves a White Woman”, which mentioned me and this blog. Naturally, it generated some conversation on social media. One of the comments came from a guy, asking why the author hadn’t mentioned the preponderance of male foreigners as a reason for the rarity of couples of Western women and Chinese men in China.

For those of you who don’t know, approximately 75 percent of the foreign population in China is in fact male.

It would be tempting to point to this gender imbalance as the primary explanation for why couples of Western women and Asian men are such a minority. But if you did, you’d be missing the big picture.

After all, this gender imbalance fails to explain why there are so few AMWF couples around the world, and why even Chinese American men don’t feel the love from their fellow Americans (see the essay “Are Asian Men Undateable?”). If Asian men who were born and raised in the West have it tough in the dating world, we could hardly expect better for Asian foreign men who come to the West for work or education.

I would argue, then, that even if the foreign population in China was equally split among gender – 50 percent female and 50 percent male – you would still see an imbalance in the interracial dating world in China. You would still see far more couples of Western men and Asian women, and far fewer couples of Western women and Asian men.

The reality is, prejudices and stereotypes are slow to fade. Even 50 years after the Loving versus Virginia US Supreme Court decision, interracial couples still feel the sting of discrimination from their fellow Americans (as reported by NPR). Meanwhile, Hollywood has an abysmal record when it comes to featuring interracial romance on the screen overall (and we’re not even talking about just AMWF couples here).

It’s going to take a lot more than enticing more foreign women to come to China to boost the numbers of Western women and Asian men in love over here.

P.S.: If you’re wondering why couples of Western women and Asian men are so rare, have a look at On the Rarity of Foreign Women and Chinese Boyfriends/Chinese Husbands. See also my piece for the Huffington Post titled Why Won’t Western Women Date Chinese Men?

To The Girl Tired of Hearing, “Why Would You Date Chinese Men?”

The other day, you told me how people constantly ask you, “Why would you date Chinese men?” You recalled that girl who grimaced at you just because you dared to date men in China. You said you felt like you were spending so much energy and time trying to defend your choices. You sounded tired of it all.

Believe me, I understand. Your comments brought me back to my first year in China, when I was sitting around the lunch table with my foreign female colleagues. One woman said, “When I arrive at the airport in America, the first thing I notice is the men, how handsome and how tall they are. I’ll just stare at them for hours, as if I were Chinese and had never seen a foreign man before in my life.” I knew what she was getting at, though another foreign female colleague put it more bluntly. “Chinese men don’t really seem that attractive.”

Even though I understood their every word, I couldn’t understand how they could brand an entire population of men as undateable. China is, after all, a country of nearly 1.4 billion people – and more people means more diversity and, ultimately, more great men.

It would take me years before I understood the depths of this problem – why Western women won’t date Chinese men. But I don’t need to tell you all this. You know it as well as I do. You’ve lived it.

But what do you do when the people around you just don’t get it? When they keep annoying you with the same worn-out questions about why you’d dare to date Chinese men?

Then again, who says you have to justify anything?

There’s nothing wrong with your decision to date Chinese men. Love is love. In a world rocked by so much hatred, fear and uncertainty, shouldn’t we all be delighted when someone gives their heart to someone else? Doesn’t that tiny act of goodness make the earth just a little bit brighter for everyone? Why should it matter that person happens to be a Chinese man?

It’s sad when people are so caught up in their own stereotypes about an entire group of people that they’re blinded to the possibility of happiness for someone like you.

But what’s worse is when they try to verbally walk you into a corner, putting you on the defensive for something nobody needs to defend in the first place.

So next time someone asks you “Why would you date Chinese men?” it’s time to put their proposed conversation in perspective. You might start with, “Why don’t you have something better to say?”