Why “white loser laowai & Chinese women” is a thorny topic

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(photo by Daniel R. Blume via Flickr.com)

Yesterday, I received an e-mail from a friend who urged me to read an essay by Virginia Proud of Tales of Expatria. She dubbed the essay “controversial” but then again, as she put it “blogs thrive on controversy” and encouraged me to introduce the topic. Well, she said the magic word — “controversy” — so of course, I immediately clicked on the link and dove into the first paragraph.

But when I finished the essay, a feeling of dread settled over me…which had nothing to do with Virginia’s essay per se.

First off, let me say that I thoroughly enjoyed the essay. The writing was exceptional — humorous, thoughtful and self-reflective — and you could clearly tell that Virginia has, as you might say, “been around the global block” in her own experiences as an expat.

No, my dread stemmed from the subject itself, which I’ll let Virginia describe for you:

If you spend enough time in Expatria you’ll meet this chap, we affectionately call him the LBH. The Loser Back Home. Best described as someone you wouldn’t normally touch with a barge pole, but transplanted to foreign soil, is suddenly hot property, especially with attractive, young local women….

The LBH has always been with us and probably always will be. I remember my first LBH encounters as a teenager, when my family lived in Hong Kong. I couldn’t understand these corpulent old buggers with their gorgeous Chinese wives, until my mother pointed out their diamonds. It was the glory days of British rule and massive salaries and no one cared if the men were boring, ugly, stupid, or even mean. But then again, money and power has always been enough to make men wildly attractive, even back home….

Yes, the LBH — or, as people call him here in China, the Loser Laowai. Or for the purposes of this blog, the white Loser Laowai who only dates local Chinese women.

To me, this topic feels like the “skeleton in the closet” in the realm of cross-cultural and interracial dating in China — a topic so icky I’ve wanted to stay far, far away from it. And in the few times I’ve gathered the gumption to attempt a blog post on it in the past, invariably I abandoned my drafts and turned my attention to other topics.

Yet Virginia was able to produce a splendid essay that, to an extent, dealt with this topic, and I can’t help but wonder if it’s a matter of perspective. After all, Virginia, who is originally from Australia, currently calls Budapest, Hungary home and referred to this LBH in a more universal sense. She doesn’t have to address the proverbial “panda in the room” that immediately comes to mind once you move the topic to China — yellow fever. And for the purposes of this blog post, I’m referring to those white Laowai men who prefer Asians and potentially have highly racialized notions about Asian women.

See what I mean? Loaded stuff.

In my opinion the majority of white men with Chinese women do NOT fall into this “Loser Laowai” category. But still, we all know there are white loser laowai out there hooking up with Chinese women. And like the yellow fever phenomenon, their existence does have ramifications for couples of white men and Chinese women around the world. As Christine Tan of Shanghai Shiok wrote:

The problem, to me, is that shallow, superficial relationships between white men and Asian women vastly outnumber the same sort of suspicious pairings between Asian men and white women. And sadly, these types of WM/AF pairings are the most visible ones, because they often create spectacles of themselves….They are the Douchebags, the Jerks, and the Ambitious who think dating a white man or Asian woman betters them, financially or socially….those are the types of WM/AF pairings we remember, because they were too in-your-face to forget.

Which unfortunately could lead to the wrong assumptions when you see a white man and an Chinese woman walking down the street. Again, as Christine wrote:

I know that the white male/Asian female pairing has numerous negative associations attached to it. Words that immediately come to mind: Opportunistic. Gold-digger. Fetish. Sexualization. White-worship. Money. Exploitation. Lust. Pinkerton Syndrome. ‘Sarong Party Girl’ behavior was something I was warned against growing up.

I think a lot about why those associations exist. There are poorer women in China and the rest of Asia who view a foreign man as a meal ticket. There are Asian women who only date white men because most of the men they meet are white, and/or they find them more culturally/sexually appealing. There are white men who only date Asian women because of the society they live in — where the women are mostly Asian — or yes, they do find Asian women more culturally/sexually appealing. There are white men who come to Asia to hook up with local women in certain seedier places. There are local women who go to these places to hook up with the white men who come to Asia.

But then there are cases like mine — a mutual friend introduces a man and a woman and they get along, they like each other, they both like eating, and books, and the Barbie store. And oh, by the way, they happen to be white and Asian, respectively.

Enough said.

There’s another side to this topic of white Loser Laowai who only date Chinese women — when the men justify their dating choices by insulting the women back home, which Virginia alludes to in her essay. I’ve addressed this before and find it abhorrent that anyone would defend their relationship in such a hateful way. But it happens, most often in anonymous online forums. And because the expat gender balance is so skewed — far more expat men, who are overwhelming white, than women — well, let’s say if you’re a woman like me, you need a lot of courage to speak up about it in public.

Additionally, let’s not forget what Virginia mentioned near the end of the post: “And the fall out of all this, of course, lands on the head of the single expat women, who need to keep adjusting their ideas of ‘attractive’ as their dating pool starts to feel more like a puddle.” Or in other words, it’s the China Daily article published a few years back titled Foreign women label [China] a dating wasteland. This is also thorny territory…because then the question comes, why aren’t they interested in dating Chinese men? Some women have understandable reservations (for example, they’re not interested in marriage or getting too serious in a relationship) but others exclude locals for completely superficial reasons, often based on stereotypes.

Ugh.

In the end, I’ll never be able to write something like Virginia, not with all the baggage that accompanies this idea of white Laowai Losers with Chinese women. Still, I believe the subject deserves a conclusion. So, as someone who writes about relationships, perhaps it’s fitting that I sum this up with a phrase used on dating sites around the world: it’s complicated.

P.S.: For further reading on this “thorny topic”, I recommend They’re So Beautiful, the companion website to the compelling documentary Seeking Asian Female.