The Short Version: Nearly a decade ago, blogger Jocelyn Eikenburg noticed the lack of online stories about Western women in relationships with Asian men. But she had a unique perspective on the situation after falling in love with an Asian man while teaching in China. So Jocelyn started Speaking of China, a blog detailing her life journey, and she quickly realized she wasn’t alone. Over the years, the blog has transformed into an advice column and community of readers who discuss a broad spectrum of interracial and intercultural relationship issues. It has become a resource for people who struggle against cultural norms to keep their love strong.
As a Caucasian woman married to a Chinese man, Jocelyn realized that there weren’t many online resources that described what it’s like to date — or marry someone — across those two particular cultures. Her blog, Speaking of China, is a personal look at her life, written so that readers can relate, no matter what kind of relationship they’re in.
“I write from the heart, and I believe that’s the kind of passion and warmth you’ll find in the posts on Speaking of China,” Jocelyn said. “Some have lauded my work for showing empathy and for giving readers a place to feel heard and understood.”
People close to me know this has been an extraordinary busy month — which is why I’m late in sharing some good news.
Earlier this month, the Global Times featured me (along with two other women, including fellow blogger Jo Bai of Life Behind the Wall) in an article titled Marrying Chinese Men Means Less Talk, but More Respect and More Help in the Household.
Jocelyn Eikenburg, who lives in Beijing and founded the popular expat blog Speaking of China, describes being married to her Chinese husband as “intercultural, interracial, international and bilingual.”
Like De Leye, Eikenburg also found that there are major differences in the way she and her husband express their feelings. Growing up in the US, she watched her parents express love through words, kisses and hugs.
“Here in China, love is something that is shown through actions, such as making you your favorite dinner or buying you something special, and married Chinese men are less likely to kiss or hug their spouses in front of others.” …
Eikenburg says her husband is wonderful at home. He does a lot of housework and always helps prepare dinner. His ideas about couples sharing the work might have been influenced by his parents. When he was growing up in rural Zhejiang Province, both of his parents had to work and also helped around the house, she said.
“There’s no doubt that in a country as large as China, there are regional differences in terms of culture and that may influence what families tend to consider the norm in marriages and households. And I have heard some of these ideas, such as how Shanghai men supposedly make great husbands,” she said.
“My husband’s family is also an example of a household that might not have followed the typical pattern for the village, which reminds me that it’s always important to keep an open mind and never assume that a person will fall in line with the general beliefs or stereotypes.”
Eikenburg also noted that there is a drastic difference on this point between the urban areas and the countryside.
“I’m pleased that my brother-in-law and sister-in-law, who have a daughter, always tell her that they want her to go to college and do well in school; that’s encouraging to see.”
American Jocelyn Eikenburg, founder of the popular Speaking of China blog has played a key role in the integration of the global WWAM community.
“Why don’t Western women date Asian men?” one of Eikenburg’s articles featured in the Huffington Post, wisely invited women to look at the vast ethnic and cultural diversity of Chinese men instead of writing them all off per se as a single, homogenized race.
A huge thanks to Katrin Büchenbacher for inviting me to be a part of the article, which begins like this:
The brunette with sparkling blue eyes beneath long eyelashes could pass for any American exchange student. Dressed in a simple khaki shirt, blue jeans and a spiky bronze necklace, she is stuck in the Shanghai traffic, running late for her video shoot with the Global Times Metro Shanghai. What sets this young lady, Vicky, apart from other expats in this city, however, is the person sitting next to her – a tall, handsome man in a crisp white shirt, speaking with a deep, confident voice. It’s her long-term boyfriend, a Chinese national.
Chinese men dating or married to foreign women are still a rather rare form of interracial love. When they walk down the streets holding hands, they can literally feel people staring at them and whispering to each other, or even pointing fingers.
It’s so delightful to reside in a city built around a historic lake fringed by some of the most celebrated gardens in China, along with verdant mountains and hidden mountain trails as well as a sizable wetland park. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that one of the most popular cities in China boasts so much green space and so many opportunities for enjoying the outdoors.
What do you dislike about your expat life?
I dislike having to contend with secondhand smoke in restaurants and public places, even though there’s a smoking ban; my coping strategy has been to be selective about where I dine out and only patronize restaurants that offer a smoke-free and clean environment. Traffic can be stressful here too because you’re contending with a variety of different vehicles (from cars and trucks to motorbikes, bicycles and three-wheeled carts jammed with cargo) and a driving style that tends to be more aggressive.
What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?
One of the biggest cultural differences I’ve noticed is how families and friends seem to be much more close-knit here in China, compared to what I was used to growing up in a white family in Ohio. I’ve witnessed how friends and family will go out of their way to help and support their loved ones, whether that’s lending you money for hospital bills, giving you a place to stay in town any time you need it (no questions asked), or finding you a tailor when you have a dress emergency and need it done in 24 hours (true story!). While it does mean more responsibility for everyone, including yourself, it’s also a great relief knowing that the people you care about really are there for you.
For Jocelyn Eikenburg, a 38-year-old American who has been in China for seven and a half years, shopping for Chinese New Year is a very important annual celebration, just like Christmas.
“It’s interesting because, in some ways, the shopping culture reminds me of preparing for the Christmas season back in the US. Like Christmas, we spend a lot of time shopping for gifts to family and friends,” said Eikenburg, who now resides in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province with her Chinese husband.
She bought all kinds of presents for her family and friends and tries to stick to the colors of the festival, even when buying foreign goods. This year, she bought a large crate of imported Spanish red wine to give as a gift. The wine bottles have a festive red label embossed with gold grape vines, and her husband’s family love drinking red wine during the holidays, so it’s a perfect gift for Chinese New Year, Eikenburg said.
Chinese traditional food and snacks are also vital to the new year tradition. Every year, Eikenburg and her husband will help the family prepare what they call miguo in the local dialect, a type of savory turnover made with rice dough and filled with vegetables.
Everyone, from her husband’s grandmother to her five-year-old niece, sits around the table rolling out the dough, filling the turnovers, and sealing them.
“It’s one of my favorite family moments from Chinese New Year, just being together with everyone to make this traditional snack,” said Eikenburg.
I still can’t believe I’m writing these words — I’m going to be on CCTV (that’s China Central Television)! Specifically, the CCTV English language show called “Crossover” (it’s a cross-cultural talk show — our episode is titled “foreign wives in China”) which will air sometime in August or September of this year. (I’ll let you know when.)
Having spent so many years in China, I know CCTV — and have loved many of their shows. Plus, it’s CCTV! The thought of being on China’s biggest and most important television network sent waves of excitement through my body. So I didn’t hesitate — I said, “Yes, I’d love to!”
In May, I took part in a pre-interview session via Skype with Zhou Lei and Eyee Hsu, the co-host of “Crossover”. Later that week, Zhou Lei sent me an e-mail officially inviting me to Beijing to film a show on May 27 — and offering to cover my travel and hotel costs. (Double wow!) Who could say no to that?
With the invitation in hand, I started thinking about one of the most basic questions — what to wear? Since I didn’t have anything good for TV (and I live in a country where my size, while typical in America, is impossible to buy) I decided to find a tailor who could create the perfect dress for me. With the help of my one of my husband’s close college friends, we discovered this brilliant tailor in the Hangzhou area — she created this lovely little qipao that I dubbed “the magic dress”! I gasped the moment I first laid eyes on it — I just knew it would give me extra confidence in front of the cameras.
Zhou Lei also sent me an outline about a week ahead of taping the show. That’s when I discovered I would be sharing the spotlight with two incredibly talented young foreign women with Chinese husbands — Jess Meider (an amazing musician, performer, composer and teacher who has made her mark in Beijing as an outstanding jazz vocalist and singer-songwriter) and Marie Smurthwaite (a talented performer and member of a girl group called “5 Spice”). Even better, we were able to connect on WeChat before the program, so I got the chance to know them a little before going on stage.
Finally, this past Tuesday, I boarded an Air China flight bound for Beijing — feeling thrilled and a little nervous at the same time! (It was my first time on TV, can you blame me?)
I arrived in Beijing Tuesday afternoon and it was dark by the time I emerged from the subway station closest to my hotel. When I walked out, the CCTV Headquarters stretched across the sky, shining like a promise of great things to come.
Zhou Lei had generously checked me into my hotel, the Chaoyang Hotel, ahead of time (thank you so much!) so it was a breeze getting into my room for the night. I spent most of the evening reading through the outline and thinking about how I might answer the questions during our conversation.
The following day, I arrived at the South Gate of CCTV Headquarters at 1pm. The building glinted in the sunshine while I tried not to sweat too much (it was a hot, balmy day — 35 degrees Celsius or 95 degrees Fahrenheit)!
They run tight security at CCTV — and why wouldn’t they? It’s one of the most important buildings in Beijing, if not China. Everyone needs an escort inside and must pass through more than one screening. Fortunately, I ran into Jess Meider at the entrance so the two of us could walk inside together (along with our escort, Jeff Lau). I loved Jess instantly!
The staff brought us into the makeup room, where we were joined by Marie (who I also loved!). I was so grateful that the show’s makeup artists were able to help us with our makeup (I’ve never been skilled in that department!) and hair. Marie also graciously lent me her extra pair of high-heeled shoes, which matched my dress far better than my own pair. Thank you, Marie!
Then it was time to get dressed and enter the “Crossover” TV set. And it’s a funny thing — when I finally marched onto the set and sat myself down on the creamy white couches on set, my nerves were suddenly replaced with this overwhelming sense of excitement.
Having Eyee Hsu as our host made the show. She is so down-to-earth and fun to be around, not to mention incredibly generous. When everyone noticed I didn’t have any earrings to wear (yeah, forgot that one), she immediately took hers out and lent them to me for the show. Thank you, Eyee!
Before the cameras started running, the staff had us adjust our positions (and, in my case, my dress) to look good for the show.
Then before I knew it, the cameras were rolling and Eyee began introducing the show as well as the three of us. We discussed everything from how we met our husbands and cultural differences we’ve experienced to our wedding stories and the differences between dating Western guys versus Chinese guys. During the show, Marie and her husband King sang a beautiful song in Chinese, and later Jess performed an incredible song of her own with her band Chinatown. I was truly blown away with their talent!
Around 5:30pm, we all left the CCTV building together — with my heart dancing from the amazing experience of being filmed for a show. I wished I could have spent more time with Jess and Marie, who were truly delightful company on stage and off. I also wished I had more time to see my friends in Beijing. But I had things to do back in Hangzhou and knew it would all have to wait for another trip to Beijing and another time.
Thank you to everyone at CCTV for an amazing time and I can’t wait to see the episode when it officially airs later this year!
Titled “Why Won’t Western Women Date Chinese Men?”, it’s my personal exploration of a topic close to my own heart. After reading a few too many misleading articles on the subject this year, I felt it was time for me to speak out.
…when I think about the global reach of this problem, and the fact that it’s even tough for Western-born Chinese to score a date outside of their own race, I know deep down that cultural differences — as much as they matter in relationships — cannot alone account for why few Western women date Chinese men. When I think about how a racist caricature from Hollywood gets tossed around among expats as a symbol of Chinese men — and Westerners from around the world harbor consistently negative views of Chinese men — I realize there’s a dark side to this whole discussion.
I’ve been busy behind the scenes this week, including getting interviewed by Chinese-Tools.com! In the interview, which just went up Wednesday evening, I discuss everything from dating advice to what brought me to China and what I’ve learned from blogging.
Intrigued? Here’s an excerpt from the interview, where I’m talking about intercultural relationships:
For example, growing up in the US, I was socialized in a home where my parents openly showed their affection for each other and us through hugging and kissing and saying things like “I love you.” My husband grew up in a home where public displays of affection just aren’t a part of life; nobody hugs or kisses each other, or even says “I love you!” It could be very easy for someone to make a conclusion about my husband like, “Oh, he’s not that romantic because he doesn’t like to kiss in public.” And that conclusion would be incredibly wrong! In fact, my husband is super-romantic, often in the most surprising ways.
“From the first time I started to love a Chinese man, hiding became part of my life,” says American Jocelyn Eikenburg.
She had moved to Shanghai in 2003 to be with her now-husband Jun Yu.
“In the past, students had been expelled for dating or marrying foreigners. We didn’t know what would happen if the university administration found out, so we told no-one he was living off-campus with me,” she says.
A foreign woman with a Chinese man is a rare pairing.
Within her small expat community the social isolation was almost immediate. She felt alienated by her girlfriends, who would openly express their distaste for Chinese men.
“I felt alone in being married to a Chinese man and I wanted to find other people to connect with,” says Ms Eikenburg about her decision in 2009 to share her experiences on her blog, Speaking of China.
My thanks to BBC Journalist Zoe Murphy for contacting me for an interview. You can visit the BBC News website to read the full article in its entirety. And as always, if you love it, share it!
And stay tuned — Zoe Murphy also interviewed Jo of Life Behind the Wall, so expect to see Jo on the BBC website as well.
P.S.: Note that the article originally misspelled my last name (which I’ve corrected in the quote above and have requested that the BBC correct). So in case you’re doing a double take when you’re reading it, no, it’s still Eikenburg.
Natalie is also interviewing Jo Gan of the fabulous Life Behind the Wall about her experiences as a Black woman in China (with a Chinese husband) and also Michelle Guo, a Chinese American who blogs in part about life with her Mainland Chinese husband. Stay tuned for those interviews coming up this week and next week!
Privacy & Cookies Policy
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.
Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and is used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. It is mandatory to procure user consent prior to running these cookies on your website.