The YA novel Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell features a white girl and a biracial Korean boy falling in love in high school. While this sounds like just the kind of book I’d embrace and promote on this blog, Eleanor & Park is actually rather racist.
This novel dishes up awful representation of Asian characters, which will then get translated onto the big screen. And the thing is, such representation in the media does indeed matter.
A recent article titled The Psychology of Racism noted that media is one of the major areas that can amplify racism, as summarized in a post on Psychology Today:
The sixth factor the authors identify as contributing to racism in America is the media. The authors cite clear evidence that demonstrates people internalize what they watch on TV. A very early example of this research occurs in a 1963 study where preschool children witness aggression on TV and then imitate that aggression in their lives. The paper is the first in a large body of research that demonstrates how people internalize what they see in the media. The authors also cite clear evidence that the American media portrays idealized representations of White Americans and marginalizes and minimizes people who are not White.
So problematic portrayals, such as in Eleanor & Park, do have real-world consequences in terms of racism. In this case, the forthcoming film will further bolster negative stereotypes about Asians.
Nevertheless, it’s just not right that Eleanor & Park became a best-seller and now will be made into a film, as noted in Vice:
…as books like Eleanor & Park continue to find success, the representation conversation will churn on with depressing regularity. It hurts to see that not only has a white author, catering to young people, has sailed along without reckoning with her racism, her fetishization and her lazy caricatures; she’s been rewarded with even more success. It’s hard to blame Asian Americans for focusing on the things that make us feel invisible, even if these debates may muffle the least visible among us.
What do you think about the outcry over racism in Eleanor and Park and the forthcoming film?
“One evening, I drank heavily and the next morning I awoke to find a girl lying by my side. At the time I was incredibly embarrassed, and she was very shocked, because the night before she had also drank a lot. We couldn’t even remember who checked us into the room.”
This is the final installment of my English translation of a Chinese-language article on Vice.cn featuring interviews with four Chinese men who dated foreign women. Today’s interview is with a journalist and writer in Beijing who had many foreign girlfriends when he lived in southern Europe, including one he met the morning after a night of revelry under surprising circumstances.
28 years old, journalist/writer, living in Beijing
VICE: I heard you’ve had many foreign girlfriends.
I’ve had some. That’s because in my former media work, I would often get sent out of the country. So I would contact with many people, mainly in southern Europe. Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece — I’ve lived for at least half a year or longer in all of them, and got to know many women.
Could you share some impressive stories?
Ha ha, there are quite many. The countries I went to are relatively laid-back. The economies are not that developed, but the flavor of life is very strong and the people are very warm. I remember the first time I went out with a foreigner was with a Portuguese girl. At that time I was really young, just 24 and it was my first time to live independently overseas. One evening, I drank heavily and the next morning I awoke to find a girl lying by my side. At the time I was incredibly embarrassed, and she was very shocked, because the night before she had also drank a lot. We couldn’t even remember who checked us into the room. Later we went downstairs to the reception desk to find someone to ask about this, and then went to a bar looking for friends to inquire about what happened the previous night. The whole process was really quite ridiculous, but also very romantic. That evening we were once again having dinner together, and then continued to reserve a hotel room. Everything just happened naturally.
Have you had a long-term relationship with any of them?
Yes, she was French. But I don’t really want to share this story, it’s a little painful and I haven’t yet gotten over it.
With so many foreign girlfriends, do you feel like you’ve brought honor to your country?
No. Because my work was often overseas, my circle of friends included people of all different nationalities. To me, the individual means more than the nation.
As a Chinese guy, it’s rare to date so many foreign girls, right?
Before, I had never really thought about it, because this kind of situation is really uncommon. But after the first time I did, I realized that even thinking about this was a way of underestimating myself. Even though Chinese men in the eyes of foreigners are mostly thought of as martial arts experts or bespectacled geeks, Westerners have a really narrow understanding of us. But when it comes to actual relationships, Western women are willing to get to know me well.
So Western stereotypes about Chinese men haven’t affected your relations with foreign women?
After I got to know that first Portuguese girl, they affected me less and less. The individual differences between women are really not that big. Every person’s needs are very similar, especially emotional ones. Everyone needs to be loved, cared for, acknowledged. But because of culture, these might manifest themselves in different ways. Individual differences are much greater than differences because of country, culture or race. Once I no longer paid attention to the sense of inferiority brought by these stereotypes, I was more confident and smooth in my encounters with foreign girls. It’s like a guy from Henan chasing a girl from Jiangsu – what stereotypes would he consider?
Are there a lot of Chinese men around you together with foreign women?
Very many, and it has always been their Chinese character that attracts the girls. One friend went to university in Argentina and he said, “Actually, foreigners have a much stronger curiosity about Easterners because we’re more mysterious, and who wouldn’t want to try something new?”So the point is that, for this person, at the appropriate time their particular traits are a plus.
Did these women gain any new impressions of Chinese men because of you?
Of course. When I was dating them, I would share some Chinese culture with them and prepare some Chinese dishes for them. Although some things are cultural differences brought about by history, having a new interpretation is always better than unilaterally listening to Western media.
But does it seem easier for Chinese girls to be together with foreigners?
Because in the eyes of foreigners, Asian men have a lower status than Asian women. The typical stereotype of Chinese, or say Asian men, among other countries is: high achievers at school, introverted. These are the qualities that we carry with us. Capitalist culture distorts this notion in books, movies and the media. So who would be willing go on a date with some guy who is not even a little cool?
But for women, although some were rather quietly intelligent when they were young, when they leave the country they can easily fit right in. On one hand it’s related to how women have a strong tolerance. On the other, it’s that Western culture is more accepting of Chinese women. And when you look closely at foreign men with Asian women, for the most part they are very close to each other’s cultural traits, and it’s hard to see Western men following the living habits of Eastern women. That’s because Western men, in today’s mainstream cognition, have an advantaged position in terms of skin color and gender, the symbolic meaning of the more “advanced” human existence. So naturally it will be easier for them to find people no matter where they are.
Do you have any advice for Chinese men who want to pursue foreign women?
You only need to remember this: you and her are both people.
“Her name was Olivia, and she was extremely passionate. … I still remember when I handed the drink to her, the way I felt when she raised her head to look at me. The moment our eyes met, I froze, because her laughter was too enchanting.”
This is the second installment of my English translation of a Chinese-language article on Vice.cn featuring interviews with four Chinese men who dated foreign women. Today’s interview is with a Chinese man who is an architect living in England, and he has dated women from many different countries there.
VICE: From what countries are the women you’ve dated?
Actually quite a few. America, England, Brazil, South Korea, Poland, Vietnam, Switzerland. I came in contact with all of these women after arriving in England to study abroad.
Which girl left the deepest impression with you?
Currently it’s this girl from Brazil. Her name was Olivia, and she was extremely passionate. I was particularly impressed by her when we first met. I worked at a pub at the time, and she came by herself to have a drink. I still remember when I handed the drink to her, the way I felt when she raised her head to look at me. The moment our eyes met, I froze, because her laughter was too enchanting. I think I must have stood there for a while, and now that I think about it, I imagine I must have looked especially ridiculous. I also remember when she noticed I didn’t say anything, she asked one thing: “What do you find in my eyes?” She was laughing as she asked me. I will never forget this.
Having dated so many foreign girls, do you have any vanity or sense of pride?
Yes, in China. Many people will look at me, so there times when I feel a little vanity. And overseas as well. Even though people won’t say so, but I’ve felt that they think it’s strange to see white women and Asian men together, so I can feel I am relatively special.
Why do you think Westerners feel it’s strange? Is it because of stereotypes about Asian men?
Exactly. Most people believe Asian men, particularly Chinese men, are very nerdy. Dating Asian men, it’s just like what we call “science and engineering dudes,” and these men are not the most popular no matter where you are. Western women prefer athletic, humorous and sociable guys, as they were taught by their culture. It’s the complete opposite of our educational environment. Of course, there are times when I feel that this stereotype has some basis.
Does this influence your relationships with foreign girls?
Yes. Honestly speaking, especially in England, the locals are very traditional. My former English girlfriend didn’t have a high estimation of Eastern culture, and thought that the Eastern way of being more restrained was not a good characteristic. Her only goal to date me was to learn about Eastern culture, so she could add some content to her report…she always said, “All of my friends don’t like Chinese men because they think you’re too awkward.” But I felt her xenophobia was also rather awkward.
Are there many Chinese men around you who have dated foreign girls?
Very few. I only know of one friend who has.
Is it easier for Chinese women to find foreign boyfriends?
Yes. There’s a big difference in how foreigners treat Chinese men and Chinese women. For example, when there’s a party, the best place for people to hook up, they will invite the Chinese women who are studying with us to go, but won’t invite Chinese men. It clearly shows that, overseas, Chinese men are not as welcome as a group.
As a Chinese man, how do you break through this kind of “dating barrier”?
To connect with foreign women, you need a lot of confidence. This is the core problem, which affects your language, communication and personal charisma. So, if you want to date foreign women, perhaps you need to have confidence in yourself first. I know many guys who were these huge ladies’ men in China that, after coming to England, never mind that they had no luck with the women, they found it was strenuous to get accustomed to life overseas.
When I first went there I was like that, I had no confidence to speak up among foreigners. But in China, a foreign man who can’t even speak Chinese clearly can get a Chinese girlfriend. It’s not just that they are more “coddled” because Chinese women like foreign men. It’s also that foreign men will confidently express themselves no matter what, and let others get to know them.
An article on the Chinese version of Vice caught my attention, with very personal interviews with Chinese men on their experiences and perspectives on dating foreign women. Intimate and illuminating, the stories provide a much-needed Chinese perspective on relationships between Chinese men and Western women and also touch upon stereotypes and prejudice. I’ve translated the piece in full from Chinese to English — and because it’s a long piece, I am sharing it in four installments.
Today’s first installment includes the introduction to the article as well as an interview with an IT specialist in Harbin, China, that might just make you blush a little. Stay tuned for the second, third and final installments!
“Tell me, why do your Chinese women all like our foreign men?”
“All of my foreign friends in China, even those who are considered the most unpopular men, all of them can find girlfriends here, and the girls are all quite pretty. Sometimes I think it is your cultural problem.”
“Don’t say anymore, OK? I already told you, this topic is meaningless.”
“But I really think it’s a problem of your culture.”
“Yes, our culture has problems, so let’s break up.”
For the last time, this was the last time I talked about this topic with my presumptuous white boyfriend. Of course, it was hard to say whether he really was my boyfriend. We only just used to hang out often, and we never clarified our relationship. When we were together for that half year, we had countless discussions on these issues – first these were discussions, then they evolved into disputes and arguments. Until the day before yesterday, I was finally tired and chose to break up.
I’m not a blind regionalist who can’t stop defending China’s exceptional culture with 5,000 years of history. But every time I hear this kind of talk, I can’t help thinking that the man who made that point is very low. On the contrary, what I’m more interested in, is that for many outstanding Chinese men around me while living abroad, their living environment has still not escaped the Chinese community, and that emotionally speaking, they have almost never landed in the Western world.
I don’t know if this counts as another manifestation of some gender inequality, or if it is the existing reality of cultural colonization. Why it is that so few Asian men are together with white women? What is it that created this cultural stereotype? White men in China are in high demand, while Asian men abroad are not. So what are Asian men like in the eyes of Western women? Why is it that when Chinese girls are with white men, they are often accused of “attaching to foreigners” and “worshipping foreigners,” while when Chinese guys have a Western girlfriend, they are “bringing glory to the country”?
So I talked to four Chinese guys who have been in love with Western women to see how they felt about this topic. [Jocelyn’s note: today I’m sharing the first interview in the article — and I will publish the other three subsequent interviews as separate posts]
31 years old, IT specialist, currently living in Harbin, China
VICE: What kind of experience have you had dating Western women?
I had a brief relationship with a German girl; also a longer one with a Russian girl.
Did you meet the Russian girl in Harbin?
No, I met her when I went out for travel to Mohe, Heilongjiang, China. Just across the border is her country.
How did the relationship feel to you?
That was it. My English wasn’t very good, and she could only manage the most basic conversation, but English was the only language we could use for communication. When we couldn’t express ourselves clearly, we had to use body language and consult the dictionary. People say, there are three things that don’t require language: soccer, music and sex. We tried all of them. In soccer, I couldn’t play as well as her. She used to be captain of the Voronezh amateur soccer team. Russians are too fierce. Her shots for goals were even more powerful than the strongest player in the dorm next to mine in college. In music, we didn’t really have a common language either. She liked local Russian folk music, which included some rather shrill instruments, while I only listened to Jay Chou. …
What about the sex?
Overall, it was actually not bad. But she had some peculiar idiosyncrasies – she liked having threesomes. At first it was really hard to accept. But later we tried it. Sometimes when we found another girl it was OK, but she specifically liked watching me and another girl do it. Sometimes she hoped to find another man, and that I really could not accept. Additionally, she was so strong, it was like she emptied out my manhood.
In terms of sex, do you think “made in China” has a disadvantage?
There are no disadvantages. I think this is guided by culture, where it’s purely Westerners creating a malicious portrayal of Easterners. I looked up information on the internet, and in terms of size Asian men don’t have an advantage. But research has found that women aren’t as demanding about size as the rumors suggest – it’s only men who aren’t confident about themselves that care.
So sex was never a problem in your relationship?
No. When we first got together, I was not confident, and I even thought, how could Asian men possibly match up with white girls. I was especially embarrassed. But in the end, she gave me a lot of confidence in this respect.
Apart from sex, what was her impression of Chinese men?
She really liked Chinese men. A lot of her friends had also dated Asian men. Some people say that in Northeast China there’s more male chauvinism, but I never heard her complain about it. She actually thought Chinese men were more responsible than foreign men, and the way they treated her made her feel more comfortable.
Have your friends ever dated Western women?
Around here, there aren’t that many foreigners to begin with, so it’s even rarer to see a Chinese man with a Western woman together. There aren’t any friends around me who have. Whenever she and I would go out, we would turn a lot of heads.
Did you feel a little proud?
No. Some people believe that going out with Western women gives you more face, but I didn’t feel that way. At first it felt like a fresh experience, but later on I got used to it and felt annoyed. Whether people praise you or not, who wouldn’t feel a little uncomfortable to always have people pointing at you.
What do you think of the prejudice Westerners have against Asian men?
I haven’t felt much prejudice myself, but I feel that most of the prejudiced people have never really had much contact with Asians – they just have a very superficial understanding. For example this topic of sex you’ve mentioned, you can see this kind of idea in the movies or advertisements, that men need to be solid, have these six-pack abs, Asian men are perceived as not having this kind of physique, so then they cannot be become a popular standard of attractiveness. Besides, many movies and TV shows deliberately make fun of Asian men, giving people this feeling that Asian men are very nerdy or stupid, which is completely different from the reality.
So how would you get rid of this stereotype?
Improve your language ability and express yourself. My English is no good, so there are times when I don’t dare to express myself. I’m afraid that this is an impression that foreign girls often have of Asian men, that we shrink away from daring to start a conversation. I think this is mainly because of language. But foreigners like these active and enthusiastic people. If you’re not willing to talk, how can someone be with you? Smooth communication can promote a relationship between two people.
What do you think of this interview?
P.S.: Stay tuned for the second, third and final installments of this article.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”
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.
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.
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.
My marriage to a Chinese man wasn’t just the culmination of a beautiful love affair. It also kicked off the start of a new education for me, his white American wife. A true initiation into the world of racism, prejudice, and all of those unfortunate stereotypes I wish Westerners didn’t have about Asians, including Asian men.
Here are 3 stereotypes about Asian men that I’m tired of hearing:
#1: Asians = great at computers
I can’t tell how many times people have told me, “Wow, your husband is SO great with computers!”
Whenever I hear that, I want to flash them a painful grimace. As if I just witnessed that person step right into a big, smelly pile of…you know.
Seriously, people. Just because my husband knows how to delete the trash files from your iPad – and is Asian — doesn’t mean he’s the almighty computer guru. In fact, I’m the one who troubleshoots our tech problems, from deciphering error messages on the PC to configuring a complicated wifi network at home.
Being Asian doesn’t automatically make someone a wizard at things like math, science and medicine. But if you think otherwise, that definitely makes you naïve.
#2: Asian men are short
True story. An academic in America once had the audacity to tell my husband Jun, “All Asians are short, right?”
You know, it’s easy to see a couple like Jun and me together, and then draw that kind of conclusion. But once again, you’re mucking around in stereotypes, as Alex Tizon reminds us in his wonderful memoir Big Little Man:
Are all Asian people small, and have they always been so?
The answer to both questions is no — a fact commonly known among educated Asians and Westerners who have traveled widely through Asia….
Today, the giant men of the Chinese national basketball teams, whose centers are among the tallest in the world, almost all come from northern and central China. The former Houston Rockets standout center Yao Ming is seven foot six, which even among tall nationalities is aberrantly tall…. Up until 2009, both the tallest man and the tallest women in the world hailed from northern and central China…. The tallest woman on record, Zeng Jelling, who died in 1982, was eight foot one.
Anecdotal records indicate that, during the time of the first waves of Chinese migration to America, men of northern China averaged about five foot seven, with a fair number exceeding six feet. This would have been roughly equivalent to the height of white male conscripts in the U.S. Army and many European immigrants of the time.
#3: Any question about the size of an Asian man’s penis
Who in the Asian community – or in an interracial relationship with someone Asian — hasn’t heard this lamest of all stereotypes? It’s right on par with toilet humor, and ought to be flushed into oblivion.
I’ve noticed that, by and large, it’s men who seem content to hurl this one into conversations. Usually anonymously, in a really seedy Internet hangout. Or in a typo-ridden comment… the kind that ends up in your spam folder.
In my opinion, any guy who goes around speculating about the size of someone’s manhood already has serious inferiority issues. Or just needs to get a life.
…to my Asian brothers out there: don’t give any guy, girl, or internet troll two seconds of your time when they joke about your dick. Your wang is the wangiest of all wangs. Keep it up, hold it proud, and use it wisely. After all, 60% of the world’s population is Asian which means one thing: we may have a negative stereotype about our shlongs, but at least we’re getting laid.
The vast majority of people (whether consciously or unconsciously) date and marry within their own race.
According to Wikipedia, 97% of married white men and women in America are married to another white person, 89% of married black men and women are married to another black person and 91% of married Asian men and women are married to another Asian person.
If you happen to be in the less than 4% (according to Wikipedia only 3.9% of married couples in the US in 2008 were interracial couples – this is a big increase from less than 1% in 1990 but still an extremely low percentage) you are almost certain to get a question or comment about your interracial relationship at some point.
Both my fiance and I are Australian. I was born in Australia to anglo parents, he was born in China to Chinese parents.
While most people I’ve encountered don’t (at least openly) say anything about us being an interracial couple, I have encountered curiosity from both westerners and Asians as well as a few rare comments that are at least misguided if not racist.
The most common question I have gotten from Asians is a surprised “but how did you meet/get together with a Chinese guy?” while I’ve had both Asians and white people ask if I am “attracted to Asians”.
The first question stems mostly from curiosity, I think. While it’s fairly common to see white men with Asian women it is far more rare to see Asian men with white women (although I am happy to see it does seem to be getting more common).
The first question is also easy to answer – we were flatmates, we didn’t get along at all at first but slowly became friends and eventually fell in love.
The second question I honestly find bizarre. Imagine you asked that of a white person who was dating another white person “so, you are attracted to white people?”
No, I am not attracted to white people, or Asians, or black people or any race.
I am attracted to the man I am with because of WHO he is not what race he is.
I am attracted to him because he is strong but also prepared to show true vulnerability with me (something I have found to be incredibly rare).
I am attracted to him because he takes responsibility (for himself, for his decisions, for his family). He doesn’t expect anything from anyone.
I am attracted to him because he has an adventurous spirit and finds ways things can be done rather than putting them in the too hard basket.
I am attracted to him because he doesn’t shy away from things that are difficult, he faces challenges as they come up.
I am attracted to him because he knows what he wants and is prepared to work hard for it.
I am attracted to him because he prioritises what’s important to him and doesn’t let other things or other people run his life.
I am attracted to him because he’s upfront, he doesn’t manipulate or play games.
I am attracted to him because he is great at solving problems, an excellent traveller and can fix things.
Most of all I am attracted to him because we get each other on a level I find hard to explain – I haven’t felt this in any other relationship (even one that lasted for years).
Also, I think he’s pretty cute and his snuggles are second to none 🙂
Chi (her real name, no exotic background, pronounced Chai, like the tea) is engaged to a man who was born in China and grew up in Argentina before immigrating to Australia. Chi writes about her experiences (mostly her struggles trying to learn Mandarin) at www.talkingofchinese.com. —–
In her latest guest post for this blog, Anne offers five reasons why it might be harder for Western women to meet that Mr. Right in Asia.
Do you have a compelling post or story you’d love to see featured on Speaking of China? Check out the submit a post page to learn more about how to have your words published here.
While I have happily met and married my Asian Mr. Right, I have found my case to be rather rare. Excluding some typical cultural factors you might think of as a hindrance to finding your love across the world, I’ve listed my top 5 reasons why a western woman living abroad might not ever end up meeting her Mr. Right in Asia:
#1: Unflattering stereotypes about Western women, thanks to Hollywood
Western media has done us ladies no favors – specifically towards attitudes about sexuality and relationships. I’ve found that men living in Asia have been heavily influenced to believe all us western women will end up sleeping with anyone who decides to smile in our direction. We are often portrayed as easy, with little family regard and would never turn someone down if they are willing to offer us some attention. Many times, the woman is never seen as someone to consider as material for a real relationship. I’ve experienced this myself, and my friends and husband definitely agree it’s an issue for Western women in Asia.
#2: Different communication styles (indirect versus direct)
In my own household, I was repeatedly taught to speak to the point and ask for what I want or need, and learned that I shouldn’t make someone guess. That’s not necessarily the case here in Asia, where I’ve found that people tend to communicate more indirectly. And when you have different communication styles, it can create challenges in a relationship.
For example, if a problem arises in your relationship, sometimes the two of you might respond in completely different (and contradictory) ways. I’ve been in relationships with men in Asia where he may want to ignore the problem and not talk about it, while I would totally want to talk about it and find a solution.
I’ve also had challenges communicating with parents over here. I’ve found that sometimes trying to “talk” about an issue with an Asian parent basically means listening without your input. To do otherwise would be considered ungrateful and cause loss of face.
These differences can put a lot of stress on both of you when working through disagreements. Sometimes, when trying to help guys over here understand my ideas, feelings and concerns, I’ve felt as if I were continually running up against a brick wall. Sigh.
#3: Differences in how you express yourselves and your love
Unless the guy you’re dating speaks your native language well – or you’re fluent in his language — I’ve found that having deeper conversations in your relationship might take some time. It means that when you ask a guy a question like, “How was your day?” he might not always go into the kind of detail you might expect.
Also, how your partner chooses to show his love might be different from you. Is it with actual language? Even within the same cultural group knowing your love language is a skill learned and discovered with time. What is happening when you feel love from your partner? Love languages can include: physical touch, quality time, gifts, verbal confirmation or acts of appreciation. Just because you give love in one way doesn’t mean your partner will receive it in the light it may be given. Do you want love with quality time with your partner but he gives you physical gifts? Getting this far also takes a certain amount of self (emotional) knowledge (and effort to get there) of knowing and understanding yourself and your outlook.
#4: Family expectations for Asian men
Family ties and expectations run deep in Asia. It’s not uncommon for men to live with their family before and even after marriage – which might be a deal-breaker for some Western women.
I’ve also found that children in Asia (especially the men) are often expected to provide financial support to their parents, regardless of whether they live with the parents and if there’s a real need for that money. I was surprised to discover this, and I’m sure this would challenge a lot of Western women, who usually aren’t used to giving their parents money like that.
#5: Becoming invisible (if you’re not fluent in the local language)
For personal reasons I am monolingual – I can only speak English. Yet I live in Asia, where English is not the native language for the overwhelming majority of people and countries. This reality has been a hard blow for me. I was taught to be independent, stand up for myself and be in charge when needed. Yet I’ve left behind the America I grew up in for Asia, and it has meant giving up a huge chunk of my own independence. I’ve been forced to depend on my husband for a lot of things and sometimes I feel like I’ve become invisible. I’ve been at restaurants where the staff focused only on my husband, handing him the menus and directing all the questions at him. On many occasions when I’ve visited shops or banks together with him, no one would even make eye contact with me. It’s been one of the hardest things I’ve faced in our relationship.
Anne Elizabeth Moss has spent the last 5 years in Asia and currently lives with her Taiwanese husband in Singapore. She teaches Bellyfit®, Bellydance and Yoga classes and can be found at https://www.facebook.com/riksardance.
As I was reading her article, I suddenly realized that I too had a pre-China backstory worth sharing – one of relationships that never came to be, and what ifs that point to my own prejudices. So here goes:
“You don’t have to worry about the students falling in love with you.”
Before I embarked on my first trip to China, where I would teach English at a college, I met up with one of the former teachers several times for dinner or drinks. And when the subject of student crushes came up – something he had been forced to navigate very delicately – he negated the possibility of anything similar happening to me.
Of course I didn’t question his words. Hadn’t I already envisioned my year-long assignment much like a vow of chastity? I spoke to friends of my interest in studying Tai Chi over there and visiting some local temples, as if I were about to spend my months as a nun instead of an English teacher. It was an opportunity to travel to a new country, a way to postpone my post-graduate dilemma regarding career decisions, and nothing more than that.
Or so I thought.
Then I moved to Zhengzhou, China – and found myself with a crush on one of the first guys I met there, a former student from the program I would teach for. Over a month later, he introduced me to his friend, a guy who was also a former student – and would become so much more to me in the weeks that followed:
Yao came into my life, in all of his sleek, sexy and sullen James Dean perfection, dressed in a black leather jacket as dark as his mysterious melancholy. When my heart raced after our first dinner together, I thought it was just another adolescent crush. Embarrassed, I wanted to just box my feelings away like all of the Barbie Dolls and little girl hairclips of my past.
Then he took me to that teahouse one Sunday afternoon. Over two Taiwanese bubble teas, the truth bubbled through to the surface of my own heart — I loved him with an uncontrollable depth that plunged far beyond the bottom of my tea cup. And, I began to realize, so did he, because he overflowed with confessionals that he had never before poured over with anyone else.
Not long after, our our passions percolated over into romance — a real boyfriend/girlfriend love that translated into steamy weekends at his apartment, hand-in-hand walks around the gardens of Zhengzhou University, and the occasional afternoon out at the Taiwanese teahouse, his favorite in the city. Bubble tea never tasted so sweet.
In his arms, it was so easy for me to forget that I had once secretly declared this year a lonely one without a single chance for dating. And it was also very easy for me to turn a disdainful eye to my female coworkers at the school, all Americans who had no interest in the local men.
I couldn’t help but wonder, why did I assume that I would be single in China? Why did I think I would never date Chinese men? Was it merely that I grew up in an incredibly white middle-class suburb (I could count on one hand the Asian men I knew from kindergarten to high school graduation)? Was it the overwhelming absence of positive images of Asian men in the whitewashed world of American popular culture?
I think back to my college years, a time when I met many foreign Asian men – including Japanese and Cambodian. I called many of them close friends, yet why did I never let them get any closer to me? Why did I always immediately relegate them to the “friend zone” and nothing more? Why did my white girlfriends and I only giggle over white celebrity heartthrobs in high school, like Tom Cruise?
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