Walk down any street or into any bar in China and you will see the oh-so familiar sight of foreign men with Chinese girls. Go on any internet forum and you will be able to access myriad conversations and threads extolling the trials and tribulations of Western men dating Chinese girls. But what if we flip it the other way round?
Source: Fe Ilya
The sight of a western woman with a Chinese man is, although admittedly more and more commonplace, still a relative rarity, and the information and advice available to Western women who are seeking to date Chinese men is still comparatively scarce. So scarce, in fact, that Jocelyn Eikenburg, an American who has been married to a Chinese man for several years, has written a successful blog, and even been interviewed by the BBC about this "phenomenon".
First of all, it’s important to think about the reasons why the Western woman/ Chinese man pairing is so rare. One of them could be the way in which Chinese men, all Asian men for that matter, are portrayed in Western culture. The emasculation of the Asian male is a well documented trope of Western cinema. Asian men are either portrayed as celibate, pure, martial arts heroes or one dimensional token minorities. The idea of Asian men as sexual beings doesn’t really exist in the Western public consciousness. This undoubtedly has an effect on the way Western women view Chinese men.
Another reason is the relative conservatism of Chinese relationships; gender roles in Chinese relationships are so clearly defined that even lesbian couples frequently divide themselves in to masculine and feminine counterparts, T (for tomboy), and P (for princess). Whilst this also exists in the occidental world, deviation from this is much less common over in China.
But all this aside, what are relationships actually like for Western women who take the plunge and date Chinese men?
Are We Exclusive?
With a Chinese man, 96% of the time the answer is going to be yes. It’s important to remember that ideas about dating are totally different in China. In the West, dating is seen as something you can do casually (at least in the beginning). Something that will only result in long term commitment or marriage if those feelings develop. It’s perfectly acceptable to date someone without the end goal being marriage. However, in China, marriage is an inevitability; it’s not a questions of if, but when, so people are often looking for something stable from the start. Comfort, reliability, getting on well with his parents and being family oriented will often take precedence over passion, common interests and sexual compatibility.
This also has an upside as the awkward conversations and game playing that tend to occur in Western relationships often don’t exist. If you’re having sex with them, they’re your boyfriend. It’s as simple as that.
Chinese men, especially those in their early twenties, may also be less sexually experienced than you, so you might want to take that into consideration before you pounce. Unfortunately, idiotic myths and stereotypes about Chinese men’s inability to satisfy the insatiable libidos of Western women abound both in China and the West. Bear in mind that while he’s presumably open minded and intelligent enough not to believe them, he may be slightly intimidated.
And be sensitive to the fact that you’re in a more conservative society. In China, exes very rarely stay friends, so if you say goodbye, it’s probably for good.
Express Yourself: Differences in Communication
When it comes to communication, sometimes less appears to be more in China. The Chinese are much less prone to expressing love directly, and confrontation generally avoided.
Chinese guys can sometimes be much less forthcoming with their feelings. When interrogating a friend of mine he had this to say: “Even though a Chinese guy likes you, it will take him a long time to admit it; maybe he won’t ever actually say it”. This can be confusing to Western women who may be used to more direct expressions of admiration. Several blogs by Western women who have come across this problem report that they had to eventually just ask directly whether the guy actually liked them or not. One woman even had to ask her now-husband to kiss her when they were dating.
Chinese guys are more likely to show their love in different ways, however - by taking care of you, for example. Many Western women have experienced confusion over Chinese guys carrying their bags for them, insisting on paying for everything and taking them shopping even if her income far outstrips his. Texts and phone calls offering advice such as "wear more clothes" and "don't come home too late" are fairly routine. For the more independently minded woman, this could be construed as patronizing. However, it’s just a way for them to show they care.
The other side of this is that Chinese men are generally very attentive, considerate and caring, and will do their best to help you out and be there whenever you need them.
Gender Roles: To Sajiao or Not to Sajiao?
Anyone who has been in China for more than a couple of weeks will have noticed that the gender dynamics of relationships are slightly different. Matching outfits abound, and for women, speaking in a whiny voice, stamping your feet, complaining and being incapable of carrying your own bag are seen as cute here as opposed to annoying or childish.
So where do Western women fit into this? An American girl I spoke to told me she essentially slipped into the role of a Chinese girlfriend and would sajiao at her boyfriend, originally as a joke. However, he responded well to it so she continued. But this backfired when she was genuinely angry with her man and wanted to have a serious talk about the relationship. She would be told "bie bibi" (stop nagging). Because she had feigned anger in the past in order to elicit a certain reaction from her boyfriend, any genuine issues she had were also interpreted as sajiao-ing.
Not every Chinese man enjoys being sajiao-ed at however. Part of your appeal may be your independence and the different way you communicate with him.
Keeping It In The Family
When you date a Chinese man, you aren’t just dating him; you’re dating his family and all their expectations of you.
Family relationships in China are different to those in the West. While families in the West obviously vary in terms of how traditional and conservative they are, when you get to a certain age, you and your parents are considered, if not equals, at least as a group of adults. In China the parent-child roles remain fairly rigid, and when you date a Chinese guy you will often need to fall into line. Be warned, your relationship with his mother can potentially make or break your pairing.
A British friend of mine who dated a Chinese guy for over a year described the difficulty she had dealing with the intense relationship with her ‘mother in law’, from her popping into the shower for a casual chat whilst she was butt naked, to the constant comments about her weight and questions about how quickly she was going to marry and get working on some grandkids.
And when it came to breaking up with him, my friend ended up screening dozens of calls a day, not from her exe, from his mother. She said: “An important piece of advice: don’t tell everyone until it’s serious. The concept of casual dating is still not very common in China. Announcing to everyone that you are boyfriend and girlfriend means you’re in it for the long haul, and then, you’re stuck.”
Although not all cases are this extreme, it’s undeniable that if you commit to the relationship, your boyfriend’s family will be almost as big a part of your life as they are his. And that’s if they like you. Not all parents will take kindly to their son dating a foreigner; there’s always the danger that you’ll take their precious son away to live on the other side of the world, (a worry that many parents, wherever they’re from, will have). Even Eikenburg who has made a career from writing about her happy marriage to a Chinese man wasn’t accepted right away:
“…my own husband was first told by his parents that he could be friends with a foreign girl, but not date her. Fortunately, their ideas changed when they met me in person!”
One undeniable advantage of dating a Chinese man is the opportunity to learn about China and be part of a new family that will be loyal to a fault. Being part of a culture that puts huge importance on ritual, tradition and ceremony means you will be able to enjoy these traditions from a unique viewpoint, learn real Chinese cooking, and speak better Chinese. The important thing to realise is that in a country of over 1 billion people, not everyone is going to be the same. Dating one Chinese guy isn’t the same as dating every Chinese guy and, like dating anywhere else, each relationship is unique.
Just remember that the cultural differences pose a challenge, but they don’t make it impossible. The difficulties you may face because of these differences can be made up for in the many things you can learn from each other and the unique experiences you can have together. You just need to be aware and decide what you’re comfortable with and what you can compromise on. Stick to your principles, but be willing to make a few sacrifices - even if it means venturing out in public wearing couples' outfits.
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Keywords: Western women dating Chinese men dating Chinese men
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