What are You, Five? Chinese Women and Sa Jiao

What are You, Five? Chinese Women and Sa Jiao
Dec 21, 2012 By Jessica A. Larson-Wang , eChinacities.com

You’ve probably witnessed a scene similar to this one before: A grown woman stomping her foot, whining cutely, pouting her lips and making eyes at her boyfriend. "Lao Gong," she might say, pitching her voice to resemble that of a petulant child, "you’re so horrible. You knew how much I wanted those shoes, and you went and bought yourself a new cell phone instead, so unfair! Humph!" She might cross her arms and look the other way, which is her boyfriend’s cue to give in, to tell her he’d buy her 12 pairs of shoes if she wanted him to, that her happiness is more important than say, making rent. If you’ve ever observed this from a Chinese woman (or perhaps been on the receiving end of such a display) then you know that there is a term for such behaviour, "sa jiao."

Source: 123rf.com

Sa Jiao does not easily translate into English. It could be called pouting, acting childishly, or being coquettish, but it does not have the negative connotations in Chinese society that such words do in English. It is considered cute and feminine, and a woman who does not engage in it might be seen as too hard, not womanly enough. Sa jiao, of course, is not just limited to persuading your boyfriend to buy you things. Sa jiao involves projecting a certain persona when you’re around the one you love. A girl might act clingy and needy. She might pretend to be incapable of doing things she’s actually quite capable of doing on her own. She might ask her boyfriend to kill the scary spiders in the bathroom or to help her rent an apartment. You will often hear Chinese women asking their boyfriends to "pei" or accompany them to this place or that, sometimes for seemingly no reason. One American man unleashed his Chinese girlfriend’s fury when he refused to accompany her to the vet when her dog was sick, this after seemingly endless requests to go with her on some mundane errand or another. This (feigned) inability to do anything on one’s own is also part of sa jiao.

Source: shanghaiexpat.com

And whereas most Western men do not find weak and childish behaviour particularly attractive in a woman, Chinese men are big fans of sa jiao. Having a woman who engages in such behaviour can, according to one Chinese man, make them feel strong and manly. It is a deeply engrained part of Chinese behaviour that has to do with traditional gender roles as well as with Chinese concepts of obligation. Sa jiao helps to ensure that everyone is playing their expected role. If the relationship progresses, the man will be expected to provide in full for his partner, which in modern terms often means that he’ll have to produce an apartment, a car and a steady job before a woman will even think of marrying him. While a Chinese woman may be very competent, and perfectly able to take care of herself, she will still expect her husband to support her, to look after her material needs while she does her part and looks after him physically and emotionally. Part of sa jiao is not appearing to be too independent or non-traditional, both of which are generally considered negative qualities by Chinese men. Chinese men may occasionally grow exasperated by sa jiao, but overall they consider it to be an important feminine quality and feel that it is worth the trouble, so to speak.

How foreigners handle sa jiao

Sa jiao often poses problems, however, for foreign men who date Chinese women, as, while some men may initially be attracted to the cutesy aspect of sa jiao, most men quickly grow irritated with what can be seen as a demanding attitude from their new girlfriend. Many can mistake sa jiao for materialism or even gold digging, when in fact sa jiao is usually less about acquiring things as it is a mindset. To a Chinese woman, sa jiao is about ensuring that her boyfriend cares enough for her to put her needs above his own, but to a Western man, sa jiao can feel suffocating. Western men often express frustration with their Chinese girlfriends – the jealousy, the constant testing of his love and commitment, the demands for gifts and the constant clinginess. Western society admires self sufficiency, independence and self confidence in both men and women. A Western woman who is too clingy or needy will quickly acquire a "high maintenance" label and will find herself much less lucky in love than her free spirited fun loving sisters who don’t mind if their boyfriends have female friends, who can squash a bug on their own, and who have steady (if non-threatening) careers. Sa jiao is pretty much the epitome of nearly every negative stereotype about the needy girlfriend, so it is little wonder that many Western men have trouble accepting it.

Source: tomcarter.blogspot.com

Understanding and identifying sa jiao is but one step towards having a healthier relationship with your Chinese partner. While Chinese people understand sa jiao and react to it intrinsically, foreigners often do not know how to handle a woman’s sa jiao. The main thing to remember is that the point of sa jiao is to give the man a chance to show how much he cares for his woman by putting her needs above his own, and for the woman to have a chance to show her deep gratitude for having his strong male presence in her life. It might be a bit outdated and old fashioned to most Westerners, but Western men who are seriously involved with a Chinese woman, especially one who uses sa jiao, should realise that the sorts of cultural attitudes which created sa jiao were not created overnight, nor will they be easily erased from a Chinese woman’s psyche. And while there are certainly Chinese women who don’t engage in sa jiao, they are the exception, not the rule. A man who doesn’t feel like he is up to handling a Chinese woman’s sa jiao might be better off looking for a girlfriend among his own countrymen, rather than seeking to change an attitude that most Chinese people don’t feel needs changing.

Related links
Money Honey: The Cost of Dating in China
Foreign Men with Older Chinese Women: 6 Reasons for the Relationship
Foreigner Vs Chinese Culture: Relationship Roles in a Chinese Family

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Keywords: sa jiao in china women behaviour in china the culture of sa jiao china Chinese women sa jiao


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ok, then what about the foreigner girls that date Chinese men, and these found threatening or helpless (I really don't know) when they find we don't act "sa jiao"... we are too independent for them...

May 26, 2013 01:52 Report Abuse


Hi guys,I think the Sa Jiao is a very Chinese/Asian thing,it's their culture,why do not we just respect that?Every person of course the Chinese girls can choose the way they are behaving... I'm an Mixed-blood handsome man now staying in Kunming.

Dec 26, 2012 15:10 Report Abuse


Annawhite. I agree with you. my wife smokes but never smokes outside. poor girl cant do what she wants to do. being married to a westerner with a hybrid child, makes things a little easier as people dont have any idea what to expect from her. TaiLe: grateful? richer?

Dec 24, 2012 22:08 Report Abuse


What about for foreign women? How would a Chinese guy feel if one didn't sa jiao?

Dec 21, 2012 23:49 Report Abuse


At least in Europe, as far as I 'm concerned, you won't see a Chinese dating somebody that is not Chinese. In fact you won't see them getting involved with anybody from the countries where they live. Actually, their children, who go to public schools, learn to socialize and start to date other young people that are not Chinese. I have seen young Chinese girls hand in hand with young non Chinese boys.

Dec 30, 2012 01:14 Report Abuse


Great article, fair and balanced. I am dating a Chinese girl whose behavior is pure sa jiao, and reading this article has helped me understand her better. Sometimes, dating her feels like taking care of a child. She asks me to comb her hair after taking a shower, pick her up from the nearest metro stop so she won't have to walk (all of 5 minutes), and so on. Sometimes it can be madly endearing, other times annoying as hell. As a man, its good to feel wanted and needed. But putting up with petty jealousy and emotional outbursts is draining. At the end of the day, its all part of the fun of dating someone from another culture.

Dec 21, 2012 22:15 Report Abuse


As a chinese female, i feel it's very difficult to be myself. just take smoking for example, almost every chinese thinks the woman who smokes is a not nice, even is a prostitute. Damn it!!

Dec 21, 2012 14:16 Report Abuse


Smoking is gross!

Dec 24, 2012 23:34 Report Abuse


Smoking is gross!

Feb 16, 2013 14:50 Report Abuse


To be honest, I have realized recently that generally "Sa Jiao" is the unique behavior for Asian women to show her femininity to family, husband , bf, it can't be considered only for getting gifts or money etc if you oberserve well with open-minded, for instance, wife can use Sa jiao to express her expecation for a celebration to a busy husband whom forgot the marry date, instead of complaining him or just depressing by herself? It is not fair to say Chinese women are all acting to get things from foreigners, there are many independant Chinese women out there, do you ever notice how Chinese women sacrifice for her family ? I would like to say that you are the one that choosing your partner.

Dec 21, 2012 13:51 Report Abuse


I'm in the same boat....it's a little complicated because i make a lot more money than he does. I do ask his help for a lot of things, particularly language stuff since my Chinese is atrocious, so I think that makes him feel important and needed. I buy expensive things for myself and sometimes I insist on paying the bill at restaurants, or paying for my own bus tickets, but I relent and let him pay for small things or meals every so often. It shocks him sometimes how self-sufficient I am and how many things I know how to do on my own, but I don't think he sees me as less of a woman for it.

I wouldn't worry about playing the "sa jiao" role too much. It's pretty childish. Just be sweet and make him feel needed, and above all, wanted, and that should be enough. I hear Chinese men complaining often that their wives and girlfriends want too much money from them or expect them to do stupid, boring things. If your man likes foreign women (which i suspect he does!) he's probably aware that this is not the way we act in general. They get lots of foreign media here, and while women are sometimes portrayed in stupid sexist ways, there are also a lot of smart, sexy, intelligent and independent females.

If he loves you for you, there's no need to play a game!

Jul 26, 2012 19:22 Report Abuse


pretty good!!!

Feb 16, 2013 14:45 Report Abuse


i hate foreigners talk chinese women like this, but i hate chinese women more.

Dec 21, 2012 14:22 Report Abuse


Personally I dont like :sajiao ....First looks stupid .Second looks more bitch ! Why should woman behaviour like that ? By the way im a chinese girl !

Aug 15, 2011 19:55 Report Abuse


I agree with your idea!!really like a bitch. BUT,all men love it.

Dec 21, 2012 14:09 Report Abuse


Jessica Larson-Wang, I would almost think you also suffer from the "sa jiao" illness... There are tens of millions of women/ladies/girls in China who do not suffer from this mental illness in China, so to say a foreigner who doesn't like it must find a woman from his own culture is not only stupid but also ignorant. Sa jiao is not cute, it is sick. Maybe Chinese men need a woman to "pretend" to be useless, money digging, attention whores but the rest of the world doesn't and frankly speaking I've found it VERY easy to meet women in China who do not suffer from this disease.

Aug 15, 2011 17:01 Report Abuse


mental illness !! YES!!very sick!!but,chinese men love it, which makes me speakless.

Dec 21, 2012 14:11 Report Abuse


That last line of Jessica Larson-Wang's post saying: "A man who doesn’t feel like he is up to handling a Chinese woman’s sa jiao might be better off looking for a girlfriend among his own countrymen" I found it rude. This is not a proper way to end up a so long Cultural matter. She simply proved herself to be a "sa jiao" and must have had problem with her Western boy friend. She must have used this post to send a message to him. Nice try!

Dec 30, 2012 00:59 Report Abuse


My wife is a local person and she thinks "sa jiao" is retarded and embarrassing. We have a deal that if either one of us fought with the other in public, the other one is allowed a divorce "no strings attached". We both think couples fighting in public is the most awkward, mortifying and shameful thing a couple could ever do. We would both rather get caught having sex in a public place rather than fight in public. That would be far less embarrassing in our opinion.

Jan 03, 2013 09:15 Report Abuse


amen sister!!! amen to that

Jan 06, 2013 13:43 Report Abuse


Exceptions to rules are not rules, just exceptions.

Jun 24, 2013 13:19 Report Abuse