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."
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.
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.
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.
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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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Utterly not true. The comment is accurate. As an American woman with two grown daughters and 4 daughter-in-laws, we fortunately are only cursed with one such daughter-in-law. The results, we criticize her, stay away from her, and my son drinks, and escapes as often as he can. That behavior is not acceptable. Perhaps in private, couples may practice this selfish behavior but not in social settings. I think what to me is the most annoying is the high-pitched whiny tone the Chinese woman's voice gets. Commenting on same with "I would slit her throat", my Chinese friend said he thought it was cute. So this bears truth to the article even more.
Aug 16, 2011 08:10 Report Abuse
yes ..my ex gf was a complete sa jiao...thats why she is an ex... but we men should not give in to her illogical caprices driven by hormones and emotions, we need to show we have self respect and head for the exit. I know it's extremely hard..but that's the way..
Aug 17, 2011 21:37 Report Abuse
eh, that is so NOT true!!! I'm an Asian girl and I truly hate "sa jiao", it's not a good way to express your feminine side at all!!! I agree all women like to be spoiled a bit, but only when our men want to do that, not because he's required to do so. Don't you feel bad when your man pays for your everything? From every meal to stuffs? I personally would feel uncomfortable, weak and independent, which is not who i want to be, and I believe there're many women out there would feel the same.
So no need for "sa jiao" for your man to show you that he loves you and can take care of you!
Aug 19, 2011 16:27 Report Abuse
You obviously haven't met many Western women,nor have you been to the West. "sao................such way." Wrong. Typical Neanderthal Asian male thinking.
t Adams, "high-pitched whiney tone." Oh yes, soooooooo annoying and sickening. :( I used to live in So. Korea and heard and saw the same kind of childish,petulant behavior! :( Uggggggghhhhhhhhh! :( * I have two words to say..GROW UP! This is why if I was to meet a Chinese gal that I really like..she will have to have lived in the West and be mature..not some whiney,immature,foot-stomping,gold-digger,conniving and dishonest female.
"We have self-respect and head for the exit." Well said! * Be strong guys!
Regarding the Chinese guy finding the high-pitched whiney voice cute, that's a bunch of nonsense! :( There's nothing cute about it!
Jul 27, 2012 17:12 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
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
Njord, you are way over the top. I have been living in china for over two decades, much of that as a single laowai, so I certainly have experienced the "sa jiao" of which Jessica Larson-Wang has written so thoughtfully and accurately. First, I think it is important to commend Ms. Larson-Wang for bringing attention to this phenomena. (Yes, it does it exist in other cultures but clearly it is more pronounced in China than the West). It can be a stumbling block in cross-cultural romantic relationships. But it is also true that increasingly in China many women who interact with foreigners, travel abroad, etc and may be interested (or not opposed) to dating foreign men do not exhibit most or any of the--what I consider negative aspects--of sa jiao. So I would agree that it is unfair to suggest that a foreign man in China need seek fulfilling romantic relationships only with his "countrywomen". Meaningful relationships demand respect and dignity as well as compromise and understanding, regardless of where each party originates. Cultural induced behavior can be a stumbling block to a happy relationship, however, and I for one would like to thank Ms. Larson-Wang for her article.
Aug 15, 2011 17:21 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
Jason C, Chris:
You have to respect and appreciate free thought in this day and time. Your education may have taught you to recognize generalizations, to which your culture may have raised you to believe that in this information age, one needs to have "actual evidence" and "citations" to have a "valid point" or proven right, but it's likely that same education and culture has trained you not to think for yourself. Afterall, "citations" and "evidence" are ultimately written or collected with some degree of bias. Thus, I would say one aspect of journalism has always been to challenge one's thinking, based on some aspect of reality and truth in everyday life. You also have to remember that this article is more than likely wrtten of a different, cultural mindset, as to share a part of that culture. Perhaps now, one of you or someone will go out and collect the proof that'll put numbers to this article, as to make it "legit" in your eyes. Please...
Aug 17, 2011 06:15 Report Abuse
So, a woman who is not Chinese can write an article and draw conclusions about Chinese women without having to explain how she reached those conclusions? Since when is "Just because I think so" good journalism in ANY culture? And please stop the "culture" nonsense. It's on the top of the list of lame excuses for most behaviors I see here in China.
Aug 19, 2011 22:34 Report Abuse
You say to not go for a Chinese girlfriends if you don't like the annoying sa jiao.
That just sounds like you want to keep races and cultures apart. How about the idea of working together, not changing but understanding or maybe just growing up and stop being children.
Aug 15, 2011 18:59 Report Abuse
One great thing about living in Shanghai is that there are so many choices on who to date, how to live and what to do. There is nothing wrong with Sa Jiao, as there is nothing wrong with fiercely independent women. They are both just forms of feminine being. If you like to fill the role of a provider and a defender of your women, date a Chinese girl, if not, date an American or an European. This is Shanghai, and "you can have whatever you like".
I think some foreigner are finding out the truth that most Chinese men already know. The oriental dream of "sweet submissive" Chinese girls comes with her set of problems. You can't have something for nothing. That rules applies to everything in life.
This is Shanghai, and "you can have whatever you like". Plenty of women of every race, culture and heritage. So find what makes you happy and stop worry about whether Chinese women sa jiao or not.
I'm here representing my Asian boys from Cali.
Aug 15, 2011 19:36 Report Abuse
Just because you're biologically Chinese doesn't mean you are Chinese. Obviously you have a different cultural mindset than that presented in the article or even the typical women in China (I dare say), and it's usually the cultural mindset that defines what we are, even if it is directly contrary to what we are. And I'm not including wanna-be's.
Aug 17, 2011 06:24 Report Abuse
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