By Monica Tan
Yesterday while in Beijing’s expat district Sanlitun, I proposed a theory to my hairdresser. The reason why there were disproportionately so few Chinese men with foreign women couples is that the same distinguishing features about Asian people that make Asian women so attractive to foreign men: they’re smaller, softer, and sweeter – are the same qualities that unfortunately render Asian men unattractive to foreign women.
Many of the qualities of Chinese culture, when placed side by side with Western culture, are feminine in nature: the modesty, the submissiveness, the importance placed on harmony, family and community. Western culture, and by extension Westerners, are comparatively more independent, assertive, exuberant and into violent, team sports like American football. American football will always symbolize the West for me. The game blazes and roars in a way that makes it the last thing I can ever imagine any Chinese people ever taking up.
While my Chinese hairdresser agreed, he also proposed, with a smile, that it’s also a case of Chinese men not being into foreign women.
While I am 100% ethnically Chinese, apparently my Australian upbringing has stamped a sort of “masculinity” onto me. Previously I designed a little thought experiment in which I placed my photo among eight Mainland women and asked readers to see if they could pick me. As I was dressed in clothes I had bought in China, and had carefully chosen a mix of Chinese women from different classes, I had assumed people would have trouble. But to my surprise commenters overwhelmingly claimed that they’d instantly picked me. One person had said my build was more “athletic” (at 165cm I would be considered on the big side by Asian standards – although I have always been “average” in Australia), while another said that I seem less gendered (that is, less girly).
Despite growing up in Australia and so surrounded by burly, outdoorsy types, I’ve never been into super masculine men. As a teenager my heartthrob was the slender Leonardo DiCaprio, as seen in Baz Luhrmann’s “Romeo and Juliet”. So perhaps it’s unsurprising that unlike most foreign women who come to China – including overseas born Chinese women – I discovered that I was quite into Chinese Mainland guys. I love how they text you every hour (“I just ate breakfast,” “It’s hot today,” “I just ate lunch,” “What are you going to eat for dinner?”), I love how soft their skin is, but most of all, I just think some of them are really pretty.
A good friend of mine – a true, blue Aussie sheila if you’ve ever seen one – has a thing for Asian guys. All the major characters to have featured in her love life, including her current boyfriend, have been Asian. It was a novelty to me, to be in China and able to share “hey check him out” comments with a white girl. We once traveled together and mutually confessed a crush on the same ticket inspector, while on the overnight train from Beijing to Dalian. And her current boyfriend, a hunky Chinese lifeguard from the local pool, has been her most serious relationship to date. She has what you call, “Yellow Fever.”
But typically the term references white men who have a taste for Asian women, because it rarely so happens the other way. A video of the same name, made by some Chinese American filmmakers, takes some funny jabs at the subject as noted in their own country. In the video the Chinese American protagonist finds his sister has been too easily seduced by his white flatmate. But by the end of the video the tables have turned, when the same sister suddenly goes all lovesick at the sight of his black friend.
Africans are an increasingly common sight here in Beijing, and if the contrast between a white person and a Chinese person, I’d argue that it is even more so with Africans. The timbre of an African voice resonates deeply. And his form is generally more muscular. While the physique of the Chinese man next to him either seem to disappear into the folds of his shirt, or else cradle a cheerfully round beer belly. All in all, they are highly noticeable in a wash of Chinese faces.
And Chinese men with African girlfriends or wives are a novelty that many internet commenters here sarcastically attack. A purvey of these comments shows the lack of political correctness and outright racism that exists in China in regards to black people. I’ll never forget one Chinese class we were reading a textbook in which the Chinese author described a character as a “beautiful black woman,” which made my teacher laugh. She said, “I guess the writer is just being polite.” When I asked her why, she said, “Uh, well, I guess we Chinese people can’t tell if a black person is beautiful or not.”
As crudely as she said it, I can’t help but think that for all the foreign women that come to China and turn their noses up at the locals, a healthy mixture of open-mindedness and natural acclimatization would help change their minds. My Polish friend Matty used to think all Chinese people look the same. Once when we were on the Beijing subway he jokingly pushed our Chinese Peruvian friend Anthony back into the crowd of Chinese people, and then said, “Anthony, where are you? I can’t see you!” The bastard. But after two years in China, Matty says this isn’t the case for him anymore.
One’s eye can be accustomed to the Chinese look, to the point that I feel unsettled in the first day or two of each holiday I spend in Australia. The men there seem too tall, so broad-shouldered, so pale, and so very hairy. Moving to China and digging the local guys belongs to a wider process of cultural immersion. I speak Chinese, eat Chinese food, watch Chinese television. Isn’t it natural I also begin to like Chinese guys as well? It annoys me when foreign women openly say Chinese guys simply aren’t attractive. Rather than qualify that it is they who don’t find Chinese guys attractive, seeing as attraction is a matter that is purely subjective.
The last Chinese boyfriend I had once cheekily slapped me on the bum and told me I was bigger than him, which I was. Being with him was how I imagined it felt like to be in a male, gay couple. It wasn’t simply a cultural subversion, in some ways it felt like a gender subversion as well.
Perhaps it’s fair to say on a traditional scale of masculinity, Chinese men come up comparatively short. But I don’t need a guy to hunt boar or plant potatoes. Build my house. Fight wars. Or slap me around. I need a guy who will be my partner. Be a good father to our kids. Hold my hand, and hug me when I feel sad that I’m living so far away from my family and friends. And for these things there are many, attractive Chinese guys, who can definitely qualify.
And as comedian Jen Kwok says, everyone really should date an Asian man at least once in their life.
This article was originally posted here and has been reprinted here with permission.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Monica Tan is a Beijing-based writer, originally from Sydney, Australia. Formerly she was an internet tabloid journalist but these days writes stories about China, travel and pop culture. She collects Chinese slang, swear words and internet speak on Twitter and Weibo. She still can’t pronounce her own Chinese name correctly.