culture, music, and identity politics musings from a 20-something Australian-Asian living in Washington D.C.

Interracial dating in China, or: Why are all these young Chinese girls dating older White men? March 15, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — itslateagain @ 4:08 am

I was at Mao, apparently the current “it” bar in Shanghai’s rapid turnover nightlife scene, with Judy and four girls living in the city. All were Chinese, one was from the Netherlands, one from Taiwan, and the other two were Shanghainese. All of them had (or normally have) foreign boyfriends: in this case, Dutch, Dutch and Italian.

For anyone whose been in China for a while, this shouldn’t strike you as surprising at all.

“Chinese guys don’t like it when a girl knows more about something than they do,” Liza told me, when I asked why she only dates foreigners.

“I don’t care if they don’t know about Western culture, but they don’t even know about their own culture…all they care about is money, a car, a house.”

When I asked whether such things–a house, a car, significant income–were a major factor in who she chose to date, she acknowledged that they were. But still, culture matters.

Watching couples dancing and making out at Mao, I had to realise that this much derided relationship–White man, Chinese girl–has its own legacy, it’s own place in China’s modern history; as gingerly as many would admit to it. Shanghai may have been known as the “Pearl of the Orient,” but it was just as commonly known as the “Whore of the Orient” too.

Such relationship norms aren’t exclusive to China. In former European colonies throughout Asia, Africa and South America, intermarriage occurred between European men and occupied colony women. You see the same in non-European mercantilist/trader scenarios, such as the Baba-Nonya mixed descendants of Chinese merchants and their Malay wives in Malaysia. Given the mix of power distribution and traditional gender roles, it makes sense for women from poorer, less powerful host societies to have relations with single (wealthier, powerful) men living away from home.

Meanwhile, why don’t we see the opposite as often? I believe that a mix of both current business staffing and traditional roles lies at the core of the answer.

At present, I think it’s safe to assume that the majority of expats–classically defined as those being sent to China by their employer and making former national salary–are men. There are simply more foreign men than women in China, and thus less women for Chinese men to date. And what of those expat women who are indeed working in China?

Well, I would also imagine that they would have to be highly educated, skilled people who are of some standing within their companies, if not society. In other words, they’re quite a catch, for both foreigners and Chinese. It’s quite safe to say they absolutely wouldn’t fit many traditional Chinese notions of what a woman should do: focus on the family, provide a supporting role to her husband’s career, as opposed to potentially eclipsing it, not travel and work in other countries by oneself. And though many Chinese men don’t require their wives to fall into such old-fashioned gender boxes, many still do.

On top of the smaller foreign woman pool to begin with, the character and lifestyle found within such a community and its conflict with traditional Chinese (and other) beliefs on female gender roles is the issue of male gender roles. Chinese men, bless our hearts, largely do not adhere to the classic, “manly man” stereotype: tall, rugged, athletic, a streak of Holden Caulfield or Steve McQueen rebellion, the primal intensity of Brando’s Stanley Kowalski. Most Chinese guys don’t possess such qualities, and their cards–loyal, responsible, good at making/saving money–don’t really get them as far with many foreign women in China.

Dating, far from the romance of escapist plot denouements and the heady swooning of early love, is, like any other piece of society, a reflection of power, social roles and desires, well beyond matters purely of the heart. It is this way everywhere, but is particularly clearly displayed here in today’s open China.


19 Responses to “Interracial dating in China, or: Why are all these young Chinese girls dating older White men?”

  1. […] clipped from […]

  2. I think that it is a very interesting and amusing article. Practically all its main points are true.

  3. ilham elmahdi Says:


  4. Ty Says:

    To date someone who is different, which the women are curious about is always exciting. This is human nature. Also, the opportunity to explore and experience the ‘love’ from the hyped-up fantasies that the foreigners are better mannered, cool and who listen to the woman i.e. the woman can ‘control’ tend to encourage such relationship. Older foreign men can afford to splash their money in exchange for the ‘love’ of younger companions who sees this as a security and enjoyment of their younger lives.

  5. Jack Says:

    I used to have the same impression about white & asian couples when I was younger, but after I actually visited China I saw that a young beautiful girl with an old/ugly rich guy was the norm. The fact that you are upset because a rich guy is white is strange because the majority of those couples involve an old rich Chinese guy or Chinese foreigner. You don’t even focus on the culture itself that promotes that type of relationship, instead you focus on race.

    You call these women whores basically for being with a white guy yet you think there should be more white women for Chinese guys. Do you realize how childish your thinking is?

    China has a Han Chinese population of over 95%. European countries are much more diverse and open-minded, which is what needs to happen for a country to develop properly. If China remains boring and homogeneous then who the hell would want to visit it?

  6. itslateagain Says:

    Hi Jack,
    I think you interpreted my post with a lot of false assumptions:

    1. I am upset that a white guy is rich: not at all. A lot of the foreigners in China do tend in general to be wealthier than locals. I think this is the case elsewhere.

    2. I call these women whores for being with a white guy: not at all. The “whore of the orient” is a phrase I have heard elsewhere, and I don’t think that Chinese, or any other women, being in an interracial marriage is equatable to being a whore, a very loaded word to begin with.

    3. There should be more white women for Chinese men: not necessarily. The points I raised were merely seeking to answer the question as to why there are less white woman-Chinese men relationships in China by comparison; where did you get the idea I was calling for more such relationships?

    You claim I ignore Chinese culture’s emphasis on economic interest within dating/marriage to focus on race: indeed, the point of this post is about interracial dating. I agree that such interests play a significant part in Chinese dating, (as elsewhere) and I believe I make that point clear, but the main question is why are interracial couples so common, and why are they so skewed in one direction?

    For example, in India, economic interests (among others, such as caste) are equally critical parts of marriage, and there are plenty of foreigners living there, but you see far less interracial coupling. Why? Culture, as I think that the beginning of my post and Ty’s response allude to. In China, a lot of women seek a more modern, some would say ‘liberated’ relationship, whereas in India, regardless of whether or not Indian women also desire such relationships, the strengths of traditions, culture (“You must marry ‘your own'”), personal preference limit such relationships.

    Beyond these points, your last paragraph makes a couple of large claims: firstly, that ‘proper’ development requires diversity and open-mindedness. Without wanting to go into too much detail, I agree that both are conducive to development, but that heterogenity is not always required. You can define ‘proper’ development as you wish, but Japan is an examples of a developed, but relatively homogenous society.

    Your last point, to put it bluntly, is totally wack. You imply that Han Chinese are a homogenous entity, which is a gross generalization. Within the classification ‘Han’ are numerous varied cultures, languages and histories: Hakka people, of which I belong, for one. Beyond that, there are dozens of minorities living here, all of unique heritage and interest. I can guarantee you that the many visitors that China receives do not necessarily find its supposed ‘homogeneity’ boring. In fact, their ‘homogeneity’, and the culture which makes it different from visitor’s own lands, is often what draws people to come in the first place. If anything, a lot of foreigners find that the most cosmopolitan places–Beijing, Shanghai, etc.–are so similar to their own cities that they seek other parts of the country for a more ‘authentic’ experience.

    I suggest you consider your own partialities before you attack others with ad hominem attacks.

    • John Doe Says:

      itslateagain, thank you for this well written description of intercultural dating in China. I myself am a traveler of many lands. I have seen many girls and dated in many countries. But as you said yourself Chinese girls are different, and a lot of foreigners such as myself are very interested in how they work (i.e. live, grow and love.) For my part, I still find the actual ritual of dating and courting a girl in China a MASTERY!

      As I get more and more friends here in China, I am still left with a great mystery as to how things work. I by nationality am a Yankee! An American! As I heard a “Gu ai Lo”…I apologize for my spelling, a foreigner or I think an outsider.

      My question is really this…What is ok and what is not ok to do in a relationship? Or best to say, I know that relationship is a long process which involves a boy and a girl to first to be friends,
      — second the girl might like the boy and the other way too,
      –third (I think): the boy and a girl would become more then friends and,
      –fourth, the girl may let the boy hold her hand,
      –then she will take him to see her parents
      –and after they may kiss.

      But What if I through some American style into this MIX?
      –1st: the boy and a girl are just friend,
      –2nd: the girl and a boy or in my case the girl likes me and she initiates a fool blown kissing and …(fill in the blanks) NO SEX!
      –3rd: the girl wants to take me to see her parents!

      I am completely LOST!

      What THEN? Is my case strange as it may be or is there a way for my mystery (relationship) to work out?

  7. Says:

    great post and correction of jack’s “points”.
    so what are the options for women who are racially asian, “highly educated, skilled people who are of some standing within their companies, if not society”, absolutely don’t fit into “such old-fashioned gender boxes”, AND don’t care about material items (i.e. “money, a car, a house”, etc.)?

  8. JStone Says:

    Snippet from

    Chinese Women & Hyper-Sexualised Clothing

    So is it just me, or do chinese women in general go out of their way to dress in an overtly sexualised way?

    Now I am not referring to the young, teenage chinese girls who more than likely were Australian born. I am referring to the older women, who tend to talk to each other in Mandarin, suggesting they were born in China.

    The emphasis on high cut boots, low cut dresses, socks pulled up just above the knees, super-short skirts and bizarre combinations of clothing items that attract stares from men young and old, are a distinct feature of the urban walkways of Sydney, especially in China town.

    And when I say “older women”, I also mean many women in their fifties. I would say that I have been quite surprised by how many women I have seen who look like grandmothers, yet dress like one may expect a teenager to dress.

    So is it just me noticing this? Well no. Ms B was the first to bring it to my attention.

    Ms B doesn’t dress this way, but many of her contemporaries do. As far as an explanation goes, she believes it has something to do with the previous Communist lifestyle.

    I suspect there may be a lot of truth in that.

  9. Ash Patil Says:

    Well, its that time of the year again, Chinese New Year.

    We typically catch a train into the city and watch the procession through China town and into the main city street.

    Tens of thousands of people gather to watch what I believe is a festival that is celebrated in more places and by more people than even Christmas. This says a lot about the influence of the Chinese globally.

    I always enjoy the sounds of the drums, the processions of the fabled dragons, and the myths behind the fearsome Lion.

    Typically, the Lion is sent to visit all the Chinese restaurants in China town, to bring them good luck. This at first sounds quite strange given the fear that the Lion is supposed to instill in all who see him.

    I think however the Lion represents a deep cultural pillar within the Chinese psyche, probably as a remnant of Confusionism, which places a lot of emphasis in the Yin and Yang of life.

    In fact and as it was once explained to me, the Lion represents the very nature of life, which includes accepting the bad as well as the good.

    The story goes something like this:

    “Long long ago, a fearsome Lion used to terrorise a small village in China, a village that otherwise had plenty of rainfall and very healthy crops every year.

    One day however the villagers got tired of the threats that the Lion imposed on their lives, and so they decided to get together and scare the Lion away with the sound of loud drums.

    They did just this, and the Lion left from the proximity of the village.

    However from the moment the Lion left, the village ceased getting any rainfall, and their crops failed every year.

    In desperation, the villagers decided to do what they could to bring the Lion back, and offered gifts of food and meat in order to entice him back. Once the Lion came back, the rains began to fall again.

    As a result, the villagers came to accept that for the good to come, some bad had to be accepted, and in many ways this goes to the heart of Chinese values.”

    I would like to think that my inter-cultural, inter racial marriage, in many regards, follows the same pattern of thinking. Although some issues are undoubtedly there, in order for us to enjoy the good, we have to also accept the not so good. It is as much a theme for marriage as it is for life.

  10. Ching Says:

    Chinese woman’s main focus in life is to give her parents a child (boy), and a better looking one than normal chinese – imagine living in a country of 1,5 BILLION people who all have straight black hair, slitty eyes, all clones of each other.
    Chinese girls want blue eyed men to breed out chinese genes (slitty eyes) and look better, tho’ the kid wont ever look white.
    Same reason white girls don’t want to date chinese man – we dont like the look and want out kids to look unique, not clones of everyone else. Plus chinese men are unsexy, unmasculine, hairless. Chinese woman are well known to prick condoms when dating white (wealthy) men to force a marriage – WATCH OUT!

    • wats Says:

      what the F are you talking about. what are you..stupid

      • LiJunYi Says:

        I think you got the Chinese mixed up with the South Koreans there. They go even so far as to have cosmetic surgery to “Westernise” their looks. The Chinese may go to unnecessary extremes to change their appearance but only in a very small minority is it ever to look more white.

        As for Chinese men being unsexy, not masculine and hairless, your own OPINION is valid in only as far as yourself. Let’s not pretend that what you say is pure quantifiable fact.

        On top of that, the fact you regard China’s population as all having straight black hair and slitty eyes merely demonstrates your lack of knowledge of the peoples that make up China. Particularly the many ethnic groups, particularly those with Western appearances (regions in the far north and north-west). By your logic, they would have been completely assimilated into having the Chinese features you describe. The fact they have not debunks your non-sense. Whether a person has straight black hair and small eyes or curly brunette hair and big eyes, I can assure you, they equally have a good chance of being Chinese as not.

  11. Sonny Says:

    I am a male American of Asian descent. People should be able to love, date and marry whoever they please regardless of economic, cultural or racial barriers. Down to the bones (well, DNAs), we are more alike than different. As in other countries, I think some Chinese natives, males in particular, hold xenophobic views as a product of their conservative cultural upbringings and historical animosity toward foreign colonial oppression, creating a inferior complex that, until recently, permeates the psyches of most Hans. Deep economic disparity between locals and foreigners further fuels this resentment, especially among the working stiff who do back-breaking work days in and out for a fraction of what these (often) old, foreign men make. The same phenomenon exists here in good Ole USA: uneducated, poor blue-collared (manual) laborers (ie, Rednecks in some parts of the country)–usually men–tend to be the demographics that often displays the greatest resistance to interracial relations, loathing poor colored people while at the same time jealous of the successes of some minorities (Asians being the top>>in the 80s and 90s it was fear of Japanese economic dominance while now its the Chinese Yellow Peril). Different people and cultures same ole tired story. People may be articulated and subtle in their approach, but it’s still narrowed-mindedness that is the root of so many of today’s problems, from ethnic strife to racial tension to outright war. If some of these whiny Asian bros all whiny because they get some, perhaps they should work on their manners, outlooks, and clothing to enhance image/self esteem and raise their scores up, way UP! Life’s so short ppl, so why limit yourself to one race or girls (hey, I am still young), why sitting here all bored and uptight dribbling on some stupid blog (hey, I have a bad cold hehe). Go out, hook up and shag down like monkeys. Been to 40+ countries and spread the luv white, yellow, brown, black,etc…exception being the Amazon’s Aborigines (these “former” headhunters had long, sharp pointy objects). Hey, we’re all the same in the dark:o)

  12. Sonny Says:

    Some more thoughts on my short note. Economic security, evolutionarily speaking, is and will always be one of the principal human drives next to sustenance and shelter (ie, palacial home, BMW, MTV, starbuck lattes, iphone4). Is it that much of a surprise then that beautiful, young lithe Chinese women flock to their loaded sugga daddies because they crave lollipops?! Not really Gold diggers you say? Possibly. Some of you can rationalize all you want–honor, equality, tradition. All I know is that at the end of the day, these women will be still living large while the mass of men lead lives of quiet misery!

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