He will choose you, disarm you with his words, and control you with his presence. He will delight you with his wit and his plans. He will show you a good time, but you will always get the bill. He will smile and deceive you, and he will scare you with his eyes. And when he is through with you, and he will be through with you, he will desert you and take with him your innocence and your pride. You will be left much sadder but not a lot wiser, and for a long time you will wonder what happened and what you did wrong. And if another of his kind comes knocking at your door, will you open it?
(From an essay signed, “A psychopath in prison” in Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of Psychopaths Among Us. by Robert Hare, Ph.D.)1
This article is a reaction to various news stories on the Internet regarding the infamous foreign “teacher” and blogger ChinaBounder, aka David Marriott, who publicized his sexual exploits with Chinese women in Shanghai on his website Sex and Shanghai. He was reportedly forced to shut down and go into hiding after a Chinese professor of psychology, Zhang Jiehai, spearheaded a citywide manhunt for this scoundrel who boasted about all the girls he was able to bed without the need to promise them anything. After it was safe to come out of hiding, ChinaBounder decided to cash in on his notoriety by breaking his anonymity and retaliating with a book titled “Fault Lines on the Face of China: 50 Reasons Why China May Never Be Great.”
Many years ago, back in 1980, when I was just starting out my career at a community mental health center as a young and naive psychotherapist, I was assigned a case of a big corporate chief financial officer who had been arrested for embezzling over $100,000. He had contrived a rather simple yet effective plan in which he personally approved unobtrusive overcharges on weekly product deliveries. He would sign-off on the doctored invoices and he and his partner would split the difference. I can no longer recall all the specific details of the case but I do remember that this scheme persisted for almost two years before he was caught—and only then through a series of mishaps which led to the arrest of his co-conspirator (who then promptly proceeded to hand over my patient to the police as part of a plea bargain agreement).
This CFO’s attorney strongly advised him to seek therapy for his “depression” and “remorse,” which he did immediately. I remember thinking it strange at the time that a man who lived in a million dollar home and drove a $40,000 car (back in 1980) would seek treatment at a community mental health center that primarily served working class people and assigned fees based on a sliding scale. Surely, I thought to myself, this man could afford the very best private psychiatric care available in town. Nevertheless, in those days I wouldn’t dare question the appropriateness of any patient who had been assigned to me and, after all, the clinic director was thrilled because the patient’s fee had been set at 50 dollars per session (the maximum amount at that time).
To make a long story short, after about five months of therapy or so, any suspicions of disingenuousness I might have initially harbored had been allayed and I wrote a very strong letter of support for this patient (against the advice of my supervisor) in which I espoused all of his virtues and attested to the sincerity of his deep remorse and regret. This letter was instrumental in leading to a plea bargain agreement in which the patient basically admitted to nothing more than the exercise of “poor judgment” and agreed to resign his position as CFO in exchange for a glowing letter of recommendation from the company’s CEO. Legally speaking, he was given a slap on the wrist and, essentially, walked away from the entire affair with very little damage done—except for his legal fees of course.
Once the case was officially over, Mr. CFO dropped the facade he had so cleverly duped me with and began to expressly ruminate, in session, over how enraged he was at ever having had to defend himself in this matter whatsoever! He expressed near-homicidal fury over the truck driver who had “ratted him out,” rage with the prosecuting attorney for “victimizing” him with this “ridiculous” case, and he held nothing but contempt for the “greed” of his remarkably gifted attorney who not only kept him out of prison but masterfully engineered a plea bargain agreement that left his shirttails pressed and clean.
He was so enraged over having to return all the money he had embezzled, plus whatever the case had cost him in legal fees, he began to plan his next scheme to steal back from his new employer (another Fortune 500 Company) all the monies he had “lost.” When I advised him that information he might report to me about the future commission of a felony was not privileged communication, he abruptly terminated “therapy” and I never heard from him again (nor did he ever pay for that last session).
This early exposure in my career to a type of patient I had not previously encountered led to a great deal of additional reading and discussion about what psychoanalysts call “phallic narcissism.” I hadn’t thought about this patient in years until I was suddenly reminded of him, quite recently, when I came across an article titled “ChinaBounder’s Back and He’s Mad” on Danwei.org. I suspect, too, there was a part of me that identified in retrospect with the plight of some of those girls he has reportedly boasted about using like playthings, which then served as the impetus behind the writing of this editorial.
Consider the following simple yet eloquent and sufficient description of the phallic narcissist from John McCormick’s The Sociopathic Style:2
This is a person who is a perfectionist and who is very concerned about self-image. They are fairly reality based and can be quite successful. They often have to be right.
Their grandiosity is held in check to great degree by the reality of their accomplishments. They are often driven to succeed and are often seen as successful.
Sexuality for these individuals is based on proving their own sexual attractiveness and their power is derived from the kind of person they can conquer sexually and often by the number of people they can conquer sexually.
Life is seen as a problem to be conquered with physical skill and mental prowess. They do not live through relationships of the heart and have difficulty truly loving. Their image of self is as a lover and sexual conqueror but not as one who loves. People relating to them will not feel loved and often will feel judged and inadequate.
Before I proceed any further, I would like to make it abundantly clear that I am most definitely not a moral crusader or a “holier than thou” sort of person, nor will I be joining Mother Teresa in the annals of sainthood anytime near soon. For the most part, I tend to mind my own business and keeping my side of the street clean is more than enough for me to concern myself with.
What other people do in the privacy of their own homes is entirely their business, not mine—but what other foreigners do in China publicly (or, in this case, choose to make public) is very much the business of every Westerner in China, man and woman alike, who is trying to do some good and make a positive difference here.
It is not easy being a foreign teacher in China and people like David Marriott make it exponentially more difficult for each and everyone of us. Provinces and cities with relatively large numbers of foreigners are engaging in the tightening of visa and other regulations that are adversely affecting all of us: the good are getting swept away with the bad. One city, at least, is now issuing identification numbers for photos used in visa applications and professional teachers who have lived and worked in China for years are, for the first time, facing considerable problems satisfying newly created and enforced visa and residency permit requirements. Whether these restrictive measures will subside after the Olympic Games are officially concluded or remain with us for years to come is anyone’s guess.
That Prof. Zhang would become incensed over the alleged sexual exploitation and emotional abuse of Chinese girls, many of whom were supposedly Marriott’s former students, does not surprise me—and I believe Zhang’s motives were sound and commendable. What does both surprise and concern me is that Prof. Zhang’s campaign was not supported by every single Westerner in Shanghai with long-term psychological and financial investments in China.
I am not so naive as to imagine that every girl ChinaBounder slept with had been previously innocent or inexperienced until such time that she met Marriott. With conservative estimates placing the number of active prostitutes in China at around 10 million3, it is fair to assume that not every unmarried young woman in China is a vestal virgin. In addition, Shanghai women do have a reputation (among foreign men anyway)—whether it be true or false—for being rather mercenary in their attraction to and interest in men, foreign and Chinese alike. However, if just one of his bedmates allowed herself to be seduced in the hope that by giving herself to Marriott she might secure a future husband and a better life for herself and her family, and Marriott was consciously aware of this, then there is an emotional part of me that deeply regrets that Prof. Zhang and his group of net citizens did not catch up with him.
When you cast your eyes upon the numerous pairings of relatively pretty and young Chinese girls with most decidedly unattractive and much older Western men, it is clear that there is no glory or accomplishment in bedding girls from a developing country who are seeking a better life and possibly a visa to a more affluent country. Completely aside from the moral issues involved, this is certainly not something worth boasting about and doing so ranks right down there with bathroom humor. Speaking entirely for myself, I stopped having an interest in locker room stories at around 15-years of age (maybe younger), which is why—admittedly—this piece is written on summary accounts of Marriott’s blog as opposed to an actual reading of it.
Aside from being obviously and exceedingly sophomoric, is ChinaBounder a phallic narcissist like my former patient of 28 years ago was? Of course, there is no reliable way of answering that question barring a thorough examination. The fact that Marriott appears to believe that exposing China’s presumed faults—as well as those of anyone else who criticizes him (based on quoted comments of his I read about Prof. Zhang)—exonerates him of his responsibility in how he treats others suggests that, at the very least, he lacks empathy, as well as the ability to critically evaluate himself as clearly as he believes he can an entire country. And those are just two reasons why David Marriott may never sufficiently develop into a great (let alone nice) person—completely aside from whether China herself will ever be great. Perhaps these apparent manifestations of phallic narcissism and sociopathy are simply characterological traits and not symptoms of an ingrained personality disorder.
Maybe, one day, ChinaBounder— as well as all the other foreign men in China just like him—will grow up enough to fully appreciate the emotional harm they have caused, not only to some of these girls who have been used but to all the other foreigners in China who are judged and responded to on the basis of the actions of just a handful of extremely immature, base, and poorly-behaved Westerners who regard sleeping with Chinese girls as if it were a competitive sport or recreational activity.
At least it’s something to hope for, for the sake of all foreigners living and working in China.