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Section II: Living in China continued—Dating, Sex, and Relationships

Issues of Unavailability and Underrepresentation

The major difficulty with dating Chinese women, as I see it, has less to do with intercultural differences (at least in the beginning) or even the prevalence of narcissistic traits and disorders, and far more to do with what I refer to as issues of unavailability and underrepresentation.

... having found a woman who can speak some English... often tends to be the principal reason most foreign men are currently with their respective Chinese girlfriends and wives

Remember, from earlier discussions, that the vast majority of Chinese do not speak English above a few familiar phrases or words. Therefore, for those foreign men who cannot communicate freely in Chinese, only those Chinese girls who can speak English well enough to sustain a relationship with a foreigner are available to them, and this population constitutes a relatively insignificant and non-representative percentage of the overall population. The first question you should ask yourself, when meeting such a girl, is "why?" Why would she bother (or how did she manage) to learn English well enough to communicate in it, when virtually all of her peers cannot utter more than a simple "hello" or "okay?"

The most common reasons for this ability include: the girl is naturally talented with foreign languages and loves English (and, often, has a host of online or local foreign friends); she's one of those rare Chinese who actually needs to use English on a regular basis, e.g., she teaches English, she is an international tour guide, or she works at the front desk of a 5-star hotel; she has plans for studying abroad (or has already studied in a Western country), she has long-standing plans of obtaining a visa to and permanently living in a Western country, by hook or by crook, and, finally; she has a history of live-in relationships with other foreign men. The point is—and it is one that you absolutely need to bear in mind if you are looking for a serious, long-term relationship that can lead to a sustainable marriage—any Chinese girl you meet in mainland China who can speak English decently is entirely non-representative of Chinese girls in general. As remarkable as this may sound, having found a woman who can speak some English (initially as a means of surviving in a country where virtually no one speaks English) often tends to be the principal reason most foreign men are currently with their respective Chinese girlfriends and wives—irrespective of whether they can freely admit that reality to themselves or not.

To further illustrate the point, consider for a moment what it would mean if you were, for example, a native of Australia on assignment in New York City, and, for whatever reason, it was true that you could only date or later marry girls of the Mormon faith who were born and raised in New York City. Although it might very well turn out to be a relationship made in heaven, it is far more likely that the gross limitation in availability would sooner or later come to haunt you, as you would necessarily be denied access to the far greater and more representative American girls who might have been much more compatible with you. If you are going to pursue a serious relationship with a Chinese woman, such that you are grossly limited by the need to find a rare one who can freely communicate with you in English, then it is absolutely essential that you first rule out any hidden or nefarious agendas on her part for pursuing the relationship. However, we are personally aware of a few foreign men who have attempted to have meaningful relationships with Chinese women who could not speak one word of English. Although this is an excellent way to learn Chinese, we have to question the wisdom (if not sanity) in attempting to couple with a woman you cannot effectively communicate with. In such attempted relationships, it is often true that the foreign man ends up learning far more Chinese than his partner does English—especially is she is over the age of 35.

The following is a set of guidelines I suggest you follow when considering the motivation of an English-speaking Chinese girl for entering into the relationship.

  1. Does the girl have a history of several serial relationships with other foreign men?

    Traditional Chinese girls under the age of 30—particularly those raised outside the three major international cities—who are genuinely looking for love and marriage, will typically have had no more than one boyfriend (if that) prior to meeting you. Chinese girls who have a history of serial relationships with foreign men are, more likely than not, simply looking to improve their temporary living situation for as long as it lasts, until the next foreign guy comes along. (Although, for some, depending on what one is looking for, this may prove to be an ideal situation.)

    You need to ask yourself whether the girl's level of English is "too good" to be accounted for by her level of education and, far more importantly, current occupation. If the girl has only a secondary school level of education and a history of unemployment (or employment in a situation that does not require the daily use of English) and her English language skills are good enough to freely communicate with you, particularly if she appears to be fairly "Westernized," then this should serve as a red flag. Most likely, it means that the girl has had several live-in relationships with foreign men or, at the very least, has worked in a setting (such as a bar or Karaoke establishment) that is highly frequented by foreign men. Related, and aside from better than expected English language skills, if the girl has any tattoos, a tolerance to alcohol that is similar to what you would expect of a Western woman (most Chinese women cannot tolerate alcohol at all and will turn red and perspire even after drinking only one beer), or is a cigarette smoker (especially if she is from the countryside), you will seriously need to rule out a history of prostitution. For more information, see How Can I Tell If My Chinese Girlfriend Was a Prostitute? on our reader's forum.
  2. Does the girl have plans to live or study abroad?

    One recent study conducted by the China Youth Daily reports that more than 80% of all university students want to study abroad, and, that in 2006, 130,000 Chinese students did so (Xinhua News, 2007). One easy way to rule this out is to simply convince the girl, whether it is true or not, that you have absolutely no plans in the foreseeable future to return home, until such time that you are sure of her intentions. If she is only interested in obtaining a visa to your country, she will terminate the relationship quicker than you can blink your eye. Related, if you have a significant amount of real assets (i.e., a home, a car, bank accounts, etc.), you would be well-advised to initially lie about it. Deny any wealth or source of income above your current salary. If the girl is decent and truly loves you, a salary of 4,000 to 5,000 yuan per month, plus a rent-free apartment, will be sufficient in terms of covering her basic needs and qualifying you in China as a potential husband. The Chinese are acutely sensitive to the need for one to be especially cautious and careful in selecting a spouse, and any decent girl will readily understand why you were initially misleading about this particular piece of information.
  3. Is there an age difference of more than five years between you?

    Traditional Chinese girls from "good families" will, as a rule, not consider dating men more than five years their senior (with a two- to four-year difference in age being the norm), nor would their families ever accept such a union. There are, of course, legitimate exceptions to this rule. Poorly educated girls and girls from impoverished families (especially those born and raised in rural regions to famers and transient workers), will, as a practical matter, dismiss the significance of age in exchange for a man who is well-intentioned and loving, and who holds the promise of a better life for both her and her family. Obviously, the greater the difference in age between you, the more careful you will need to be in terms of assessing the girl's true reasons for being with you.

Having written this, it is not unusual to find Chinese girls coupled with foreign men as much as 35 years their senior in what are truly loving and mutually satisfying relationships. Most Chinese girls seem to have had very estranged or distant relationships with their fathers and deliberately sought as much as a father in their mates as a husband. One Chinese girl, who was actively pursuing a foreign man twice her age, reported that she was consciously seeking the benefits of "double-love": the love of a father coupled with the love of a husband.

A major exception to the aforementioned advisories includes older Chinese women (35+), particularly those who are divorced with children. In such cases, due to the bias of most Chinese men (and their ubiquitous preference for virgins at marriage), older divorced Chinese women are virtually unmarriageable to anyone other than foreign men (possibly with the exception of a poor woman who weds a previously married Chinese man who earns a marginal living as a farmer or transient worker). In addition, foreign men who can communicate freely in Chinese are obviously not limited to only those women who can speak a reasonable degree of English, and, as such, their options are considerably greater, and their concerns regarding future problems, particularly in terms of compatibility, are far fewer.

The next chapter discusses our latest research findings on dating and marital preferences among women in China.


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Middle Kingdom Life is the premier award-winning educational website for foreign teachers and Western expats in China. It was founded by an American professor in psychology and sociology for the purpose of disseminating valid and reliable information about living and teaching in China. The site's mission is to protect and enhance the interests and social welfare of foreign teachers and Western expats in China.

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