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

Understanding the Attraction to Foreign Men

In previous editions of the guide, we had asserted an unqualified, ubiquitous and pervasive preference for foreign men over Chinese men for most women in China. However, based on new data derived from a current research study in progress of 302 Chinese young adults, ranging in age from 16 through 30-years old (Mavrides, 2009), it appears that those claims were overstated—or, at the very least, need to be better qualified.

In our current study, not one of the 144 female respondents indicated a strong or exclusive preference for dating and marrying a foreign man and only 4.2% indicated even a moderate preference for dating and marrying a Westerner. About 32% stated that it didn't matter either way (no preference based on race or culture) and another 48.6% indicated a preference for a Chinese man but stated that they would consider a foreigner "if the right one came along" (ibid). The most common reasons stated for these findings were "parents would never agree to a foreigner," "too many cultural differences leading to problems later on," and "difficulty communicating."

In light of this new evidence, what we now believe is that foreign men provide a very attractive alternative to those Chinese women who feel they are not competitive for the most desirable and sought after Chinese men. This group of women primarily include:

  1. Women who are considered to be relatively unattractive or just mediocre in appearance by Chinese standards (see unit Understanding Chinese Women, for a complete discussion of the discrepancy between Western and Chinese standards of beauty). This also includes women with darker-toned skin and probably all minority women. This is not to suggest that these women are truly unattractive, it's just that they might not be regarded as pretty in China. Keep in mind that Chinese actresses Lucy Liu (who has attained sex symbol status in the States) and Zhang Ziyi (who was voted one of the 50 most beautiful people in the world by People magazine) are both considered to be "a little ugly" in China.
  2. Women over the age of 30 and those who are no longer virgins, irrespective of marital status. While age and virginity were the least important assets in men sought after by women, they ranked in 6th and 7th place for the male respondents in the study (followed by profession and height in 8th and last place, respectively).
  3. Women who are divorced especially, but not only, if they have a child.
  4. Women from poor families, especially those whose parents are farmers and transient workers and were not born in a first-tier city. Chinese men ranked the girl's education and family background as 4th and 5th in order of importance, exceeded only by character, health and appearance in first, second and third place, respectively.
  5. Finally, and quite cynically, unscrupulous women who are otherwise quite competitive for the most desirable Chinese men but who are Western-bound at any cost and are primarily, if not only, interested in the foreign man's visa.

However, having just written this, it should be kept in mind that approximately 65% of China is still agricultural and, therefore, the majority of women in China today do come from relatively poor families and the countryside. In addition, the vast cultural differences in definition and perception of Asian beauty have created a rather large pool of available Chinese women who are more than eager to seek comfort and affirmation of their self-worth and desirability as women from men with "big eyes" and "tall noses," even if they can't speak a word of English.

Consequently, within this aforementioned and relatively large sub-group of women, it is not unusual to see Western men coupled with girls 25 to 35 years their junior, irrespective of their overall appearance, weight, height, intelligence, personality, level of education, financial assets, work history or any other attribute that would be a determining factor in mate selection in the West. Completely aside from those who may harbor or be primarily driven by ulterior motives, e.g., a visa to a Western country, a better life, guaranteed lifetime financial support for the family, an opportunity to practice one's English language skills in pursuit of some other, higher goal, etc., some girls are simply and genuinely attracted to the more open and direct manner that characterizes most Western men when compared to that of the average Chinese man. As one girl explained: "My ex-boyfriend was always telling me to 'shut-up,' that I was 'too noisy'. I really like you because I can talk freely and I always know how you feel."

In the countryside, as well as in the poorer provinces, domestic violence is rampant: Girls from these environments will feel deeply loved if only they are not beaten. It will take little more than that for you to win their hearts—that and a little bit of genuine kindness. A very pretty 24-year old girl, in response to being asked if she truly loved her obese and well below-average looking foreign boyfriend, more than twice her age, who was a chronic alcoholic and clearly suffering from Korsakoff's syndrome (symptoms include memory loss, confabulation, poor insight, meager content in conversation and apathy), responded, without hesitation, that she did and to my look of utter disbelief she explained: "Every day he tells me that he loves me and I know that he means it." Most Chinese men and women have never heard, not even once, their parents express the words "I love you." Our current study revealed that the less competitive a girl perceived herself to be as a marital choice, the more likely she was to value romanticism and demonstrative affection in a man, especially if she was not raised in an upper middle-class family.

Finally, and it's a point worth mentioning here, as most Chinese girls expect to have a child one day and particularly given how Western physical characteristics (i.e., "big eyes," "tall nose") are perceived as highly desirable in China, many girls will deliberately seek a foreign man with the physical appearance of their future child in mind. During your stay in China, you will hear many girls comment on how interracial babies born to Chinese-Western parents are "so beautiful" and "very clever." Although we don't consider this to be a major factor in their attraction to foreign men, it is a thought that definitely enters into the minds of Chinese women of child-bearing years as an added benefit to having a Western husband.

Fear of Abandonment

Worried Woman

The divorce rate is soaring in China and conservative estimates now place it at 22 to 25% (Xinhua, 2006). The reasons stated for this recent increase include the incorporation of simplified divorce procedures in 2003 (it now costs only 10 yuan and takes less than 20 minutes to get a divorce at a local civil affairs department), increased affluence for both husbands and wives, and the greater influence of Western values. Chinese women, particularly the younger ones, appear far more willing to divorce their husbands for infidelity than ever before and highly successful Chinese men, whose fathers and grandfathers lived during a time when second wives and concubines were still permitted by law, psychologically view such indulgences as their inalienable birthright.

So great is this fear among Chinese girls of being cheated on and later abandoned by their husbands for a much younger woman once they reach middle-age, most Chinese girls prefer to work and accumulate their "own money" in preparation for such an event, irrespective of how wealthy the husband may be (and, often, especially if he is wealthy, as Chinese men with money are far more likely to cheat on their wives than those who are poor). In fact, this fear of future abandonment and inevitable divorce may account for why only 53.8% of our study's female respondents indicated definite intentions of eventually getting married.

Consider the following personal account of a 55-year old Chinese woman who strongly suspects that her husband is cheating on her, but ultimately succumbs to the fear of what life would be like for her if she were to divorce:

Although Ms. Liu is 55 years old now, she seems more fashionable and younger. In the eyes of other people, she has a happy family since her husband is a leader of an enterprise with high pay and her son is also an outstanding student studying in a key university. However, she is the only one who tastes the bitterness of family life. Her husband seldom comes back home for supper but says he is out socializing. Therefore, she worries her husband is having extramarital relations. Her son, who always looks indifferent, has a luxurious life and often gets angry with her.

Troubled by these family problems, she received counseling. She confessed she was afraid of her husband divorcing from her. "Although women are encouraged to enjoy an independent life, I still worry about the reality after divorce. It is very hard for women like me aged 50 to make a living in a competitive society. We had a tough childhood and experienced three years of natural disaster. Our work was also interfered by the Cultural Revolution. When we became old, many of us faced the problem of unemployment. Taking into account of all these experiences, I dare not divorce," she said (The Evening News, 2007, translated from Chinese by the Women of China).

Given the pervasive fears of abandonment that most Chinese women seem to have, it is not difficult to understand why much older foreign men who hold the promise of long-term devotion, fidelity, and dependability, provide them with the opportunity to receive "double-love," i.e., the love of husband coupled with that of a father and, as an added bonus, also find them to be genuinely beautiful (when most Chinese men do not) would be so desirable to them in China.

The next unit discusses dating etiquette and information about sex and relationships you should be aware of in China.




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