Ode to the Chinese Male (And Lady Laowais Can Have “Yellow Fever” Too)

By guest writer Kapookababy.

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.

Martial arts legend Bruce Lee and his wife Linda (Credit: WENN)
Martial arts legend Bruce Lee and his wife Linda (Credit: WENN)

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.

Half Japanese, half Taiwanese actor Takeshi Kaneshiro
Half Japanese, half Taiwanese actor Takeshi Kaneshiro


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.

Chinese male model Godfrey Gao
Chinese male model Godfrey Gao

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 travelled 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 survey 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.”

American-born Chinese singer-songwriter Wang Leehom
American-born Chinese singer-songwriter Wang Leehom


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.

Taiwanese popstar Jay Chou
Taiwanese popstar Jay Chou


Actors Ethan Ruan and Chang Chen, plus blogger/race-car driver Han Han
Actors Ethan Ruan and Chang Chen, plus blogger/race-car driver Han Han

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.

Editor’s note: this post originally appeared on Kapookababy’s blog, aptly named Kapookababy.  She’s sharing it with us, because she’s awesome.



28 replies on “Ode to the Chinese Male (And Lady Laowais Can Have “Yellow Fever” Too)”

I have to say that I too have Yellow Fever… I’ve dated a number of Asian guys, specifically Japanese guys. I’ve always found them to be beautiful men, soft features and smooth skin.

I married a white guy, but when telling him about this article the other day, he said “If I ever went gay it would be for an Asian guy…” so I guess even straight guys can appreciate a beautiful face on another man from time to time.

I’m the editor that greenlit this piece. I’ve had the pleasure of reading many of the posts on Kapookababy’s blog, which is a riveting story about her transition from being a Chinese woman in Australia to being a Chinese woman living, as somewhat of an outsider, in China.

First, I think it would be horribly presumptuous of me, especially as a white woman, to judge how a non-white woman writes about race. In that same train of thought, I think it’s dangerous to expect a non-American writer to hold the (mostly) Western, American, liberal values that would have changed some of the word choices in this piece.

This piece made me think, a lot, about race, gender, culture and perception and how they all intersect with each other. It made me think about assumptions I make about others with different experiences than mine. It made me think about where and how my own thoughts on equality were formed, and what influences and circumstances I needed to have in order to think critically about my own assumptions.

In short, I ran this piece because Kapookababy’s experience is likely outside the experience of most of the readers of this blog. I ran it because I love a good fish out of water story, and hers has a unique twist. I ran it because all the best fish out of water stories are clumsy and awkward in the beginning.

In retrospect, I wish we’d run a different piece by her first. Like this one, on migrant workers in China, or this one, on English tutors, or this one on internet freedom.

Thanks for your response, but I take issue with some of your arguments.

I am not opposed to reading things that run counter to my politics or moral sense. There have been plenty such posts on this site. This particular post reads very differently from those.

I agree that it’s problematic to take issue with someone’s personal experience of their race. I do not agree that it’s the same thing to sit by while someone makes blanket statements about entire cultures or races. No one person owns a culture or race, whether or not it’s “their” culture or race. No one Korean American can speak for all of us, nor can I speak for Koreans in Korea. Your concern as a White person is commendable, but it doesn’t mean that you should turn off your offensiveness filter when a person of color talks. That seems incredibly patronizing, and, in this case, led to a very hurtful situation for a number of readers.

I’m glad that the piece made you think. But the thinking that you did, and the education that you received from it, came today at my expense. You say you don’t encounter these attitudes regularly. I encounter attitudes essentializing my race, my ethnicity, and my culture(s) every damn day. A really thoughtful piece about how we form our Western/American/liberal values would have been welcomed! Instead, I ran into ugly prejudices that I see reflected back at me from every corner of the mainstream media, and on a website where I have come, however wrongly, to feel a sense of community.

Asian Americans are probably not “most of the readers of this blog,” but we are in fact part of your readership. At least a few of us were hurt or angered by the choice to run this post today. I urge you to set up some kind of editorial safety net among you to vet pieces that might well feel to a reader like a punch in the gut.

I certainly didn’t intend for anyone to feel punched in the gut. And I didn’t say anything about not experiencing attitudes in my response above. I also certainly didn’t mean that we don’t have Asian American readers, I know otherwise.. I said growing up in Australia and moving to China is probably an experience very few or our readers share. I can tell you from our stats that very few of our readers live in China.
I didn’t read one sentence in this piece that made me think the writer was trying to speak for all Chinese women, or all Asian women, or all Asians.

I think if the writer has read the comments, she’s gotten the message that her voice isn’t welcome here.

I certainly didn’t intend for anyone to feel punched in the gut.

Intention doesn’t equal impact. You didn’t intend for this to hurt, but you’re still responsible for the editing choice that you made that hurt people.

I said growing up in Australia and moving to China is probably an experience very few or our readers share.

The experience she’s had is certainly unique, but it’s very clear that the myriad stereotypes she espouses are the real point of this piece.

I didn’t read one sentence in this piece that made me think the writer was trying to speak for all Chinese women, or all Asian women, or all Asians.

“Many of the qualities of Chinese culture, when placed side by side with Western culture, are feminine in nature.”
“The timbre of an African voice resonates deeply. And his form is generally more muscular. ”
“I discovered that I was quite into Chinese Mainland guys. I love how they text you every hour…I love how soft their skin is.”
“Perhaps it’s fair to say on a traditional scale of masculinity, Chinese men come up comparatively short.”

These, at the very least, contain troubling generalizations about race, culture, and gender. If it helps you, feel free to imagine how you’d feel if this article were written by a White man, or were about women, or a different racial group.

Culture isn’t a monolith; “Eastern” culture can be just as independent and assertive as “Western” culture, and those characteristics in turn are no more masculine than feminine.

There is no one “African voice.” There is no one African “form.” (That bit reads disturbingly like various 19th century ethnographic treatises.)

Perhaps her experience of Chinese Mainland guys is conditioned by what she herself enjoys, but that awareness is nowhere in her statement. Instead, they all text constantly and have smooth, silky skin. Oh-kay.

And of course, Chinese men fall short on traditional masculinity. Assumptions encoded in that statement: Chinese men as monolith, Chinese culture as feminine, traditional masculinity being a set of characteristics assumed to be universal, assumption that people are looking and seeing the same thing she is.

It’s not only the assumptions that she makes, but the exoticizing and fetishizing subtext that offends. As an Asian woman, I know it well, and I hate to see it applied to anyone else. It’s not transgressive when it happens to a traditionally (in the US) desexualized group. It’s still just garden-variety fetishization.

I think if the writer has read the comments, she’s gotten the message that her voice isn’t welcome here.

It’s really not about her. I have no problem with people being offensive on their own blogs. What I do take issue with is having this essay presented as par for the course here, something that I just need to swallow as a reader. It was an editing decision that brought it here, and I expect some ownership for the hurt that your decision caused, and some stated intention to do things with more care. I don’t think that’s unreasonable.

“First, I think it would be horribly presumptuous of me, especially as a white woman, to judge how a non-white woman writes about race.”

I didn’t even get far enough to find out the race of the person who wrote this– that’s how bad the title and the opening were. When terms like ‘yellow’ fever’ and ‘foreign women’ are used and Asian men are described as ‘smaller, softer, and sweeter,’ you should see red flags, and then you should remember that racism is often internalized and consult with other women of color (not “non-white”; that centers whiteness) before choosing to publish something like this. Throwing your hands up and saying “I’m white!” isn’t an acceptable excuse.

And if you’re going to start running articles that aren’t ‘liberal’– i.e. that are racist, sexist, homophobic, etc.– just because they might make us think, then Persephone isn’t the site I thought it was, and I’m out of here.

If you’re only reading the first lines, you’re probably missing a lot anyway.

The writer said Asian men’s facial features were smaller, softer and sweeter. You misquoted it twice. And yes, the author is an Asian woman. Who has never lived in America, and therefore may not be aware or have access to American sites on racial discourse. Do women of color need to know all the rules before they’re allowed to talk? Holding an American ladyblog to high expectations of cultural sensitivity is one thing, most American ladybloggers have access to the tools they need to talk about race. Holding a non-American writer who is also a woman of color to those same standards assumes a lot.

Yes, I probably am missing a lot, but I don’t want to wade through a lot of nonsense to get there.

Excuse me- Asian men’s facial features. That doesn’t at all change the impact of the statement or my point in referring to it.

You’re digging yourself in deeper here. Anti-racism is not an American thing, nor is it a ‘Western’ thing. And of course no one needs to know ‘the rules’– by which you of course mean ‘know how to not be racist’– but when someone says racist shit, it gets called out. That’s how it works. I reject the notion that someone needs special ‘tools’ to not stereotype an entire race of people, especially one to which she doesn’t belong– something that’s being overlooked here with regard to the comment about Africans.

I’m glad other commenters are agreeing that this is one offensive fucking article. My question is less about the author’s motives, though, and more along the lines of, ‘Where the hell are the editors’? Can we get a response here?

I agree! I too would like some sort of response from the editors regarding their decision to post this article. The author is entitled to her opinion on her personal blog, but I think there needs to be some sort of accountability by the editors on what they choose to crosspost, because the way it comes across is that they condone the content. I may be mistaken, but I thought I remembered reading during a call for submissions that there are no restrictions on guest post content, but I do think this article speaks to the importance of some sort of editorial screening process – as well as having a dialogue about problematic content between editors and readers/commenters.

I am finding it difficult to see what the author’s point in writing this was, and finding it equally as bewildering that Persephone would publish it. I can see that there was at least an attempt in analyzing the Western view of Asian men as less masculine/less attractive, and yet the author still essentially plays into such notions of masculinity with the comparison of her relationship with her Chinese boyfriend to same-sex relationships. That is just plain offensive.

As an Asian-American woman who already feels invisible in the feminist dialogue dominated by white women, I’m really disappointed this was published here without much consideration as to the perpetuation of stereotypes regarding Asian men. Just because the OP is “ethnically 100% Chinese” does not make it any less racist than the average article written by a white guy with a weird Asian fetish.

Perhaps I misunderstood this article (which I re-read several times), but I came off feeling offended.

Another deeply creeped-out Asian American reader here. This post is reflective not of essential physiological or cultural truths, but the deep prejudices of the author.

I am hurt that this appeared on Persephone. When I want to be told that Asian men and culture are feminine and Western culture is masculine and Africans are muscley and have deep voices and that feminine = gay = Asian, I can look for that in mainstream media. I’m pretty disappointed that I get to be slapped in the face like this by one of my favorite websites at the beginning of my day.

I’ve meditated on this piece for a while now, to figure out exactly what my feelings were on it. Most of my feelings echo the comments below and when it comes down too it, it just feels like the saying “good intentions pave the way to hell”. Its tokenizing, even down to the titles suggesting that ladies can have yellow fever too. As a ww in a relationship with an am, I don’t want to have yellow fever, I jsut want to care about my partner for who he is, and im not going to only seek out am b/c they are am. Thats fetishizing and I think much has been said on how that can be harmful, not only enforcing existing stereotypes, but creating distrust in people who might fear seeking out partners of other races because they might be tokenized. Just because the dynamic is reversed from the “standard”, doesn’t mean that it is less up for criticism then the other.
It just feels like the authors experience, which is limited, therefore when you are applying it as a universal, its even more so. Thats how offensive things keep happening, is when we think that our experience is just the standard quo and everyone should follow suit.
As someone who writes for Persephone, and takes a lot of pride in that and also in Persephone for being a great community where discussions don’t veer into this type of territory, it is disappointing to see this here. My hope is that the author of this piece could understand why this is inherently stigmatizing and do something proactive about it, as well as Persephone keeping pieces like this from being on the site in the future.

I’m glad other commenters seem as shocked as I am.
I live in Taiwan (and was rather amused by the conflation of Taiwan and China, since in an article from someone living on the Mainland and into Mainlanders you post mainly Taiwanese men), and I’m a white girl who dates Asian men. My current boyfriend is Taiwanese; I’ve also dated Korean, Mongolian, and Kazakh men (all in Taiwan).
So I think I get to say this : there’s nothing more feminine or feminized about them, other than the stereotypes I grew up with in Europe. I got over those. Apparently you didn’t.
I didn’t stop reading Jezebel for this, dammit.

Before I responded to this post I read it over a few times to really understand what was being said and shared it with my partner, who is a Chinese Canadian man, born in Hong Kong, raised in Canada and the US. We had a lot to talk about.

I find the article inaccurate, and makes some unfair comparisons. I do not think that simply being shorter and more slender instantly makes one more feminine than one’s Western, white counterpart. While my partner acknowledged that there is a trend in many East Asian countries towards feminine fashion styles for men, that doesn’t strike me as what you’re referring to here. It reads as if you stereotype Chinese men, as a whole, as being more feminine, based on their body types, than men of other races. I think cursory observations proves that as untrue.

What is also terribly off-base is your comparison to a relationship between two men. I’m white. My partner and are are within two inches of height with one another and within ten pounds in weight. Never have I once felt the need to compare our relationship to a gay, may relationship because we are of similar body mass. I mean, fine, call it a gender subversion, but don’t draw parallels between yourself and your partner and a gay relationship. It’s really off the mark and offensive.

As an Asian American I’m pretty upset that this article was posted on Persephone. I’m not really sure what this was trying to accomplish, as all it does is perpetuate ridiculously tired stereotypes about effeminate, emasculated Asian men. Even this post’s tone of “celebrating” Asian men is still staggeringly offensive, because it still relies on racist stereotypes of what an Asian man is like. The premise seems to be underpinned by this idea of this mystic Orient, where Asians are so culturally alien that they can never fully assimilate to Western culture and its “traditional scale of masculinity.” Hypothesizing that “foreign women” “turn up their noses” at Chinese men because they’re “too feminine” completely sidesteps the very real and very pervasive racism and anti-Asian sentiment that have been created and perpetuated by the western media.

And the entire idea that dating a Asian man is like being in a gay relationship is just so utterly offensive and reminds me of that horrible article in Details magazine a few years ago – “Gay or Asian”?

I really hope the editors will screen these guest posts more carefully, because this just comes across as really racist and makes me feel very alienated from the Persephone community.

“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.”

…what? seriously? I…don’t…no, what? How are Asian men ‘smaller, softer, and sweeter’? How are they not just portrayed that way by our racist media? Asian men are only unattractive to “foreign women” (could you pick a more problematic term?) because of crap like this. Forgive me for not reading the rest of this article, but I just can’t.

Uh what were there words to accompany photos of my favorite East Asian dudes?

No, but seriously it’s not that East Asian men come up short on the traditional scale of masculinity. It’s how western media have kept them down. Look back to the giggling buck toothed Asian housekeepers, gardeners, and restaurant workers of old Hollywood.

Don’t even get me started on Mickey Rooney’s Mr. Yuni-sushi or whatever the f*ck his name was (does it matter?!) in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

The one exception to the rule was Bruce Lee, but his life was cut (too) short to have a a full impact on Hollywood and western media. He was shut out of major roles–google the background to “Kung Fu” TV series to get the lowdown–and was so frustrated that he returned to Hong Kong to make films that he could control artistically. The gorgeous and talented Takeshi Kaneshiro has expressed similar frustration and remains working in East Asia.

There aren’t many East Asian super stars who can cross over to the west. Jackie Chan is still a holdover from the happy asexual man. Yes he has a lot of Bruce Lee in him too, but he does not have substantial love scenes in his American films.

There are a few spots of hope. Sung Kang had an interracial love interest in the end of Fast Five, and there is a banking commercial (sorry can’t recall the name–marketing fail) featuring an East Asian and Caucasian woman. Those who do (try to) make it big on the silver screen are still mostly relegated to action movies though. Stereotypes persist.

However when it comes to crossing into further territory with media portrayals of East Asian straight men and dark-skinned WOC, well I’m still waiting.

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