Victor Zheng is a Chinese “self-media” (自媒体 zì méitǐ) personality, now living in the U.S., who has published in both Chinese and English on various topics touching on cross-cultural dynamics.
Dating dynamics are always interesting to observe, especially the variances in how different cultures or people in different locations perceive certain behaviors or unwritten rules. In China, a currently trending topic is that of the “easy girl,” referring to a certain perception that local girls (commonly those in East and Southeast Asian countries) favor foreign men.
This was a subject that interested me because it has come up in many personal discussions with friends both in and out of China and of varying cultural backgrounds. I had a lunchtime discussion with another self-media personality — someone intimately engaged in the world of Chinese social media — on the cultural weight and importance of this topic. He described the subject as a 痛点 (tòngdiǎn, painful spot or sensitive area), one that touches on a country’s cultural pride, making it particularly fascinating in the Chinese context.
The term “easy girl” is pervasive on the Chinese internet, and can often be found in the comments section of stories or videos involving interracial relationships. For example, in the summer of 2017, one story that ignited heated debate was when a Spanish man was filmed having sex with a Chinese woman in Chengdu. The responses varied from inappropriate taunting to anger at the perception that foreign men just see Chinese girls as “cheap” and as “toys.” Incidentally, state media also enjoys harnessing this subject (for aims I’ll not speculate). “Do China’s women obsess over foreign men?” asked the Global Times. Not to be outdone, “Do Chinese women obsess over foreign men?” asked the China Daily. Google “Chinese girls are easy” and you’ll find much more.
“Do a lot of white people think Chinese girls are ‘easy girls’”? asks a poster on Zhihu, a Quora-like Q&A platform. The page has been visited more than 7 million times.
It sometimes feels like the fact that an interracial relationship can exist at all is a reason for anger. “BBC actually made a video on how to date Chinese girls, netizens outraged,” reads a headline on a piece in Sina. Never mind that the BBC video in question is actually titled “How Not To Date A Chinese Girl,” and is a satirical take on, well, what white men should not do if they want to date a Chinese girl.
Most people are at least superficially aware of the stereotypes associated with Chinese men and women. I suppose, as a Chinese American, I’ve always been aware of the stereotype of the appeal (or lack thereof) of Chinese men; the idea that Chinese girls are “easy” is the flip side of this coin — it’s a misogynistic and dangerous idea, yes, but we can’t ignore that it exists. It’s why it made me want to make the following video (I have another one discussing the perception of Chinese and Asian guys worldwide).
The reactions on my Weibo and Bilibili accounts, while not reflective of “China” (nothing can be, really), at least represent a certain part of China’s hundreds of millions of online citizens. Some say the easy girl stereotype exists because “easy girl” is shorthand for the objective reality that Chinese girls do prefer foreign men: Hollywood and other Western standards of beauty have seeped into the Chinese subconscious, thereby making foreigners seem attractive by comparison. Others are nationalistic: vehement in their stance that Chinese girls are not easy compared with girls in Southeast Asia or other parts of East Asia, since being “easy” implies these girls are “gold diggers” who live in an economically disadvantaged country. Some comments are nakedly sexist and xenophobic, blaming women for making themselves too available for “foreign trash” who have money and prestige, while blaming foreigners for being overly promiscuous.
It goes without saying, but these are not what we’d call good opinions, and they’re a far cry from the thoughtful and nuanced answers my participants gave: They spoke about the influence of Hollywood (34-second mark), the fact that many single young foreigners tend to come to China (4:15), and even the cultural impact of Japanese media (6:42). At the same time, many participants also emphasized that there are many ways to view the stereotype’s existence, and that there are plenty of Chinese who are not conditioned to put foreignness on a pedestal. Perhaps the most crucial viewpoint is articulated by one of my participants at the end: No matter what a relationship looks like on the surface, only the people in that relationship understand why they are together, and ultimately, it’s not up to others to speculate.
Alas, in a country where issues of race are openly and shamelessly discussed, this was the most liked comment on my video on Bilibili: “Chinese people like white skin, it’s not because of foreign influence, it’s been like this since ancient times.”
Some other comments:
I really didn’t have any expectations for how people would react. My personal conclusion from the feedback I’ve seen is that people have a lot of cultural pride, yet also possess very obvious insecurities. It seems to me that society is still wrangling with stereotypes and perceptions, and figuring out what the proper response should be.
I am not sure how much my content has contributed to a productive discussion, but what is most important is that conversation can continue in an objective, rational, and maybe helpful way.
Republished with edits on 2/12, 9 a.m. EST
UPDATE, 2/23: A response: