Chinese Men Looking West
By Tiffany Tan
"Chinese man fancies Western woman" was the title of the personal ad Li Lei posted online, in which he asked if any Western "ladies (in Beijing) are open to a long-term and serious relationship with a Chinese guy". And by "long-term and serious", Li meant marriage.
Marriages between Chinese men and Western women in China are noticeably fewer than vice versa, so why is Li taking the road less travelled?
After studying for a combined five years in the Netherlands and United Kingdom, the 30-year-old Beijinger discovered he preferred the personality of Western European women. He considers them more independent than their Chinese counterparts, less girlish and more straightforward.
Li puts extra emphasis on the last attribute.
"That's something I really love. If they want something, they just tell you," he says in British-accented English, his boyish face lighting up. "Although it is the nature of a woman to want somebody to figure them out, the key factor is the degree."
Besides writing personals, the trading company project manager also participates in speed-dating parties with foreigners and frequents international networking events.
Tony, a 28-year-old native of Hunan who asked not to use his real name, is also keen on Western women.
After two serious relationships with Chinese women, in which he got exasperated trying to figure out the reason why his girlfriends got upset, he decided two years ago that a North American or European woman would suit him better.
"Let's adjust the preferences," he remembers thinking at that point. Tony has worked as a data analyst at a multinational company for five years and has regular interactions with female foreign co-workers.
Tony and Li's preference for Western women, the men say, is also due to the growing materialism of Chinese women and the pressure to provide a new apartment for one's bride-to-be.
"In this situation, a foreign girl will say, 'OK, we can marry first before we have a house. We can work together to buy a house. There's not so much pressure on you. Both of us can bear this,'" Tony says, citing conversations with female foreign acquaintances.
Li says the spotlight on newlyweds' possessions is something that "distorts love in China".
Li and Tony's taste in women may put them in the minority, but their numbers are growing as more foreign women come to China and more Chinese men learn foreign languages and experience life overseas.
Fishbowl Events, a Beijing group run by foreigners and known for its speed-dating parties, has observed a marked increase in male Chinese participants in the past few years.
"In 2007, we had about 20 per cent Chinese men," says Ola Zdzarska, co-owner of Fishbowl. "Now it is 40 per cent.
"Some of them are really focused on foreign girls. When I see (evaluation) cards after the speed dating, I see they don't take Chinese girls seriously, because they just want to date foreign girls."
Tristin Tang, 35, never imagined dating a Westerner, much less marrying one. He was intent on completing his doctorate in pharmacology when he met the niece of his American language partner during a vacation to his home province of Sichuan, in 2005.
Five years later, he and Christina Gabe of Denver, Colorado, are married and raising three boys in Beijing.
Tang and Gabe, who say people often mistake them for an American tourist and her guide, display the comfort of being both lovers and friends.
"We are similar in a lot of ways," says Gabe, 33, a former US Peace Corps volunteer and now a high school English teacher. "We both have a very dry sense of humour We're both interested in science, like biology was my major."
Tang pipes in: "We also both like outdoor activities," such as biking, camping, hiking and playing soccer.
The couple says bridging cultural differences remains a challenge - such as how much clothing on a child is too much, and how to treat a cold - but this has made them more vigilant about communicating effectively.
"Knowing that we have two separate languages has sort of forced us and also made us communicate more, whereas if couples (speak) the same language, they just assume that things are understood," Gabe says. "In some ways, I think this has been a benefit."
The husband and wife are on the right track, based on the factors that psychologists say make a successful marriage.
"Every relationship is about curiosity and communication and openness to learn and a willingness to accept," says Dr Alfred Chambers, a relationship-counseling specialist at Beijing United Family Hospital and Clinics.
"But when there's different cultures, there's just more things to learn and so we need more curiosity and acceptance and patience," he says, stressing it is a life-long process.
Before a couple marries, Chambers says it is important to discuss crucial topics such as: roles and basic assumptions regarding parenting, money, sex and family, including in-laws.
Traditional roles and expectations are two reasons why there are fewer unions between Chinese men and Western women.
"A Western woman will not fit the traditional role of a Chinese wife," which includes being obedient to her husband and in-laws to give them face, says Chambers, who has worked in Taiwan and the mainland for a decade.
"Traditionally, a Chinese man will want a woman who is more submissive and listens and sort of follows her duties - whether it's cooking or sex," the clinical psychologist says. "Western women will be more open, aggressive, assertive sexually."
Men like Li Lei and Tony may be different in their dating outlook, but in other ways they are just your average Chinese guys.
Both are quite shy making new acquaintances. They have parents who would still prefer a Chinese daughter-in-law because of the language and culture gap.
And at the end of the day, each man just wants to find the woman who's right for him.
Source: China Daily, 11 Nov 2010