‘Yellow Fever’ in China: A Fetish or a Preference?
Expats in China discuss how race plays an important role in love lives
By Cecily Huang
While traditionally ‘yellow fever’ has been used to describe a person’s fetish or obsession for Asian women, some expats living in China now claim ‘yellow fever’ is not a fetish but preference and for others something more on their sexual menu.
Yellow Fever and Men
“They are the same. If you have a preference, it can develop into a fetish. You can not generalize about anyone,’ says Tom Laurence, a British businessman in his early 40s, running an advertising agency in Beijing. He has been living in China for the last 5 years.
Since he was a teenager, Tom was convinced that having a blonde woman would empower him as a man and give him social status. He said that was the message from advertising and soft porn magazines like Playboy and Penthouse. He bought into it and only dated blonde women for about 10 years.
Racial preference in the domain of dating and attraction is very often based on racial stereotypes. Before Tom met Lucy, he never developed any particular interest in Chinese women, which are often depicted as ‘feminine and submissive’ in racial stereotyping. Tom never intentionally sought out such a type.
Lucy, from Fujian province in southern China, was educated overseas. She is a modern and independent woman. Tom met Lucy at their workplace when he was struggling in a sexless, loveless marriage for years. The encounter with Lucy was like a ‘rebirth’ for Tom.
Tom soon madly fell in love with Lucy. ‘She is incredibly feminine and sexy. Her skin is like silk. I could not get enough of her’, says Tom, with sparks in his eyes, ‘she is different, exotically different from previous girlfriends. She represented a new sexual way, and something I’d lost in my marriage. ‘
Does it sound somehow similar to the fetish cliché? Tom says Lucy made him feel more masculine in both a psychological and physical way which was a powerful fundamental validation. It is an important part and something that was missing in his marriage and to a degree in Western society. He said many western women grew up in post-feminism and are taught that to please a man is to be inferior. Lucy liked to please him.
Desire can inform not only how men and women should behave, but what they find attractive in a partner. As Dr. Michael Thai from the School of Applied Psychology, at Griffith University, says, ‘We live in a society that, for the longest time, has enforced masculinity in men and femininity in women.’
Tom and Lucy’s intense love affair lasted about two years. Tom decided to stay in the marriage for his kids. However, this very passionate and heartbreaking experience has changed Tom’s preference for women.
He is addicted to what he can not have and so now chases and longs for the intensity of passion again. Perhaps, Tom’s relationship with Lucy can be partly attributed to race or culture. Tom is now dating Chinese women only.
But he says that may change when he moves back to U.K because of sexual availability. Tom is surrounded by Chinese women who are also curious about him. However, he realizes ‘the last women you were in love with will dictate your future sexual preference.’
Yellow Fever and Women
“Yellow Fever” nowadays also refers to western women who prefer to date Asian men.
Sarah Andersson, a writer from Switzerland, developed her interest in Asian men since she was 22.
She says, ‘there are different levels of ‘Yellow Fever.’ For some people, if they only exclusively date Asian, and their personality or character is not an issue, then it is a fetish.’
Sarah started to learn Chinese when she was 18. She watched many famous Chinese martial arts films in cinemas. From the biography of the martial artist, Huo Yuanjiain the 1970s, to the Kong-Fu extravaganza, Heroin 2002, Chinese films present her with strong, manly and determined Chinese men via charming actors such as Jet Li, and Tony Leung. More importantly, it helped Sarah to get rid of the stereotypes about Chinese men, depicted by American culture as geeky, weak and faint.
Her first Asian boyfriend was an Australian born Chinese, who was more ‘traditional’ than any Chinese guys from mainland China she had dated. He was intelligent and successful, and certainly ‘very good in bed’, which ‘kind of helped’.
‘It’s very different to date Chinese guys compared to western guys. You know they have some ideas, like carrying your bag or feeling you need help because you are a woman. It is something I had to get used to, but I sometimes really enjoy it’
Sarah’s next serious Chinese boyfriend, whom she met in U.K, is her husband. They met when they studied at the same university. She moved to China with him afterward.
Sarah thinks Chinese men attract some western women because they are keen to make a commitment, and never leave women wondering about their relationship or ‘what they are’. Most of the western guys, especially, under 30 are commitment phobia. They only want a causal relationship just to have fun.
‘Most Chinese men I came in touch with are dating for marriage. It was actually an issue for me at the beginning’, Sarah says, ‘but, I know western women will appreciate it because there is no in the middle nonsense.’
Sarah says many western women feel they cannot even openly adore children in front of their boyfriends. However, dating Asian men make Sarah feel free and being serious about the relationship does not scare them off.
Both Sarah and Tom admit they have more or less ‘Yellow Fever’ which depends on how you define it. The difference is the Chinese they like to date are not that ‘traditional’ but have had western ‘elements’ which has made them easier to connect with.
Is ‘Yellow Fever’ a Racist Word?
Peng Xiaohui, a retired Chinese sexologist finds ‘Yellow Fever’, which uses the same terminology as a tropical disease ‘insulting’ to Asians. It is absolutely racist.’
Peng says, ‘due to the economic, political dominance of Caucasians in human history for hundreds of years, it made them feel superior since the day they were born. If some people prefer Asians, it challenges their sense of superiority.’
Likewise, Matias Novák from East Europe, working for an international company in Tianjin city, said if someone has ‘Yellow Fever’ back home, it could be regarded as ‘degrading’. It basically implies he is a loser who cannot get a girlfriend back home.
Undoubtedly, the hyper-sexualization and fetishization of Asian women have misled some western men to go to China to look for either the submissive ‘Lotus Blossom’ or the evil ‘Dragon Lady’.
Some western men come to China with dubious intentions. They brag about the number of Chinese women they slept with in online forums. It creates a more exaggerated perception of the stereotypes of Chinese women. They are ‘nobody’ in their countries and such sexual achievements make them feel like ‘somebody’ in China.
Peng says it all attributes to their ‘sense of superiority as white people’.
But Chinese women share a similar sexual curiosity as well. In the big cities of China like Beijing or Shanghai Chinese girls can get easy access to White or Anglo men.
Moreover, dating a ‘white man’ somehow can also make some Chinese women feel empowered and ‘superior’.
The fast development of dating apps, such as ‘Tinder’ and ‘Momo’ facilitate the fast ‘matching’, enhances the lust, convenience, and sexual availability.
Tom said ‘if you really have a fetish for Chinese women, you can easily have four or five Chinese women a week. It is possible, although I did not do it.’
In big cities, many people, whether Chinese or expats, are not surrounded by families or their peer groups whom usually give them some moral parameters or guidelines to live by. The lack of it provides a kind of sexual freedom that everyone can explore.
If being of Asian descent is the primary criteria for someone to date, it is a fetish. However, there is a very fine line between preference and fetish and both could foster each other. For Tom perhaps it has, at the end of the interview, he declared, ‘When I get divorced, I prefer to marry a Chinese woman.’
Note: To protect interviewees, their names have been changed in this article. During the research, I was told more stories. They are funny, absurd, or sometimes touching. I hope I could have a chance to develop those stories to a book when I find a publisher.