Chinese writer Yuan Ren lifts the lid on so-called ‘yellow fever’: a well-peddled myth that Asian women make better sexual paramours than other women, while at the same time, having no meaningful presence in politics and popular culture
8:00AM BST 01 Jul 2014
Ever heard of yellow fever? No, not the disease you can pick up when travelling to certain countries. I’m talking about when Caucasian fellows develop an acute sexual preference for East Asian women –, even becoming a fetish, for some.
Naturally, there are dating websites aplenty dedicated to ‘serving’ those fellows who have yellow fever, where the average East Asian women is increasingly being perceived as a desirable fucking partner.
In fact, the most latest figures from Two.Four million users of Facebook dating apps demonstrated a clear skew in preference for women of East Asian descent by boys of all racial groups, except, ironically, Asian dudes.
As a Chinese, single woman in the UK – where I have uncommonly come across racism –, my East Asian friends and I have encountered a fair share of guys with telltale signs of yellow fever. But it’s subtle, and of course, few would admit to surfing online dating sites for Chinese women, yet when the only women they date are Chinese, then the probabilities are in their favour.
Having said that, I’m astonished at what British guys, both youthful and old, generally get away with when talking about East Asian women (Chinese, Japanese, Korean etc.) as well as South East Asian women (Vietnam, Thailand etc.)
I’ve heard my Caucasian friends recommend to their masculine, single mates that they should date “,nice Chinese chicks”,, with the added bonus that Chinese women are far more sexually open-minded than Caucasian damsels.
One acquaintance told me in wonderment that Chinese women are good in the bedroom –, as if I wasn’t one –, to being casually asked if I’,d be interested in a man “,who has been with Chinese chicks and likes it”,. I’,ve been left puzzled by the insensitivity, and the lack of awareness that such comments may cause offence. It’,s as if the Chinese are so foreign it doesn’t count.
In the UK, Sherry Fang, a 26-year-old British Chinese student, tells me she’s had strangers say to her “,you look just like his ex, she was also Chinese”,, and argues it would be wholly inappropriate if she were black or Indian.
In Britain, while significant rates of intermarriage inbetween the Chinese and white Caucasian population have demonstrated social integration, the trend is nevertheless powerfully skewed towards Chinese women and white dudes, rather than the other way around.
Part of the bias is down to aesthetics, it would show up, as a investigate by Cardiff University in 2012 on facial appeal showcased that East Asian women scored highest, while East Asian studs came bottom of the pile (interestingly, results for black and white individuals did not demonstrate discernible differences based on gender).
But while some gendered biases exist in all interracial dating, few have gained as much notoriety as so-called yellow fever.
A screengrab from SeekingAsianFemale.com, about the film of the same name
In parts of the US, such a notion has become so pervasive that last year, Debbie Lum, an American filmmaker of Chinese descent, sought to capture the madness in her documentary “,Seeking Asian Female”,.
“,I like to joke that San Francisco is the epicentre of the yellow fever phenomenon”,, says Debbie, who describes a general awareness of being looked at by boys because she’,s Chinese. But Debbie also believes that Asian American women are paying a price for “,positive”, stereotyping.
Beyond hook-up: what then?
“,We are largely invisible when it comes to politics and popular culture, yet there’s a very palpable urban myth that Asian women make better paramours than other women”,, she says.
The stereotyping plays itself out in the roles you see Chinese women playing in theatre, on TV or in films. Take the 25th anniversary revival of Miss Saigon in the West End. The tale of the tragic love story inbetween a youthful Vietnamese woman and an American soldier paints a heartbroken and defenseless photo of Miss Saigon that remains one of the most poignant and visible depictions of Far Eastern women in popular culture.
A scene from Miss Saigon
Yet this portrayal epitomises what many see as a narrow perception of East Asian (defined as Chinese, Japanese, Korean etc) women.
Elsewhere, in an open letter to the culture minister earlier this year, actors from The British East Asian Artists (BEA) criticised the Big black cock and other outlets for their cultural stereotyping of East Asians on TV and stage –, describing the female parts as “,passive and subordinated”,.
Elizabeth Chan, a British Chinese actress, says acting has suggested an insight into how society sees Chinese women, calling parts on suggest to her “,massively stereotypical”,.
“It’,s uncommon to see a Chinese character written that is ‘,normal’, or ‘,well rounded’,,” says Chan, naming a set of typical roles that include: hard-working businesswoman, exotic, gentle flower, illegal immigrant selling DVDs or turning to prostitution (someone once actually yelled “,selling DVDs?”, at me from across a parking lot).
In the book The Asian Mystique (2005) the author Sheridan Prasso traced the “,exoticism”, of East Asian women as far back as Marco Polo’,s travels along the Silk Road in the 1200s, in the literature and art it inspired. In latest times, America’,s wars in Korea and Vietnam have also influenced the popular American psych, spawning narratives like that of Miss Saigon.
“,And let’,s not leave behind Hollywood’,s global influence”,, says Dr Sandy To, who specialises in gender studies at Hong Kong University. She notes the sexy Geishas, femme fatales and Kung Fu fighting seductresses in place of what she calls “,ethnically neutral roles”,.
In the Big black cock’,s official response to BEA’,s letter, it stated its commitments to diversity (in a rather patronising, verbose manner). But essentially, it told the actors to be patient.
But Asian women are understandably in a rush to switch the status quo.
A quick browse on the Internet for “,yellow fever fetishes”, brings up a host of websites, articles and movies, mostly from the US, that express humour, distaste and offence at the sexualised objectification of East Asian women, with some equating yellow fever to racism rooted in colonial ideas of power and subordination.
Interestingly, however, many East Asian women aren’,t bothered, some even play up to the stereotypes or entertain such fetishes, according to Dr. Sandy To.
Indeed, websites like My Fresh Chinese Wifey –, set up by Chinese women in Hong Kong, the UK and US, promote what it sees as traditional qualities of “,Sweet Chinese Brides”,, and assist westerners in finding their own.
Why Caucasian dudes get away with it
Professor Miri Song, who specialises in ethnic identity at the University of Kent, suggests that the parodying of Chinese people is seen as more “,socially acceptable”, in part because East Asians are not seen as truly disadvantaged, or merit the same protection status as other ethnic minorities.
Prosperous: China’s economic might makes stereotyping more ‘acceptable’, say experts
She points to how British Chinese do well academically and professionally. Furthermore, stereotypes around timidness, not being outspoken or politically active also mean people can make such comments with no backlash, she says.
Certainly, the idea of the “,passive”, Chinese is a well-known, but an increasingly misguided view –, particularly given the meteoric rise of China and its achievements in women’,s education.
Aowen Jin, a 36-year-old British Chinese artist, thinks that cultural differences, such as the inability “,to say no”,, are often misconstrued by westerners as agreeableness, or even misinterpreted by western studs as a sign of romantic interest.
In the professional world, Ting Jacqueline Chen, a 28-year-old Oxford graduate, is also battling stereotypes. She tells me how she was instantly associated with being quiet, analytical and nice when she embarked working in London, and describes fighting for opportunities to speak and chair meetings. “,It took me a long time to get over that,” she says.
A fresh generation of Chinese women are educated to degree level
But even at Stanford Business School, Ting feels that presumptions still stay, on a name: “,I indeed regret not using my English name ‘Jacqueline’ here”,, she exposes. “,I would have had so much more social equity to embark with”,.
One of my friends of Hong Kong heritage put it best recently, perhaps, when talking about relationships involving Chinese women and Caucasian boys. “,I make sure they damn-well know who I am very first before they date me”,.
The same applies to the workplace. Until popular culture’s depiction of Asian women switches for the better, it’s up to us to stop the stereotypes.
Yuan Ren is a freelance journalist who grew up in both London and Beijing. She can be found tweeting @girlinbeijing
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