If you’re single, new to China and plan on being here for a while, the issue of dating a Chinese partner will inevitably arise. Besides dealing with the whole “Yellow Fever” stereotype, there are certainly some things you should know before you start dating in China, so you and your Chinese partner don’t have too many surprises along the way.
Keep in mind that these are all generalities, only based on my personal experiences. As such, perhaps not everything I say in the following paragraphs will adhere to every person, Chinese or foreign. Similarly, while I suspect that many of these ideas still apply to some extent if you are a foreign girl looking to date a Chinese guy, or with gay/lesbian dating in China, I unfortunately cannot offer any first-hand accounts of these types of relationships. I welcome the input of our readers in the comments section below!
Let’s just get this one out of the way. You always hear about foreign guys coming to hook up with innocent Chinese girls and then leaving them the next day. The topic is a perennial favorite on Chinese forums and Weibo. These criticisms are 1) patronizing to the women who date foreign guys 2) slightly xenophobic and 3) not entirely unfounded. It’s true that some foreign guys are just looking for a casual sexual relationship. Not all, but some. Yet, the thing that tends to be left out of this discussion in the Chinese blogosphere, is that the people themselves are only acting as agents for the cultures in which they grew up. The heart of this issue comes from the fact that dating, relationships and sex in Western countries is far more casual than in China, even in bigger, more metropolitan cities like Beijing and Shanghai.
When two Chinese go on a first date, especially dates organized by their mothers or a coven of plotting ayis, it can be a fairly serious affair, even with children/families/marriage discussed in some cases. What is not on the table, in most cases, is sex. However, at least in America, we will go on dates with people we hardly even know/like for something interesting to do, a chance at an actual future together, and—this is important—the potential for a mutually-agreed upon sexual relationship. I’m not saying one is more preferable or better than the other, but when you are going on a date with a Chinese or foreign partner, you have to keep in mind how they might be viewing the encounter.
2) Family pressures
If you’ve just stepped off the plane, it’s forgivable that you don’t know the cultural differences just yet. One of the biggest differences you’ll encounter is that parental pressure and lofty expectations play a much larger role in Chinese dating than they do in many Western countries. The parents will get a say in the matter, if not out-right organize the whole relationship. On top of this, the parents are also heavily influenced by their neighbors and siblings and grandparents and the security guard and the vegetable lady they buy xincai from, right on up to Xi Jinping himself.
If you are dating a Chinese, this will be an issue, because they will feel the downward pressure from everyone above them in the generational line. Even if a girl or guy feels more independent and wants to date whoever they want, they will almost always take these family ideas into consideration, even if only on a subconscious level.
I have had the opportunity to discuss “stability” with many older Chinese, and this is the big thing I hear from many Chinese parents. It’s not so much that they don’t like foreigners, it’s just that there is a stereotype—founded or unfounded—that expats in China are far less stable than their Chinese counterparts.
To a certain degree, they’re right. For many of us, China is just a pit stop. Possibly a seven or eight year pit stop, but a pit stop nonetheless. We’ll go back home or move to another country eventually; the parents of your “qin ai de” know this and will take that into consideration. Whether you consider this unfair or not, Chinese parents do not want their daughter or son to become a leftover woman or man, and they’ll take great pains to avoid it, even if it means deliberately sabotaging a relationship. That being said, if you are able to provide that stability, even if you are a foreigner, you will have a much easier time with the potential in-laws.
4) Future Concerns
If you’ve gotten past the initial, difficult stages of establishing your stability in a Chinese-foreign relationship, the conversation will inevitably led to the future, which, depending on your personality, will either relieve you or terrify you. If things are going well with your Chinese partner and you can really see a legitimate future together, there will come a day when you have to make a decision about where to live and raise a family.
It could be in China or in your home country or a completely different country altogether, but the fact of the matter will be that one set of grandparents and one culture will likely have a much greater influence on the children’s lives than the other set and other culture. If you’re the—for lack of a better word— “dominant” cultural influence on your children’s lives, be mindful of the impact that has on the other side of the family.
Conclusions – Be understanding but don’t feel guilty
With these thoughts in mind, remember that the cross-cultural street goes both ways. If you’re dating a Chinese person and you are really interested in making it work, it’s imperative to remember and respect their cultural background and influences; but don’t let yours get swept away and forgotten in the process. Like any relationship, cross-cultural or not, it’s all about give and take. Don’t feel ashamed or guilty if you assert yourself on an issue honestly.
If you want a casual sexual relationship, that’s fine. If you want to get married as soon as possible, that’s fine too. You shouldn’t have to feel bad if you are two consenting adults who understand the situation, whatever it may be. The thing is though, that many times people don’tproperly understand the situation here and aren’t honest with each other, and that’s where hurt feelings and stereotypes start flowing into the discussion. Hopefully, if you keep all these ideas in mind, you’ll be able to understand your cross-cultural partner a little bit better, leading to much happier relationships, in whatever form, in the future.