I find the American male take on “sajiao” very amusing. Here is Joe Christian’s original piece, which inspired my “Love, lost in translation” article. Read it here, or on China Daily:
For all that has been written about cross cultural relationships I am really surprised no one has really mentioned sajiao. Of course there are a lot of cultural differences that influence any romantic relationship between a Chinese and a Westerner but in my opinion none as often, or as much, as sajiao.
So what is sajiao? It’s not as easy to answer as you might think. Chinese people know what it is because it’s such a big part of their romantic and family relationships. Almost every young Chinese man wants his woman to sajiao to him. But if you ask them for a definition most have a hard time coming up with something precise.
“Now that you asked me it’s not so easy to explain,” one of my Chinese friends told me.
But from a conglomeration of sources that includes my friends and cultural bloggers I will attempt to give you some kind of definition of what sajiao is. So buckle you seatbelt and prepare to be schooled in the art of sajiao.
One way to describe sajiao is when Chinese women act like a cute but spoiled child in an attempt to appear gentle and soft. The pouty faces and innocent eyes are enough to melt the heart of any Chinese man, making them ready to do anything for such an innocent and helpless looking beauty. Which by the way brings me to another aspect of sajiao…the feminine performance of appearing weak to get what you want.
A perfect example would be when I am sitting at my computer surfing the Internet and my Chinese girlfriend is sitting across the room, right next to the water dispenser, watching TV. She will then turn to me with a sulky face and in a childish voice ask me, “baby can you get me some water?”
From my Western perspective my first thought is, “What the hell! You are the one right next to the water dispenser…get it yourself.” But most Chinese men would jump to their feet and rush to the water dispenser to get a fresh glass of water to reward the sajiao of their girlfriend. While I might think it is acting spoiled, Chinese men love sajiao. It makes them feel wanted and gives them a chance to act as the stronger sex.
In fact one of my Chinese friends often complains that his girlfriend doesn’t sajiao enough. “You know, she is too harsh,” he said, “I really feel like I can’t please her.”
Which brings me to the main thrust of this article as to why sajiao is to blame for many of the problems in cross-cultural dating. While things like curiosity, loneliness, and practical benefits help create cross-cultural relationships, nothing destroys them faster than misunderstanding sajiao.
I know a monster of a man from Canada. When he first came to China he looked like a shaved Paul Bunyan on steroids. He wasn’t mean; in fact he was actually very nice and quite funny. Combine this with his handsome looks and Chinese girls quickly started lining up for just a chance to talk with him. But my Canadian friend couldn’t stand most of them. “I hate it when they act so childish,” he would fume. “It drives me nuts…it feels like they are playing some kind of game with me.”
I have another American friend that simply walks out the door as soon as a Chinese girl starts to sajiao to him. “I don’t mean to be cruel but I can’t stand all that,” he said.
It might be easy for them to find a new girlfriend given the immense curiosity many young Chinese women have for foreign men, but a lot of these relationships don’t work out. Blame it on sajiao.
On the flip side, I know a lot of Chinese men that are interested in foreign women for the same reason, they are curious with something that is so different. Yet sadly most can’t even get their foot in the door.
I’ve heard many explanations as to why Chinese men largely fail to pick up a Western girl; everything from media stereotypes to the fact that Chinese men are somehow less aggressive and confident.
But is this really the case, or do the above explanations miss a much more important reason why Chinese men have a problem with foreign women, I think it’s because they ignore the fact that foreign women don’t sajiao. They don’t put on the cute whiny face and play the weaker sex. They want to be equal! For a man that is used to and expects sajiao this can be quite a rude awakening!
In the end whether you are a Chinese or foreign guy and want to find a functioning and lasting relationship you are going to have to adapt. If not, well then at least you now have something to blame…sajiao.