The judgment of my people

I know, how predictable. Here I go complaining about how Chinese people like to judge Chinese women who date non-Chinese (read: western, Caucasian, white, whatever euphemism you prefer) men. But, hey, it’s an important rant and it bears repeating.

One of my more devoted (most?) readers, DC, also points out that there’s another article on the subject of love in today’s paper, right next to mine. DC says: “Amusing and somewhat sad irony that the headline link of your today’s China Daily article appears directly above another article by a Chinese female (Dinah Chong Watkins), entitled “Why women miss their chance with Mr Right”.  Your usual laudable efforts to promote a more international and cosmopolitan consciousness in China is totally negated by Watkins’ reactionary piece, which implies that the only possible “Mr Right” for a Chinese woman to marry is a Chinese man (odd that her surname suggests she’s married to a foreigner!).

Read here, or at China Daily:

We the Chinese are a judgmental people, unafraid of assumptions, eager with advice and completely unencumbered by the Western notions of “political correctness”. I say this with the deepest affection for my culture and my people. Despite some of the American sensibilities I have acquired over the years, I still very much espouse the Chinese brand of straight-forwardness.

Why pretend to like foreign food if your palate has life-long been accustomed to one cuisine? Although my father’s insistence on rice at every meal inconvenienced family holidays abroad, I prefer his unabashed honesty to faux cosmopolitan politesse. It used to bother me when my American clients, for the sake of making conversation, would exclaim to me, “I love Chinese food!” Their favorite dishes? Choy suey, lemon chicken, fortune cookies, and other culinary creations of dubious geographic origin.

I can make my own money!

Why go out of your way to compliment someone’s new haircut – which you secretly find unflattering – just to check off the courtesy box? (But I do draw the line at going out of your way to point out shortcomings, as older Chinese aunties are liable to do whenever they spot a few extra kilos on my frame).

However, there is one kind of judgment I can’t stand – the judgment we reserve for Chinese girls dating non-Chinese guys.

A lovely Chinese lady on the arm of a (sometimes) less lovely and older Western man is a common sight in this city. What do you think when you pass by such a pairing? I would bet that “meal ticket,” “gold digger,” or “green card marriage” are some of the Rorschach responses that spring to mind.

As an educated and capable Chinese woman in a relationship with an American man, I find these automatic assumptions infuriating. Yes, there are many cross-cultural “unequal” relationships, where an expat man “trades up” on looks and youth while his Chinese partner “trades down” on these features in exchange for a more comfortable life. But we are not all in relationships of convenience.

The quietly insulting experiences I have had at the receiving end of these blanket assumptions prompt me to remind everyone, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.”

Once, when I was living in another predominantly Chinese-populated Asian capital, a cabbie chatted me up by asking, “What brings you here? Your husband’s job?” Through gritted teeth, I informed him that my boyfriend and I moved to this country together because we both had job offers to relocate.

That same week, as we went about settling into expat life, everyone from the part-time housekeeper to the bank teller peppered me with presumptuous questions, like “What will you do here? Shop? Enjoy life?” (“I will be busy working my job, thank you very much.”) and, “How come you lived in so many places? Always following your husband around?” (“No, I moved around to get the best education I could.”)

The unspoken assumption was always that I am an idle tai tai mooching off my foreign, lighter skinned, significant other.

More recently in Beijing, as I strolled through Houhai with my man, cries of “Hello, man! Music bar very good!” assailed us from every direction. When one of the zealous “bar salesmen” heard me speak Chinese he changed his strategy, asking in Chinese, “Bring your foreign friend to this bar.”

It was a subtle offense, but I’m hypersensitive on the subject and picked up on it immediately. He didn’t say “your boyfriend” or “your husband” – equally fair assumptions – but used the ambiguous “foreign friend.” What is he implying? That I’m some kind of “tour guide with perks” who can influence a foreigner’s spending decisions with my womanly charms?

In situations like these, I wish I could wear my CV on my forehead or shout, “I’m not with this man for his money, I can make my own!”

But what’s the use of that? People will just keep on judging. Perhaps I’d be better off playing along as the non-English speaking local arm candy.


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