Being female in China

Although the title is slightly deceiving, I’m going to discuss what it is like to be a woman, particularly a Caucasian woman in China. This post is inspired by Linda, over at Linda Living in China.

I’ll comment mostly on what it’s like to be a Caucasian female who’s married to a Chinese man, because there are some discerning points that differ between my experiences and my Caucasian female counterparts. There are also several nagging situations that go with this territory, from both the Chinese and expat communities.

First, Chinese people are always staring. It doesn’t matter whether they are the very young or old, everyone is “curious” about foreigners. Even in a city like Xi’an, where many foreigners visit and reside, there are still many pockets of the city where no one has ever seen a foreigner. When you also account for the fact that Xi’an is a popular destination for domestic tourists, courtesy of historical sites like the Terra cotta Warriors, you have migrant workers or tourists from the countryside who can’t believe their eyes.

Second, there’s the incessant small talk with restaurant and shop staff, taxi drivers, and random brave souls who approach you on the street. The questions are often repetitive and redundant in nature: your nationality, the reasons for your visit or residence in China, salary, marital status, and stereotypical culture-related questions often phrased as assertions. More often than not, I don’t even have to tell the individual my nationality; they assume I’m American because there are a lot of us here. On a similar note, some of the inquirers will use the uncertain modest form and ask “是不是你是美国人,Are you an American?,” giving me a nearly equal opportunity to deny or confirm my origins. When the conversation steers in the direction of marital status, and I reveal that my husband is Chinese, I’m bombarded with an entire new set of questions. If, on the other hand, I’m talking to expats, I get a similar amount of questions, but it’s often accompanied by surprise, shock, or what I personally consider negative body language or “walking on egg shells” small talk. I won’t get into the details here, as this could serve as a separate post (I’m referencing the double standard that exists for Western women dating Chinese men…Speaking of China has covered this).

Third, in conjunction with what was said in other posts, there’s a level of friendliness that, for me, has teetered on flirtatious advances. I will admit that it’s quite possible that I misinterpreted this for the general friendliness reserved for foreigners. However, the vibe I got on three occasions didn’t feel like the typical friendliness I’ve experienced. 张健 was not with me for two of the occasions. Two of three individuals in question, Chinese males, either first struck up a conversation with me, asked for my contact information, and said in plain English that they wished to get to know me better. It’s my understanding that Chinese men don’t often approach women in this way. The third occasion 张健 and I were walking downtown, crossing one of the several underground footpaths, when a middle-aged man catcalled and snapped his fingers at me. Regardless of whether or not I misinterpreted these behaviors, I felt uncomfortable and would if this happened to me in the States. The fact that the third occasion happened in 张健’s presence irked me even more, because, personally, I feel people assume I’m interested in all Chinese men. My love for 张健 has little to do with his culture and much more to do with his personality, character, and nature.

I have only managed to skim the surface of this particular topic, as I could also talk about numerous invitations, outings, or job offerings, but these have become less as more of my students know of my marriage.

If you have traveled or lived in China, what other areas of this topic have I missed or are worth noting?

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