A few weeks ago my friends my friends were on a Chinese TV show called “My Man Can” (Which can be watched here), they are the American Girl-Chinese Guy couple. This episode featured 4 intercultural couples competing for a free trip to almost anywhere in the world. The basic premise is that the wives bid how well their husbands can do on a particular challenge, while the husbands have to hope their wives don’t push the goal up too high.
The show ended up taking nearly 4 hours to film, but lead to several interesting insights about how the Chinese view these intercultural marriages.
The most striking was that before the show even started the producers told my friend that they were rooting for them to win, with the implication being that it was really great that a Chinese man had managed to marry an American woman. Two of the other couples were foreign men and Chinese women, so we weren’t surprised when they were eliminated fairly early on. The fourth couple was a Chinese man and a Vietnamese woman, and from my time in Guangxi province, I knew that this was not the type of relationship that other Chinese were jealous of in some ways.
Note: In Guangxi it was not uncommon for farmers to buy a Vietnamese bride if there were no Chinese women in their village willing to marry them.
My friends won the first challenge, which involved the wife throwing balls into a wicker basket that was strapped on the man’s back. When they saw that the second challenge was similar to what they had been practicing they tried to get out to a huge lead. Unfortunately the shows producer stopped them. He actually told them that they would not be allowed to try the second challenge, because it would be too easy for them to win the competition.
On the third challenge my friend ended up competing directly with a much larger Pakistani man in a kind of wrestling match. It only took a few seconds for the crowd of Chinese college students to start chanting “Zhongguo, Jiayou (Let’s Go China!)”. It was an interesting moment of nationalism. The crowd went wild when our friend managed to best the much larger man.
To be honest I was doubly glad to see the Pakistani man and his Chinese wife lose. Out of the four couples, their relationship was the only one that seemed fake. She had essentially married her boss, and behind the scenes seemed disgusted by him. She was more than willing to add additional fat jokes on to what the announcer was saying. The woman also told this incredibly long story (it got cut partially in the episode), that tried to make it sound like her life was very difficult, even though they were richer than most of the people in China. By the end of the night we all felt really bad for the Pakistani guy.
It was interesting to hear comments from the crowd throughout the night about my friends. Many of the boys wondered out loud how exactly he had managed to find a foreign woman who spoke such excellent Chinese (interestingly no one tried to flirt with my black friend who was translating for the American wife’s grandparents). It seemed like marrying a white woman was a goal some of them had in mind after that night.
Did I see you in the audience, Tom? Are you back in China from your stateside trip? – Marvin Eckfeldt
I’m still in the US for my brother’s wedding, this was recorded a few weeks before it actually aired.
I see this as one of the biggest obstacles to many intercultural relationships involving Chinese men and a foreign women. For many men, the goal isn’t a meaningful relationship but rather the acquisition of a status symbol, proof that foreign women can be conquered by Chinese men, much as Chinese women may appear to be conquered by overweight, red-faced, Hawaiian shirt clad foreign men. In this case, finding a Western girlfriend often seems to function as an underlying extension of Chinese nationalism and the resentment of all things foreign that simmers ever-present in the background. These kinds of hang-ups can’t help but interfere in the development of mutual understanding and affection. Of course, this isn’t to say that these kinds of relationships can’t be successful, only that at this point in time they’re far more rare than the Chinese woman/Western man coupling which doesn’t seem to be weighed down by as much social, cultural, and historical baggage as the former.
But, these are just the thoughts of someone who hasn’t been party to such an intercultural relationship. I’d love to hear more about the experiences of those involved in such relationships, like your friends or Sara and her boyfriend. Future guest posts, perhaps?
Also, I was reminded of Wesley Yang’s thoughtful article in New York magazine recently: http://nymag.com/news/features/asian-americans-2011-5/. In part of the article, he interviews a young man named J.T. Tran, who runs a seminar coaching Asian men on how to pick up white women.
Thanks for the extra link, that is a fantastic article in so many ways.
I had an American friend who broke up with her Chinese boyfriend after a few weeks of daily reminders for her to “protect her white skin”. Like you said, she felt like a status symbol.
I will contact Sara about a guest post, as well as Jo and a few other friends.
Even with the Hong Kong Chinese, getting a white woman is something of a catch. The Cantonese colloquialism is ‘waan gum see miao’ (玩金丝猫 play with the golden silk cat), which probably sounds insulting or demeaning to the Western ear but not to the Cantonese ear. If it’s like that for Hongkongers, the ‘catch’ factor must be even greater for mainlanders. I can still remember the days (oops! there goes my age!) the ‘catches’ at least for Hongkongers were Japanese girls (1960s), Taiwanese (1970s), Koreans, Singaporeans and Thais (1980s) and Canadians (!) (1990s). When all that fizzled, the guys turned to the so-called ‘northern maidens’ from Beijing and Shanghai from the mid-1990s. Yeah, you guessed it, nobody wants Hong Kong women … reason: high maintenance!
I have to say the Pakistani seemed to have gotten a raw deal. He must be really tense and unhappy with his lot.
Last summer I read “Foreign babes in Beijing” that it is not a very good book, but anyway, it talks about how they make “shows” out of “intercultural” relationships, in this case also american woman with chinese man.
Yeah, I was also going to mention Rachel Deworsky’s book – Foreign Babes in Beijing. I had hoped that it is rather dated now, as in the 1990’s she was in a Chinese TV Soap which seemed to caricaturise wicked Western women who marry a couple of nice Beijing brothers. But Rachel, who is American and spoke good Chinese, also writes about her relationship with her Chinese boyfriend, which was quite problematic. In particular I remember him castigating her for eating a toffee apple – calling her basically a country bumpkin (don’t know the Chinese expression but it was not a compliment!). Hey, she was low maintenance – he should have been pleased!
Great post Tom. Wish I could see that TV programme!
I was actually trying to look for the tv show. Do u know if it is possible to find the foreign babes in beijing dvds?¿
Sorry – wish I could help but I can’t!
I’m not a status symbol — at an American size six, I’m far too fat. Sizeism trumps race in China every time.
I think it’s also important to note the NYMag article really only applies to Chinese Americans. Chinese people are a completely different ballgame.
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