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On a "Chinese Bride"

July 9, 2009

So, I am officially headed to China in the Fall (end of September/beginning of October). Since this is the official plan and where my near-future is taking me, I – of course – have found myself talking about it with many different people.

There are a number of reactions to this news – mostly positive – but one of the most common comments I’ve gotten back (especially from acquaintances, but also from real friends) is a reference to me coming back with a “Chinese bride.” Seriously. I’ve heard this many more times than could even slightly be due to coincidence.

And it’s not a coincidence. Not at all. It’s a “funny” joke just as creative and new as a really tall person being asked about the weather.

“Oh – you’re going to live in China for a while? I bet you come back with a Chinese bride!” Ha. Ha. Ha.

Do I really need to break it down for folks? It all just falls into the theme of race-based objectification of women. In this case, it’s part of the whole “exotic, yet submissive” meme that always flows around stereotypes of Asian women. It’s that damn Asian fetish rearing its ugly head, yet again. It’s also part of the general exploitation and de-humanization of non-Western countries and women of color by the Western (generally white, but not only white) world.

So – people’s first thought when I talk about going to China? That I must be going to pick up a bride. Like I’m going shopping for a woman. And since we all know how submissive and eager-to-please Chinese women are, of course I could buy one while I’m there. It’s a lot cheaper than mail-order, and this way, I can have a pick. Let’s think back to the “good old days” of opium dens, “dragon ladies,” and cultural exploitation. Right off the bat.

This pisses me off on so many levels, but it’s that first thought aspect of it that kills me the most. I say I’m finally going to China, and that’s what I hear. Nothing about how great that is, from a cultural sense. Nothing about my identity or how much I’ll probably learn. Nothing about learning the language, maybe seeing family, etc. No – time and again: “Chinese Bride!! HA HA HA!!!”

And that just shows how insidious racism is in this country. It’s like me talking about China is my own version of the Implicit Association Test** – I say “going to China,” and everybody else spits out their first association: “Chinese Bride.” Cutting through all the bullshit. Friends, acquaintances, whatever – that’s what comes out. People that know me and my background, and they jump right past respect and support to a triggering stereotype.

And I’m not saying that any of these people are actually racist. I don’t think they even know what they’re saying, really (or how I take it). Some probably mean something entirely different by it. But it just sums it all up for me. No matter the intentions, or how much we talk about it, the racist power of the media and popular culture wins most of the time. I can’t be “on” all the time.

This is the thing, too – if folks took two seconds to think about it, they would never say this to me. I’m mixed, Chinese/white. My dad is white. My mom is Chinese. I constantly fret about that being the vast majority of interracial Asian/white couples: white male, Asian female. I battle against the “Asian fetish.” I don’t fully believe that all of those relationships are based on love and not an objectifying, disempowering racial stereotype. So why the Hell would I head to China – where the power dynamic between me and the women would be even more lop-sided – and be a participant in exactly what I loathe most in American society?

And sure – some of it is based on the assumption that I want to marry a Chinese woman, period. The unfortunate stereotypes associated with “Chinese brides” being coincidental to the assumption that that would be a way for me to connect to my identity, or satisfy my dead grandparents, or something like that. But again – those who know me should know that I’m not stupid enough to work that way. A Chinese romantic interest isn’t going to make me any more Chinese than I already am. It also annoys me that the assumption is that – since I’m half-Chinese – I must need a Chinese lover to make me whole. Doesn’t really work like that.

For those who think I’m “overreacting” and/or “misunderstanding” – that’s exactly the point. Again – race doesn’t happen in a one-time-only vacuum. If all these other bits and pieces hadn’t been piling on for the last two decades, I wouldn’t be “so damn touchy” about all this. But they have. And I am. And I have every right in having those reactions. In fact, it would be kind of amazing (or maybe sad) if I didn’t.

So think of this as just one more lesson about the power of race in this country. How it all piles on. How one stupid, “joking” comment can just blow things up. Yeah – I can take a joke. And I can also work from experience. If only one or two or even three people said it, I could “relax” and just “take a joke.” But when it becomes an over-arching theme?

Right.

And don’t even get me started on the lady whose only reaction was to keep telling me, “You don’t even look Chinese!”

And now that I’ve written all this? How mentally-twisted would I be if I ended up falling in love in China . . . Thanks, media-influenced racial stereotypes.

Aiyaaa. Can we ever win?

* I should note here that the image with this post is a painting by Chi Tung Chiang. I don’t actually know him at all, but I wanted to give him credit, and if you are interested in seeing more of his work, go to: www.chipainting.com

** If you don’t know what that is, read my reference to PRIMING, then go to this website: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/backgroundinformation.html. I highly recommend you check out the tests – you’ll learn a lot about your thoughts in a short time.

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7 comments

  1. Sorry people have been so ignorant. Good luck, I hope you learn a lot about yourself, any family you may still have there, your ancestors and the Chinese culture. Also, if you just so happen to fall in love while you are there, don't even go to a place to question yourself based on what these people said to you and if they make fun of you when you come back, just ignore them pop 'em (just kidding– sort of
    :-).


  2. or pop'em I meant to say.


  3. I just shook my head when I got to the end of this post. SOOOOO typical. At the beginning, I was wondering how you were going to address the 'you're just overreacting' response and I like how you've explained it.

    On another note, we have a Chinese client who is divorcing her white husband and is kind of hiding out up in Portland with their half-Chinese little boy. She's having a hard time finding Chinese families or multi-racial families to hang out with. Can you help me find some people for her and her son to socialize with up there? I don't know how to pass on my info here, I'll enter my blog URL and you can e-mail me from there if you're interested. Thanks in advance.


  4. Wow people and their mouths. The garbage they spew forth is disgusting. Hope you enjoy China. Have fun.


  5. Lisa – if I "popped" everyone who said obnoxious things to me, every knuckle would be broken. But that doesn't mean I don't think about it. A LOT. Thanks for the support.

    Jackie – I'll see if I can find some folks. What's her age-range (and that of her kid)? Send me your blog info, and I'll try to get in touch (just know I'm going to be out working at an arts camp and a bit out of touch for the next month).


    • Hello! I replied to your note on my blog, I hope you got it. The client’s name is Qin and she’s in her late 20’s. The boy is Sayer and 4 years old. Please e-mail me directly at my AOL e-mail address.


  6. She's in her 20s and the boy is 4 years old. My blog is http://www.lambrisdechocolat.vox.com.

    I don't know what part of China she's from but her accent is heavy. Her English vocabulary is impressive and she has enrolled as a full time student at PSU. The father has not allowed Chinese to be spoken in their home so the boy speaks English only.

    Thanks so much, CVT. I know my mom felt pretty isolated when we immigrated from Japan and I was hoping our client wouldn't go through that.



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