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A quick browse on the Internet for “yellow fever fetishes” brings up a host of websites, articles and videos, mostly from the US, that express humour, distaste and offence at the sexualised objectification of East Asian women, with some equating yellow fever to racism rooted in colonial ideas of power and submission.Interestingly, however, many East Asian women aren’t bothered; some even play up to the stereotypes or entertain such fetishes, according to Dr. Indeed, websites like My New Chinese Wife – set up by Chinese women in Hong Kong, the UK and US, promote what it sees as traditional qualities of “Sweet Chinese Brides”, and assist westerners in finding their own. No, not the disease you can pick up when travelling to certain countries.
In Britain, while significant rates of intermarriage between the Chinese and white Caucasian population have demonstrated social integration, the trend is nevertheless heavily skewed towards Chinese women and white men, rather than the other way around.
Part of the bias is down to aesthetics, it would appear, as a study by Cardiff University in 2012 on facial attractiveness showed that East Asian women scored highest, while East Asian men came bottom of the pile (interestingly, results for black and white individuals did not show discernible differences based on gender).
Aowen Jin, a 36-year-old British Chinese artist, thinks that cultural differences, such as the inability “to say no”, are often misconstrued by westerners as agreeableness, or even misinterpreted by western men as a sign of romantic interest.
In the professional world, Ting Jacqueline Chen, a 28-year-old Oxford graduate, is also battling stereotypes.
“I like to joke that San Francisco is the epicentre of the yellow fever phenomenon”, says Debbie, who describes a general awareness of being looked at by men because she’s Chinese.
But Debbie also believes that Asian American women are paying a price for “positive” stereotyping.Yet this portrayal epitomises what many see as a narrow perception of East Asian (defined as Chinese, Japanese, Korean etc) women.Elsewhere, in an open letter to the culture minister earlier this year, actors from The British East Asian Artists (BEA) criticised the BBC and other outlets for their cultural stereotyping of East Asians on TV and stage – describing the female parts as “passive and submissive”.In recent times, America’s wars in Korea and Vietnam have also influenced the popular American psych, spawning narratives like that of Miss Saigon.“And let’s not forget Hollywood’s global influence”, says Dr Sandy To, who specialises in gender studies at Hong Kong University.Professor Miri Song, who specialises in ethnic identity at the University of Kent, suggests that the parodying of Chinese people is seen as more “socially acceptable” in part because East Asians are not seen as truly disadvantaged, or merit the same protection status as other ethnic minorities.She points to how British Chinese do well academically and professionally.One acquaintance told me in wonderment that Chinese women are great in the bedroom – as if I wasn't one – to being casually asked if I’d be interested in a guy “who has been with Chinese girls and likes it”.I’ve been left puzzled by the insensitivity, and the lack of awareness that such comments may cause offence.“We are largely invisible when it comes to politics and popular culture, yet there's a very palpable urban myth that Asian women make better lovers than other women”, she says.The stereotyping plays itself out in the roles you see Chinese women playing in theatre, on TV or in films.