“Everybody needs somebody” – so goes the song by the Blues Brothers. It is very true that everyone needs a companion so if you are going to be living and teaching in China for a number of years, it is likely that you will experience dating in China at some point. In this article, I will be sharing some of my personal experiences of dating and romance in China and providing some advice on how to deal with the various issues that you may encounter.
A Word of Warning – Do not date your students if you are going to teach English in China!
English seems to be a very “feminine” subject in China so if you are a man teaching English major students at a university in China, you will find yourself surrounded by young female students, some of whom will of course be very pretty! I personally know of some foreign teachers who have tried to date their students but although this is sorely tempting, DO NOT under any circumstances date a student. Why not? Well, there are a number of reasons. First, a teacher is held in a position of trust and should not betray that trust. In the UK, romantic relationships between a teacher and a student are illegal and several teachers have been jailed for getting into a sexual relationship with their students. Second, tongues will wag! Your students and colleagues will gossip about you. Teachers in China are normally highly respected by students but there is no better way to destroy this respect than to try to seduce a student. Finally, schools in China do not approve of romantic relationships between student and teacher. If you are found out, your contract will be terminated, you will lose your job and may get a bad reference which will make it a lot harder for you to get a new job.
How to find a boyfriend or girlfriend when dating in China?
Where then, can you find a girlfriend or boyfriend in China? Bars and nightclubs are the most obvious places to look but the problem is that the people whom you meet there will probably not be able to speak English. Dating a colleague (either a fellow foreign teacher or a local Chinese one) is an option but when I tried to date my Chinese counterpart teacher a few years ago, I was turned down because she was looking for a local man and not a foreigner. This is one problem that you will need to be aware of – some Chinese girls will be reluctant to get into a relationship with a foreigner because they know that at some point, you will leave the country and she will have to decide whether to follow you or to break up with you.
So I turned to the internet. There are a number of dating websites in China such as ChinaLoveCupid.com, AsianDating.com, chinesekisses.com and connectingsingles.com among others and it was on one of these websites that I met my ex-girlfriend. However, do remember that China is a vastly huge country and if you do meet a girl you like from one of these sites, you will very likely have to travel a considerable distance to meet up with her. As is the case with using any dating website, in China you should also be wary of any girl who starts professing her love for you before you have even met her in person and then suddenly finds herself in trouble and starts asking you for money. It is also well-known that many girls in China want to marry a British or American man simply to get a visa so before you get too deeply involved with a girl from China, make sure that she loves you for yourself and not for your money or your ability to get her a visa.
What are women from China like in general?
Chinese women are generally very materialistic. Unlike the situation in the West where falling in love is the result of an emotional connection which happens naturally between two people, in China, the women tend to take a much more analytical approach to finding a partner. Your occupation, status and wealth as well as parental approval are all factors which a Chinese girl will consider before deciding whether or not to embark on a relationship with you.
A Chinese woman is closest to her mother so how well you get along with your girlfriend’s mother will also determine the success or failure of your relationship. If your girlfriend likes you a lot and is serious about you, she will be very keen to get you into her mother’s good books. So, not only will you have to buy gifts for your girlfriend, you will soon be expected to buy gifts for her parents as well!
Chinese women can also be extremely inflexible and stubborn. You are a foreigner in their country so they would expect you to discard all your customs in favour of theirs. If you try to suggest to your Chinese girlfriend that you both go to your home country together to meet your parents, you may be told that this is not possible because according to Chinese custom, an unmarried woman cannot travel outside her home province with her boyfriend until after marriage.
In my first article about teaching in China, I mentioned the concept of “face” in Chinese culture. Chinese people would think nothing of telling a lie to save their own face and this unfortunately also applies in the field of relationships. My ex-girlfriend for example, told me that she had a father and that he was a retired factory worker. It was not until my own father arrived in China to discuss the marriage terms that I found out that her father had actually died years before I had even met her. When I asked her why she had lied, she said that she did not like talking about the past and that she liked to pretend that her father was still alive and with her in spirit. Whilst we were an item, I also discovered that she was still an active member of several dating sites although I do not know if she actually dated anyone else whilst she was with me.
What does a woman from China expect from a man?
A Chinese woman expects a life of luxury from her husband and also may not be willing to marry for better or worse. I was quite shocked at how ruthless my ex-girlfriend was in this regard. As soon as an engagement was on the cards, she resigned from her job on the excuse that her company had decided to relocate to another part of the same city and enduring a longer bus journey was too much for her. It was quite obvious that she thought that once she gets married, she will no longer have to work. If you develop a disability or a medical condition, your Chinese girlfriend may decide to leave you. My ex-girlfriend left me because she could not accept a potential husband who had hypertension, even though the condition is treatable.
In China, there is the misconception that all foreigners are rich. It is not uncommon for young Chinese women to put in a great deal of effort learning English in school so that they can bag a foreign boyfriend. A Chinese girl in her mid-Twenties or older would also be looking, not merely for a boyfriend but also for a potential future husband. In fact, it would be extremely unlikely that a such a woman would be willing to go out on a date with a man unless she has very strong feelings for him as a potential spouse. It can be quite scary for a foreigner to be put under this kind of pressure at an early stage in a relationship so be warned that this is something that you may need to deal with.
Chinese courtship and marriage customs
So, you tick all her boxes and you both embark on a relationship. If all goes well, it will only be a matter of time before the subject of marriage arises. To marry a Chinese woman, it will be necessary for you to own a property in China and to provide a dowry. My ex-girlfriend wanted an apartment costing RMB 700,000 (about £70,000) and a RMB 150,000 (about £15,000) dowry. Not only that, but she also insisted that the apartment must be bought outright, without taking a loan or a mortgage.
In return for the dowry, the woman’s side is normally expected to buy a car or to furnish the apartment but if your girlfriend does not come from a rich family, she will tell you that she is exempt from following one of her own customs because that custom is only for “rich families”. A girl from a less well-off family would think nothing of demanding that the man’s side pay for everything while her family does not contribute a single penny towards the costs of setting up the marital home.
Chinese women also expect many expensive gifts. January and February are rather expensive months to be having a relationship in China since both Valentine’s Day and the Chinese Spring Festival fall around this time. To give you an idea of the kind of gifts you may be asked to provide, some of the things that my ex-girlfriend has asked for include an iPhone 5, Chanel perfume and gold jewellery. In addition, she will also be expecting the traditional “red packet” (money gift) for the Chinese Spring Festival. She would even view these extravagant presents as “small gifts”, her reasoning being, “Well, if you can’t buy me an iPhone, how on earth are you going to be able to buy an apartment?”. When I tried to argue that these were too expensive, the response I got was, “If I didn’t love you, I won’t want your gifts. Some years ago, another man was chasing me, he was rich, he had an apartment and a car, but I didn’t love him so I didn’t want anything from him.” She made it sound as if lavishing my money on her was a privilege that I should be grateful for.
It can be quite a shock for a foreigner to be faced with such demands, especially when they are used to buying nothing more than chocolates or flowers for their girlfriends back home. In China, the man is also expected to pay for everything in a relationship so on top of the gifts, you will find yourself paying for meals out, transportation and perhaps accommodation as well when on a date with a Chinese woman. If there is one thing that I have learnt from having a Chinese girlfriend, it is that dating a Chinese woman is a rather expensive undertaking!
Be warned that in Chinese culture, meeting the woman’s parents is tantamount to committing to marriage. If you are not sure whether you would be willing to marry your Chinese girlfriend, DO NOT accept an invitation to meet her parents.
The advantages of having a local girlfriend in China
By now I am sure many of you are wondering if it is worth the bother of dating in China with a girl from China! In spite of everything that you have read so far, there ARE certain advantages of having a local Chinese girlfriend in China. For instance, foreign teachers can feel very lonely and isolated in China. After all, they have left all their friends and family back home to come to China and since not many Chinese people speak English, it can be difficult to make friends here. A Chinese girlfriend can keep the boredom and loneliness at bay and give you many happy times. She can be someone to talk to when you are all alone in your apartment after a day at work, she can teach you Chinese and help you to overcome the language barriers as well as other practical problems that you may face in China. Since she knows the system in China, she can also provide you with valuable advice when you have a problem and encouragement when you are worried or nervous. Due to their traditions and culture, girls from China may give the impression of being rather prudish but should you succeed in pulling one, you will discover that she is actually quite capable of giving her western counterparts a run for their money in the intimacy department! I was quite shocked actually at how high my ex-girlfriend’s sex drive was, especially considering the fact that sex before marriage is very much frowned upon in traditional Chinese culture.
So, as you can see, dating in China is a double-edged sword. A Chinese woman can be very supportive and fun to be with but she can also be expensive and inflexible. Before you venture into the potential minefield of a relationship with a Chinese woman, you should carefully consider the advice in this article.