Firstly, thank you to everyone who read and passed on my last post about the Asian girlfriend complex. It’s been great connecting with other Asian girlfriends who feel the same way, non-Asian girlfriends who sympathize, and — very interesting, because I never thought about it before — white boyfriends who suffer from the other side of the complex (afraid of being labelled creeps for their attraction to Asian women, as noted by @gacorley on Twitter). [Update: George responds with his own story here.] I must admit that I used to assume the worst of white men with Asian women; in my judgmental mind, I considered them guilty of yellow fever until proven innocent. Of course, my mindset has changed now that I know what it feels like to have those assumptions placed on your relationship. Interracial/cross-cultural relationships are hard enough without outsiders questioning your motives.
I had never intended to blog about my fears of being an Asian girlfriend; I hadn’t wanted this blog to become too personal. But then I remembered my university classmate Rosel Kim and the concerns we once shared about dating outside your race (which she’s blogged about here). I figured it’s personal if it concerns one individual; if many others feel the same way, then it’s a bigger issue worth putting out there.
As mentioned in my previous post, the opinions of the family — represented by the Asian Mother Brigade — play a significant role in developing one’s Asian girlfriend complex. I was wracked with worry at the beginning, wondering whether my parents would disown me, or continue to love me in disappointment. I had always been a filial Chinese daughter. Even now, I stress over whether they will accept my foreign man.
To move on to a different topic for a bit: I’m currently studying Mandarin at a university in Shanghai. For those of you who’ve gone through elementary Chinese, I’m sure you remember the chapters in your textbook that were devoted to those necessarily mundane everyday situations: introducing yourself and your reasons for being in China; talking about sports; Chinese public holidays; ordering Chinese food; different types of public transportation; how to buy a train/plane ticket for a holiday in China; you know what I mean. I’ve been through a lot of elementary Mandarin classes over the years, with similar textbook content.
Which is why I was pleasantly surprised when our chapter today concerned dating and relationships, specifically, parental approval of a foreign boyfriend. Wow! I thought.This is so much more interesting than another chapter about meeting your neighbors! We weren’t just talking about any boring old love either, but interracial, cross-cultural love! In a beginner’s Mandarin textbook! Awesome!
(Take a look at the text after the jump.)
Here’s my horrible translation of the first passage of that chapter:
A Chinese girl can’t sleep, and asks her roommate whether they can talk. Roommate says go ahead, and the girl says she’s written a letter to her mother telling her about the new boyfriend. Roommate thinks that’s great, because her mother will be happy to hear she has a boyfriend. However, the Chinese girl is wracked with worry because he’s a foreigner with a different cultural background, so her mom is definitely going to oppose the relationship. Roommate tells her 爱情不分国界。Ai qing bu fen guo jie (love knows no boundaries), the most important thing is they love each other, and that’s all that’s important. Who cares what other people think. Chinese girl freaks out, says of course her mother’s opinion is important. Roommate replies that her mother should only be concerned with her happiness, and if she’s found her ideal mate who, personality-wise, is suited to her, she shouldn’t worry. The dialogue ends with Chinese girl saying she’s bringing her foreign boyfriend home for the holidays, and she’s sure that when her mom meets him, he’ll pass every test.
We next read a letter from the Chinese girl’s mother. It was something like this:
I’m not opposing your choice, I just want you to think about it really hard. You are surrounded by so many eligible men, so why did you have to choose a foreigner? Although you think love knows no national borders, for marriage, love is not enough. You need mutual understanding. You are from different backgrounds; in the future, you will understand that making a happy home despite these differences is not easy. But these are only my opinions; as long as he treats you well and you care for each other, I have to respect your choice. I wish you luck.
The last passage in the chapter was a reply from the Chinese daughter to her mother:
I already knew these would be your opinions. Please listen to what I have to say: although he’s a foreigner, he’s willing to respect and follow our traditions; he’s already stopped eating pork. But more importantly, he is well-educated, has a good heart and great personality, and he is surrounded by good people. Are you thinking that I am blindly praising him? I’m not. This summer, I will bring him home; once you meet him, I’m sure you’ll think he’s a worthy partner.
My first thought was, whoa! A chapter that’s actually spookily relevant to my current concerns! Way to go, Mandarin textbook!
My classmates, however, found the chapter strange. “Why is this in our book? It feels so out of place,” said a fellow Southeast Asian. “What a strange scenario!”
I argued that I had a lot more respect for the people behind Mandarin textbooks now that I had read this oh-so-relevant chapter. “Think about it,” I said. “A lot of people in these classes are foreign boys. Many get involved with Chinese girls. This is like a warning about what it’s going to be like dealing with the girl’s parents!”
Someone else asked a valid question: does this mean that Chinese authorities (yes, we imagine that the highest level of government is involved in our textbook production) are encouraging/condoning inter-cultural relationships between Chinese nationals and foreigners? The text clearly wanted us to be on the Chinese girl’s side, opposing her traditional mother; a rebellious daughter wanting to marry outside her race, arguing against the matriarch, not kow-towing or expressing strict filial piety! Wow, we thought. Contained in our elementary textbook is something revolutionary, almost.
However, reading the passages now, I realize it has nothing to do with encouraging Chinese/foreigner relationships. Firstly, the line about the boyfriend no longer eating pork implies the girl is from an ethnic minority; our teacher confirmed that she is supposed to be a Hui girl. So, no proper Han girl would mix with a foreigner, eh? Also, the passages say nothing about whether the girl worries she will be accepted by his folks; it’s all about the foreigner adopting Chinese ways, integrating himself into her family, etc. The foreigner taking on Chinese characteristics, assimilating.
What I’m doing now is perhaps called “reading too much into a text” — it’s the curse of having been an English major. In any case, relevant or not, subversive or not, I hope there are other chapters like this contained in my usually dry textbooks. Learning Mandarin is so much more fun when you’re not just reading about eating dumplings, being warned against gifting clocks, nor talking about playing baseball.