Asian fetish

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

An Asian fetish is a strong sexual preference for people of Asian descent or heritage. The term generally refers to people of East or Southeast Asian descent,[1] though may also include those of South Asian descent.[2][3][4][5][6]

The derogatory term yellow fever is sometimes used to describe the fetishisation of East Asians by people of other ethnicities, especially among non-Asians, as well as having a preference for dating people of East Asian origin.[4] The usage of "yellow" stems from the color terminology for race that is sometimes applied to people of East Asian descent.

History of origins[edit]

In the United States, women of primarily East Asian (and Southeast Asian to a lesser extent) origin and or descent are most commonly misrepresented through stereotypes as subservient, passive, mysterious, villainous in nature, and hyper-sexual. The oversimplification of these cultures portray homogenous versions of these groups. Such stereotypes are widely accepted as the driving factor behind the fetishization of Asian women in the West. Though there is no single origin for Asian fetish, the corresponding stereotypes of Asian women emerged in the 1800s due to the increasing levels of Western imperialism in Asia throughout the century.[7] This is evidenced by the cultural attitudes reflected in both the politics and arts of the time.

It is important to uncover the history of these cultural misrepresentations and their relationship to pop culture in order to begin to examine the subsequent implications of potential misrepresentations in the 21st century. Harmful stereotypes of Asian women in America influenced the first U.S. immigration law based on race, the Page Act of 1875, preventing Chinese women from entering the United States. These women were feared to lack moral character, were assumed to engage in prostitution, and spread sexually transmitted diseases to white men. At the same time, the coercive opening of treaty port cities in China, Japan, and Korea as a result of Western imperialism created a trade route to feed demand for Oriental art and collectibles, which often depicted sexualized geishas.  In Cornel West's book, Race Matters, he describes the flaws of American society and its roots in historical inequalities and longstanding cultural stereotypes. In terms of Asian Americans, he states that their negative depiction continued through the nineteenth century as a yo-yo effect from "bad" to "good" to "bad" depending on the political climate at that time. The increase of Western power and presence in Asia also spawned well-known works of art that contributed to the depiction of Asian women as simultaneously innocent and over sexualized. French writer Pierre Loti's 1887 novel Madame Chrysanthème is a notable example. The semi-autobiographical story of a naval officer stationed in Nagasaki depicts his temporary Japanese wife as a dainty plaything to be acquired like a prized object. The novel was both wildly popular and internationally influential, inspiring the similarly famous 1904 Italian opera Madame Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini.

There are several other misrepresentations of Asian women in American popular culture throughout the nineteenth century through the transformation of "bad Asian" to "good Asian" in Hollywood films such as The Good Earth. "The screen reality coincided with the rewarding of the good Asian, as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was finally repealed in 1943. But this changed again with the Communist takeover of China in 1949, and the Chinese became once more the favorite Hollywood whipping boy, along with the Viet Cong."[8] Asian American women were seen as the mysterious and scary henchwoman to the evil Asian villain or as the pathetic "Madame Butterfly" who could be cast aside at a moment's notice unless she commits suicide afterward as her lover leaves her. The "good" Asian women were those who are subservient to the white protagonist against her own people, while often giving her body to him in the process. "David Henry Hwang points out, the neocolonial notion that good elements of a native society, like a good woman, desire submission to the masculine West speaks precisely to the heart of our foreign policy blunders in Asia and elsewhere".[9][8] If an Asian woman was not depicted as the villain, she is instead a mindless simpering sexual object.

After World War II, the U.S. came to dominate among Western powers and accordingly exerted a strong military presence in Korea and Vietnam. The U.S. military took control of several Japanese military-run brothels in anticipation that their soldiers would need to "blow off steam" and encouraged engaging with prostitutes as a way to boost morale. Coupled with the poverty of local women, this created a booming sex industry, which further perpetuated the stereotype of Asian women as submissive and hypersexual. As a result of these sexual exploitations we see films such as Year of the Dragon (1985) Tracy Tzu is an Asian American news reporter and is given the impression that she is a smart young professional, but is then eventually manhandled and dominated by a white GI 'hero'. She is then overpowered and carried off to bed as if she is nothing but a trophy. As Richard E. Lee points out, Tzu's ambivalent position as both object of desire and seductive destroyer of the family is redeemed only by her collaboration with the White man and her ultimate devotion to him.[10] These cinematic misrepresentations of Asian women portray them as eager to please the man that owned them and something to be desired or conquered. All of which have contributed to the misconception of Asian women even today, contributing to the subconscious, and dehumanizing thinking that may lead to sexual assault upon them.[8] Coming back to the U.S. from the Korean and Vietnam Wars, American G.I.s brought women as war brides, contributing to the perception of Asians as passive trophies and victims without agency.  Popular media reflected such views of Asian women being promiscuous yet in need of saving, from pornography featuring sexually and domestically servile Asian war brides, to novels like Greene's The Quiet American, to Kubrick's film Full Metal Jacket.

Despite the apparent improvements to be seen in cinematic depictions from the early 1900s to the 90s, Asian women are still seen as somehow "asking for it" and are never able to live up to the "decent, wholesome, white woman". In 2001's Rush Hour 2, we see Asian women in massage parlors given no lines or complexity to their characters, put on display solely for lead actors Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker to choose from. These media representations may lead viewers to see Asian women as nothing more than dainty sexual objects that contribute to Asian fetishes

Terminology and usage of Yellow fever[edit]

A common term used for Asian fetishization (particularly with East and Southeast Asians) is yellow fever. The term was notably used in from the afterword to the 1988 play M. Butterfly by David Henry Hwang, the afterword being written by the writer of the play. The term is used as a derogatory pun on the disease of the same name, comparing Caucasians with a fetish for East and Southeast Asians or "Orientals" to people who are infected with a disease.[1]

Yellow fever is used in Asian fetishization to refer to the color terminology of people of East Asian descent (and some South-East Asians), as historically, persons of East Asian heritage have been described as "yellow people" based on the tone of their skin.[11]

Hwang argues that this phenomenon is caused by the stereotyping of Asians in Western society. The term yellow fever is analogous to the term jungle fever, a derogatory expression used for racial fetishism associated with dating between different races.[11]

Study on racial preferences in dating[edit]

In 2007, after a two-year study on dating preferences among 400 Columbia University students, researchers did not find evidence of a general preference among White men for women of East Asian descent. The study found that there was a "strong preference" for people to date within their own ethnic group. Though the report also found that there is a significantly higher pairing of European-American men with East Asian-American women because women of East Asian descent are less likely to prefer African-American or Latino-American men. The study took data from "several of decisions made by more than 400 daters from Columbia University's various graduate and professional schools".[12]

A 2013 study by the online dating app Are You Interested found that all American men, except Asian American men, prefer Asian American women.[13] This contradicts the 2007 study, though some question the potential effect of sampling on the study's generalizability.[14]

Psychological effects[edit]

Burlesque performer in Melbourne, 1930s

Yellow Fever is known as a modern phenomenon in the realm of dating. Based on responses from a few Asian ethnic groups, the yellow fever phenomenon has created a psychological burden on people of East and Southeast Asian descent. They have been reported to experience doubt and suspicion that men who find them attractive may be primarily attracted to their ethnic features and culture rather than their personal traits or characteristics.[11] People that are the targets of these racial fetishes may have experiences associated with feelings of depersonalization.[11] The fetishized body of the East or Southeast Asian woman becomes a symbol of other people's desires; she may not be valued for who she is, but what she has come to represent.[15] Racial depersonalisation can be especially hurtful to these women in situations where being recognized as an individual is important, such as non-sexual romantic relationships, because a person may feel unloved if they sense they could be replaced by someone with similar qualities.[11]

Another effect of this fetish is that it may cause its targets to feel like an Other, because they are isolated and held to different standards of beauty.[11] Asian American women report being complimented in ways that imply they are attractive because of their Asian ancestry. Because of this perceived Asian fetish, Asian American's ethnic and cultural differences are either seen as a failure to conform to mainstream Western standards of beauty, or as something that can be appreciated only on an alternative scale.[11] This can cause insecurity, and affect a woman's self-worth and self-respect.[11]

Men with a preference for women of East or Southeast Asian descent are also affected by the stigma of their perceived fetish.[11] These men are more likely to be viewed as inferior by others who assume that they date women of East or Southeast Asian descent because they are unable to date White women.[11] This logic gives the idea that women of certain Asian backgrounds are considered "lesser" than White women.[11] The stereotype that the Asian fetish perpetuates, about the sexual superiority of Asian women, may be perceived as reducing the status of Asian women to objects that are only valuable for sex and not as complete human beings. This sexual objectification leads to more fetishization.[11]

NPR correspondent Elise Hu offers that this can be a source of insecurity in Asian women's dating lives, asking: "Am I just loved because I'm part of an ethnic group that's assumed to be subservient, or do I have actual value as an individual, or is it both?".[16][17] In the other direction, it has been argued that the notion of an Asian fetish creates the unnecessary and erroneous perception of multiracial relationships as being characterized by "patriarchal, racist power structures" in relationships.[18]

Asian Americans' body dissatisfaction has been linked to the way they are often portrayed in the media as sexual yet innocent, nerdy, and emotionally inept[19] as well as the prevalence of White people in media. Asian Americans tend to have a wide range of body dissatisfaction, with some studies saying that they have less than White, Black, and Hispanic Americans while others say they range somewhere in between.[19] However, unlike with many other non-White groups in America, Asian-Americans' body dissatisfaction does not relate to their levels of assimilation to American culture. This tends to be attributed to the fact that Asian-Americans are viewed as "Forever Foreigners."[20][21]

This concept applies in different ways depending on the context. In this case, it means that the "true" American is considered to be the European American, and all other Americans are considered something else before they are considered Americans, such as African Americans or Asian Americans. According to an article from the Autumn 2003 edition of The Journal of Negro Education, many Asian American girls and women strive to achieve what they see as Eurocentric traits, such as large breasts, green eyes, or light hair; features which are not as common among populations of Asian descent.[20] In this article, Hmong American high school girls were the main focus. These girls specified that they tried to achieve these traits because they were things that they believed White men and boys found attractive.[20]

Connection to violence[edit]

The Atlanta spa shootings in 2021 sparked debate around the effects of Asian fetish, with many popular and scholarly sources agreeing that the shooting is part of a long legacy of American imperialist violence against Asia projected onto Asian women and female Asian bodies.[22]

In 2002, a study showed that though Asian women were underrepresented in popular media, they are over-represented in victim roles in violent pornography.[23] This may both reflect and contribute to a type of fetishization that encourages violence against Asian women.

Interracial marriages[edit]

A 1998 article in The Washington Post states that 36% of young Asian Pacific American men born in the United States married White women, and 45% of U.S.-born Asian Pacific American women took White husbands during the year of publication.[24] In 2008, 9.4% of Asian American men married to White American women while 26.4% of Asian American women were married to White American men.[25] 7% of married Asian American men have a non-Asian spouse, 17.1% of married Asian American women are married to a White spouse, and 3.5% of married Asian men have a spouse classified as "other" according to U.S. census racial categories.[26] 75% of Asian/White marriages involve an Asian woman and a White man.[26] There was a spike in White male, Asian female marriages during and following the U.S. Army 's involvement with wars in Asia, including WWII, Korea, and Vietnam.[26] In 2010, 219,000 Asian American men married White American women compared to 529,000 White American men who married Asian American women.[27]

Since the beginning of the twentieth century, the Westerner's image of the Asian woman has been seen as subservient, loyal, and family oriented.[28][29]

After World War II, particularly feminine images of Asian women made interracial marriage between Asian American women and White men popular.[28] Asian femininity and White masculinity are seen as a sign of modern middle-class manhood.[28][29] Postcolonial and model minority femininity may attract some White men to Asian and Asian American women and men see this femininity as the perfect marital dynamic.[28]  Some White men racialize Asian women as "good wives" or "model minorities" because of how Asian women are stereotyped as being particularly feminine.[28][29]

In preparation for a documentary on Asian fetish called Seeking Asian Female, Chinese-American filmmaker Debbie Lum interviewed non-Asian men who posted online personal ads exclusively seeking Asian women. Things that the men reported finding appealing in Asian women included subtlety and quietness, eye-catching long black hair, a mysterious look in dark eyes, and a propensity to give more consideration to how their partner feels than to themselves. Lum characterized the stereotype associated with an Asian fetish as an obsession with seeking "somebody submissive, traditional, docile... the perfect wife who is not going to talk back".[30]

Asian women may be viewed by White men with Asian fetish as "good wives",[28] as in they are perceived to be able to properly take care of their children during the day and fulfill their partner's sexual desires at night. In interviews done by Bitna Kim, "Caucasian" men explain their fetish for Asian women. The Caucasian men interviewed fantasize that an Asian woman possesses both beauty and brains, that she is "sexy, intelligent, successful, professional, caring, and family oriented"; that she does not wear "White girl clothes" and heavy makeup, and that they are not high maintenance.[31] Hence, the men believe that Asian women have respectable mannerisms.[31] These men see Asian women to be exotic, thus desirable, because of their supposed mysterious beauty and possession of a physical appearance perceived to be petite.[31] Sexually, the men in these interviews had a commonality. They all believed that Asian women have submissive sex. They believed that an Asian woman did not mind putting her partner's pleasure above hers.[31] These interviews show that some "Caucasian" men with Asian fetish believe that an Asian woman embodies a perfect wife as a "princess in public and a whore in the bedroom".[31]

Since 2002, marriages between Swedish men and Thai women have become increasingly common.[32]

Historically, the number of Thai women marrying Western men began to rise in the 1950s and 1960s as a result of Prime Minister Sarit Thanarat's economic policies which attracted foreign investment and Western men to Thailand. There is a social stigma in the country against Thai women marrying White men, who are also referred to as farang (a term used for people of European origin), but research published in 2015 indicated that an increasing number of young middle-class Thai women were marrying foreign men. A generation earlier, Thai women marrying foreign men had mostly been working class.[33]

Sources indicate that Sri Lanka is popular among Western "marriage bureaus" which specialize in the pairing of men who were "Europeans, North Americans and other westerners" with foreign women.[34] The first and largest wave of Sri Lankan immigrants to Denmark were Sinhalese women who came to the country in the 1970s to marry Danish men they had met back in Sri Lanka.[35] Statistics also show that marriages of Danish, Swedish and Norwegian men with Thai or Indian women tend to last longer than those of Indian men marrying Danish, Swedish or Norwegian wives.[36]

Filipina, Thai, and Sri Lankan women have traveled as mail-order brides to Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.[37]

Statistics detailing the sponsorship of spouses and fiancées to Australia between 1988/1989 and 1990/1991 showed that more women from the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Indonesia, South Korea, and India were sponsored for citizenship than men from the same countries.[38]

Data published in 1999 indicated that an estimated 200,000 to 400,000 German men annually travelled abroad for sex tourism, with the Philippines, Thailand, South Korea, Sri Lanka and Hong Kong as their main destinations.[39] For some White men, sex tourism to countries such as Thailand is built around a fantasy that includes the possibility of finding love and romance. This idea is based on the stereotype of "the Oriental woman" who is considered to be beautiful and sexually exciting as well as caring, compliant and submissive.[40]

According to a 2003 article, a study focused on Hmong American high school girls reported that due to dominant popular culture, girls had internalized "the image of the White American family as 'good' and 'normal,'" in contrast to their negative gender experiences in their own Hmong American households and the lack of positive depictions of Hmong or Asian people in popular culture. The girls thus doubted that marrying Hmong American men would lead to a family with gender equity that they desired. The article further detailed how the girls attempted to achieve what they saw as White traits to be attractive to White men or boys.[20]

In mainstream media[edit]

There are relatively few representations of Asian people in Western media. Asian women in the media tend to be portrayed in two ways: as an exotic foreigner, docile and nonthreatening and sexual but also innocent; or as the nerd who is still aesthetically pleasing, but also emotionless and career-oriented. This leads many Asian women to believe that they have to be in one of these boxes. It tends to convey the message that if they are smart, they cannot be sexual; or, if they are sexual, they tend to not be aware of it.[41] By the late 2010s, movies such as Crazy Rich Asians and The Farewell began to break these boundaries, but they are movies that center around the Asian experience, allowing for more diversity across Asian characters.

Media in America that features racial diversity tends to be Black–White centered. This means that, if the character is not White, they tend to be Black. For example, the Netflix adaptation of Dear White People largely juxtaposes race on a Black versus White spectrum. While there is the occasional Asian person, they are often there for comedic value, much of which is stereotypical comedy rather than actual input into racial issues. This may make America appear to be composed only of Black people and White people, with Asians in either a limbo space, or a bubble where Asians only exist among other Asians.[20]

For Asian Americans, the ideal body is influenced by the media they see. Women tend to lean towards traits that distinguish between Asian American women and White American women. For example, one trait that is held up in Asian American communities is the double eyelid.[19] Many Asians are born with the single-layered eyelid, but this ideal is so prevalent that people get surgery to achieve it.

In her essay "Hateful Contraries: Media Images of Asian Women", British filmmaker Pratibha Parmar comments that the media's imagery of Asian women is "contradictory" in that it represents them as "completely dominated by their men, mute and oppressed" while also showing them as "sexually erotic creatures".[42]

Asian women have traditionally been stereotyped in mass media in the United States. In her essay Lotus Blossoms Don't Bleed: Images of Asian Women, American filmmaker Renee Tajima-Peña identifies two basic stereotypes. The "Lotus Blossom Baby" is a feminine and delicate sexual-romantic object. In contrast, the "Dragon Lady" is treacherous and devious, and in some cases, a prostitute or madam. Tajima suggests that this view of Asian women contributes to the existence of the Asian mail-order bride industry in the US.[43]


It is argued that media may be furthering the progression of the Asian woman stereotype. This can be seen in movies, where the women are characterized by submissiveness.[44] This trend is embodied within pornography, which focuses on an Asian women's stereotyped body type and her ability and desire to remain submissive to men.[44] Asian pornography uprose when the United States government banned prostitution.[44] But in other Asian countries, porn was supported, which lead to the accumulation and sexualization of Asian-based porn in the United States.[44] The inability for one to truly understand another culture or production opens up more room for imagination and fantasy which eventually leads to fetishization.[44]

Asian women continue to be grossly misrepresented in the porn industry today. In 2021 Pornhub's most searched terms were hentai, Japanese, and Asian in which videos continue to depict these women through the 'evil' and 'submissive' archetypes.[45] Jennifer Lynn Gossett and Sarah Byrne conducted a content-analysis study of 32 pornographic websites that advertised scenes depicting the rape or torture of women and found that nearly half of the sites used depictions of Asian women as victims of rape, a stark comparison to white women and women of other backgrounds.[46]

In contrast, we see Asian women as fiery dominatrices with little content in between. Hentai mirrors the same depictions of real pornography but with animations that exasperate childlike and submissive stereotypes of Asian Women but with exaggerated features of large breasts and a small waist eager to please the male character. The intent of these pornographic films is for enjoyment and capitalistic gains, but as philosopher bell hooks explains, this does not mean that the subliminal lessons are not learned by their viewers as momentary satisfaction can quickly turn into real dehumanizing unsatisfied desires.[47] Asian American feminist Helen Zia has also argued that there is a strong connection between the portrayals of Asian Women in pornography, fetishization, dehumanization and violence against Asian women.

See also[edit]


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  2. ^ Alolika (2014-02-21). "Playboy Petrarch: Racial Fetishism and K-pop". SeoulBeats. Retrieved 24 March 2014.
  3. ^ King, Ritchie (20 November 2013). "The uncomfortable racial preferences revealed by online dating". Quartz. Retrieved 30 March 2014.
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  5. ^ S. Chou, Rosalind (5 January 2015). Asian American Sexual Politics: The Construction of Race, Gender, and Sexuality. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 65. ISBN 9781442209251.
  6. ^ Ashoka Bandarage (1998). "Women and capitalist development in Sri Lanka, 1977-87". Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars. 20 (2): 73–74. doi:10.1080/14672715.1988.10404449.
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  13. ^ King, Ritchie (20 November 2013). "The uncomfortable racial preferences revealed by online dating". Quartz. Quartz.
  14. ^ Chow, Kat; Hu, Elise (30 November 2013). "Odds Favor White Men, Asian Women On Dating App". NPR. NPR.
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  38. ^ Adrienne Millbank (4 November 1992). Sponsorship of Spouses and Fiancees into Australia (PDF) (Report). Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia: Parliamentary Research Service. ISSN 1037-2938.
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  42. ^ Parmar, Pratihba (2003). "Hateful Contraries: Media Images of Asian Women". In Jones, Amelia (ed.). The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader. Psychology Press. p. 290. ISBN 9780415267052.
  43. ^ Tajima, Renee E. (1989). "Lotus Blossoms Don't Bleed: Images of Asian Women" (PDF). In Asian Women United of California (ed.). Making Waves: An Anthology of Writings By and About Asian American Women. Boston: Beacon Press.
  44. ^ a b c d e Masequesmay, Gina; Metzger, Sean, eds. (2008). Embodying Asian/American Sexualities. Lexington Books. ISBN 9780739133514.
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  47. ^ Blanc, Charlotte (2018-12-01). "bell hooks, Reel to Real. Race, Class and Sex at the Movies". Genre en séries (8). doi:10.4000/ges.587. ISSN 2431-6563. S2CID 239484321.

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