Asian fetish

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An Asian fetish is a strong sexual or romantic preference for persons of Asian descent, specifically East or Southeast Asian descent and South Asian descent.[1][2][3][4][5]

The fetishization of East Asians by people of other ethnicities is sometimes described by the derogatory term yellow fever.

Possible origins[edit]

Asian women are often stereotyped as subservient, passive, and quiet.[6] The image of the geisha, a sexually suggestive but silent woman, may have contributed to this.[6] Asian women are often depicted giving suggestive gazes but remaining quiet while seducing a man. This portrayal persists today, along with the idea of Asian women—and, to a lesser extent, men—being exotic and submissive.[6] Asian women are often referred to as 'china dolls', meaning they are dainty and beautiful, with the implication of absence of feelings and autonomy.[6] These stereotypical depictions in mainstream media may have contributed to the fetishization of Asian peoples.[6]

Burlesque performer in Melbourne, 1930s

Terminology and usage[edit]

In the afterword to the 1988 play M. Butterfly, the writer David Henry Hwang, using the term "yellow fever", a derogatory pun on the disease of the same name, discusses "Caucasian" men with a "fetish" for (east) Asian women. The pun refers to the color terminology for race, in which persons of East and Southeast Asian heritage are sometimes described as "Yellow people". The term "yellow fever" describes someone who is afflicted with a disease, implying that someone with an Asian fetish has a sickness. Hwang argues that this phenomenon is caused by stereotyping of Asians in Western society.[7] The term yellow fever is analogous to the term jungle fever, an offensive slang expression used for racial fetishism associated with White women whose sexual interests focus on Black men or White men whose sexual interests focus on Black women.[8]

Other names used for those with an Asian fetish are "rice kings," "rice chasers" and "rice lovers".[6] The slang term used for a gay man, usually White, who exclusively dates men of Asian descent is "rice queen".[9][10]

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 Asian women. Furthermore, the study found that there is a significantly higher pairing of European-American men with East Asian women because East Asian women are less likely to prefer African-American or Latino men. The study took data from "thousands of decisions made by more than 400 daters from Columbia University's various graduate and professional schools".[11]


An Asian fetish places a psychological burden on Asian women, who may experience doubt and suspicion that men who find them attractive are primarily attracted to features related to ethnicity and culture rather than personal traits or characteristics.[12] Asian American women report both in popular media such as blogs, and in social scientific literature, that they are often uncertain whether people are only interested in them for their race.[12] The doubt that targets of Asian fetish experience may be associated with feelings of depersonalization, which, it is argued, compound on the objectification Asian women already face as women, such that they may feel like interchangeable objects.[12] The fetishized body of the 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.[13] Racial depersonalization can be especially hurtful to Asian women in situations where being recognized as an individual is important, such as romantic relationships, because a person may feel unloved if they sense they could be replaced by someone with similar qualities.[12]

Another effect of Asian fetish is that it may cause its targets to feel like an Other, because they are isolated and held to different standards of beauty.[12] Asian American women report being complimented in ways that imply they are attractive because they are Asian or despite being Asian. Because of Asian fetish, an Asian woman's racial difference is 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.[12] This can cause insecurity, and affect a woman's self-worth and self-respect.[12]

Men with an Asian fetish are also affected by the stigma that accompanies the term.[12] These men are viewed as inferior by those who assume that they date Asian women because they are unable to date White women.[12] This logic holds that Asian women are lesser than White women.[12] 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.[12]

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?".[14][15] 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.[16]

Writer Agness Kaku believes the mainstream Western culture undermines efforts to combat sexual harassment associated with Asian fetish. Noting how frequently women of Asian descent are subjected to verbal and online harassment, Kaku argues that Asian fetish "thrives on double standards that make light of racial bias against Asians" and states this downplaying leaves women vulnerable to stalking and violence.[17]

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[18] 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.[18] 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."[19][20]

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. These groups are referred to as African Americans, or Asian Americans, and rarely just as Americans. So, to try to fit in, some Asian Americans may attempt to achieve traits they consider White.[citation needed] 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 White traits, such as large breasts, green eyes, or light hair, which Asians are very rarely born with.[19] In this article, Hmong 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.[19]

Asian women and White men[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.[21] 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.[22] 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.[23] 75% of Asian/White marriages involve an Asian woman and a White man.[23] There was a spike in White male/Asian female marriages during and following the U.S.'s involvement with wars in Asia, including WWII, Korea, and Vietnam.[23] In 2010, 219,000 Asian American men married White American women compared to 529,000 White American men who married Asian American women.[24]

Since the beginning of the twentieth century, the Westerner's image of the Asian woman has been seen as subservient, loyal, and family oriented.[25][26]

After World War II, particularly feminine images of Asian women made interracial marriage between Asian American women and White men popular.[25] Asian femininity and White masculinity are seen as a sign of modern middle-class manhood.[25][26] 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.[25]  Some White men racialize Asian women as "good wives" or "model minorities" because of how Asian women are stereotyped as being particularly feminine.[25][26]

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".[27]

Asian women may be viewed by White men with Asian fetish as "good wives",[25] 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.[28] Hence, the men believe that Asian women have respectable mannerisms.[28] 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.[28] 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.[28] 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".[28]

Since 2002, marriages between Swedish men and Thai women have become increasingly common.[29]

Historically, the number of Thai women marrying White 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 White men to Thailand. There is a social stigma in the country against Thai women marrying White men, 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.[30]

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.[31] 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.[32] 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.[33]

Filipino, Thai, and Sri Lankan women have traveled as mail-order brides to Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.[34]

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.[35]

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.[36] 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.[37]

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.[19]

In media[edit]

There are relatively few representations of Asian people in Western media. Asian women in media tend to be portrayed in two ways: as exotic foreigners, 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.[38] 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 or Hispanic person, they are often there for comedic value 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.[19]

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.[18] 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 presenting them as "sexually erotic creatures".[39]

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.[40]

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.[41] 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.[41] Asian pornography uprose when the United States government banned prostitution.[41] But in other Asian countries, porn was supported, which lead to the accumulation and sexualization of Asian-based porn in the United States.[41] The inability for one to truly understand another culture or production opens up more room for imagination and fantasy.[41]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Alolika (2014-02-21). "Playboy Petrarch: Racial Fetishism and K-pop". SeoulBeats. Retrieved 24 March 2014.
  2. ^ King, Ritchie. "The uncomfortable racial preferences revealed by online dating". Quartz. Retrieved 30 March 2014.
  3. ^ Ren, Yuan (July 2014). "'Yellow fever' fetish: Why do so many white men want to date a Chinese woman?".
  4. ^ S. Chou, Rosalind (5 January 2015). Asian American Sexual Politics: The Construction of Race, Gender, and Sexuality. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 65. ISBN 9781442209251.
  5. ^ Ashoka Bandarage (1998). Women and capitalist development in Sri Lanka, 1977-87 (Report). Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars. pp. 73–74. doi:10.1080/14672715.1988.10404449.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Chang, Maggie (1 April 2006). "Made in the USA: Rewriting Images of the Asian Fetish". Undergraduate Humanities Forum 2005-6: Word & Image. 6.
  7. ^ Hwang, David Henry (1988). "Afterward". M. Butterfly. New York: Plume Books. p. 98. ISBN 978-0-452-26466-3.
  8. ^ Afua Hirsch (13 Jan 2018). "'As a black woman I'm always fetishised': racism in the bedroom". The Guardian.
  9. ^ Bohling, James. "Embracing Diversity? - Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders Discuss Racism in the LGBT Community". GLAAD. Archived from the original on 2 February 2009. Retrieved August 22, 2016.
  10. ^ Ayres, Tony (1999). "China doll - the experience of being a gay Chinese Australian". Journal of Homosexuality. 36 (3–4): 87–97. doi:10.1300/J082v36n03_05. PMID 10197547.
  11. ^ Fisman, Ray (7 November 2007). "An Economist Goes to a Bar - And Solves the Mystery of Dating".
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Zheng, Robin (2016). "Why Yellow Fever Isn't Flattering: A Case against Racial Fetishes" (PDF). Journal of the American Philosophical Association. 2 (3): 400–419. doi:10.1017/apa.2016.25.
  13. ^ Kwan, SanSan (Winter 2002). "Scratching the Lotus Blossom Itch". Tessera. 31: 41–48.
  14. ^ Chow, Kat; Hu, Elise (30 November 2013). "Odds Favor White Men, Asian Women On Dating App". NPR.
  15. ^ Hu, Nian (4 February 2016). "Yellow Fever: The Problem With Fetishizing Asian Women". The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved 3 June 2016.
  16. ^ Chen, Vivienne (9 September 2012). "So, He Likes You Because You're Asian". Huffpost Women.
  17. ^ Kaku, Agness (4 January 2017). "Death by Fever". LinkedIn.
  18. ^ a b c Grabe, Shelly; Hyde, Janet Shibley (July 2006). "Ethnicity and body dissatisfaction among women in the United States: A meta-analysis". Psychological Bulletin. 132 (4): 622–640. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.132.4.622. ISSN 0033-2909. PMID 16822170.
  19. ^ a b c d e Lee, Stacey J.; Vaught, Sabina (2003). ""You Can Never Be Too Rich or Too Thin": Popular and Consumer Culture and the Americanization of Asian American Girls and Young Women". The Journal of Negro Education. 72 (4): 457–466. doi:10.2307/3211196. ISSN 0022-2984. JSTOR 3211196.
  20. ^ Wu, Christine S.; Pituc, Stephanie T.; Kim, Adam Y.; Lee, Richard M. (2019-03-28). "Foreigner objectification, cultural assets, and psychological adjustment in Asian American college students". Asian American Journal of Psychology. 11: 14–22. doi:10.1037/aap0000152. ISSN 1948-1985.
  21. ^ "America's Racial and Ethnic Divides: Interracial Marriages Eroding Barriers". The Washington Post. November 9, 1998.
  22. ^ "Table 60. Married Couples by Race and Hispanic Origin of Spouses" Archived January 1, 2015, at the Wayback Machine, December 15, 2010 (Excel table Archived October 13, 2012, at the Wayback Machine. Detailed data can be found in the Statistical Abstract of the United States, from 1979 to 2011.
  23. ^ a b c Chou, Rosalind (2012). Asian American Sexual Politics: The Construction of Race, Gender, and Sexuality. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 138. ISBN 9781442209244.
  24. ^ Marrying Out One-in-Seven New U.S. Marriages is Interracial or Interethnic. Archived January 31, 2016, at the Wayback Machine Released June 4, 2010; Revised June 15, 2010
  25. ^ a b c d e f Nemoto, Kumiko (2009). Racing Romance: Love, Power, and Desire among Asian American/White Couples. Rutgers University Press. ISBN 9780813548524.
  26. ^ a b c Woan, Sunny (March 2008). "White Sexual Imperialism: A Theory of Asian Feminist Jurisprudence". Washington and Lee Journal of Civil Rights and Social Justice. 14 (2): 275. ISSN 1535-0843.
  27. ^ Martin, Michel (22 June 2012). "For One Man, She Had to be Pretty and Asian". NPR.
  28. ^ a b c d e Kim, Bitna (April 2011). "Asian Female and Caucasian Male Couples: Exploring the Attraction". Pastoral Psychology. 60 (2): 233–244. doi:10.1007/s11089-010-0312-9. S2CID 143478574.
  29. ^ "Cross-Border Marriages In Sweden". Population Europe. Munich: Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. Retrieved 21 August 2017.
  30. ^ Yiamyut Sutthichaya (28 July 2015). "New trend of young, educated Thai women with farang husbands emerges: researcher". Prachatai English.
  31. ^ "Human Rights Briefs: Women in Sri Lanka". Refworld. UNHCR. Retrieved 21 August 2017.
  32. ^ Reeves, Peter (2014). The Encyclopedia of the Sri Lankan Diaspora. Editions Didier Millet. p. 157. ISBN 9789814260831.
  33. ^ Mrutyuanjai Mishra (29 October 2016). "Why are western men marrying Asian women?". Times of India.
  34. ^ Lin Lean Lim; Nana Oishi (February 1996). International Labour Migration of Asian Women: Distinctive Characteristics and Policy Concerns (PDF) (Report). Geneva: International Labour Office. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2017-08-12. Retrieved 2017-08-12.
  35. ^ 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.
  36. ^ Kotthoff, Helga; Spencer-Oatey, Helen (1 January 2007). Handbook of Intercultural Communication. Walter de Gruyter. p. 345. ISBN 9783110198584. Retrieved 21 August 2017 – via Google Books.
  37. ^ Abramson, Paul R; Pinkerton, Steven D., eds. (1995). Sexual Nature/Sexual Culture. Chicago Series on Sexuality. University of Chicago Press. p. 309. ISBN 9780226001814.
  38. ^ Tran, Marenda (2010). Relationship among adherence to Asian values, sociocultural attitudes toward appearance, and body objectification in Asian American women (Thesis).
  39. ^ 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.
  40. ^ 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.
  41. ^ a b c d e Masequesmay, Gina; Metzger, Sean, eds. (2008). Embodying Asian/American Sexualities. Lexington Books. ISBN 9780739133514.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]