Asian fetish

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An Asian fetish is an interest, obsession, or preference for Asian people, culture, or things of Asian origin by those of non-Asian descent. It applies to the enthusiasms experienced by some non-Asian people for such things as Asian cinema,[1] tattoos made up of Chinese characters[2] or the adoption of Asian children.[3] More specifically it refers to a type of sexual obsession; white men who predominantly or exclusively date Asian women are referred to as "men with an Asian fetish" by some Asian-American women.[4]

Asian fetish is a slang expression derived from sexual fetishism, which in medical terms is a sexual fixation on a nonliving object or nongenital body part.[5] However, the word fetish is used in common discourse with a much broader scope than its psychiatric definition, including a preference for objects or activities in non-sexual contexts.[6]

An Asian fetish is distinct from an interracial partnership. Interracial relationships may occur for reasons distinct from race. Asian fetishes have been criticised for treating the fetishized person as an object rather than an equal partner.[7] The term Asiaphile is sometimes used to describe the same phenomenon, as is "yellow fever" for East Asians (not to be confused with the disease yellow fever).[8][9][10]


A Western fetish for Asian things developed out of a European tradition of fascination with the East, and a history of othering the inhabitants of those regions. Middle Eastern women were fetishised during the 17th and 18th centuries, and after the First Opium War in the 1840s and the opening of the Chinese treaty ports to foreign merchants, East Asia became the focus of Western interest. Western powers, including the United States, established a presence in the port cities of China, Japan and Korea and made substantial profits from the lucrative trade routes. One result of this was a developing appetite amongst the Western middle class for Asian goods and art. Some of this art, such as postcards and fans, featured sexualized depictions of geishas, portrayed as petite, heavily made-up and richly dressed women. The prominence of this provocative geisha image on trade goods fostered, in the eyes of Western men, the idea of the geisha and East Asian women as decorative, sexual objects. The 1887 novel Madame Chrysanthème by Pierre Loti and Puccini's 1904 opera Madama Butterfly served to popularise the image of the submissive and doll-like East Asian woman, while Hollywood promoted the sexualised Asian femme fatale in the form portrayed by Anna May Wong as Fu Manchu’s daughter. The image of the sexualized Asian woman in the United States was further solidified by the presence of the U.S. military in Asia during the Second World War, the Korean War, and the Vietnam war. Brothels formed in towns surrounding U.S. military bases, their primary clientele being U.S. soldiers. American men who may not have had preconceived notions about Asian women were drafted and sent to fight in Asia where they saw Asian women working in the sex industry.[11]

A well known stereotype of Asian women is that they are subservient, passive and quiet.[12] Throughout history in the Western world, the image of an Asian women was "geisha-like", meaning overly sexual but silent.[12] Asian women are seen giving suggestive gazes but remaining quiet while seducing the man. This image persists today, along with the idea of Asian women being exotic and submissive.[12] Asian women are often referred to as a 'china doll', meaning they are dainty and beautiful, but also meaning they have no feelings and are able to be controlled.[12] In movies, television and media, this stereotypical representation of Asian women is of them being seen as objects rather than humans. Continuous exhibition of such in mainstream media has led to the idea of the "Asian fetish".[12]

Terminology and usage[edit]

In the afterword to the 1988 play M. Butterfly, the writer David Henry Hwang, using the term "yellow fever", a pun on the disease of the same name, discusses white men with a "fetish" for (east) Asian women. The term "yellow fever" describes someone who is inflicted with a disease, meaning that someone with an Asian fetish has a sickness. Hwang argues that this phenomenon is caused by stereotyping of Asians in Western society.[13] 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.[14] Other names used for those with an Asian fetish are rice kings, rice chasers and rice lovers.[12]

The slang term used for a gay man, usually white, who exclusively dates men of Asian descent is "rice queen".[15][16]

Study on racial preferences in dating[edit]

In 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 white men with East Asian women because East Asian women discriminate against black and Hispanic/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".[17]


Asian fetish places a psychological burden on Asian women, who are forced to cope with constant doubt and suspicion that men who find them attractive have an Asian fetish.[18] 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.[18] The doubt that targets of Asian fetish experience stems from feelings of depersonalization, which compound on the objectification Asian females already face as women, to create a further sort of objectification where Asian women feel like interchangeable objects.[18] The fetishized body of the Asian woman becomes a symbol of other people’s desires; she is not valued for what she is, but what she has come to represent.[19] 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.[18]

Another effect of Asian fetish is that it causes its targets to feel like an Other, because they are isolated and held to different standards of beauty.[18] 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 white standards of beauty, or as something that can be appreciated only on an alternative scale.[18] This can cause insecurity, and affect a woman’s self-worth and self-respect.[18]

Men with an Asian fetish are also affected by the stigma that accompanies the term.[18] These men are viewed as inferior, and it is assumed that they date Asian women because they are unable to date White women.[18] This logic holds that Asian women are lesser than White woman.[18] The stereotype that the Asian fetish perpetuates, about the sexual superiority of Asian women, reduces Asian women to objects that are only valuable for sex and not as complete human beings.[18]

NPR correspondent Elise Hu offers that this can be a source of insecurity in Asian women's dating lives, "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?".[20][21] In the other direction, it has been argued that the notion of an Asian fetish creates the unnecessary perception of multiracial relationships as being characterized by "patriarchal, racist power structures" in relationships.[22]

Writer Agness Kaku believes the mainstream white culture undermines efforts to combat sexual harassment based on 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.[23]

Asian women and white men[edit]

20% of married Asian American women and 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".[24] 75% of Asian/white marriages involve an Asian female and a white male.[24] 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.[24]

Since the beginning of the twentieth century, the white Westerner’s image of the Asian woman has been seen as subservient, loyal, and family oriented.[25] After World War II, over feminized 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] Postcolonial and model minority femininity attract white men to Asian and Asian American women and men see this femininity as the perfect marital dynamic.[25] White men often racialize Asian women as "good wives" or "model minorities" because of how Asian women are stereotyped as over feminized.[25]

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 found 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 described 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".[26]

Asian women are viewed by white men 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, white men explain their fetish for Asian women. The white men interviewed fantasize that an Asian woman possesses both beauty and brains[27], that she is "sexy, intelligent, successful, professional, caring, and family oriented".[27], that she does not wear “white girl clothes” and heavy makeup, and that they are not high maintenance.[27] Hence, the men believe that Asian women have respectable mannerisms.[27] 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.[27] 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.[27] These interviews show that white men believe that an Asian woman embodies a perfect wife as a "princess in public and a whore in the bedroom".[27]

A white woman is seen by white men to lack the same femininity that an Asian woman has to offer.[25] Instead, a white man gets the next best option that will benefit him most.[25]

Since 2002, marriages between Eastern European men and Asian women have become increasingly common.[28]

Historically, the number of Thai women marrying westerners 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, 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.[29]

Sources indicate that Sri Lanka is popular among Western "marriage bureaus" which specialize in the pairing of Western men with foreign women.[30] 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.[31] 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.[32]

Filipino, Thai and Sri Lankan women have traveled as mail-order brides to Europe, Australia and New Zealand.[33]

Statistics detailing the sponsorship of spouses and fiances to Australia between 1988/89 and 1990/91 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.[34]

An estimated 200,000 to 400,000 German men annually travel abroad for sex tourism, with the Philippines, Thailand, South Korea, Sri Lanka and Hong Kong as their main destinations.[35] 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.[36]

In media[edit]

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".[37]

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.[38]

Media continuously furthers the progression of the Asian woman stereotype. This can be seen in movies, where the women are characterized by submissiveness.[39] This trend is embodied within pornography, which focuses on an Asian women's stereotyped body type and her ability to remain submissive to males.[39] Asian pornography uprose when the United States government banned prostitution.[39] But in other Asian countries, porn was supported, which lead to the accumulation and sexualization of Asian-based porn in the United States.[39] The inability for one to truly understand another culture or production opens up more room for imagination and fantasy.[39]

See also[edit]

Attraction to specific cultures[edit]


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