Asian fetish

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Asian fetish refers to a pronounced interest in Asian people, Asian cultures, or things of Asian origin by those of non-Asian descent. Asian fetish is a slang expression derived from sexual fetishism, which in medical terms is a psychosexual fixation on a nonliving object or nongenital body part.[1] While Asian fetish is not a fetish in this formal sense, the word fetish is used in common discourse with a much broader scope than its psychiatric definition, including interests in non-sexual contexts.[2] The term Asiaphile is sometimes used to describe the same phenomenon, as is yellow fever for East Asians (not to be confused with the viral disease yellow fever).[3][4][5]

The term Asian fetish applies to the enthusiasms experienced by some non-Asian people for such things as Asian cinema,[6] tattoos made up of Chinese characters[7] or the adoption of Asian children, especially to the exclusion or diminishment of other cultures.[8] More specifically the term may refer to a type of sexual obsession. Non-Asian men who predominantly or exclusively date Asian women are referred to as "men with an Asian fetish" by some Asian-American women.[9] An Asian fetish is distinct from an interracial partnership. Interracial relationships may occur for reasons distinct from race. Some critics argue that Asian fetish is associated with objectification of Asian people.[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 fetishized in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries,[11] 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 commercial and imperial 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; for example, Chinese export porcelain. Some of this art, such as postcards and fans, featured sexualized depictions of geishas, portrayed as petite, heavily made-up, and richly dressed women. It is suggested that the prominence of this provocative geisha image on trade goods fostered, in the eyes of caucasian men, the idea of the geisha and East Asian women as decorative, sexual objects.[11]

The 1887 novel Madame Chrysanthème by Pierre Loti and Puccini's 1904 opera Madama Butterfly served to popularize the image of the submissive and doll-like East Asian woman, while Hollywood promoted the sexualized 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] (See: Amerasian; Hapa)

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 sexually suggestive but silent.[12] Asian women are seen giving suggestive gazes but remaining quiet while seducing a 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 has the implication of absence of feelings and autonomy.[12] Exhibition of stereotyped material in mainstream media has promoted 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 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 inflicted 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.[13] The term yellow fever is analogous to the term jungle fever, an offensive slang expression used for racial fetishism associated with caucasian 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 caucasian, 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 caucasian men for Asian women. Furthermore, the study found that there is a significantly higher pairing of caucasian 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".[17]


An Asian fetish may place 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 other traits or characteristics.[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 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.[18] 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.[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 may cause 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 Western 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 by those who assume that they date Asian women because they are unable to date caucasian women.[18] This logic holds that Asian women are lesser than caucasian women.[18] 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.[18]

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?".[20][21] 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.[22]

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.[23]

Asian women and caucasian men[edit]

A 1998 Washington Post article states 36% of young Asian Pacific American men born in the United States married caucasian women, and 45% of U.S.-born Asian Pacific American women took caucasian husbands during the year of publication.[24]. In 2008, 9.4% of Asian American men married to caucasian American women while 26.4% Asian American women to caucasian 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 caucasian 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/caucasian marriages involve an Asian woman and a caucasian man.[26] There was a spike in caucasian male/Asian female marriages during and following the U.S.'s involvement with wars in Asia, including WWII, Korea, and Vietnam.[26]. In 2010, 219,000 Asian American men married caucasian American women compared to 529,000 caucasian 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 caucasian men popular.[28] Asian femininity and caucasian masculinity are seen as a sign of modern middle-class manhood.[28][29] Postcolonial and model minority femininity may attract some caucasian men to Asian and Asian American women and men see this femininity as the perfect marital dynamic.[28]  Some caucasian 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 characterised 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 caucasian 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,[31] that she is "sexy, intelligent, successful, professional, caring, and family oriented";[31] 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] A caucasian woman is seen by some caucasian men to lack the same femininity that an Asian woman has to offer.[28]

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

Historically, the number of Thai women marrying caucasian 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 caucasian men to Thailand. There is a social stigma in the country against Thai women marrying caucasian 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.[33]

Sources indicate that Sri Lanka is popular among Western "marriage bureaus" which specialize in the pairing of caucasian men 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]

Filipino, 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 1988/89 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.[38]

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.[39] For some caucasian 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]

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".[41]

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.[42]

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.[43] 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.[43] Asian pornography uprose when the United States government banned prostitution.[43] But in other Asian countries, porn was supported, which lead to the accumulation and sexualization of Asian-based porn in the United States.[43] The inability for one to truly understand another culture or production opens up more room for imagination and fantasy.[43]

See also[edit]

Attraction to specific cultures[edit]


  1. ^ American Psychiatric Association, ed. (2013). "Fetishistic Disorder, 302.81 (F65.0)". Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. American Psychiatric Publishing. p. 700.
  2. ^ Scorolli, C., Ghirlanda, S., Enquist, M., Zattoni, S., & Jannini, E. A. (2007). "Relative prevalence of different fetishes". International Journal of Impotence Research. 19 (4): 432–437. doi:10.1038/sj.ijir.3901547. PMID 17304204.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  3. ^ Yuan Ren (1 Jul 2014). "'Yellow fever' fetish: Why do so many white men want to date a Chinese woman?". Telegraph. London.
  4. ^ Nam, Vicky (2001). YELL-oh Girls!. HarperCollins. pp. 131–2. ISBN 978-0-06-095944-9.
  5. ^ Eng, Phoebe (2000). "Lesson Five: She Takes Back Desire". Warrior Lessons: An Asian American Woman's Journey into Power. New York: Simon and Schuster. pp. 115–42. ISBN 978-0-671-00957-1.
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  14. ^ Afua Hirsch (13 Jan 2018). "'As a black woman I'm always fetishised': racism in the bedroom". The Guardian.
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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]