A look at yellow fever documentary ‘Seeking Asian Female’

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Documentary: Seeking Asian Female
Seeking Asian Female director Debbie Lam with her subjects Sandy and Steven.
I was pretty eager to sit down and watch “Seeking Asian Female“, Debbie Lam’s new documentary exploring ‘Yellow Fever’. I’ve always been a bit skeptical about the whole Asian fetish thing, and, admittedly, a bit defensive about it — my wife is Asian and I’m Caucasian.

I suppose the thing that gets my back up is the hinted presumption that all white people with Asian partners are somehow suffering from a fetish. Of course this is as silly as the spouses of all well-endowed people having a big bits fetish, or all those with red-headed lovers having a twinge for the ginge. But only a few minutes into the film you’re left with little doubt that the film’s focus, Steven, is suffering from a quick-get-him-in-a-bath-of-ice fever.

The documentary introduces Steven with a voice over from Lam explaining how the genesis for the film came from the constant leering of men, like her subject, that have caught the Asian contagion and constantly hit on her because of her race. Steven helps this along by leering and hitting on her — and then awkwardly taking a wall-covering amount of photos of Lam filming him.

Twice divorced, the 60-year-old parking attendant first started looking east (as he lives in a San Francisco suburb, I guess technically it’s west) after his son married an Asian woman. Steven has had several Asian girlfriends, but his preference is for the Chinese. “China is just amazing right now. The vitality, the growth; there seems to be an endless supply of women over there,” he tells the camera with a chuckle, “… they’re all just so beautiful.”

After exploring Steven’s comprehensive collection of mail order bride penpal books, and his shelves adorned with pictures of various women of the Asian persuasion; the documentary begins to follow his relationship with Sandy, a Chinese woman from Shenzhen who is about half his age.

The age difference between the two is not all that deeply explored in the film, which is a shame, as it certainly plays a huge part in the stereotype here in China. To say seeing an old white guy with a young Chinese in tow is commonplace would be an understatement. In expat communities across China, I doubt there is any greater stigma.

Seeking Asian Female's Steven and Sandy
Seeking Asian Female’s Steven and Sandy
Instead, the documentary follows Steven and and Sandy’s relationship online at first, and then in more detail when Steven returns from a trip to China with Sandy on a 3-month fiancee visa. Sandy’s English is limited, and Steven’s Mandarin is virtually non-existent, so Lam is frequently left playing the translator between the two — a fact that has both audience and director alike begin to question her objectivity to the subjects.

We travel with Steven and Sandy as they traverse money problems, jealousy and a litany of cultural differences. We watch as Sandy’s wide-eyed excitement of being in America begins to fade and turn to apprehension, confusion and frustration. Through it all though she comes off as confident and pragmatic. Despite the documentary’s premise and setup, never do you feel that either Steven or Sandy are victims of any sort, and I think that’s the biggest take away from the film. They’re sometimes bumbling and sometimes flawed, but we all are, and while Steven’s initial weirdness is creepy, his relationship with Sandy is as normal as any other modern relationship.

For me, it strengthened my belief that relationships come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. The moment we judge or criticize, and I’ve done both, presumed motivations (“He’s just in it to have a cute young thing on his arm.” / “She’s just in it for the money/Green Card.”) we admit our own ignorance towards why we do the things we do. Ultimately, Steven and Sandy may have a less than conventional relationship than some, but I was left feeling that despite their differences and the challenges unique to their relationship, they certainly didn’t seem any better or worse off than the rest of us.


“Seeking Asian Female” aired on PBS on May 6th. It can be viewed online (in some areas) here. If you’re in China, and unable to watch through PBS, or purchase the DVD, the film is circling the torrent sites as well.

Additionally, there’s a 5-part Web series related to the documentary called “They’re All So Beautiful” available on Youtube.

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15 Comments
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  2. I’m waiting for the “white fever” documentary about Chinese women chasing white men. It’s a an angle that has never been explored to my knowledge and quite possibly a more serious contagion.

    Seriously though, the fact that Chinese women prefer in much greater quantities to marry foreign men than foreign women prefer to marry Chinese men says something, something for sure, about Chinese men…

    Rather than “white fever”, perhaps a documentary about Chinese and foreign women’s “allergy to Chinese men” might be even more enlightening???

    • Profile photo of Ryan

      5 years ago I might have agreed, but I know a good number of foreign girl/Chinese guy relationships. Not as high as foreign guy/Chinese girl, but significantly more than it used to be. The element that you’re not addressing though is that there is a lot more family/parental pressure on a Chinese guy with who he dates/marries than there is on a Chinese girl. That is, of course, not the only reason for the disparity, but a key one.

      • Could be… but there aren’t very many white girls dating Chinese men. I very rarely see it. 99% of the cross cultural relationships are between Chinese women and foreign men(this is just my personal estimate). Any Western women who I know who have dated Chinese men rarely have a very good experience. It could be the family pressure on the guys, or it could be that Chinese men don’t got game.

        My girlfriend is Chinese and every few weeks some random Chinese guy approaches her awkwardly, asks for her phone number, says they should “go somewhere together” and then stalks her. Just two days ago a guy did this, asking for her number as she was waiting to meet me at a restaurant. She was a bit freaked out, but after staying at the restaurant for about 1.5 hours the guy was nowhere to be seen. I walked her to the metro and said good night, and guess what, the guy was waiting, followed her into the train and when she got to her stop she ran top the nearest taxi and got away from him.

        Now I ask you, what kind of inbred looser waits nearly two hours outside of a public restaurant and follows home a girl that clearly has a boyfriend, didn’t respond positively to his “suggestion” of going somewhere, and in fact thought he was a bloody idiot and told him so? A Chinese guy, that’s who.

        No I’m not saying all Chinese guys are freaks of nature and as inept as this guy, but as I said this is a regular thing. every few weeks or so. And let’s not forget, 50% of Chinese men abuse their female partners and 25% are rapists with 20% having participated in gang rape. Bunch of monkeys if you ask me. No wonder Chinese girls flock to foreign men…

        More shocking is the the fact that a lot of Chinese girls think stalking shows a guy really really likes them Apparently, hiding in the bushes and peering in some chick’s window is a sign of affection for many Chinese girls. fortunately for foreign men more and more Chinese girls are waking up to the realization that these men, perhaps half of all of Chinese men, are freaks and should never be allowed to procreate.

        For the record, my girlfriend is exceedingly beautiful, at least in my eyes, and I do not have “yellow fever”. When it comes to Asians, I find Japanese to be the most attractive and in the world, German girls from Saxony. Just so you know.

        • You really have it in for Chinese guys! Did a Chinese guy steal your previous girlfriend? Anyways I think there are a lot of Chinese guys who will spoil girls more than I do. For every abusive Chinese guy there is another who takes abuse from an abusive Chinese wife. Then there are also the happy couples. . but those are few in any culture.

          • I don’t really have it in for them, and no, a Chinese guy didn’t steal an ex-girlfriend. Hahahaha. Can’t imagine that ever happening.I was just referring to that study reported in the People’s daily about abuse against women a few days ago.

          • Actually, I’ve only ever dated 2 Chinese girls in my life. My current girlfriend of nearly 3 years and a girl i dated for just over a year over a decade ago. The first one did go on to marry a Chinese guy who, as soon as she was pregnant with his soon, got himself an ernai. She divorced his ass. And that’s another reason why Chinese girls may prefer foreign men over local ones: the fact that a majority (it seems at least) of Chinese husbands are unfaithful in a society the approves and supports infidelity on the husbands part and shuns divorced mothers.

    • Independent lens, who made this video, also has a segment on “do asian women have white fever?” I dated an American Asian before marrying my current Chinese wife. I’d say that as far as purely Chinese, or even Japanese or Korean, women are concerned, I’d say no. It may appear so when you go to a Chinese dating website, until you realize you’re looking at thousands of profiles from a country that has hundreds of millions of eligible women, which means only a minuscule fraction of women in the whole country are interested in white men at all. Certainly that is the case with my wife. She told me very, very few of her Chinese female friends ever even considered marrying outside of the Chinese cultural sphere.

      As far as why it seems American born asians seem attracted to white men, I think it might be a product of how Asian families might perhaps try to integrate their children into American society, I’m not really sure.

    • More than “an allergy,” I would say look at foreign culture if you want to understand why foreign women are not seen to date as many Chinese boys. As a foreign female in China, I can tell you it’s a multitude of things. One, asian males are frequently presented as undesirable and/or feminine in Western media (where I come from). If you look at the presentations of asian females in the same media, you get a very different interpretation. It’s the exoticism of one (asian females) to foreign males while the asian males are presented as nerdy, feminine or old. It’s a pretty common stereotype.

      As well, Chinese girls know that there are fewer of them in China, and so they can afford to be picky (having spoken to several Chinese girls and read articles about the recent trend of later marriages). On the other hand, when ever I go out with my friends, we are never hassled by Chinese boys. It just doesn’t happen. The only males we end up getting hit on by, talking to and/or having problems with are all foreigners.

      When talking to my Chinese friends, they said that the Chinese culture is very much in preference of foreigners in some respects, and while Chinese girls know that foreigner men like them, Chinese boys are much more shy and unsure. As such, you see fewer of them pursuing a relationship. Add to that the pressure from family to marry a nice Chinese girl (“you can date a foreigner, but marry a Chinese”), and there are complex issues at work here.

  3. In my short 1.5 years as an expat in China…I’ve seen so much harassment and abuse by Chinese men. Never once have I seen a Chinese woman abusing a man. Once I saw a gal yell at her boyfriend…which resulted in him hitting her in the face. As a western woman I’ve been harassed enough to avoid public transportation as much as possible. Women are second class citizens here – there is NO question about that. And if you think that’s bad, you should see how people with disabilities are treated. I love China, but some things here are despicable.

    • On the bright side, things are getting better. 10 or so years ago, if I walked down a busy Shanghai street with my girlfriend, random Chinese men would call her a whore… to her face. I was oblivious at the time. Now though, I’d pop the cocksuckers in the face… but alas, they stopped doing that sometime in the past decade.

  4. I’ve been in China the same amount of time as you, Ryan, and before I met my wife (who is half my age) I also did my fair share of judging the old geezer/pert young woman couples that abound here. After the fact and never having searched it out, I’ve learned that love isn’t only about cultural boundaries or always about personal aggrandizement – be it in the form of yellow fever or green cards. It can be, but it’s not a given, especially when none of us can know the true nature of a relationship between two people by simply spying them on a street together.

    It took some time, but we’ve learned to ignore the spot judgements placed on us, by both Westerners and Chinese. We know why we’re together and have no need to justify our relationship.

  5. I’ve seen similar films to this, and in each film they always latch onto the stereotype to the extreme. Girl is half the guy’s age, he pics the girls from a dang catalogue (seriously? Are we still living in the days before internet? Who the heck uses catalogues?). Never do they explore the more realistic and typical matches of people near the same age, who contact each other using an actual dating website like Asiandating.com (which works more like match.com than a mail order bride agency, which are hardly used nowadays except by old farts, I guess).

    Thirdly, whoever said we are attracted PHYSICALLY to Chinese women? Is it so far fetched to think we’re in love with the CULTURE? I like the food, the tea, the healthy lifestyle, the emphasis on education. These are things that I’d like to have in my life so that I can both live a long life and ensure some success for my children (the healthy lifestyle also ensures my wife will be thin all the way until old age, so she’ll stay attractive to me for longer, unlike American women with 40% obesity and growing). My wife has a PhD from the University of Hong Kong and a Master’s Degree from a US liberal arts college. We are both 32. I’m an engineer. We met each other on a dating website, not a “mail order bride” agency. I suppose my story must be terribly unusual and controversial or she wouldn’t have looked into our marriage.

    • Profile photo of Ryan

      the healthy lifestyle also ensures my wife will be thin all the way until old age, so she’ll stay attractive to me for longer, unlike American women with 40% obesity and growing

      There’s no better cure for obesity than poverty and a lack of cheap fast food. There’s nothing particularly or uniquely healthy about Chinese culture or Chinese food. Give China another decade or two, and you’re sure to see similar rates of obesity here.

      I’ll leave the education one to someone else :)

      But good points about how the focus in these types of films is always to expose the extremes, and not explore the more moderate middle. I suppose, at least with this film, the idea of “Yellow Fever” lends itself to the more extreme sufferers of the affliction.

      • Japan has an obesity rate of 5%, and it has enjoyed a prosperous economy for decades. Korea and Taiwan also have had prosperous economies for at least the last 20 years. Singapore has had prosperous economies for about 50 years a piece, yet the obesity rate is quite low compared to US (about 10% compared to US 37%). Your supposition is thusly countered.

        China is a very large nation. There is an abundance of diversity there. Some regions may tend to lead healthier lifestyles than others (think of Coloradoans vs. Texans), but you can’t blame it on being poor. My wife came from a family of essentially Chinese millionaires. They’re thin because of their food culture, not from lack of food. The emphasis on education might be a product of their wealth and education, but I find they have a heavier emphasis on it than even wealthy Americans do.

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