Lady Laowai: Women foreigners who have inspirational Chinese

13 Comments

Recently the guys over at the Skritter blog (Skritter‘s an excellent tool for studying Chinese, by the way) did a blog on Famous Foreigners Who Can Speak Chinese Really Well. The 10 people they listed are a great inspiration to all of us who are studying Chinese. If they can do it so can we!

I thought it was terrific, but I had one little problem with their list. The 10 Famous Foreigners were all men! Not one woman had made it onto the list. It makes it a little hard for us girls to relate – where are our role models? To be honest, being a woman who blogs on China already makes me feel like I’ve joined a bit of a men’s club, although I see more and more great stuff from women bloggers coming out all the time.

I know there are a lot of female expats living here in China who do have excellent Chinese, but they tend not to be famous for one reason or another. Is it because Chinese culture is male-centric? Is it because the women are shy and don’t take the opportunities to become famous? Are men better at learning Chinese than women? What’s going on here?

Well I was looking for some crazy-good Chinese speaking famous foreign women to counter the all-male trend so I made a thread about it over on the Skritter Forums, but we only came up with three.

So here they are, the Three Famous Foreign Women Who Can Speak Chinese Really Well!

1. 苏斐 (Sū Fěi), Anna Sophie Loewenberg

Fashionista Sufei is the host of Sexy Beijing, a fun show about life in Beijing that’s been online since 2006. It features Sufei interviewing Beijingers on topics such as sex, fashion, and finding love in the Jing.

Her grandparents and father lived in Shanghai, so Sufei might have gotten a head-start on learning Chinese. Even so, her command of the language is impressive and her show is a lot of fun to watch! Check it out:


2. 白洁 (Bái Jié), Jessica Beinecke

Baijie is a host with Voice of America, and her show OMG! Meiyu (OMG!美语) has recently become very popular internationally. It’s a short video segment where she explains common English slang in fluent Chinese. She has more than 100,000 followers on her Weibo account, and her fan base is growing all the time.

Her breakout show was called Yucky Gunk and I learned some interesting Chinese vocabulary from watching it! One great thing about Baijie? She only studied Chinese for five years! Ok, for me that’s a bit depressing considering I’ve been in China longer than that, but she’s proof it can be done! Here’s one of her recent videos:



3. Holly Williams

Holly is Sky News’ Asia Correspondent and lives and works in Beijing. She was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University and has done a lot of great reports on some fairly controversial issues.

I have great respect for her willingness to listen to the people’s stories and retell them, as she does here:


I dream of one day having Chinese like these women! I’m still on the fence about the “being famous” bit though. Just being a laowai in China feels a little bit like being famous, and to be honest I’m not sure I can handle more staring, more people wanting to know about me without wanting to really know me. I had a chance recently to have a very small part in a Chinese commercial which will be broadcast on Mainland TV, and even that frightens me a bit.  But if I do ever become famous, I’d love it to be for a reason, for an actual skill instead of just being a white girl; something I can do well instead of just how I look. I still have a long way to go in that department!

So these three are my current role models, and I’d love to have more! If you know of any, or happen to be a famous lady laowai who can rock the zhongwen, please give us a link to where we can take a look and marvel!

Talk on Lady Laowai: Women foreigners who have inspirational Chinese


13 Comments
  1. You’re right, there are plenty more women (and men) who speak Chinese just as well as these guys but for whatever reason are not on TV – Dashan, after all, arrived in the 1980s when the number of laowai Chinese speakers was tiny compared to today – gone are the days when we can all be stars.

    Plus, not all of us fluent speakers want the attention!

    Hands up who loves dressing up in tang zhuang and reciting some hackned old poem or blasting out a cheesy KTV song?

    In very ancient China (5th century BCE) when the area around Suzhou and Hangzhou was two foreign (non-Chinese) nation states named Wu 吴 and Yue 越, prince Jizha of Wu 吴王子季札 traveled to the central states 中国 and made a big impression by being able to recite the poetry from the Chinese classic Shijing 诗经 and other sacred books of the Chinese tradition – they loved how he got the pronunciation correct too. Through this he was able to broker international agreements with the central states.

    We see this attitude played out both on TV and in everyday life. Tang poetry or rare chengyu occur very little in everyday Chinese, but as a foreigner showing at least some knowledge of these will go a long way, like it or not!

    • Charlotte, Ai Hua, graduated from local Chinese schools, and is one of the hosts that you can regularly see on both CCTV and on Beijing TV as well. She does have perfect Chinese, has performed in movies, hosted the Chinese language program “Growing Up With Chinese” for CCTV, which you can find on the internet. There are many foreign women who speak perfect Chinese in China, but they are not always obvious if they are not holding public type jobs.

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  3. From this list Holly Williams seems to have the best Chinese or atleast it sounds like that to my ears. Would like to hear her speaking more Chinese, where should I look for?

    During my first year in China my spoken Chinese improved a lot but recently I have felt like there haven’t been any improvement in a long time. Perhaps listening to these amazing foreign women speaking Chinese could help me to motivate my self!

  4. Hi there,

    Great article here and very informative too.

    I do find it very inspirational to hear other foreigners speak Mandarin fluently.

    I am also in the process of studying Mandarin on my own. I do know basic survival Chinese, but I am looking forward to studying fulltime in order to get fluent. It is not going to be easy though!

    Mandarin fluency is my goal for the future.

    All the best of luck.

  5. aaaah!!

    Thank you so much! I was beginning to wonder what had happened to the women!!
    The boys receive all the attention.
    More female Chinese speaking Laowais would be appreciated! Especially those with blogs/weibo/Youtube vids.

    xx
    Layinka

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  7. What happened to Sophie? The sexy beijing has stopped updating about 2 or 3 years ago. Sophie seems to be vanished in public domain without any traces. Anyone knows her whereabouts?

  8. 爱华 shouldn’t be on the list. She grew up in China from the age of 7. It’s not a fair comparison to those of us who began learning as young adults in our own countries or when we moved to China at that point.

    There are lots of 老外姑娘 who speak excellent Chinese. A lot of them seem to be French for whatever reason. But really, foreigners who speak great Chinese are a dime a dozen these days.

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