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“I like to joke that San Francisco is the epicentre of the yellow fever phenomenon”, says Debbie, who describes a general awareness of being looked at by men because she’s Chinese.
Elsewhere, in an open letter to the culture minister earlier this year, actors from The British East Asian Artists (BEA) criticised the BBC and other outlets for their cultural stereotyping of East Asians on TV and stage – describing the female parts as “passive and submissive”.
But it's subtle, and of course, few would admit to surfing online dating sites for Chinese women, yet when the only girls they date are Chinese, then the probabilities are in their favour.
Having said that, I'm surprised at what British men, both young and old, generally get away with when talking about East Asian women (Chinese, Japanese, Korean etc.) as well as South East Asian women (Vietnam, Thailand etc.) I've heard my Caucasian friends recommend to their male, single mates that they should date “nice Chinese girls”, with the added bonus that Chinese women are far more sexually open-minded than Caucasian girls.
In fact, the most recent figures from 2.4 million users of Facebook dating apps showed a clear skew in preference for women of East Asian descent by men of all racial groups, except, ironically, Asian men.
As a Chinese, single woman in the UK - where I have rarely come across racism – my East Asian friends and I have encountered a fair share of men with telltale signs of yellow fever.
But while some gendered biases exist in all interracial dating, few have gained as much notoriety as so-called yellow fever.
In parts of the US, such a notion has become so pervasive that last year, Debbie Lum, an American filmmaker of Chinese descent, sought to capture the madness in her documentary “Seeking Asian Female”.
In recent times, America’s wars in Korea and Vietnam have also influenced the popular American psych, spawning narratives like that of Miss Saigon.
“And let’s not forget Hollywood’s global influence”, says Dr Sandy To, who specialises in gender studies at Hong Kong University.
A quick browse on the Internet for “yellow fever fetishes” brings up a host of websites, articles and videos, mostly from the US, that express humour, distaste and offence at the sexualised objectification of East Asian women, with some equating yellow fever to racism rooted in colonial ideas of power and submission.
Interestingly, however, many East Asian women aren’t bothered; some even play up to the stereotypes or entertain such fetishes, according to Dr. Indeed, websites like My New Chinese Wife – set up by Chinese women in Hong Kong, the UK and US, promote what it sees as traditional qualities of “Sweet Chinese Brides”, and assist westerners in finding their own.
“We are largely invisible when it comes to politics and popular culture, yet there's a very palpable urban myth that Asian women make better lovers than other women”, she says.