The East is feminine

During the age of colonialism, Western powers conquered the people of Asia and objectified their women. This is well documented in literature, film, and scholarship: Here the dominant, masculine West; there the submissive, feminine East. This is the second part from a chapter on ‘Gender’ taken from the East-West dichotomy.


Western dominance versus Asian submission

      Whatever the state of law is today, in China, Korea, Japan, and South-East Asia in general, a gentleman can only have one legal wife, but as many concubines, handmaids, or mistresses as he can afford (Gu, 1922). That said, promiscuous young women, even if married, as long as they do not have children, are usually ‘available’ to powerful men, married or not (Pan, 2004). In fact, there is a wealth of data suggesting that a high proportion of Chinese men are utilizing the increased access to mistresses and prostitutes (Pan, 2004) much more often than men living in the USA (Laumann et al., 1994), where married men tend to turn away from the competition for sexual partners, engage in parental activities, and thus stick to one woman (Gray, Yang & Harrison, 2006). Now, this open attitude towards concubines, handmaids, and mistresses is so omnipresent in Asia (especially in Thailand, Vietnam, China, Japan etc.) that it usually ‘blows’ the average American or European mind:

      "The Chinese feminine ideal is for a wife to live absolutely, selflessly for her husband. Therefore when a husband who is sick or invalided from overwork requires a handmaid, a hand rack or eye rack [sic] to enable him to get well and to make him fit for his life work, the wife in China with her selflessness gives it to him just as a good wife in Europe and America gives an armchair or goat’s milk to her husband when he is sick or requires it." (Gu Hongming, 1922)

      When the West implemented its imperial agenda, like in all historical conquest, naturally the conqueror turned to the females of the conquered. What happened after this encounter with Asian sexuality, especially during the last 150 years of Western hegemony, can only be described as the thorough construction of a fabulous, sexist ‘Asian exoticism.’ This exoticism, in my view, demotes the submissive Asian woman to a plaything, and puts her at the mercy of Western master-race dominance. Asia thus became ‘feminized’:

 “I shall choose a little yellow-skinned woman with black hair and cat’s eyes. She must be pretty. Not much bigger than a doll…

      …are the words of Louis Marie-Julien Viaud (1850-1923), alias Pierre Loti, an officer in the French navy stationed in Nagasaki, in his book Madame Chrysantheme (1887). The book talks about short-term marriages with Japanese ‘rashamen’ or “concubines of Westerners” (Loti, 2001).

      This kind of representation of Asian woman and Asian sexuality prevails in hundreds of artworks, books, films, television shows, and musicals, and almost always entails interracial romances between European or American men with Asian women, for example in John Luther Long’s Madame Butterfly (Long, 2002), John Paris’ Kimono (Paris, 1947), Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha (Golden, 1997), Max Clavell’s Shogun and Tai-pan (Clavell, 1986), and, of course, Marguerite Duras’ notorious L’Amant, in which a French teenage girl becomes the submissive, Sinicized mistress of a much older Chinese gentleman (Duras, 1984). And I haven’t even mentioned more hedonistic works such as Wei Hui’s Shanghai Baby (Wei, 2002) or Chun Sue’s Beijing Doll (Chun, 2004).

      As Patricia Lin argued in Invented Asia (2007), “sexual encounters historically were initially predominantly between Western white men and Asian woman given the nature of colonial and business ventures which tended to favor situations where primarily men were sent out into Asian territories.” This is testified by the fact that Chinese and Japanese writers found it natural to depict dominant Western men as洋鬼子 (yang guizi, foreign devils from the ocean), who were evil, stout, and ugly (Zhou, 2000).

      What happened in Asia before and between the First and Second Opium Wars (1839-1842; 1856-1860), the World Wars (1914-1918; 1938-1945), the Korean War (1950-1953), the occupation of Japan (1945-1952), Vietnam (1959-1975), and during the U.S. hegemony in Japan (1945-) compelled Western mass media and cultural consumer entertainment to strengthen the objectification of Asia: Asia as an all-perverted –  animalistic if you like –  place of Western sexual dominance versus Asian sexual submission.

Read Part I: Monogamy as a Western Invention?

Next post: Western Man and his Asian Plaything

Image credit: The World of Suzie Wong (1960)/Paramount Pictures

'Upstreamism': Your zip code affects your health as much as genetics

Upstreamism advocate Rishi Manchanda calls us to understand health not as a "personal responsibility" but a "common good."

Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Upstreamism tasks health care professionals to combat unhealthy social and cultural influences that exist outside — or upstream — of medical facilities.
  • Patients from low-income neighborhoods are most at risk of negative health impacts.
  • Thankfully, health care professionals are not alone. Upstreamism is increasingly part of our cultural consciousness.
Keep reading Show less

Meet the Bajau sea nomads — they can reportedly hold their breath for 13 minutes

The Bajau people's nomadic lifestyle has given them remarkable adaptions, enabling them to stay underwater for unbelievable periods of time. Their lifestyle, however, is quickly disappearing.

Wikimedia Commons
Culture & Religion
  • The Bajau people travel in small flotillas throughout the Phillipines, Malaysia, and Indonesia, hunting fish underwater for food.
  • Over the years, practicing this lifestyle has given the Bajau unique adaptations to swimming underwater. Many find it straightforward to dive up to 13 minutes 200 feet below the surface of the ocean.
  • Unfortunately, many disparate factors are erasing the traditional Bajau way of life.
Keep reading Show less

Golden blood: The rarest blood in the world

We explore the history of blood types and how they are classified to find out what makes the Rh-null type important to science and dangerous for those who live with it.

Abid Katib/Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • Fewer than 50 people worldwide have 'golden blood' — or Rh-null.
  • Blood is considered Rh-null if it lacks all of the 61 possible antigens in the Rh system.
  • It's also very dangerous to live with this blood type, as so few people have it.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists create a "lifelike" material that has metabolism and can self-reproduce

An innovation may lead to lifelike evolving machines.

Shogo Hamada/Cornell University
Surprising Science
  • Scientists at Cornell University devise a material with 3 key traits of life.
  • The goal for the researchers is not to create life but lifelike machines.
  • The researchers were able to program metabolism into the material's DNA.
Keep reading Show less