The Truth About Foreigners

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One way or another, many of you were probably aware of the survey for foreigners I constructed over on china/divide. Thanks to links from several different places, the survey has already attracted quite a bit of attention and I think it may be time to try to analyze the results and draw some conclusions.

First, though, we must be clear on what this survey is not. It is not in any way, shape, or form scientific, and it would not hold up to the standards of a real demographic survey of China’s foreign residents. Since it was conducted on the internet, it is possible that people manipulated the results by hacking (although there is no evidence of this having happened), and, as always, it is possible, nay, likely, that at least some people lied in answering the questions. However, the survey was completely anonymous, so there was no real motivation to lie in this case. Additionally, there’s the fact that by conducting this on the internet, and specifically on websites focused on China, the audience for the survey was somewhat self-selecting and probably isn’t a wholly accurate cross-section of China’s foreign population.

Also in the interest of full disclosure, I personally have a vested interest in the belief that all foreigners are not lechers, given than I am about to move back to China and that my fiancee is Chinese.

That said, the results of the survey are still valuable, even if they aren’t really scientific. As I noted in my introduction, many of us suspect that stereotypes about China’s foreign population are untrue, but our evidence is inevitably anecdotal in nature and easily brushed aside. But the survey results reflect the collective experiences of hundreds of in-China expats. It provides a little solid data about a demographic that is often generalized about but largely ignored when it comes time to conduct actual research (later this year, China will count foreigners for the first time ever in its census). It is not, certainly, a smoking gun, but perhaps it is a first step in understanding the expat, one of China’s most esoteric creatures.

Number of Respondents

People were free to pick and choose how many questions they answered, and some questions allow more than one answer per person, which makes counting the number of overall participants difficult. Most questions received more than 350 votes, placing the probable number of respondents somewhere between 350 and 450.

Education Background and Work Experience

In contrast to widespread stereotypes that most foreigners come to China because they’re incapable of finding work at home, or have somehow “failed” in their own countries and hope to succeed in China, the vast majority of foreigners reported a high level of success in education and indicated they felt they could find jobs at home without much trouble if they needed to. 87.2% had graduated from college with a B.A. or B.S., and over 40% reported having done significant graduate work, including earning M.A.s and Ph.Ds. When responding to the hypothetical “If you went home tomorrow, could you find a decent job in your home country?”, 60% said they could, and another 31.4% said they “probably” could.

Most foreigners (39%) said they worked for foreign companies, but many also reported that they were students (19%), English teachers (17%), or members of the media (10%).

Reasons for Coming to China

Despite the belief among some Chinese that foreigners come to China to prey on Chinese women, or because they are fleeing something at home, when the respondents were given a list of reasons and asked to select those that influenced their decision to come to China, “yellow fever”, home problems, and failure to find work accounted for a very small percentage of the votes, accruing just 6%, 2%, and 3%, respectively. Instead, foreigners reported that they came to China for “a change of pace/adventure” (21%), because of interest in Chinese culture and history (19%), because of China’s economy (14%), and to study (13%).

Experience in China

Lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan once told me that foreigners are treated to all kinds of favoritism under Chinese law, but the vast majority of foreigners (69%) reported that they way they were treated by Chinese people depended on the situation, and said that sometimes they felt disrespected by Chinese, but other times, they felt as though Chinese were giving them more respect than they gave their countrymen. 33% of foreigners said they had “encountered prejudice based on [their] race or nationality” in China, and 37% said they had encountered favoritism. (For this question, respondents could select both answers if they felt both applied).

Sexual Experiences and Perceptions of Marriage (General)

Overall, foreigners reported a wide and fairly even range of sexual experience levels. Over the course of their lives to date, 16% of males reported having had 0-1 sexual partner, 20% of men had had 2-4 partners, 16% had 4-7, 16% had 8-15 partners, 14% had 15-30 partners, and 18% had had more than 30 sexual partners. Women reported very similarly spread numbers, with no one option eclipsing 20% of the vote. This confirms that the average foreigner in China has at least some sexual experience, but whether or not they have more experience than the average Chinese person is difficult to determine.

Asked about their attitudes toward marriage and divorce, 35% of foreigners said that marriage “is for life”. 21% said that divorce was permissible in the event of a major problem, such as infidelity or a conflict involving children, and 38.7% said that divorce was permissible if the two parties no longer loved each other. 4.6% said they thought everyone should get divorced, so perhaps 4.6 is our margin of error.

Sexual Experiences and Marriage with Regards to Chinese Men/Women

Foreigners have long been viewed by some Chinese people as lecherous creeps. Foreign men, in particular, have been charged with a great many crimes against Chinese women in the court of public opinion, but our survey responses show that these attitudes may be unfair. When asked whether they respected Chinese women as much as women from their own countries, 81% responded yes, and 12% said that they weren’t sure or that it was difficult for them to assess themselves. Only 8% said they respected Chinese women less.

When asked what percentage of their sexual partners to date were Chinese, very few men responded that they dated Chinese women exclusively. In fact, most men reported (41%) that only between 0 % and 15% of their past sexual partners were Chinese. Another 27% said that between 15 and 50% of their past sexual partners were Chinese, and only 12% reported that they had only ever slept with Chinese women. This flies in the face of stereotypical perceptions that foreigners come to China because they “cannot get women” in their home countries or have otherwise “struck out” with non-Chinese women. Additionally, 57% of men reported that they were not, on average, more attracted to Chinese women than to women of their own race.

75% of foreign men said they would “seriously consider” marrying a Chinese girl, despite the omnipresent “foreigners are playboys who don’t take relationships seriously” stereotype.

Foreign women reported that, in general, they had not been in relationships with Chinese men before (71%) and had never had sex with a Chinese man before (69%). Interestingly, when asked to what degree they are attracted to Chinese men, many women (36%) said that they aren’t more or less attracted to Chinese men than they are to men of their own race. But 24% said they were not as physically attracted to Chinese men as they were to other men, and 26% said that they found Chinese men’s cultural habits or general behavior unattractive.

Still, 57% of women said they would seriously consider marrying a Chinese man.


Perhaps unsurprisingly, the survey results seem to contradict popular stereotypes about foreigners in China. There are, of course, legitimate questions to be asked about the legitimacy of the collection method and the possibility of voting fraud, but if nothing else, the survey provides a much larger sample size to draw from than most of us can find in our daily lives. Whether you believe the results reflect the entire foreign population or not, it’s clear that at least for a significant segment of it, the Chinese popular wisdom on foreigners and interracial relations is just plain wrong.

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0 thoughts on “The Truth About Foreigners”

  1. There probably isn’t any voter fraud or overt manipulation with this survey, and I understand it’s in no way accurate or representative at all, but it’s specifically biased towards proving the chinasmack article wrong.

    By having foreigners read the article right before taking the survey is akin to saying, “we as a group have been accused of having these bad characteristics, let’s take an anonymous survey to find out if they’re true.”

    While there are some overriding positive characteristics that a majority of laowai share, it’s the negative ones that get the most attention.


  2. I fit the exact opposite of this stereotype in every way. However, there are people that fit it as well…There are dating websites to fit this niche.

    There’s also a stereotype that foreign men like Chinese women that aren’t attractive to Chinese men. If I had a nickle for every time a Chinese guy asked me “do you think Lucy Liu is good looking?” I’d have enough money to buy a few ernais like the rich old fat Chinese men. If that’s true, the flamers should just let us white boys take the girls they don’t like as much.

    P.S. How about the penis size stereotype? Want to measure? I bet the condom companies have measured and that’s why I can’t use condoms from the mainland. I’ve heard of a similar experience from another white North American.


  3. I agree that it’s unfair to portray all foreigners in a negative light, but I’d like to point out this survey and the cursory analysis of the results are biased. Even if the survey is anonymous, there’s no proof either that there is no incentive not to lie.

    Based on some of the questions asked, you may as well have asked questions like “do you consider yourself a bad person?” Afterall, who in his right mind is going to respond honestly that he views Chinese women with less respect or that yellow fever was the reason for coming to China?

    As for the analysis of the results, the author could also have viewed the responses in an equally negative manner. For instance: one of the stereotypes is of foreigners who find Chinese culture “exotic” (as well as the women)- so if we looked at the “Reasons for coming to China” and lumped in those who answered that they came to China for a “change of pace” or were “interested in the culture” along with the ones who honestly said “yellow fever” you could just as easily interpret the results as a majority fit the stereotype of foreigners looking for that special oriental mysticism.

    Overall, I’m not bagging on the results. Just adding my two cents on the methodology and conclusions. (Yes I know you already added a disclaimer at the top)


  4. @biased: but people DID respond that they respected Chinese women less, and that they came to China for the women. I’ve heard people say those things in real life, so why is it so unbelievable someone might choose them, especially since some people did choose those options?

    Certainly, plenty of people would argue there’s nothing “bad” about being more attracted to Chinese women than other races — several people said as much in the comments. The “respect” question is admittedly a bit more one-sided, but if we’re already assuming people are being honest and self-reflective, then why not ask? You (and some others) seem to be saying people will respond falsely because they feel defensive, and that might be true, but since they and their responses are anonymous, there’s no reason to. That’s not to say people didn’t respond defensively anyway, but I said at the beginning, I’m analyzing based on the assumption that most people didn’t lie and did actually do some self-reflection.

    A foolish assumption on the internet? Probably, but you never know.


  5. sounds like the results you would get if you just used the words “person”, or “people”, and left off the “chinese” or the “american”

    after the dropping of stereotypes comes the mind that stops seeing differences .. people are people


  6. I know you’re a busy guy, Custer, but I’d be really happy if this article was translated into Chinese and then made viral all over xiaonei, sina, mop, and netease.


  7. Interesting that this site’s readership is primarily professionals and students. However, I think that much of the ire against “foreigners” is really inspired by (and focused upon) foreign teachers. (“Chinese Women, Please Don’t Sleep With Foreigners” specifically exempts foreign businessmen from the critique.) FTs seem to be in a situation much more likely to influence public opinion since they [a] are greater in number than foreign execs/business folk/journalists, [b] live outside the major cities, and [c] have interaction with high school and university students – the demographic group most comfortable with the internet.

    I’d be very interested in seeing the results of a survey of FTs.


  8. Of course, something that cannot be captured in a survey like this is the culture clash between east and west, which results in different expectations of what dating means. Many foreigners, especially from big cities like LA, probably view sex as a natural part of dating because that’s what they were used to at home. When they move to China, they deal with people who grew up in a culture that did not have the Sexual Revolution and have different expectations about individual behavior. As a result, even a “good guy” in parts of America comes across as a lecherous goon in China.

    I remember seeing a program where a model was being interviewed and talked about one encounter with a foreigner at a hotel bar where they talked for a while and really got along. At the end of the conversation, the foreign guy gave her his room number and said if she wanted to continue the evening together she should come up. While it’s not something every foreigner would do, it shows that he came from a place where casual sex was acceptable for both parties, and gave the woman the option without trickery or deception about sleeping together. The model said that she was completely shocked and couldn’t believe that he would do such a thing.


  9. I agree with the previous comments suggesting that the surveys results would be somewhat skewed due to bias particuarly due to the reason rdx gave.

    Also the readership of chinadivide is not what I would call representative of foreigners in China and is probably in the minority. If this same survey was conducted on Chinasmack whose articles are more low brow and aimed at pop culture and hence the majority I am sure we would see different results more in line with the stereotypes.

    Just the same as in the UK, The Sun is the most popular newspaper (I think) and is therefore representative of the average Briton yet I don’t even personally know anyone that reads it as it’s trash.

    Having said this I still believe people that fit the stereotypes are the minority however not as small as the survey would suggest.


  10. It’s hard to prove an accusation of negativity against “group x” by asking “group x” if the accusation is correct. rdx has pretty much nailed this. Other commenters have suggested that there’s also a selection bias due to the readership of this blog (which is true, and is difficult to address), nevertheless, I don’t think a survey of this nature could be accurate in any context, particularly because even if we assume that hypothetical foreigner Joe Smith was a total sleazebag by all unanimous third-party measures, it’s far more likely then not that Joe Smith probably won’t self-report as a sleazebag.

    Unfortunately this issue will probably forever be mired in the swamp of hearsay ambiguity because this is always a measure of perceptions, be it self-perceptions of the group under scrutiny (Caucasian male expats in China) or the external perceptions of other parties usually with some bias-producing stake in the whole “romance in China issue:” female expats in China, female Chinese, male Chinese. Every category has reasons to think one way or another about the issue.

    First of all, you need more datasets. The survey you released is all “what do you do” this and “what do you think that.” The survey could be given another layer of productive data if it had included “What do you think OTHER foreigners x, y, and z.” E.g.: In your estimation, do Caucasians/expats/foreigners/whatever get involved in culturally exploitative relationships with Chinese locals? It could be quantified too. “How many people do you know who are in relations with local women?” “How many of these individuals do you think could not get a job/relationship in their native country?” Etc. I just pooped out these questions now, but you get the point, they could be worded in a less loaded manner.

    In that manner you’d have self-perception alongside external perception. Even of sleazebag Joe Smith is inclined to evaluate self as totally fine and devoid of sleazey motives it would nevertheless still be interesting and productive to see how Joe Smith perceives OTHER foreigners. He may be defensive of them, too, or he may be critical. Anyway, both datasets would be biased, obviously, but having two sets would inevitably yield a clearer picture than one.

    Ultimately and ideally the best way to shed some light on this issue is to have a matrix of surveys that glean both self-perception AND perceptions from multiple demographics. A survey of Asian women dating Caucasians on both self and external perception. A survey also of white women dating Chinese. A survey of single people. A survey of Han-Han English-speaking couples. A survey of couples where both are Caucasian and living in China.

    Granted this is logistically difficult but my final opinion is that even though that would be hard to do, for structural reasons this survey you’ve put here really can’t be said to have concluded much in light of the other data on perception and self-perception that can (and really should) be gathered before hinting at a solid conclusion on the sleazability of expats in China.


  11. I would agree with the first commenter. Since the survey is “initiated” by the respondent, it strongly distorts the results that would be received in otherwise setup conditions.


  12. One problem I had with the survey is that it was totally oriented to younger expatriates who are not married. I have lived in greater China now for 28 years been married to my Asia hua qiao Chinese wife for 25 years and know many others like me who have been successfully married over a long period of time bring up Eurasian children, who studied Chinese in the 70’s and 80’s, and who are deeply aware of the cultural environment. We certainly do not fit the stereotype about foreigners, but have had to deal with those stereotypes for most of our lives.


  13. As this survey just samples the reader’s opinion of this website, I would like to do a little summary of Dongguan, a place in Guangdong I have been living for several years. I cannot imagine that the survey would represent the local foreigners in any way.

    First of all, a majority of foreigners here are shoe or furniture specialists that work directly in the factories or as QCs. People with higher education amongst this group for sure are a rare exemption. Part of this group is thousands of Brazilians that moved there together with their entire families and created their own parallel universe with a Brazilian way of life, also Americans, Germans, Brits and many more. I don’t think they even care much about their Chinese surroundings. Most of the few hundred remaining singles (almost all of them men) for sure love to go to the local watering houses and bring Chinese girls home at night. That they then treat women very respectfully I have to doubt it, but would they in their home countries?

    The rest of the foreign population, usually single businessman, indulges often in the same luxuries as their Taiwanese and Hong-Kongnese counterparts and mainland bosses. With this I mean heavy drinking, expensive Karaoke brothels and partying.

    We could make a survey about someone’s favorite Russian poetry on a soccer gambling site and then be astonished about the weird results.


  14. “P.S. How about the penis size stereotype? Want to measure? I bet the condom companies have measured and that’s why I can’t use condoms from the mainland. I’ve heard of a similar experience from another white North American.”

    Nope, they haven’t. There isn’t even one proper size for all of China, given that each province varies so much- but the results are in, white North Americans are slightly “shorter” down there than the Japanese. No reliable measurements of Chinese men have ever been made, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the vast majority of them were larger than Japanese.


  15. and as many have mentioned, this poll is bull. the eagerness at which many foreign men are jumping on this is further evidence that they have something to hide.

    some cultural differences have little to do with “sexual revolutions” either, Chinese Americans have far fewer STDs, divorces and instances of spousal abuse than white Americans.

    I mean really, how many white foreigners are going to outright admit that they are yellow fever chasers? If 8% of them take the politically correct route and outright admit they have CONTEMPT for the native women of a country that is HOSTING them, it’s like that in reality 2-3x that number share the same sentiment.

    All this is more aggressive pro-foreign propaganda designed in an attempt to make Chinese women more receptive to foreigners. If you truly wanted to “fight racism” there would be an outcry against the discrimination “Asians” face in your home countries as well as in China from racist foreigners/expats, but of course there is none.


  16. “but the results are in, white North Americans are slightly “shorter” down there than the Japanese.”

    That’s quite interesting. It would be another example of an incorrect stereotype. Do you have a link to the source of this information?


  17. The difference is insignificant- .12 inches. These are the only two reliable studies of a population involving random, representative samples.

    Of course to some penis-obsessed, racist foreigners this will be a huge blow to the ego- but keep in mind that .12 inches doesn’t matter.


  18. Sources:
    A study published in the September 1996 Journal of Urology concluded that average erect length was 12.9 cm (5.08 in) (measured by staff).

    Japanese Journal of Sexology found an average of 13.28cm erect length on average

    Here’s an interesting tidbit from a cancun study:
    It is fair to say that in all cases, where medical staff has measured erect penis size, the average length has been below 6 inches and in every case where the surveys rely on self-measurement and voluntary reporting the average leaps over six inches.

    It should be noted that EVERY SINGLE STUDY racist foreigners and expats bring up to tout their mythological “size advantage” is based on laughable self-measurements and surveys or horribly botched sampling.


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