A personal critique of those who decry “Yellow Fever”

I’ve been thinking a lot about the whole concept of “Yellow Fever” or “Asian fever” for a long time now, and it seems to me that there is a decidedly very negative stereotype of white males who only date Asian women. This is, often enough, justified, but I see no reason to make assume the stereotype automatically; in fact, I think the stereotype wrong more often than right. I’d like to structure this post with a two-part focus: first, with reference to personal experience, what makes many men have “Yellow Fever,” and second, what are the assumptions of those who criticize such men?

I remember the first time I was struck by the beauty of an East Asian woman. I was in the supermarket with my parents, and I was probably around twelve or thirteen. I saw a middle-aged Chinese woman, probably in her late thirties, and I couldn’t get over how absolutely beautiful she was. Although I can’t remember what she looked like now, I can remember how I felt: in total awe.

To this day, I continue to think that young East Asian women are more beautiful than their Caucasian counterparts. They’re more successful with makeup, or lack thereof. If they haven’t had surgery on their eyes, the shapes of their eyes delight other eyes. They dress more stylishly. They don’t sport garish tattoos and excess body piercings. They tend to wear their hair, which is beautifully black, long and straight. It shines in the light. But all of this applies even more to the beauty deficit between middle-aged East Asians and many of their Caucasian counterparts (even though the hair tends to get shorter). It’s not just a matter of makeup and hair. It’s not just a matter of style–and as far as I’m concerned, no one beats East Asian women on style. It’s also a matter of skin. Far too many Caucasian women wear plunging, low-cut tops revealing brutally cracked, sun-scorched skin that looks ripe for cancer. East Asian women, on the other hand, while showing more skin on their legs, usually show less on their chests, but crucially, they take better care of their skin. I’m not referring to skin-whitening creams, which (sadly) many East Asian women use in the mistaken belief that appearing “white” is beautiful. This is a tragic instance of the impact of the colonial and imperialistic reach of Western concepts of beauty. No: I’m talking about basic health: preventing skin cancer and extremely dried skin. Healthy skin just looks a lot better.

So much for looks and beauty.

When I was a teen-age boy, I remember how nasty some of the Caucasian girls could be–both to each other, and to boys they didn’t like. A number were also extremely ditsy, and some were just boring. The Asian girls I knew in high school were completely different: they were polite, and possessed a sense of gravitas that most others didn’t have. I can think of one girl I used to know named Geeda. Geeda was a plain kind of girl who was down-to-earth. She was never rude, and she didn’t plaster herself with too much makeup. But there was something that I respected Geeda for a lot: no matter which class she was in, she was the best. On the Awards Ceremony day at the end of the school year, I remember that a teacher made the comment–in reference to Geeda’s inspirational academic track record–that genius was 10% genetic and 90% hard work, and no one better embodied both natural talent and drive to study than Geeda. This wasn’t a knock on Geeda’s intelligence, though it was a knock on the lack of motivation of many Canadian students who were not Chinese. I don’t really think this will be at all surprising to those who have read Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. It’s not a racial thing, but a cultural one: education, discipline, hard work, and politeness are valued far more in traditional East Asian cultures than in North American ones. Here in North America, by contrast, we value independence and the flaunting of sex for use in–for instance–marketing.

So if I could say succinctly why I’ve always been more attracted to Asian women than Caucasian ones, I would say it comes down to looks and interest, and I honestly don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a preference in regards to either.

Now, I’d like to move on to what “the experts” say about “Yellow Fever.”

First, the most common complaint is that men who have it want women who are submissive. And I’ll admit that having lived in South Korea for a few years, I certainly have noticed that there are a number of white men who seemingly want Asian wives who will be submissive, and who will overlook their (i.e., the men’s) obvious lack of social skills and basic kindness. These guys are ugly, rude, overbearing, and demanding–and usually sleezy, too. But they’re all in for a shock. The idea that “Asian” women are more “submissive” than their western counterparts is a myth, and in my experience, and that of everyone I know in this position, it’s the women who wear the pants in the home. It’s also been my experience that women from east Asian countries are far more assertive than many white men. They’re lovely, yes, but they’re also as tough as nails, powerful, and smart.

It’s also claimed that these white men are acting as modern-day imperialists and colonialists by seeking, for instance, women through dating websites. But the tables are never turned by these experts. What of the East Asian women who prefer men raised in western cultures? Do they not have a right to their own preferences? Furthermore, do they not have the right to enter dating websites to meet Caucasian men? If a white male dates only white females, no one will call him racist. For me, the kind of person one to whom one is attracted is a matter of personal preference, not public morality.

Furthermore, it’s alleged by the tut-tutting experts that white men with “yellow fever” are projecting their own fantasies of women onto Asian women because they are “different,” and because communicating when language gaps exist becomes harder. But this assumes that Caucasians can’t learn Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, or Japanese. Far more seriously, it assumes that East Asians–most of whom have been studying English from an early age–can’t communicate in English. It seems to me that in general, East Asian women from overseas countries under the age of about 35 can commonly be quite proficient in English (and many over this age, too). There is also another problem with the assumptions of the so-called experts: the assumption regarding the projection itself. If someone dates a number of people from another culture, he or she is bound to gain some insights into that culture. In other words, the culture won’t be so different eventually. Many men are attracted to, for instance, Chinese culture, first because it’s different from the world of Big Macs and baseball that they grew up with, but also because it’s interesting in its own right. As someone who’s experienced the charm of a lacquered Korean vase, or the pull of an antique Chinese writing desk, or the energy and flow of lines of a design of a dragon from a lunar horoscope, or the excitement of reading the Chuang-Tzu, I can honestly say that I find such culture interesting–no, fascinating. Similarly, I’m amazed at how, to make one comparison, Vancouver in Canada takes decades to build a tiny rapid-transit system with three lines when Seoul has a new line or more every time I go back to visit my wife’s family. On the other hand, if the mere fact of difference were the driving force behind “Yellow Fever,” then the men who have it should really have “anything not tried yet fever.” But pretty much the one thing that everyone agrees on is that “Yellow Fever” is a permanent state.

Another accusation made of those who have “yellow fever” is that they are obsessed with sex, and are merely seeking to manipulate East Asian women into sex. Amazingly, sex is still a difficult topic for people in Puritan-founded North America even today. It’s ironic: in a culture dominated for so long by Madonna’s photo spreads and now Rihanna’s bottom, many in North America are afraid of empowered ordinary women who feel no guilt about being sure of themselves sexually: and I’m referring to East Asian women, again. They are far more socially aware than the moralists of the West give them credit for. To the extent that such generalizations are possible of entire cultures, I think we can admit that East Asian women in intercultural and interracial relationships know what they want, they know what they don’t want, and they feel comfortable with themselves. Meanwhile, the idea that sex and attraction are related can hardly come as a surprise to anyone in the discussion.

Finally, this business about “exoticness” needs to be put to rest once and for all. At least where I am from, Caucasian women are a minority on the streets of the closest major cities.

Excursus: And I’m entirely comfortable with that. For one thing, if I’ve praised East Asian women, now I’d like to praise East Asian men. How many people on your local Downtown East Side (or equivalent) are East Asian men? How many news stories do you read about groups of curb-stomping Asian males beating up or murdering strangers just for laughs? How about East Asian terrorists and fundamentalists? Or how about court cases and prisons? Regardless of where you go in Europe or North America, proportionate to the general populace, Asian males are far less likely to get into trouble than anyone else (Caucasian or otherwise). And that’s just the negative side. On the positive side, to use personal examples, I trust my Chinese doctor, my Japanese watch-repair expert, and my Korean computer repair specialist. I know that these men were raised in cultures that value command of data, mastery of skill, the willingness to serve, and the practice of honesty in commercial transactions.

But back to this business about “exoticness.” I’ve grown up with females who hail from East Asian roots all my life, and frankly, there’s nothing “exotic” about them. Just like most females in North America, they’re fully human, normal people–and there’s millions of them around. What’s so exotic about that? People who make the charge of a fixation on the exotic likely grew up in areas without any reasonable level of multicultural diversity. In other words, what they say reveals something about them, but precious little about anything else. In any case, attraction to difference is not a fixation on exotica.

And now we must come to the very term “Yellow Fever.” The term itself is racist and loaded with prejudice, and not against white men. The very application of the word “yellow” to Chinese, Koreans, and Japanese really does not hold water. If you see East Asians for what they are, and Caucasians for what they are, you’re not going to be seeing a lot of yellow and white, respectively. The coupling of the word “yellow” with the word “fever”–which refers to an unhealthy medical condition–is an unhappy one. The term “yellow fever” is harmful because it draws on racist stereotypes, and frankly, I suspect those who use it are afraid of change, of difference, of the Other. The traditional North American suburban Caucasian race is no longer dominant, and it never will be again–and I’m quite happy about that.

Finally, if a Caucasian, North American man feels attracted much more to females of East Asian extraction than to Caucasian women, what can we say of East Asian men who have exactly the same preference? Let’s take “X,” “Y,” and “Z”–three male friends. These are real people who all live in the multicultural world that is Vancouver. X is Chinese, Y is Korean, and Z is Caucasian. They all have the same preferences in women. In fact, X and Y are not attracted to Caucasian females at all. Do they have “yellow fever”? Or just Z?

In a world of interconnected cultures and races, a world in which it is not only human thought that is quicker than air (as Sophocles put it), but people themselves, in a world of immigration, airplanes, multilateral treaties, multinational companies, in a world in which most women no longer live under religious patriarchies but have legal rights to their own self-determination, the obsession that seeks to criticize what some white males find preferable in the opposite sex is not only silly at best and racist at worst, it’s downright anachronistic.