Traslating Blackness Through the Chinese Gaze

Famed Psychotherapist and author of the book “Mating in Captivity”, Esther Perel routinely says of the state of modern relationships, “When you pick a partner, you pick a story, and then you find yourself in a play you never auditioned for. And that is when the narratives clash.” The statement is no truer than for foreign daters in China who find themselves in a mostly homogenous country where their existence as foreigners is often painted with stereotypes, and certain difficulties in cultural exchange and understanding are compounded by a language barrier. 

This is especially the case for Black and African people living in China, who find themselves in a society steeped in ‘isms’ considered as parts of local tradition and culture, such as colorism often expressed through anti-Black racism and sexism. Last year saw the height of racial discrimination against Black and African people in China after the outbreak of COVID-19 which prompted the mass eviction of Africans in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, the sequestering of foreign students on school campuses, and mass compulsory testing of Black and African residents, after rumors online popularized the falsehood that the virus was in fact brought into the country by foreigners, especially those of African descent. 

Despite the virus being brought largely under control in the country, certain anti-Black sentiments remain. And these prejudices are carried forward into the dating world, where Black and African people feature far lower on the desirability scale as compared to their White and Asian counterparts. Black and African gay men living in China face the consequences of negative and fetishized stereotypes daily on dating apps, both local and international, and in interactions with locals and other non-Black foreigners. Theirs is a duality of sexual fetishization combined with shame and disgust on the part of those who wish to use or ‘experience’ them sexually. Rarely will you find a Black or African gay man in China on any dating app who hasn’t had the unpleasant experience of enduring the question “how big is your penis?” 

Canton Tower, Guangzhou, China.

For most of the world, imagining that the “Mandingo” stereotype is alive and well, and widely believed in a place like China seems strange to say the least. Nonetheless, the image of the hypersexualized Black and African male is alive and well. The erosion of Black and African identity doesn’t stop there, with Black people from North American and European countries often contradicted about their nationality and their right to call themselves French, American, or British by virtue of their skin color. In the following three accounts by Black men living and working in China, we get to see what form the “Chinese gaze” on Black male bodies takes, and the possible deleterious effects of the same on Black men’s mental health and sense of self-worth. 

Klein – American drama teacher living in China for 3 Years

“You can love what you see in the mirror, but you can’t self-esteem your way out of the way the world treats you.”
― Gabrielle Union

Well, having been here for almost 3 years, I’ve had a lot of experiences –sexually – with Chinese men and women. I’ve dated three Chinese men and one girl from Taiwan. But I will focus on the men. 

 When I first came here, like anyone else, I wanted to meet people and feel accepted. When I first came here like anyone I wanted to meet people and feel accepted. At first, it was cool then it got real tiring. You have some Chinese people that don’t want to have sex with you simply because you are black and they think that you will give them HIV/AIDS. But they still want to see how big your penis is to see if it’s true that all black men are truly well endowed. Then you have the Chinese dudes that just want to have sex with you just because they’ve never had sex with a Black guy before. Or the ones who never had sex with foreigners I’d say 50 to 60 percent of the time I’ve had sex with the guys, they always ask if I have HIV, am I scared of HIV. Or have I been tested for it before? 

I had very low self-esteem from that. But I and my friends pulled me out of it. So if you were to describe it, what is the Chinese gaze on black men’s bodies? Their vision of the Black body is it’s strong, big; they admire it. Some don’t want it and some do. 

Read more:

Miguel -28 – Afro-Latino American Kindergarten teacher in China for 5 years  

“I am against all kinds of oppression. Poverty, Sexism, racism, terrorism, classicism, imperialism, heterosexism, Cisgenderism, colorism, Ableism, and Nativism. Because it hinder human progression.”
― Henry Johnson Jr

I think the image of Black men in China is lacking a bit. And when we are represented, we are misinterpreted and false rhetoric is pushed on our behalf. It’s flattering until it’s not. It’s curiosity until its judgment. It’s intriguing until it’s rude. So often does it happen to Black bodies here. At what point are we going to stop deducing everything to curiosity. Most of the time, it isn’t that. Sure there is the curiosity for a moment but that gets overshadowed but stereotypes that people have about what we are all about, over very purposes on this planet, how we contribute to society, what we’ve done in our past what we will do in our futures. It is a completely unwarranted and unwanted analysis of who we are as people with a hint of self-righteous judgment. 

I have had personal experiences of the “gaze” being turned on me. It happens all the time. I’ve had people run into things on their scooters because they were gazing at me instead of the road. I’ve had children gaze at me with thoughts of things that their elders told them about who I was before I even knew who I was. The fact that 3-year-olds will remind you of your status and position in this country as “other” just in case at any point you forget sums it up. I’ve had people deny me my rights to citizenship from a country that also doesn’t want me. “If I’m not American sir, then what am I? Please inform me because now I’m perplexed.”

My reactions are always the same; I remind myself that from a sociological perspective, I am a minority that is of privilege. I’ve had the opportunity to explore the world and different cultures. I’ve lived in many places. I’m free to express myself how I please completely and utterly unapologetically. What I have is something they will never see. So why should I concern myself with their thoughts when they’re looking at me. 

In comparison to the White gaze on Black bodies, I think the gazes are different in many ways. There isn’t the same historic backing. The thought behind the Chinese gaze has been influenced by the stories and whispers from others. This same insidious rhetoric has been given. It’s been taught. This isn’t an original thought but rather a paraphrase from distorted tales of Black folks from elsewhere. 

Jay – From the Caribbean in China for 2 years

“The experience of slavery is the bedrock on which Caribbean society has been founded.”
― Sharon Hurley Hall, Exploring Shadeism

Growing up in a majority Black Country, I never had to think about my Black body being viewed as different or “exotic” and coming to China I definitely tried to mentally prep myself for how I would be perceived. Before coming, I would hear the general misconceptions here about Black bodies such as we are naturally built for sports, we are well endowed, and even that to some people, our “Blackness” could be “washed off”. However, nothing prepared me for the dating scene here and how I would be perceived. 

In my personal experiences, I would say that Black bodies are admired from afar here and for various reasons. For one, people would compliment my hair or how long my eyelashes are but also some people may think that I am too “fat” even though I am a perfectly naturally healthy weight for my age and height. So I would say it definitely depends on the person you are interacting with as to some people you can be a “violent Black person” and to someone else you could be admired for your big eyes. 

That gaze has definitely been turned on me. Just being on dating apps here, the first thing people would ask me sometimes would be what size my package is because they heard (or seen while pleasuring themselves to particular films) that Black guys “are bigger”. Sometimes this is definitely annoying to me and at first, I got tired of being objectified but honestly, I just use it now as a filter to see which guys are generally interested in me for who I am, my personality, and all of those that are just into me for my body. 

The misconceptions about the size of certain organs and just overall misconceptions on our strength and endurance are similar in terms of the Chinese versus the White gaze on Black bodies. 

Photos: Unsplash

8 thoughts on “Traslating Blackness Through the Chinese Gaze

    1. Thank you so much for your support. We endeavor to give voice to those in the LGBTQI+ community this far East who most of the world might not know exist, or who haven’t had a platform on which to share their thoughts, experiences, ideas, and expectations. Thank you so much for the support. It will go a long way in encouraging us to continue in what we do.


  1. It’s a shame you don’t have a donate button! I’d definitely donate to this brilliant blog! I guess for now i’ll settle for bookmarking and adding your RSS feed to my Google account. I look forward to brand new updates and will share this website with my Facebook group. Chat soon!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I truly do appreciate your support! Maybe we shall add a donate button soon. But for now, we shall continue to provide a platform for voices in China of those who might not have a platform on which to share their experiences. Every share will be truly appreciated. Thank you.


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