Translating Black Femaleness Through the Chinese Gaze

As much as it might leave a bad taste in one’s mouth, it might be safe to say that in recent years the LGBTQI+ movement has mostly revolved around the “G” part of the acronym. Gay men have gained far more visibility in the movement, even headlining major Pride events and Queer festivals across the world. When it comes to issues of representation, it is Gay men’s voices that are far louder than those of others, and when people talk of prejudice against the LGBTQI+ community, oftentimes it’s with Gay men in mind.

“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”
― Audre Lorde

Even in as unique an environment as China which has increasingly become a destination of choice for many Queer individuals, particularly Black and African queer people, it is the male voices that hold court when it comes to matters of prejudice, racial inequality, and the struggles of dating in a highly homogenous society. But what of Black and African Queer women? Do they not face prejudices? Do they not endure racism? Do they not suffer setbacks in the dating scene as do their male counterparts? The fact is, on top of having to contend with racial and cultural stereotypes inherent to being Black or African in China, Black and African Queer women are also saddled with the burden of living in a highly patriarchal society, and having to deal with issues of misogyny and sexism from which their male counterparts are spared to a large extent.

In this CHINOIRE series, we get to learn from Queer Black and African women living in China about their experiences, how they navigate colorist, racist, and male-dominated spaces, and how they advocate for themselves while fighting against how the Chinese gaze purses their Blackness and femaleness.

Catherine, American, 29 years old, 6 years in China, Event Coordinator based in Tianjin

“I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal, and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.”
― Audre Lorde


Black bodies exist in an odd state of duality in China. We are presented as admirable, yet abhorrent; human, but also objects; desirable, yet also rejected. This is something that is by no means unique to China, but like many cultural aspects introduced into the local lexicon, it has taken on a very Chinese feel. For example, the traditional classist structure around skin color, i.e. darker skin on locals is undesirable, has greatly paved the way for the idea “foreigners with darker skin are all lesser in some way”. 

Read More:

Through the Looking Glass

The Chinese gaze on Black women’s bodies is very predatory. In the case of Chinese men, Black women’s bodies are taboo or fetish. Physically, it’s everything the Chinese woman’s body is not; therefore men here tend to view Black women as some kind of forbidden fruit. Okay to try, but only under the cover of night where no one can see you doing something so shameful as being with a Black woman. If a relationship is in the open, there tends to be an element of showing status or objectification, i.e. “this is my interesting thing, not a person.”

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
― Audre Lorde

With Chinese women, the gaze tends to be thinly veiled envy to open hostility. I can’t tell you how many Chinese women have immediately pulled their male partners closer when I’ve gotten onto subways. One Chinese woman, upon noticing her male partner gazing at me, began to unleash all kinds of rude remarks about how ugly I was. The underlining idea is that my mere presence, my body, is enough to “steal” their partner away. However, on the flip side of this, it is becoming more common for Chinese women to strive for more “Black” features, such as bigger lips, more pronounced butts, traditional African hairstyles, etc. The duality is truly striking. 

Too Close to Home 

I remember I was standing in line waiting to get on the subway when two Chinese men started talking about how nice my body was, how Black women’s asses/tits were better, and many other derogatory and degrading things. I yelled at them in Mandarin letting them know that I clearly understood them, and did not appreciate being talked about that way. They laughed and quickly moved to stand in line further away. 

“Our feelings are our most genuine paths to knowledge.”
― Audre Lorde

Therefore, for me, dating a local Chinese person comes with too many risks, as well as, extra mental stress. As a Black woman in China, I already have to endure so much judgment, staring, mockery, and mean comments. I don’t want to have to feel like I need to constantly justify my relationship with someone to others. Or, have to constantly explain to my partner why something they (or a family member) did is extremely racist or degrading. Also, it is heartbreaking to know that a potential Chinese partner, due to societal pressure, could on some level be ashamed of being with me, or give in to their parent’s request to date someone “better” than a Black woman.


The White gaze on Black female bodies is a bit more tempered by social awareness. It is more often quicker to go past my body and on to me as a person. The Chinese gaze tends to linger on just my body for much longer. It also goes into more detail dissecting my body. This is bigger, fatter, darker, uglier, etc. Both the White and Chinese gaze both tend to only see features, not a person. They both seek to covet those features for themselves without acknowledging the people and culture from which they come. As the old saying goes, “Everyone wants Black women’s features, but only if they are on non-Black bodies.” 

Photos: Unsplash

2 thoughts on “Translating Black Femaleness Through the Chinese Gaze

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