What’s the Deal With: Chinese Women and Sa Jiao

For some, a women throwing little temper tantrums to get their way is cute, adorable even. Others just wish they would grow up…

WTDWYou have probably seen it on a Chinese street: a well-dressed girl stops in the middle of said street, stamps her foot, pouts her lips, and starts talking in a high-pitched whiny tone to her boyfriend or husband. “You don’t know how much I want those shoes. You don’t even care,” she says, with her arms crossed as her eyes look the other way. “It’s so unfair. You don’t really love me!” The man smiles and promises to buy 10 pairs of shoes just to show how much he loves her.

In China this behavior, or skill, is called sa jiao, meaning “throw delicacy”. There’s no exact English translation. It could be understood as girls acting childlike, coquettish or petulant in order to get their own way. And the things these girls want aren’t just limited to tangible objects, attention, care, consideration, love, or even sex could fit the bill perfectly.

Sometimes sa jiao is very subtle. Often, Chinese girls act needy and weak in front of men, or at least the ones they love, no matter how successful or capable they are at work. They pretend that they are unable to do certain things, for example, kill a bug, open a bottle, or carry their own handbag. And it is common to see a Chinese men carrying a little pink handbag on his broad shoulders, walking hand in hand with his girl, for the first time. Strong girls who can actually do all these things on their own, single or not, are jokingly called tomboys (nü han zi), which doesn’t relate to sexual orientation here. In addition, girls like to ask their partners to “pei” (accompany) them to run very simple and dull errands like go to the bank, vet, or grocery store without a good reason. What girls are trying to do here is act cute (at least they and Chinese men think so) to evoke men’s feeling of love and caring to get what they want.

And Chinese men are rarely immune to it. Culturally, it is considered sexy. Sa jiao is considered a must-have quality for women in Chinese society. It shows the feminine side of a woman, who traditionally should be: delicate, fragile, protected, and dependent. As a Chinese man surnamed Zhu told HERE! “When my wife does that it makes me feel very manly.” But exactly, how masculine it is to save a girl from the ugly legs of a giant spider? It seems that many Chinese simply can’t be in a relationship without a bit of sa jiao. Moreover, they even think it romantic, adding spice to their love life. It is used and practiced in all walks of lives and all ages.

And sometimes, girls use sa jiao as a test of their men. If a man is willing to put the girl’s needs, time, thoughts and love above his own, he has passed and truly loves her. It’s a constant life-time test where even one failure can bring an unbearably broken heart to a girl. And Chinese men know how important this is to their lovers, so they try to meet all the girl’s needs, unless they want to breakup at least.

Culturally, it is considered sexy. Sa Jiao is considered a must-have quality for women in Chinese society. It shows the feminine side of a woman, who traditionally should be: delicate, fragile, protected, and dependent.

The deeper reason for the phenomenon can be linked to traditional gender roles, which are still widely accepted in this country. Men should be strong, manly, calm, and nurturing: the food and shelter providers. Women should be weak, submissive, feminine and emotional. Sa Jiao, then, becomes a suitable platform to perform and reinforce these gender roles. Women show femininity and get what they need; Men provide what women need while protecting and spoiling them, thus fulfilling their manly dreams.

When a foreign man dates a Chinese girl, or vice versa, cultural differences towards sa jiao is inevitable. As one middle-aged Irishman told HERE! “Girls acting like that should grow up. If my girl started pulling that crap we would be done. But she’s not like that.” In Western culture, the influence of feminism has left it so that men and women are more likely to be equal (in finance and personality)—that’s the idea anyway. A foreign man is less patient with a needy and clingy girl compared to a Chinese man, while a Chinese man might think his foreign girlfriend lacks a certain sensitivity and delicacy. Cross-cultural relationships are hard. People should first look to understand problems and make necessary adjustments. It’s not easy for people to ditch the perspectives that they grew up with, but open and honest communication goes a long way.