Chinese girls & Duckling Syndrome

chinese girls

Chinese girls: Over the years I’ve lived in mainland China, I’ve noticed a very interesting pattern taking place in connection to certain types of non-Chinese who have just arrived in China. This goes more for the romantic and fairly idealistic types of guys, rather than our playboy types.

I call it ‘duckling syndrome. You may or may not be familiar with the studies done with ducklings and geese, whereby during what is called ‘the critical period’ 13 -16 hours after hatching geese or ducks will simply choose the first suitable thing they see as their mother (something alive and moving, that seems to care). Sometimes it’s even sooner.

This is actually called filial imprinting; now I don’t mean that a non-Chinese will think the first female in China he sees is his mother, obviously. But in actual fact, the first three days in China for the romantic/idealistic types are what I consider to be ‘the critical period’ in relation to any Chinese girls a guy may fall for.

I’ve seen it happen too many times, and even had it happen to myself during my first days in China. Often times in the work place, when you have just arrived, a Chinese girl will be kind of assigned to you, her English may be pretty good and she kind of helps you out with day to day stuff. Where that girl is not attractive to the guy, he may simply re-direct his interest to her friend. But one way or another, he begins to fall, and fall deep!

Perfect Traditional Chinese Girls?

Now, here’s the bigger problem and the general reason for ‘duckling syndrome’, it’s the fact that in many westerners mind at least, Chinese girls represent a more ‘traditional’ kind of girl. A kind of ideal they feel is missing in their own countries females. Not to mention, there is a definite exotic quality to many Chinese girls for a non-Asian which really spices things up, couple that with living in a country and culture totally alien to you, and we have the recipe for fireworks.

The thing is, the girl may act traditional but that certainly doesn’t actually equal traditional. But it is certainly true that the majority of Chinese girls are guilty of telling a western guy they are ‘traditional’, as an attempt to raise their value (there are other reasons too). Now, I don’t mean to say there are no traditional Chinese girls, but I do mean to say they are not the majority these days, and you should certainly not take their statement on face value.

traditional chinese girls

So where this gets a bit complex is with something in psychology called ‘projection’. Projection can work two ways, either some repressed qualities you dislike in yourself you will view another as having them, and so end up hating him/her; or, and in this case, you will project what is called your ‘anima’ onto a female and end up deeply in love with her. Without getting too technical, your anima is your repressed female characteristics (no, I don’t mean you are gay).

Now, this happens way less to a western guy in a western country, than it does to a western guy in China, and I’ll tell you why. Whereas most western females are fairly outspoken and speak their mind and so we know what they are or aren’t, Chinese girls, or at least the so-called traditional ones do not.

Most Chinese parents believe a female should be raised to be ‘quiet’, as if she isn’t, it will reduce her chances of finding a husband. Most Chinese males would, in fact, choose to marry the quiet ones (note I say marry; dating could be quite a different story).

So what we’ve now got is a Chinese girl saying she’s traditional, and being fairly quiet and not saying much (honestly, they over-do the enigmatic bit, sometimes deliberately).

This makes projection of the anima way easier because she hasn’t defined herself as ‘this or that’, so the mind then begins to do that for us by filling in all the gaps with what we want her to be, all the idealistic characteristics we imagine a ‘traditional Chinese girl’ to have, we unconsciously put on her. Before long, ‘duckling syndrome’ takes hold, and it doesn’t go away for a long time.

At least, not until we find out she’s not really what we thought she was. A great deal of time may have past as this whole ‘quiet Chinese girl’ thing goes on, and effectively obscures the truth.

Skool Daze & the Art of Saying Nothing Much at All

I used to have a friend in school who had mastered the art of being non-committal in all his responses to the degree that you never really knew what he was thinking about, in fact our group of friends knew exactly what he was thinking about: he was thinking about what filling his mother had given him in his sandwiches that day.

chinese sandwich

A 'traditional' sandwich (it doesn't talk much)

But all the girls didn’t know this, and although he was hardly the best looking of the group, all the girls thought he was something special, because when he spoke with them he never really defined himself as being someone they wouldn’t want, so they were simply able to project onto him everything they did want in a guy.

Honestly, talking to him was sometimes an exercise in pointlessness, yet all the girls thought he was ‘perfect’. None of us really knew why at the time, but he proceeded to sleep with all of them… it was a major achievement for a fifteen year old! I even asked the girls: “exactly what do you see in him?”, all of them confessed he wasn’t good looking and then said “…I don’t know… there’s just ‘something’ about him.”

I now know exactly what that ‘something’ was, it was the art of non-committal responses, and Chinese girls are absolute masters of it! I won’t say it’s always deliberate on their part, they may well be preoccupied with thinking ‘what’s for dinner?’ But within Chinese culture it is common, common to the point that it can really frustrate a non-Chinese guy wanting to date a Chinese girl.

Conversely, there are times where it is deliberate, when they know saying what they think or feel will either expose them emotionally (which is fine), or that telling the truth means that the guy won’t bother with doing all the nice things he is doing for them anymore (which is not fine).

So, my advice to you if you are about to go to China is be really careful of ‘duckling syndrome’, as it very rarely ends well, or how you expect it to. Also, if you get frustrated by the non-committal responses and enigmatic facial expressions from Chinese girls, consider finding someone else, as there are plenty who are looking for a relationship that does involve full-disclosure.

Written by Sam Reeves

Sam Reeves is a corporate manger in China and author of ‘Chinese Dating Secrets Exposed’. He has lived in China for ten years (give or take) and been involved with the Chinese community in his native country for many a year. He is interested in all things Chinese (but is still not quite sure why).


Sam Reeves

Sam Reeves is a corporate manger in China and author of 'Chinese Dating Secrets Exposed'. He has lived in China for ten years (give or take) and been involved with the Chinese community in his native country for many a year. He is interested in all things Chinese (but is still not quite sure why).

More Posts

Follow Me:

4 thoughts on “Chinese girls & Duckling Syndrome

  1. Pingback: Hao Hao Report

  2. Interesting post Sam. Particularly as I married a girl I met my second day in China. We didn't get together for quite a long time after meeting, but I did feel an instant attraction, which fits pretty good with the "duckling syndrome" you're talking about. I will say though that we beat your "very rarely ends well" odds, as we've been married for over 5 years now and have a wonderful son together.

    • That's great Ryan. I always like a happy ending… I mean the real kind of happy ending, not the other one. I was the opposite… actually it did go right three years down the line when I was kind of over it, in which case it went wrong.

      I'm glad to hear a 'When Ducking Syndrome Goes Good' kind of story, I hear a lot of the other kind.

      Thanks for the comment,


      • I agree, there's certainly a lot that go wrong. I suppose that's true with a lot of relationships though. As a wider arc, I think the concept applies almost universally. The reason we initially are attracted to someone is very rarely the reason we would marry them, or stay with them long-term.

        It has got me thinking, and now I want to ask all the Chinese-Foreigner couples I know if they have similar stories. :)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Comment moderation is enabled. Your comment may take some time to appear.