Are you female, and going to China soon? Wondering what it’s like there?
Generally speaking, China is a pretty good choice for female travelers. I’ve lived and worked there, so I know firsthand.
However, traveling to any country can be a little more complicated and even a little more dangerous when you’re a woman.
So, if you’re a female traveler who’s planning to spend some time in China, here’s what it’s like and what to look out for.
It’s safe to travel in China
It’s unfortunately a fact of life that women need to be more careful when they travel, particularly when they’re traveling solo.
This changes from country to country, because some places are naturally safer and more welcoming to women.
The good news is it’s very safe to travel in China as a woman. It’s probably safer than it is back home (I’m from Australia).
One reason for this is the fact that China has a very low crime rate overall. Murder rates are about half that of the US and around the same as the UK and Canada.
You’re also kept safe by the government’s desire to make China a popular travel destination.
Crime against foreigners is bad publicity, which is why they punish the perpetrators harshly.
As a result of this, violent crime against tourists or foreigners is almost unheard of and even non-violent crime is fairly rare.
This means that, as a woman, you’ll be safe walking around China’s cities and tourist destinations.
(You can check out some of the best places to visit in China here.)
There are areas that are an exception to this rule of course, and you should always follow your own intuition.
But generally, you’ll be perfectly safe walking home at night after dinner or taking public transport.
While you’re in China, you probably won’t have too many problems getting everything you need to stay happy and healthy. This includes:
Women in China love their beauty products, so there definitely isn’t a shortage of creams and lotions for your skin.
Just be careful when you buy them, because a lot of products contain bleaching agents.
You’ll find sanitary pads everywhere you go in China but may struggle to find tampons. So, make sure that you bring your own.
Birth control pills
There is absolutely no problem getting birth control pills in China.
Because of the One Child Policy, people in China have a very open attitude to birth control.
In fact, you’ll find condoms in every shop at the front counter next to the chewing gum and chocolate.
You’ll find non-prescription birth control in your local pharmacy, and one of the pharmacists can help you find the best choice for you.
If you need a doctor for female medical care, then you’ll need to find a hospital that specializes in it.
There aren’t many doctors in private practice in China – most of them work in hospitals and this is where the locals go whenever something’s wrong with them.
Depending on what city you’re in, you may also find international hospitals where everyone speaks English. This can do a lot for your peace of mind when you’re sick and need help.
Gender discrimination is still a problem in China, and you may experience this as a traveler as well.
China’s constitution promises equal rights for women and this is making a real change, but things take time.
Literacy rates and life expectancy among women is rising and yet jobs are still advertised as ‘men only’.
And jobs for women often require women to have certain physical attributes that aren’t relevant to the job itself such as grace, beauty, or a certain body shape.
Also, it isn’t uncommon for jobs aimed at men to promise ‘beautiful women’ to work with.
This type of gender discrimination is deeply entrenched, and it will take time before it can be eliminated.
This attitude is less obvious when it comes to foreign women, but it’s still there and it’s something you will need to be aware of.
Western women are often seen as too assertive and too aggressive, and if you’re naturally blunt then you may find yourself running up against this stereotype.
There are some major cultural differences related to gender that you will notice as a woman in China. The strangest and sometimes the hardest to get used to are:
No personal space
As a foreign woman in China, you can expect to be stared and pointed at, and some people will even comment on your looks in great detail.
This is often done in an admiring way, especially if you have very pale skin or hair, but it’s still something of a shock.
When you get to China, you will probably be asked questions that are considered very rude by Westerners.
“How old are you” is often first, followed by “Why aren’t you married” if you’re over 25.
They may also ask how much money you make.
These types of questions are considered rude by Westerners, especially when asked by someone they barely know.
To most Chinese people, this is how they get to know someone and learn about their life.
This is a cultural difference that takes some getting used to, and you’ll just have to accept the questions and find a way of answering that’s comfortable for you.
One of the most common questions you’ll hear as a woman in China is about your marital status.
Complete strangers will want to know if you’re married, and if you say no then they’ll want to know why not.
They may even express concern for you and tell you that you’re running out of time.
This seems very rude, intrusive, and even insulting to a lot of foreign women, but it isn’t meant that way. Instead, they really are concerned about you.
In China, women are expected to be married by their mid-twenties at the latest, and if they’re not then it’s a cause for major concern.
This concept is known as ‘sheng nu’ in Mandarin, which means ‘leftover women’. You can read more about that here.
There’s a growing trend against pressure in Chinese society, with more women staying single and pursuing their careers despite the strong social pressure they’re confronted with.
But particularly among older people, this remains a serious concern.
Most Western women are larger than Chinese women, or at least larger than the ideal of what Chinese women expect from themselves.
This can create problems when you’re shopping and with how the locals see you.
Back home, you might be thought of as ‘curvy’, but in China this might be described very differently.
So, make sure that you’re prepared for some unflattering reactions from people when it comes to your looks or size.
Dating in China
Do you plan on staying in China for a while, like for work or study?
Well, let me tell you that dating as a foreign woman in China is a controversial subject. You’ll find a lot of vitriol and anger on both sides of the argument.
Western men don’t seem to have any problems dating in China and make popular boyfriends because of their different view on life and relationships. But it’s a different story when it comes to foreign women dating in China.
It’s still very uncommon to see foreign women with Chinese men. There are several reasons for this, but mostly it comes down to stereotypes and prejudice on both sides.
With their different cultural beliefs and values, foreign women are often seen as lacking when it comes to wifely qualities.
They don’t share traditional family values and their openness to casual relationships, sex, and behaviors seen as unacceptable by traditional standards make them bad candidates as wives.
On the other hand, the restrictive social, physical, and societal rules surrounding relationships in China can scare foreign women away.
It may also have something to do with stereotypes in the media about Chinese men. For decades, movies and television shows have portrayed Asian men as one-dimensional beings.
They’re often villains, martial arts heroes, or pure and lacking in any sexuality. They are rarely if ever the hero or the romantic lead.
These stereotypes may unconsciously affect how Western women see Chinese men and whether they would consider a relationship with them.
These issues mean that you may struggle when it comes to dating in China.
A lot of foreign women end up only dating other expats, a solution which can present additional problems.
Whichever route you choose, it’s important that you’re aware of the problems and the potential pitfalls associated with dating overseas.
The key to a great trip for foreign women in China
Being a woman in a foreign country always has its pros and cons.
The most important thing to remember is that other people’s attitudes to you aren’t necessarily wrong, they’re just different.
And if you’re strong and confident, you won’t let any negative or unusual reactions or attitudes prevent you from enjoying your time in China.
Did you enjoy my article about what it’s like as a foreign woman in China? You may also enjoy the one I wrote about the things you should not bring to China. It’s pretty helpful!