All the information below is provided by Pink Pangea community members based on their experiences abroad. Add your voice!
Feminine Hygienic Products
Katie says: China is really big on beauty products. Many foreign brands are available for purchase such as Olay and Lancôme. I caution people against using the lotions, however, because they often contain a bleaching agent. In China pale skin is considered beautiful.
China has an array of sanitary pads available but few tampons. I encourage you to bring your own.
Rita says: OB and many brands of sanitary napkins are available. OBs are only in international grocery stores, but most grocery and convenience stores have sanitary napkins.
Katie says: Birth control pills and emergency contraception are available over the counter at the local pharmacy. Diane-55, Marvelon and Yasmin are found in nearly all pharmacies without a prescription. However, if you use a prescription birth control, bring enough for the time you are abroad.
The pharmacists won’t give you any judging looks while you’re picking up the pills and there aren’t any questions asked (except in the case of ‘Marvelon makes you fat. You should try Yasmin.’). If navigating the pharmacy seems intimidating, just bring a paper with bì yùn yào for the pill or shì hòu bì yùn yào for the plan B pill. The friendly pharmacists will help you find what you’re looking for. Condoms are often found next to the chewing gum at registers.
Rita says: I believe you can get birth control anywhere due to China’s one child policy.
Recommended Gynecologists and Doctors
Katie says: It’s uncommon to find a doctor with a private practice. Most people go directly to the hospitals for everything. There are hospitals dedicated to female medical care. There are even a few international hospitals where the doctors speak English.
Rita says: None I would recommend in Qingdao. The hospitals are dirty. They often don’t change the sheets and doctors’ clothing is sometimes bloody. No toilet paper or soap are available in bathrooms. I have friends that have delivered babies here, but most have gone back to their home countries to deliver or go to Beijing or Shanghai.
Katie says: There are children and babies everywhere in China. Most of them are cared for by the grandparents – which leads me to believe they are not breastfed by their mothers. That being said, I’ve only ever seen a woman breastfeeding once and it was on a public bus.
Rita says: Children in China are treated with such reverence that they can do anything they want almost anywhere. I have not seen any public displays of nursing but I don’t believe it is frowned upon. My western friends are shy to nurse in public because Chinese people often want to hover and bear witness.
Katie says: Many times you will see foreign men dating Chinese women but seldom is it the other way around. To the Chinese, foreign women are viewed as ‘loose,’ so prepare yourself. Dating culture in China is very different from Western culture. Many times people go on dates to test the waters for future marriage matches. If you’re not interested in a long-term relationship, be kind and don’t lead a guy/girl on.
History Lesson: In traditional Chinese culture it was commonplace for men to keep concubines. This practice was outlawed when the Communist Party seized control in 1949. However, with the reintroduction of capitalism many traditional practices began to pop up as well. The practice of keeping mistresses is often found in the richer and more powerful men (i.e. government officials).
Rita says: Women and men do not hold hands or show affection. Men and men show affection and women hold hands.
Types of Men
Katie says: If I were to describe Chinese men in three (generalizing) words, they would be: assertive, entitled, and expectant. It’s no secret that males are valued in Chinese society. With the large population, many Chinese people are forced to become assertive or even aggressive when it comes to getting what they want. It’s how they get ahead in society. So, if you’re meeting a successful Chinese businessman he’ll probably come off as pushy or have a demanding presence.
Going along with that comes the sense of entitlement. This is a result of the single child policy – a government initiative that mandated families only have one child. Males born into a single child family are burdened with the expectations of caring for his two parents and his four grandparents. This means they are pressured to find a good job with a high income.
More on Types of Men
It shouldn’t surprise you to know that being a single child, with the love and attention from six adults, often results in a sense of entitlement, spoiled attitudes, and selfish behavior. Chinese men expect others to behave in ways that please them – that includes you.
This, of course, does not apply to everyone in the society so don’t be discouraged from dating. The above information might be helpful to understand some of the more difficult elements.
Rita says: A majority of the prominent (government) men in Qingdao are loud, like to smoke, slurp their food and spit a lot. They would be happy to run you over with their car if you get in their way. Most have concubines and secret families.
The college students are very polite and helpful. Some study and work hard for their degrees and some are paid for by their fathers.
Katie says: China is a conservative society with traditional values – we’ll start with that. Mainstream culture frowns upon LGBTQ relationships. However, there are small pockets of LGBTQ friendly communities in the major cities. These groups meet regularly and act as a support network for each other. Depending on the city, their activities could range from raising public awareness to being ‘underground.’ Shanghai is known to have an active LGBTQ scene and you’ll often meet Chinese and foreigners alike who consider the city very open.
Rita says: China considers LGBTQ people a ‘problem’ and isn’t very friendly for queer people.
Katie says: Legally, women enjoy the same rights as men. Socially, however, there is a gap. This derives from the traditional Confucian values deeply rooted in Chinese culture. Women were, traditionally, subservient to their husbands, sons, and brothers. This mentality was challenged during the 1950’s and 60’s when women were encouraged to leave home and join the national work force. As a result, women are now in positions of power both politically and in the business sector.
The average woman, however, lacks mobility in society without an education to guarantee her gainful employment. If a woman cannot be financially independent, she falls into a centuries old trap of marriage for financial security. Sometimes businesses use a figurehead (male) to represent the business and ensure positive encounters. Don’t get your feathers ruffled by this obvious sexist display – it’s just part of a long standing, slow-to-change patriarchal culture.
Rita says: In Shanghai and Beijing women are very independent and have strict requirements that must be met by potential marriage partners.
Katie says: I am honest in the bluntest way possible. I don’t like talking in circles – if there is a problem, I like to address it in the most direct means so as to solve it quickly. If you find yourself nodding and thinking “That sounds like me,” China is going to challenge you. The Chinese are very indirect when it comes to problem solving.
China isn’t like Japan where a direct approach would be seen as rude. My concerns were heard and my colleagues viewed me as demanding yet organized (a valued trait). I mention all of this because it goes against the typical expectations of Chinese females. Understandably, the Chinese women have a better understanding of how things work within their culture. They can address their personal and professional issues in a less stress-filled manner.
More on Local Women
Desired traits of Chinese women are what you would expect according to stereotypes: quiet, subservient, humble, etc. I have and probably will never be identified with any of those descriptors. This immediately sets me apart from my Chinese counterparts. I’ve noticed that my female students exhibit these traits when in the presence of their male classmates. I think this behavior pattern ends once the women are married. I am pleased to report that most of the Chinese women I’ve interacted with, professionally, do not fit this stereotype.
Rita says: The women in Qingdao are very obedient to men and would never consider divorce even if the husband was abusive or unfaithful. They are shocked to learn that I am married for the third time.
Rita says: Chinese women typically don’t drink so you probably won’t see them in a nightclub.
Perception of Foreign Women
Katie says: China is a very homogeneous society. No matter what you do, if you’re not of Asian descent, you’re going to stand out. When visiting tourist areas, be wary of people who approach you speaking English – especially if they invite you to a business or a demonstration. Many times vendors will hire local students to pull foreigners into their businesses. A friend of mine was invited to a tea ceremony and lost the equivalent of 100 USD. Most people who offer a service or help expect to be compensated in some way.
More on Perception of Foreign Women
I am from the United States and most people have an opinion about my country. Some of them (men) are more forthcoming with their criticisms than others. Most of the time Chinese people are curious and ask questions about my home culture.
Rita says: Low-income people really love the U.S. and tell me, “USA! Very good!” Higher income Chinese people would be happier to see me gone from the neighborhood.
Tips for Women Travelers in China
Katie says: Do not take the black taxis. Black taxis are privately owned cars where the unregistered driver offers transportation for a fee. Not only are these black taxis unsafe, you will get ripped off as well. Better to just stick to registered taxis, public buses, and subways.
Rita says: Public transportation is very safe, and there are no guns here.
Shady Areas for Women
Katie says: China is an extremely safe place for women. Practice common sense, of course, but crime rates are quite low in China.
Rita says: None that I know of.
Katie says: The best thing about China is that, if you’re not Asian, everyone is staring at you. So, take that as an opportunity to wear what you’d like or try out a new style. When asked to describe Chinese fashion, I typically say: A woman decides to wear her favorite outfit. This means she’s going to wear her favorite shoes, leggings, shorts, shirt, jacket, glasses, hat etc all at the same time. None of it matches and often times the individual pieces clash but it doesn’t matter because they are all her favorites.
More on Clothing
High heels are another big thing you’ll see in China. Many of the Chinese women in my area as short and, to compensate for their height, they wear obnoxiously high platforms and heels. It’s common to see a local girl showing legs for days and heels that are normally seen in a local nightclub. However, they are usually quite conservative with low-cut tops; so keep that in mind.
Rita says: China is pretty fashion forward, but some ladies like to wear their pajamas during the day!