A Curious Case of Yellow Fever

by Albert Tanjaya and Arianne Go

“ Yellow fever is when the only prerequisite for me to become your potential partner is the color of my skin? That’s cheap. That’s offensive. You’re an asshole. Go away”

~ Anna Akana


“Konichiwa! Hello Kitty!”

“All my ex-girlfriends are Asian.”

“Unlike white women, [Asian] women remember what it’s like to be a woman”

“I am obsessed with having sex with Chinese women while they tell me things that make me feel empowered”

“Don’t you know Asian girls prefer white guys?”

“Do you want to see my samurai sword collection”


If the guy you are seeing exhibits any of these symptoms, you’d better call a doctor. He might be showing symptoms of yellow fever. Sadly, he can’t be cured of it easily, but you can definitely not get sick by just dropping him.


So what exactly is yellow fever and how did it cultivate? It all started when the United States started to establish a military presence in Asia during World War II. Under the guise of the “Recreation and Amusement Association”, the Japanese Occupation authorities created this organization for the benefit of Allied troops occupying Japan so that the soldiers would not rape or sexual assault citizens and instead have leisurely pleasure with prostitutes. This practice continued throughout history as seen in the Korean and Vietnam wars. Also, No, it’s not an actual disease or sickness. It is the fetization of Asian women by non-Asian males. Notice how I said only “Asian women” and not just Asian in general. That's because the term is actually a double-edged sword. In the case of Asian men, there is really no such thing as “yellow fever” affecting them. In fact, in a 2014 study done by the dating site, OKCupid, statistics show that Asian men are actually favored less than any other racial group; however, Asian women are favored best than any other racial group. It’s indeed a curious case.


“I only date Asian girls”


This statement may sound harmless, intended to be some weird form of flattery. As if I was supposed to be happy to be desired in this way. As if, after a childhood of teasing and even bullying for my different skin color or my small eyes or my small stature, that I was finally “accepted” because of my race and that I should be flattered for being hand-selected out of the vast dating pool.


“I’m just into you because you’re Asian.”


Yellow fever for the Asian female evokes several different types of images. There’s the Japanese geisha, the China doll, the dragon lady… it’s basically a big shopping list. Generally, it just means that we are supposed to be depicted as young and beautiful and petite, but at the same time, we’re supposed to be obedient and submissive and serve someone else’s sexual needs before our own. These images paints an entirely generalized and most of the time, false, notion that all Asian women exist for someone else’s gaze.

And unfortunately, the yellow “fever” can get more deadly in the East.

The mail-order bride industry draws many of its brides from either Russia or Southeast Asia, mainly from countries like the Philippines, Thailand, Sri Lanka, India, Taiwan, South Korea, China, etc. Customers, mainly from wealthy, first-world countries order their bride from a catalog and just like the dirt cheap stuff you order from Asia online, the bride is “shipped out” to the destination country, faced with the already arduous struggles of immigration along with yellow fever.

On top of this commercialization of human trafficking by taking advantage of the yellow fever that these first-world countries have, NBC almost made a show about it (Mail Order Family, which eventually was dropped in 2016). As if the struggles of an immigrant woman, stuck in a foreign country, could be captured properly in a 22 minute episode, once a week comedic sitcom. As if the entire commercialization of human trafficking on the basis of yellow fever was something that the audience could laugh about.

Yellow fever can paint an Asian woman into a specific ideal that will, most likely, not be true and it applies to Asian American women as well as women who face the struggles of the mail-order bride industry. Personally, I’m not flattered to be lusted after from the sole fact that I am Asian woman. And frankly, has anyone ever told you that you’re a racist if you think you’re doing me a favor of being a potential love interest by having an Asian fetish?

Sorry, but you’re going to have to do better than that if you want me to swipe right on you.

On the entire flip side, Asian men are stereotyped as to be lackinging in masculinity and perceived as undesirable and too passive. There is definitely a double standard in this yellow fever. Steve Harvey made a joke about dating Asian men. He said “ ‘Excuse me, do you like Asian men?’ ‘No.’ ‘Thank you.’” Harvey said it with such an affirmative attitude that it almost seems like he believes we, Asian men are truly the lowest tier of datable men. It is such attitudes like these that make it hard for Asian men to enter the online dating world. We do have to try harder to impress women. Perhaps it is because that within our movies and TV shows, only white American guys are portrayed as the heroes and the muscular guys that the feminine character always falls for. Or perhaps it’s the lack of Asian male models in stores like Hollister, GAP, J. Crew, etc. Or perhaps it’s the lack of Asian male figures in children cartoons that doesn’t perpetuate the Asian stereotype. Or perhaps it is all of the above.

Sure there have been improvements, like AMC’s Glen from “The Walking Dead”, or Netflix’s Aziz from “Master of None”, or ABC’s Chin Ho kelly from Hawaii Five-0, but it seems that white American guys has become the standard for what it means to be attractive.