Dear Ms. Wai – Sexual Harassment

Posted by

Dear Ms. Wai,

This isn’t exactly relationship-related but I was hoping you could give me some advice. These days sexual harassment and assault is all in the news. I haven’t had any major problems living in China, but I’ve had several uncomfortable situations and I’m not sure how to handle them.

Usually it’s nothing physical but rather guys asking me, “How much for a night?” Or sometimes a taxi driver might touch me on the leg and say something. I don’t speak Chinese so I only imagine it’s something along the lines of asking if I’m a prostitute. I’m a busty blond and friends have said foreign prostitutes are usually from Russia or the Ukraine and I kinda look like I could be from there, which is why I get asked this question.

This doesn’t happen late at night if I’m out clubbing or anything. When it’s happened it’s been in the daytime and I’m wearing just normal clothes. Obviously it makes me really uncomfortable but I can’t speak Chinese and don’t know what to say. I never felt unsafe or scared that I would be assaulted (the taxi driver only caressed my knee cap for a minute) but obviously I don’t like it. Do you have any advice what to do in that situation? 

How to stop an uncomfortable situation?

The #MeToo movement has spread around the world and China has not been completely silent on it. In Chinese it’s called “rice bunny” based on the Chinese characters for rice and bunny (米兔) which, when spoken, sound like “me too” in English. But China is still a patriarchal society and has a long way to go. (For instance marital rape is not illegal.)

I’m going to guess that, just as many men don’t see anything wrong with telling a female stranger “Smile honey,” those guys asking “How much?” or if you were a prostitute had no idea how rude it was. (And let’s be clear, it WAS rude. Even if you were dressed in a bikini and sloppy drunk, a stranger has no right to touch you.)

But your question is, how to react? Well, it depends on your personality. I know some women who have slapped the hand of anyone who touches them or yells at people who ask “How much?” That has the added benefit of really shocking the guy who said it and might make him think twice before saying it again to another women.

But that takes a lot of guts and some women don’t like confrontation. If someone touches you a stern “Bu!” (不 pronounced “boo”), which means “no”, should do the trick. You can also say the same thing to someone if they ask “How much?” Or just speak English like, “Don’t touch me,” and they should understand the tone if not the meaning.

I do think it is our responsibility as women to tell men when they are doing something that makes us feel uncomfortable. While more men in the West are becoming aware of what is inappropriate, men in China are more behind the times, simply because they don’t know any better. (I’m not making excuses, and it is still wrong, but I think many men don’t realize how hurtful and embarrassing certain comments are to women.)

Foreigners may not be able to change the culture at large. But as long as we say *something* and don’t let it pass without comment, then maybe one guy will think twice before making the comment to another woman. Of course, your safety is always first and if you feel like you are in danger then try to get out of the situation as soon as possible and don’t worry about saying something.

And if there is ever something more serious and you need emotional support, there is a hotline available in China called Lifeline for foreigners to talk to someone free and confidentially in English. The Lifeline number is (021) 6279 8990. They are open every day from 10am to 10pm (Shanghai time) and also have a WeChat account you can follow for more information.

Ms Wai


  1. To the OP – shout at the offender, slap them if necessary – make them lose face.
    I have had the ‘how much?’ question and I replied that it was the most offensive question I have been asked in China, and that the asker should be ashamed of himself.
    They invariably try to laugh it off as a joke – ‘I was only joking’ to which I have replied ‘you are a joke asking such an offensive question’
    MAKE THE MAN LOSE FACE – and he will probably think twice about doing it again.
    If you feel unsafe in the place – cause a scene – this should draw attention from passers-by.
    Invariably the man who does this is a coward with little to no social skills.

  2. There was this time when I was too crazy and partying last year. I was going out a lot and had this friend named David. He is like an older brother, always protecting me. And so I drank a little this one night and was at a club with David and other people. Met this one guy who was a hired “model”. He was drunk and trying to flirt with me. Asked me on WeChat if I wanted to go home with him that night. And eventually that night ended with almost some trouble. I was in the bathroom wiping my eyes with tissue because I just got off the phone with my sister and was crying. (It was almost 3 am.) I feel a tap on my shoulder and it’s that male model. (The bathroom sinks are shared by male and female btw, not separated except the toilet area.) He’s asking me what’s wrong in Chinese. I tell him I’m fine. He tries to hug me. I start yelling at him in Chinese, “别碰我!别碰我!” Don’t touch me! and he kept trying and I pushed him in the chest to make sure he got my point. I told David about it and he really wanted to beat that guy up. So, I told him not to bother with it cuz I didn’t want to get into trouble.

    Haven’t been at that club ever since.
    Just make a scene if a guy tries to mess around with you and says stuff. I don’t deal with that stuff anymore.

    1. To be honest, I would NEVER give any contact information to anyone I did not know.
      However, this did not stop friends giving my contact info to creepy guys who then proceeded to stalk me.
      I got angry with my friends when I knew that they did this – it is incredibly dangerous to do this to anyone, but they claimed that they were trying to ‘help me’ because they ‘looked nice’. It took a long while for me to convince them how wrong this was, and how appearances can be deceptive.
      I never responded to any unsolicited text/mssg and I would have any locator turned off.

      As you say – create a scene and make the guy lose face.

Leave a Reply

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

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.