In 1989, Rachel DeWoskin arrived in Beijing fresh from university to work for an American P.R. firm. Two months later she was the slutty American hussy on one of China’s first soap operas, getting her gear off for 600 million people and doing her bit for cross-cultural relations. Most China stories are from blokes in suits doing the cross-border equivalent of a night in Wan Chai. Foreign Babes in Beijing, bookmarked by Tiananmen Square and the American bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade is a portrait of the other side.
Wang Ling played my love interest. He was unstoppably macho, six-foot-two, and chiseled, designed by producers and personal trainers to turn the tables on Hollywood stereotypes of wimpy Chinese men: Charlie Chans, inscrutable Orientals, and Asian Houseboys. My role was to play the exotic, mysterious femme fatale, relieving Eastern women momentarily of that chore. Jointly, Wang Ling and I would establish a contemporary counterpoint to a tense historical reality: that intercultural romances in China were primarily between Western men and Chinese women. There were 106.6 males for every 100 females in China in the 1990s, and no Chinese man liked to see beautiful marriage prospects plucked from the pool. But China could spare some of its most strapping men to foreign women. Chinese producers would not have dared show a Chinese women seducing a Western man on TV. It was safer to depict China penetrating the West.