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The 1887 novel Madame Chrysanthème by Pierre Loti and Puccini's 1904 opera Madama Butterfly served to popularize the image of the submissive and doll-like East Asian woman, while Hollywood promoted the sexualized Asian femme fatale in the form portrayed by Anna May Wong as Fu Manchu’s daughter. Hwang argues that this phenomenon is caused by stereotyping of Asians in Western society.
The image of the sexualized Asian woman in the United States was further solidified by the presence of the U. military in Asia during the Second World War, the Korean War, and the Vietnam war. In a two-year study on dating preferences among 400 Columbia University students, researchers did not find evidence of a general preference among white men for Asian women.
Because of Asian fetish, an Asian woman’s racial difference is either seen as a failure to conform to mainstream white standards of beauty, or as something that can be appreciated only on an alternative scale.
NPR correspondent Elise Hu offers that this can be a source of insecurity in Asian women's dating lives, asking: "Am I just loved because I'm part of an ethnic group that's assumed to be subservient, or do I have actual value as an individual, or is it both? In the other direction, it has been argued that the notion of an Asian fetish creates the unnecessary and erroneous perception of multiracial relationships as being characterized by "patriarchal, racist power structures" in relationships.
Western powers, including the United States, established a presence in the port cities of China, Japan and Korea and made substantial profits from the lucrative trade routes.
One result of this was a developing appetite amongst the Western middle class for Asian goods and art; for example, Chinese export porcelain. American men who may not have had preconceived notions about Asian women were drafted and sent to fight in Asia where they saw Asian women working in the sex industry. Butterfly, the writer David Henry Hwang, using the term "yellow fever", a pun on the disease of the same name, discusses white men with a "fetish" for (east) Asian women.
Furthermore, the study found that there is a significantly higher pairing of white men with East Asian women because East Asian women are less likely to prefer African-American or Latino men.
The study took data from "thousands of decisions made by more than 400 daters from Columbia University's various graduate and professional schools".
In interviews done by Bitna Kim, white men explain their fetish for Asian women.
There is a social stigma in the country against Thai women marrying white men, but research published in 2015 indicated that an increasing number of young middle-class Thai women were marrying foreign men.
A generation earlier, Thai women marrying foreign men had mostly been working class.
The white men interviewed fantasize that an Asian woman possesses both beauty and brains, Sexually, the men in these interviews had a commonality.
They all believed that Asian women have submissive sex.