One of the most remarkable differences in youth culture I have noticed between Chinese university students and English is the attitude toward romance. The Chinese are certainly more traditional (see convent-like rules for my residence) and generally more conservative and old-fashioned. Plus I’m sure a contributing factor is the fact that karaoke is the preferred leisure activity as opposed to clubbing i.e. getting drunk and accidentally-on-purpose getting off with strangers/your friends, etc.
In any case, I have been (pleasantly?) surprised by some of the practices I have witnessed amongst Chinese couples. Here, boys are much more attentive to their girlfriends; perhaps a little too much so, from a western perspective. They treat their girlfriends like princesses – literally. When walking together in the street, boys carry their girlfriends’ handbags for them. Men always pay. Not accompanying your lady home? Unspeakable.
Things I have personally witnessed have made me rather wish I had an attentive Chinese boyfriend of my own. Last weekend, while sweating under the sweltering sunlight during a tour of the Forbidden City, I saw an elegant Chinese girl looking lovely and fresh under her umbrella while her boyfriend stood by her side and fanned her. Later that day, exhausted and feet aching from walking all day, I saw a couple lounging in the shade on a bench; he was massaging her feet.
Chinese men are on the whole very respectful and gentle toward women (at least in my experience). I’d be more surprised than anything if a male companion didn’t open doors for me, etc; it’s just standard behaviour. As someone who hugely values chivalry, and often is made to feel traitorous to the cause of feminism or unrealistically old-fashioned for it, it’s refreshing.
Of course, on the flipside girls here are expected to be demure, submissive and obedient. Bubble burst.