Annoying!” The girl shakes her head violently as her boyfriend tries to hug her. “Don’t be like this,” he pleads. “Annoying jerk! Annoying jerk!” The couple gets barely a look from passersby. A little tantrum on the street is a common sight in China; it’s a staple of any healthy relationship.
Flash to a couple’s bedroom. “I’m sooo hungry,” the wife giggles menacingly. The husband’s pupils widen, following her as she walks to the bed and unfolds the blankets. “I hope you enjoyed your dinner,” she continues. “I didn’t eat enough because I saw you liked it so much. Some snacks from downstairs would be nice!”
Chinese women are masters of the temper tantrum art known as sajiao (撒娇). The term is difficult to translate, but it refers to the above types of whining. Some associate it with the word taoyan (讨厌, annoying), hollered to men by their drama queens. Sajiaoing is a kind of game—when done well it can win great affection from male suitors; when done poorly it strikes fear in their hearts.
They fear it because it works—it’s a form of manipulation. The hungry wife above was sajiaoing to get her husband to buy her food. Many use the technique to judge their man’s commitment. As one girl says, “If my boyfriend won’t do something I really want him to do, I sajiao. Sometimes, even if I don’t really want something, I’ll whine a bit. I want to see that he loves me and is responding to my needs.”
Other women, like Xiao Yu, a graduate student, feel that too much sajiaoing can hurt a relationship. “I sajiaoed too much with my first boyfriend,” she says. “In the beginning, he responded well. But after while he broke off the relationship. I really was overdoing it.”
While Xiao Yu scared her man off, sajiaoing just the right amount can be the way to a man’s heart. “If a woman sajiaos well, she is sexy,” says one man. “What I mean by well is that you can’t even tell she is sajiaoing until it’s too late, until you’ve been fooled by your own emotions.” Sajiaoing is a thrilling way to flirt, a battle of wills that calls for wit and subtlety.
A wealth of techniques are used to sajiao, so whether you’re a temptress-in-training, or a man trying to combat its evils, read on to gain a bit of savvy.
The Falling Tone Ma
In this approach, the lady remains steadfast in her (usually unreasonable) demands, often tagging a drawn-out whiny ma (嘛) to the end of her sentences. (Pronounced with a falling tone similar to a child whining, “Whyyy?”)
This skirt is nice isn’t it? Come on, say it’s nice!
Zhè tiáo qúnzi zhēn hǎokàn, shì bùshì? Nǐ kuài shuō hǎokàn, hǎokàn ma!
Ok ok, it’s nice. Just a little expensive.
Hǎo ba, hǎokàn. Jiùshì yǒudiǎn er guì.
You think it’s nice right? So buy it, buy it!
Nǐ yě juéde hǎokàn, duì bùduì? Nà mǎi ma, mǎi ma, mǎi ma!
This tack consists of putting the other person on a pedestal and making yourself look pathetic. We call this the “silver-coated bullet” (糖衣炮弹 tángyīpàodàn).
Ohh, I’m so useless!
Āi, wǒ zhēn méi yòng!
What’s wrong honey?
Zěnmele, qīn’ài de?
I just finished cleaning and my arm hurts. If only I was strong like you…
Wǒ cái gānggāng dǎsǎo wán fángjiān, gēbo jiù suānle, wǒ yàoshi xiàng nǐ yīyàng qiángzhuàng jiù hǎole ⋯⋯
Oh honey, I’ll clean the room.
Qīn’ài de, wǒ lái dǎsǎo fángjiān ba.
Temper Tantrum Galore
A good old-fashioned temper tantrum, known as shuagexingzi (耍个性子), never fails either.
Can you go get me some noodles?
Nǐ qù gěi wǒ mǎi wǎn miàn, hǎo ma?
The noodle shop is far and it’s late.
Mài miàn de tài yuǎnle, zàishuō yǐjīng hěn wǎnle.
Fine! I knew it, you’d rather have me starve wouldn’t you!?
Nà hǎo ba! Wǒ zhīdàole, nǐ xiǎng ràng wǒ è sǐ!
Big bowl or small…
Nǐ yào dà wǎn háishì xiǎo wǎn
Deflect with Sarcasm
One of the best ways to defeat a sajiao-ess is blatant sarcasm (讽刺 fèngcìf).
My teacher is so unfair! He assigned homework right before the holiday.
Wǒmen lǎoshī tài guòfènle! Fàngjià qián hái bùzhì zuòyè.
What a shame, the little baby won’t be able to sleep in.
Tài kěliánle, xiǎo bǎobǎo méi fǎ shuì gè xiǎo lǎn jiào le.
Just Shut Up!
Naturally, employees would never sajiao to their bosses; the game is only played by people who are very comfortable with each other, so it’s okay to be direct and tell them to shut up.
This is the last time. I promise I won’t make you go to my hometown again.
Zhè shì zuìhòu yīcìle, wǒ zài yě bù ràng nǐ qù wǒ lǎojiāle.
Give it up, I’m not going.
Bié shuōle, wǒ jiù bù qù.
You’re going to make me spend 36 hours alone a train?!
Nǐ yào ràng wǒ yīgè rén zuò 36 gè xiǎoshí de huǒchē? !
Forget it, I’m not going!
Suànle ba, wǒ bù qù!
Sajiao is a game of affection. Take it with a grain of salt and try not to let it turn you off. And don’t be afraid to use it to turn someone on. Remember be subtle, cunning and keep your wits about you.
Fear not though, guys. Men are getting their own back, with Sajiao of their own.
And while all this advice on Chinese relationships is great, how do you actually get into a relationship in the first place. Learn to woo the ladies, China-style.