Tiger ladies

So Amy Chua is a tiger mother, and Wendi Deng is a tiger wife. These might seem like new sayings, or descriptions that have to do with being born in the year of the tiger, or even racist monikers, but actually in Chinese, ferocious women have long been known as lao hu, or old tigers.

Westerners might call a fierce older Chinese woman a dragon lady, but in Chinese it’s lao hu.  To me dragon lady conjures up a stereotypically slant-eyed, slinky-chipao-dressed “Oriental” woman with long talon-like fingernails, a cigarette, peering through plumes of opium smoke.  Lao hu isn’t much better, but at least it’s by Chinese people, for Chinese people.  When I think lao hu, I don’t think sexy at all.  I think older, ferocious and loud, a woman who pushes her husband and kids around, who snaps at the least provocation and has absolutely no sense of humor.

Certain family members definitely qualify.

There’s also another Chinese word, xiong, which means  bear or ferocious.  In my experience, I’ve heard it used mainly to describe young women and children, not men or older women.  I like how those Chinese words for meanness are related to animals.  The origins for fierce also have some animal-like qualities.  It comes from the Latin ferus, “wild, untamed,” which comes from the base ghwer-, “wild, wild animal.”

I’m sure there are more animal descriptors in Chinese that I’m not familiar with.  There certainly are in English. Cougars are older women who go after younger men; cubs are those younger men.  A fox describes someone hot of either sex; a silver fox is a gray-haired hottie, generally male (I’m looking at you, Anderson Cooper).  A dog is someone who is “morally reprehensible,” usually male, and we all know what a bitch is.  A bear is a big hairy gay dude, a stallion is a man that is, um, well-endowed, while a shrew is yet another term for a fierce lady who needs taming (although at first it referred to any evil or malignant person).  There are lots more, I can’t even name them all.

What are some of your favorites?


  1. Hey Angela! I read an article about Wendi Deng in the Daily Beast today. The author used Tiger in the headline as well. The article went into Deng’s background. Did you know that Murdoch is HER third marriage too? Sorry to add a bit of gossip to your blog, but the details are too good not to share. Here’s the link: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2011/07/19/wendi-deng-rupert-murdoch-s-chinese-born-wife-volleyball-player-all-around-tough-woman.html. Hope you and MB are well!

    • Hi Shannon! Are you kidding me, I love gossip! (I still read Gawker every day.) Yes, I had heard about Wendi Deng’s background before. There was an extensive article about the Murdoch empire and history in some magazine a couple of years ago, which I read with total fascination, and then there was that terrible Marie Claire piece about Asian women being the new trophy wives. I’m torn about the whole “tiger wife” moniker. It’s cool that an Asian woman is being portrayed as tough for once, and not submissive and/or a gold digger, but it always seems like it’s one or the other. What about us Asian women who are somewhere in between? :)