No Car, No House, No Problem? The Ups and Downs of Transnational Marriages in China

No Car, No House, No Problem? The Ups and Downs of Transnational Marriages in China
Jan 13, 2015 Translated by

Editor’s note: This translated article is another post in what appears to be a continuing trend of trying to quantify what makes marriages between Chinese people and foreigners work. The article focuses on Jiangsu where transnational marriages have increased dramatically in the past few years and draws on personal accounts from three couples.

How much money does an average man spend on his wife to get married? Most people in China believe that having a lavish wedding is a basic right. They also assume that a groom would have to spend even more money when marrying a foreign bride. However, this is not always the case. A French girl who recently married a Chinese man told him, “I do not want a house or a car; I just want you to love me.” They got married by simply registering at their district office and receiving their “red book” for marriage registration. For the French girl, this was enough.

Photo: Baidu

Yesterday, the Jiangsu office for foreign marriage registration released a 2014 report summarizing data related to foreign marriages in the area up until November 2013. The Jiangsu office has handled 1439 foreign marriage registrations and 207 divorces. Among these cases, 1140 were foreign men marrying native women from Jiangsu and 279 were local Jiangsu men marrying foreign women. The number of foreign women marrying men from Jiangsu is substantially higher than it was last year.

Emilie and Xiao Xie: No Car, No House? No Problem

While Chinese are often shy about approaching a potential date, foreigners are more direct when they fall in love.

Yesterday morning, we spoke to a recently married couple: a 26-year-old French woman and a man from Suzhou. The French woman’s name is Emilie and she is two years older than her Chinese partner Xiao Xie. It was Emilie, in fact, who decided to pursue her Chinese husband. “Last March, I had in internship in Suzhou at his office. I noticed him right away. He was so handsome. I actually secretly took a photo of him,” said Emilie. She said she was very excited that she had been able to pursue him and now marry him.

“She studied at Fudan over the summer. She speaks seven languages. She is an absolute genius,” said her husband Xiao Xie with a look of pride on his face.
“I thought he was so handsome. After the first time I saw him I would try to sneak over to look at him during work. I really wanted to talk to him,” Emilie turned and looked and her husband with a look of love on her face. At the time, Xiao Xie did not feel the same way about her. “At first I just thought that she was too unfamiliar, however once we starting chatting a bit I realized that I had very warm feelings towards this foreign girl.” However, he was still overwhelmed by Emilie’s directness.

“We went out to barbecue together after about four months of knowing each other. After we had dinner, she declared her feelings for me.” Here, they both laughed. Xiao Xie put his arm around his wife and kissed her. “Generally, it is usually the man who declares his feelings first, but I could not wait. When I graduated I would have gone back to France. But, I wanted to settle down with him. If I had been unsuccessful I probably would not have come back to China.”

Xiao Xie’s father said that he is “very satisfied” with his foreign daughter-in-law and that “communication is absolutely no problem.” When it comes to cultural differences Mr. Xie said: “They live together alone and we have dinner all together once a week. It is very good. Honestly, if he had married a Chinese girl it would have been the same: there are so few young people that want to live with their parents nowadays. So this French girl is a really solid match!”

Mr. Xie mainly thinks Emilie is “solid” because she was willing to marry Xiao Xie for love rather than money. “In France, young people are together even when there is no house and no car. But, we work together and work hard and we love each other,” said Emilie in a serious tone.

“When she married me, she did not want a car or a house. She only wanted a cat. And then later have children. When I heard this, I started to cry,” said Xiao Xie. Emilie had moved him and surprised him at the same time. “I think that with her, I will become a better person,” he said.

Ms. Miao and Mr. Lee: Korean mother-in-laws are not monsters!

Ms. Miao met Mr. Lee from Korea when she was working as a Chinese teacher. Mr. Lee was her student. Ms. Miao was originally from Wuxi and is a tall, thin and athletic woman.

“He was sent to China in 2012 on a work assignment and needed to learn Chinese. I worked part-time as his Chinese tutor. When I met with him, I realized that he was very educated and easy to talk to,” said Ms. Miao. Ms. Miao had studied Korean in undergrad, which helped her find translation work. It also helped her find a handsome international lover.

Mr. Lee was very attentive towards Ms. Miao and was very accepting of her. Sometimes, he would tease her while she was teaching him. “He would pretend to not understand Chinese words to annoy me, so I would have to teach him in Korean.”

When asked about challenges within transnational marriages, Ms. Miao admitted, “I was actually very worried before we got our marriage license because I heard that Korean mother-in-laws were particularly demanding. Last June, we went to South Korea and met his parents and stayed at his house for a while. His family was very welcoming and took care of me. After that, I decided to marry him.”

Xiao Lin and David: Transnational marriage too challenging

Marriage is normally very complicated. Transnational marriages are even more so. Every marriage faces small issues that often become tangled. Last year, 207 transnational couples filed for divorce. 71 percent of couples who filed for divorce did so because they had become “estranged.” Other reasons included “separation”, “family disputes”, “adultery”, “children’s education” and “lack of understanding before marriage.”

Xiao Lin is a girl from Nanjing with a fiery disposition. She and her American husband David often argued. “She always spoke to me in a commanding tone making me do this, do that. I now wonder why she never said thank you to me.” Xiao Lin saw his need for thanks as unnecessary. “When husbands and wives are too polite to each other, it is like they are strangers,” she said in her defense.

Xiao Lin also said that David found her favorite foods – duck head and chicken feet – unacceptable.

“By communicating with two divorcing parties, we have learned that the main reasons for divorce usually stem from differences in cultural traditions, values, habits etc. When two parties are not compatible with each other then their marriage is prone to conflict. They are not able to communicate well enough to solve these conflicts,” said a staff member from the foreign marriage registration center. Women who long for a foreign husband must be psychologically prepared for the challenges of a transnational marriage.

What kind of foreigner takes a Chinese spouse?

The Jiangsu Province Foreign Marriage Registration Center reported that as of November of last year, the office has provided a marriage license to 1439 couples. Foreigners from 66 different countries have married Jiangsu natives including those from Korea, Japan and the United States. Last year, for the first time, Jiangsu residents married foreigners from Tunisia, Burundi and Guyana. The three countries all had athletes who traveled to Nanjing to participate in last year’s Youth Olympic Games. The president of Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza, attended the opening ceremony of the games. “The closer the economic and cultural exchanges are between two countries, the higher the likelihood of transnational marriages between men and women of those countries.”

Last year, foreign spouses in transnational marriages were mainly 31 to 40 years old. 31 to 40 year olds made up 32 percent of foreigners who registered for a marriage certificate. Jiangsu women who married foreign men were mainly 20 to 30 years old. 46.3 percent of women were in this age range.

There are often age gaps in transnational marriages. The age gap is mainly up to 15 years. In the first half of the year, the largest age gap was 38 years. A Japanese man married a woman from Nantong who was 38 years his junior. In the second half of the year, the record was set by a man from the United States who married a woman from Suqian 53 years younger than him.

Currently, there are still many more “foreign husbands” than there are “foreign wives.” However, the number of “foreign wives” in Jiangsu is on the rise. In the first 11 months of last year, 279 foreign women married men from Jiangsu. This makes up 19.4 percent of the total number of foreign wives in the province. “It shows that as Jiangsu develops and living standards increase, more foreign women are willing to marry men from Jiangsu and settle down there.”

The foreign marriage registration center reported that 682 or 47.4 percent of “foreign husbands” have an undergraduate degree. 248 or 17.2 percent have their graduate degrees. Girls from Jiangsu who marry foreign husbands are quite educated as well. 794 of them or 55.2 percent have a college degree or higher. This shows that education is an important factor in creating a “perfect match” between a foreigner and a Chinese spouse. Education helps narrow cultural gaps on both sides.


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Keywords: marriage between Chinese and foreigners transnational marriages in China


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No Car, No House? No Problem, go ask Emilie if she has friends looking for guys.

Jan 21, 2015 19:25 Report Abuse



My husband is Chinese. I was patient with him and now we "own" one house are saving up for a vacation house overseas. It's good to be patient and not put too much emphasis on money. Encouraging your husband or wife and complimenting he or she when they do something right or have great ideas. That's what I did and he did better and better. Praise is important since their parents just speak badly to them.

Jan 15, 2015 09:46 Report Abuse



It's a good attitude.Garbo

Jan 22, 2015 14:41 Report Abuse



How odd

Jan 14, 2015 10:40 Report Abuse



I was talking about the article. It seems very racist to look for a partner of a specific race. What if you met a good looking rich guy who was kind, generous, handsome, intelligent. Basically a dream guy but he wasn't white? It is a strange backward way of thinking. The man would not be sure if you loved him or his skin. I am white btw.

Jan 14, 2015 18:02 Report Abuse



love is love doesn't matter the color of skin. the one who said oh i want a white man.... and i'm not interesting by other that's all B..S..t. You should find someone who will take care of you and you really love. Life is not like the movie.. Btw i'm also white....

Jan 15, 2015 09:56 Report Abuse



ZZZZZZZZ.....The speaking never gets too old to hear. No want to argue this with you on here now as I have my own way of thinking things.I will tell only if you want to be my friend.

Jan 22, 2015 10:43 Report Abuse



Hmmm.I do not want to argue this with you on here.Tired as I often hear ppl called me racist and now I do not care how everyone thinks of me.I know who I am and btw the man you think handsome might not be the man I think is handsome.All I can say hereis this. Do not want to argue,no engry.If you want to know my feeling,just be my friend then you will know a real me and may be you will change your judgement on me.zzzzzz I am a happy girl:)

Jan 22, 2015 10:46 Report Abuse



Me too, i don't want argue. and i didn't judge you. I just say some true happen...If you think you are nice you shouldn't think about argue. You know all over the world is same. After all you do and you choice what you want. I'm not God to say you are good or bad!!! :) PS: I'm pretty sure your are a happy girl.

Jan 25, 2015 19:14 Report Abuse



I can point you a good dozen blogs of Western women happily married to a Chinese man, living in China. None of them are "losers back home", by a long shot. You can read their blogs, you'll see they are not blind about life in China. Just a subset:

Jan 13, 2015 12:08 Report Abuse



ABC = American-born Chinese. I think. Anyway, this article is typical.

Jan 13, 2015 22:55 Report Abuse



American born Chinese

Jan 14, 2015 13:59 Report Abuse



Yeah, it's that kind of abbreviations no one ever uses except Chinese. American Born Chinese are American Born Americans kids, they might play the racial card because they know the effect it has on you, but the truth is they'd never switch back to a shitty Chinese passport for the world.

Jan 15, 2015 11:13 Report Abuse



Then some others just happen to live in China and end up with a Chinese man! It would be kind of weird to live in China for a few years and never date a Chinese man, right? BTW, these are only my personal observations, but in most of the foreign woman/Chinese man couples I know of the foreign woman can speak Chinese. And in most of the foreign man/Chinese woman couples that I know, the man cannot speak Chinese and they communicate in English.

Jan 15, 2015 21:53 Report Abuse



It wasn't for Darren Lehman. Uttering those words within earshot of those intended got him into all sorts of trouble. Still, all's well that ends well, as he's got a pretty good gig now. And btw, I think the Kiwis will do very well in the upcoming World Cup. They're in a purple patch right now.

Jan 16, 2015 10:48 Report Abuse



This story looks like so fake. I have never met any foreign girl who takes photos secretly. Also guy is ugly. I cant believe it is love at first sight. However , you can force yourself to believe in this nonsense story.

Jan 13, 2015 10:48 Report Abuse



I do have lots of Chinese girls and kids take pictures of me while giggling however

Jan 13, 2015 11:21 Report Abuse



The Chinese guy looks far less handsome for my standard.I'd say most white men look better than him,not really believe this girl feels so crazy about his looking.I have been told by western girls that most Chinese men are too short for them.

Jan 13, 2015 13:22 Report Abuse



But Damn,I have met lots of short white men showed me interest in Shanghai.I just found way to refuse them.Firguring how hard to get woman back to home.

Jan 13, 2015 13:32 Report Abuse



haha, I just moved to Shanghai. It is true lots of short foreigners. I am glad I am tall.

Jan 14, 2015 12:33 Report Abuse



Physical height

Jan 14, 2015 13:58 Report Abuse



Western guys don't put an emphasis on a girl's looks once past the first week of dates. A good looking girl is a reason for a hello but after this, it is time to decide whether to risk going further and end up in a serious relationship or not. You may have your judgement on whether a girl is beautiful or not. Also, many countries have Chinese there as normal citizens, including those born abroad. A good percentage of those people are from Canton or Fujian. The average Chinese knows that different areas of China have different styles of looks. It is not a big secret that most Chinese will praise the standard looks of Chinese from Dongbei, Beijing, Sichuan, and Shanghai. The perception of many foreigners who have not been in China long enough would be heavily influenced by who is available to be seen in their homelands, meaning beauty to them may not be in the same ideals you hold. I am not short, nor am I a runway model by height standards, but am athletic in build and play sports. My personal criteria of a beautiful Chinese girl would be how she treats me going forward from the first several dates. Does she contact me a lot when we aren't together? Does she miss me? Does she make the effort to want to know me more like I do her? In fact, I believe in guys should be gentlemen, meaning they must do more to satisfy their women. But however it is commonly known that in western lands that love is both ways. A man wants to be a bread winner simply because it makes him feel masculine. But if a woman is a good earner, this is ok too. The only thing a good western guy would ever care about is the safety and longevity of the relationship. Is she with him for materialism or immigration reasons? This kind of person isn't always easy to read but certain little things will go a long way in proving. Chinese women traditionally express their love in terms of the duty they are expected to do. However times are changing. A good girl will make the effort to understand her man and be patient when an awkward moment occurs. If he does something not to her standard, she will explain it and guide him as well. If there is a language barrier at first, well the love better be strong enough and at least one should be willing to bear more while the other learns to catch up. The one catching up should be at least willing to make the effort, or the relationship fails. In your posts, I have seen a lot of judgementalism which might be seen as a turnoff by some guys. You may be a not bad looking girl now but if you compare yourself with the mass of Chinese women, even the shengnv or leftovers, do you think you got what it takes to make your man truly happy? If one day you are not as good looking as today, do you have enough inside you that your man would still take care of you, even if he had to work ever so hard for you? If the answer is "yes", then you are a magnificent woman to know. If you only place your answer based on your looks, like you say about the men, well....... good luck. Just remember one thing, those foreigners who truly love their women and feel her love back, they will never have the need for KTVs or Saunas or ernais and xiao sans.

Jan 14, 2015 16:27 Report Abuse



@Strawberry66, you should take your dribble to a dating website.

Jan 14, 2015 17:35 Report Abuse



Because most guys on dating sites are only looking for sex.

Jan 15, 2015 15:40 Report Abuse



Well said @The-final-say

Jan 18, 2015 17:46 Report Abuse