Foreigner Vs Chinese Tradition: Relationship Roles in a Chinese Family

Foreigner Vs Chinese Tradition: Relationship Roles in a Chinese Family
Oct 11, 2016 By

In China, family roles are still relatively traditional. While it is common for both men and women to work outside the home, when it comes to breadwinning, housework, and childrearing, China tends to fall in line with long standing gender roles. The man makes the money, the woman keeps house and tends the children. While multigenerational households add another dimension to the division of labou within the family, in general the man of the house is not expected to cook or clean, and a good wife is expected to at least be a competent housekeeper, be able to throw together a nice meal, and take care of the children. The male, in turn, is expected to be the provider, to supply his family with a home, with a car, with nice things. So what happens when foreigners, with perhaps different cultural expectations, and in some cases, unequal earning potential, enter the mix?

Money doesn’t make the world go round… Or does it?

For a foreign male marrying a Chinese woman, he may find that the pressure is on even before the wedding has taken place. Whereas overseas it is common for a young married couple to rent a home for a few years and then buy their first home together, in China the man is often expected to bring an apartment to the marriage, sometimes as a prerequisite before the woman (and her parents) will even begin to think about talking about a wedding. There is enormous pressure on a man to be financially solvent before getting married, and rising costs of living in many of the cities make starting a family a pipe dream for many couples. While most foreign men would agree that they need to be prepared to provide for a family when they decide to get married, most foreigners would baulk at the idea that a certain amount of capital is required before marriage can even be considered. Most Westerners do not like to view getting married as a financial transaction and prefer to see things in more equal terms, with both parties contributing in their own way. When foreign men are met with monetary expectations (or even demands) from the woman and her family it can be a turn off and can often stall or even derail completely any plans for a future together.

Foreigner Vs Chinese Tradition: Relationship Roles in a Chinese Family

Role reversal

On the flip side, when foreign women are in relationships with Chinese men it is often unrealistic for the man to be the breadwinner simply do to the uneven (and some would say unfair) disparity between salaries in China for foreigners and locals. Most foreigners can earn at least double, and sometimes much more, than what the average Chinese person can make. And while there are very well off Chinese men out there, and especially in the big cities high salaries are not uncommon, most foreign women do not pick their potential partners based on the size of their salary. While it is somewhat rare in the West for the woman of the family to be the breadwinner, it is not at all unheard of and stay-at-home dads are on the rise. In China, however, stay-at-home dads are almost nonexistent and a man who is not the provider for his family may face judgment from society even if his wife is perfectly content with being the main breadwinner. For many Chinese men the prospect of being with a woman who makes more money than he does may be unacceptable, and this can be a tough hurdle to get past for many women who are dating Chinese men. Even if the man is open minded and able to accept the reality that it makes more sense for his wife to be the main provider since she has higher earning potential, at some point, especially when it is time to start thinking about having children, the wife may feel frustrated at the way their options are limited as a couple.

Aside from the financial expectations, expectations regarding the division of household labour for a foreign/Chinese couple may cause certain conflicts. Foreign women are more likely to expect their husband to pitch in around the house, to clean, to cook, and to help with childcare. While some Chinese men do help with these things, not all will feel it is part of their obligation towards the household. Many feel that their job ends with bringing home the paycheck. Many Chinese men have jobs that often take them out of town on business or require them to do late nights at the office or to go to drinking parties with coworkers and clients. If a foreign woman (who is not the breadwinner) expects her husband to put home obligations above work obligations she might be disappointed because to many Chinese men their main obligation is to make sure that they do well at their job so that they can continue to provide for their family. While some Westerners might sacrifice work in order to spend more time with their family, Chinese men are good at “eating bitterness” and doing what has to be done for the physical well being of the family, sometimes neglecting the emotional.

The dreaded in-laws

It would seem that foreign men then would have fairly few home issues, since Chinese women generally have fewer expectations from men regarding household duties, but in fact some foreign men have expressed frustration because they feel shut out of their home life. Especially where children are involved, the Chinese wife and her parents will often take over all aspects of childraising and the foreign father will find that his opinions count for naught. The first months of new parenthood can be bewildering for a foreign dad who suddenly finds himself caught up in a deluge of old wives tales, scoldings, and the dictatorial presence of a mother in law who secretly (or not so secretly) thinks he’s a moron. When he has an opinion or experience of his own to share he might find that it is hard to make his voice heard. He’s told to butt out and to leave the baby to the women who know best how to care for him. In this sort of environment it is easy for foreign husbands to become distant and detached and sometimes even resentful that they are not “allowed” to be more involved in the raising of their own children.

So how can a couple avoid the clashing of expectations regarding the running of a household? Before jumping into marriage it is a good idea to have a frank talk with your partner and discuss how you were raised, what you’d like to do differently, and how you envision your future together. Discuss these concerns before they become issues and decide ahead of time how you’d like to handle the tougher problems, like who earns the money or how involved you want to be in raising your children. Make your own expectations known up front so that there are no surprises that will hurt your relationship and derail your happiness.

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Keywords: Chinese relationships the role of Chinese men and women inequality in China equality in China Chinese gender stereotypes


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i had a british bf who i really loved from all my heart ,till the day his ex (chinese girl )cames and she stole him from me <br>i loved China and Chinese people but this woman did break my heart <br>he is so old man ,has no money and could not have kids forever <br>but as i think she wants him cos she wants a ticket out from China <br>cos when she was his gf ,she slept with another man and left him saying i can't be with you English man <br>she cames and killes my heart just don't know why she wants him now <br>i'm sure and he is sure it is not cos of love <br>but he says he loves her and loves me at the same time

Oct 01, 2012 08:00 Report Abuse



A great new book for understanding all aspects of cultural differences between America and other countries including China -"What Foreigners Need To Know About America From A To Z: How to understand crazy American culture, people, government, business, language and more."

Aug 26, 2012 12:28 Report Abuse



I'm a Singaporean chinese woman dating a man from China. He's here on work permit and his salary is really low. In fact I'm earning more than twice as him. I do really like him(maybe love) bu I have this fear that he might just be using me. To be honest, the living standard in Singapore is much better than in China. That's why many China nationals are coming over to Singapore to earn their living. Some (mostly women,have not heard any stories about men yet) come over to Singapore to find a husband so that they may gain cictizenship. Now i really don't know if I should continue my relationship with him. My friends told me I could have better choices since I'm a degree holder and Singaporeans do speak and write good English. But I have to converse in maindarin with my china boyfriend and to add on to that Singapore mandarin is not as fluent as it's spoken in China. Well, the sex part is good and I enjoy being with him,yet smething inside me tells me to hold back. Should I listen to my intiuation?

Jul 09, 2012 19:07 Report Abuse



Foreigners vs Chinese? What an unintellectual generalization! How foreign are foreigners? Mongolians, Japanese, Vietnamese, Koreans, Cambodians, etc. are all foreign to the Chinese. And in Chinese there are so many ethnicities each of which does bear some difference with each other in terms of traditions.

Jun 24, 2012 05:40 Report Abuse



One may post no more than 10 comments per day.

Jun 17, 2012 22:46 Report Abuse


the china mayor

I read a lot of the above and here is what I have to say :
of course when you have a mixed marriage it will be more challenging then a marriage were the people have the same background or religion
( life is tough as it is so to mix a couple makes it harder )
Of course like all nations of the world there’s good and bad and in china , try to do your due diligence before getting involved
(unfortunately in china more than other country’s money has become god to most)
that being said You have to give and take for it to work
But for those who have been here for a long times know better that in china its always take as much as you can and give as little as possible

Jun 17, 2012 19:58 Report Abuse



You are making generalizations like many here. You have yet to see how some of the down and out westerners in China behave before you venture to draw any conclusions..

Jun 24, 2012 05:46 Report Abuse



Far too many Chinese raised with the belief China is 'The Culture'. Literally it is the center of the world (middle kingdom) which is surrounded by 'foreigners'.
Many of which don't even know how to do things (be Chinese).
Even if (for example) the wife marries a 'foreigner' and moves to his home country it will be them living in a 'foreigner country' that is 'full of foreigners' and she will become frustrated when her husband fails to keep up with 'the way things are done' (Chinese way) and how he still has his foreigner habits. (not yet corrected).
When something is wrong (meaning, not how Chinese do it) she may prove its the problem because 'Everyone in China knows this hahaa'.
Magnify all of this if the couple moves to China. As the article mentions - you may 'lose your children'. You have no say in this as this is 'how its done' (meaning its how Chinese do it).
Do not expect to be respected for your differences with the Chinese in-laws. It's not that you are from a 'different culture'. Instead they might laugh at how 'backward' and really how stupid you are. You don't even know how to use a toilet hole and are so fussy about food and probably cannot even speak properly hahahhah! Stupid!
Again, expect to be a 'foreigner' in your own country which is full of 'foreigners' and you are the 'foreign spouse' who must learn to do things properly (Chinese).
And fair warning: While it has becoming increasingly common (not enjoyed) for westerners to have (for example) a husband 'laid off' from his job while a wife might work - DO NOT expect anything but to be horribly shamed, humiliated, have your wife infuriated with disrespect towards you and if you thought you married for love - you better quickly realize she WILL divorce you. After all, you have offended her culture. Even though she is actually the foreigners living in your culture.
Fair warning all.

Jun 15, 2012 09:28 Report Abuse



What this article fails to mention is the fact that most Chinese women who marry foreigners are over 30 years old. Because they are over 30, they are rejected by Chinese men (whose decisions are usually completely controlled by their mothers) because the women are seen as too old and therefor unsuitable for marriage. Foreign men are contributing to the well being of so many Chinese women who otherwise might end up leading a life of loneliness and insecurity.

Jun 25, 2011 21:18 Report Abuse



Well, they STILL shoud not marry foregner men! Have more pride! Shame on them!

Jul 03, 2011 23:15 Report Abuse



You REALLY need to take a prozac.....

Jul 18, 2011 10:40 Report Abuse



@ Angry

Shame on them?
For marrying a man who A) respects them and B) can satisfy them in bed?
Oh, the shame!

The only reason dating a foreigner is stigmatised in China is because Chinese men know they can't measure up.

Jun 16, 2012 01:59 Report Abuse



i am chines girl, i want marry a forign man because he can provide more money for me. actually i want him love me too, let me feel his love and i can loo k after him also but what is more important let me have money and he provide those important things for me. thats a chinese opinion for marriage, love is most important but money is more improtant

Jun 17, 2011 20:28 Report Abuse



I cosider I am the lucky one compare to most of the others, I am a chinese married a biritish man in UK many years ago and still happily married, my husband isn't rich and I have most of the lauxry goods provided by my family not my husband. In all fareness the reason for chinese woman looking for money and apartment dream to marry a western and getting out of the perverty is because in china there is no such thing call social security (unlike UK) if he or she lost job will still have a place to live or food to feed the kid or themself. The basic living rights will gone as soon as the unemployed started in china, so it automatic force chinese woman who came from poorer family to seek the insurance for future life, but it has to based on the basic of love and understanding in relationship or marrige, over the limit isn't good to both side, when deal with the relationship I suggest male need to have an open mind when got into a relationship with chinese woman, rash or to sesative isn't gonna help,if the western wanted to live in china they have to try to understand the cultural things that rules the people's mind in china.

Jun 17, 2011 07:10 Report Abuse



Hahaha!!! "...getting out of the perverty"

I think that's what a lot of the middle-aged white guys could do with in Asia!

Jun 17, 2011 22:55 Report Abuse



hey mr. joe, what is love when you don't have money? for me what matters in marriage is the understanding ,honesty and sincerity in holding your family irrespective of how much you are spending on your loved pays a huge deal on that as far as chinese woman are concern.

Jun 17, 2011 06:12 Report Abuse



I am from Zimbabwe,i am marryed to a chines beutifull woman.our love is unconditional,yes i can't provide all the things she needs i got nothing but love for her,this makes me try hard to give her what she needs,but all she needs is love,no BMW,No Apartment of our own ,but making a woman feel like a lady is enough,hey Love is the answer,,,

Jun 17, 2011 02:45 Report Abuse



for me i think 90% of chinese woman want your money but not love.for them love is money.without money they will seperate from most marriages here in china, if the man doesn't meet up with his expectation when it comes to cash, the woman will devorce him.

Jun 16, 2011 07:03 Report Abuse


David Weiss

I agree. Even though my wife says she doesn't marry for money, Chinese woman parallel a good marriage as fortunate the more money you make. When I got sick numerous times from adjusting to the different viruses in China she would often always say that if you stay healthy, then we will have more money, as if money was the main center of importance instead of my health.God of wealth is always a God that Chinese generally meditate on traditionally. But wealth should be understood as a principle such as wealth of love, a wealth of understanding. I respect Chinese ways and am not being jydgemental, but if Chinese people whoever you are believe you are superior to the rest of humanity what ar eyou doing with computers, t.v"s, washing machines. cell phones that you never let out of your hands? I believe it will create a big lie in your life and when you worship your culture as if some Icon of God, your antithesis will be to hate other countries and people . The human race is like a rainbow of various wonderful ethnic traditions. Embrace it. The rainbow is one with various. I love the way China government manages cost of food and regulates banks so they do not destroy the economy. The U.S. can learn from China. We can all refine our culture with an open mind to learn from each other when we are married interculturaly. With internet and jets, the world is a small place now. Thousands of Chinese woman want a foreign relationship. In 15 years it is a fact that the white race in U.S will become a minority. There are interacial marriages growing all the time.

Jun 16, 2011 16:06 Report Abuse



thank you so much for simplifying one billion people. I am going to marry a Chinese women and I do not have to buy an apartment. Her parents will not be living with us. And I'm pretty sure they will trust me to know what's good for my child. She knows I'm intelligent: I speak Chinese and graduated from a top-notch American Uniiversity.
Anyway, I think you wrote this with the intent of scaring off foreign men from dating Chinese women. Why would you want to do that?
For those who have found women who fall under this stereotype, try commuunicating with her and her parents. If buying an apartment is not possible financially, tell them. If they say borrow money from your parents, tell them this conflicts with your culture. I told my girlfriend borrowing tens of thousands of dollars from my parents is unfair to them and this is typical thought of an American man. She said she knows cultures are different, and never expected me to purchase an apartment. If your mom-in-law doesn't let you hava a say in how to raise the child, talk with her. After all, you gave her a grand-child. I think she will respect what you have to say.

Jun 16, 2011 01:29 Report Abuse



Great writeup. I just hope everything isn't completely true here since I am an American getting involved with a Chinese woman.

Jun 15, 2011 03:09 Report Abuse



Elijah, Briefly to say..The person who write this article do had a point. I don't think he/she is bias or showing discrimination against anybody. Just based on most chinese cultures and traditional. From the way relationship tends to be it's quite true from what they write as well. I think foreigners to them could mean it's not just lao wai..But people from outside china are considered foreigners. For me, I am not European or American, but I am still considered a foreigner as well. And I believe the person who wrote this article is just out of their own interest and had no thoughts of offending anybody. And from the way I see it, they are just trying to share their views and opinions. From westernize countries perspective, I think given the rights they should also had freedom of speech to voice out their opinion.

Jun 15, 2011 01:34 Report Abuse


David Weiss

married to a Chinese woman, and I am from America. I had lived in India , and had lived with different races of people for more then half my life. . Saying I am an American is superficial and one of the numerous labels or stereotypes that separates us as one human race in essence if we allow it. There is something good about every culture and race on the earth. I met with a Chinese friend of my wife and her husband who is fro U.K. She said we are all just men and woman. She had broken the cultural ot socio narcisistic barriers that creates prejudice and disunity in the world. When it comes to truth I am a foreigneras an American as soon as I step into another persons home even while I lived in the U.S. It's not my home, and thereshould always be a overall respect when I enter another home or country. China is my new home, and universally I belieive I should be treated as a guest as well as I should not try to impose my expectations upon Chinese people. Many of their beliefs are old traditonal superstitions that have no basis of scientic fact. We have to respect that. I did not come to China to make everyone think and do things my way. Who made me God??

Jun 16, 2011 15:43 Report Abuse



Haha, Angry "and possessive" ....Nice!

Oct 19, 2011 00:41 Report Abuse



@ Angry

Go suck a lolly. Fool. And while you're in the corner, perhaps consider why it is that it's your women looking for a way out.

Jun 15, 2012 17:07 Report Abuse