Feb 29, 2016 By Jessica A. Larson-Wang , eChinacities.com

Many foreigners come to China and fall in love – not just with the culture, the history, the scenery, but with local Chinese people who become their boyfriends, girlfriends, or, eventually, husbands and wives. However, jumping into a relationship with someone from a different culture can be a bit like stepping onto a minefield. Challenges abound, and no matter how much a couple in a multicultural relationship may like, or even love each other, sometimes the difficulties get the best of us. Here we look at four of the biggest challenges of multicultural couples in China. 

The Relationship Minefield: 4 Challenges for Multicultural Couples

1) Language
Aside from the obvious fact that maintaining a relationship with someone you can’t even speak to is difficult if not impossible, even couples who share a language will find that lack of a common mother tongue will add a layer of difficulty to their relationship. Even if your girlfriend speaks English or you speak perfect Chinese, at least one person in the relationship will always be at the disadvantage of having to use a language that is not his or her native language. At the beginning having a partner around who can help you improve your second language can be great – if your partner doesn’t speak English then you’re forced to speak Chinese and your Chinese is bound to improve, which is good, right? Of course it is, but at the same time, imagine living with your Chinese partner and spending every single day of your life conversing in Chinese. Imagine fumbling for the exact right phrasing, knowing you could express yourself in English, but Chinese just isn’t cutting it. Imagine fighting in your second language – who has the upper hand? And if you’re the one who gets to speak your first language while your Chinese partner struggles to express himself in English, put yourself in his shoes.

Living life in a second language can be mentally exhausting, and if you commit to a long term relationship with a Chinese person that will be the reality, day in and day out for either you or your partner. On a deeper level, whether you decide to reside in his country or your country, one of you will always be an outsider while the other gets to be at home, in his comfort zone. Try changing things up by visiting each other’s countries for extended periods so that everyone has a chance to be the “insider” every once in awhile.

2) Expectations
At some point or another most foreigners who step into the dating pool in China realize that dating often comes with strings attached, and that the relationship life cycle in China often moves much quicker here than it does back home. It is not at all unusual for foreign men and women to be surprised by their Chinese partner bringing up marriage a few short months into the relationship. While most Western couples generally would not bring up marriage before the one year mark, Chinese people, especially Chinese people of a certain age (say 25 and up) are generally fairly fixated on finding a husband or wife, and do not, in general (of course there are exceptions) date for fun. If you’re here as, say, a student, with no long term plans in China, it can be shocking to discover that the girl you’re dating fully expects you to marry her and bring her back with you, or that the guy you’ve been seeing would like you to drop out of school and move in with him. Even if you’re older and more established but just not looking for a spouse, your Chinese partner may have different ideas. The societal pressure to get married usually starts right after college and most young professional Chinese people, men and women, are not particularly interested in dating around just for fun once they’ve hit the magic age and will want to get down to the serious business of making a family.

3) Reference Points
Most of us do not realise how essential our cultural background is to who we are until we are living in another culture. When you are with someone who is from a different cultural background even watching a TV show can lead to questions. Your partner will likely not have heard of any of the bands you loved in high school and will not get your references to The Simpsons, to name just two examples. She will not be able to discuss your country’s politics with you, and, if you do discuss politics she might think your country’s leaders are evil (for entirely different reasons than you do). She will not always laugh at your jokes or understand what you’re talking about when you quote Snoop Dogg. You don’t really understand either why your Chinese boyfriend is so obsessed with war movies or why he claims to hate the Japanese when he’s never even met a Japanese person.

While these differences in background are part of what make multicultural relationships unique and wonderful, lacking shared cultural reference points can sometimes make you feel disconnected from your partner. You may feel lonely even though you’re in a relationship, and the thought may even cross your mind that life would just be so much easier if you could be with someone who really “gets” you. It is true that dating someone whose background is very different from your own can, at times, make you feel like you have nothing in common. It can be a good idea to develop some mutual interests and start building your own shared history – taking a trip to a third country where you both are fish out of water can be a good start.

4) Clashing Philosophies
There will be times when, due to your cultural differences, your partner’s ideas and your’s completely clash and you cannot find a common ground. Say your wife is pregnant with your first child and she declares to you that after the baby is born she’ll be sending it back to the village to be raised by her parents until you both are ready to look after it in oh, three years or so. To most foreigners the very idea is completely unheard of. “Who does that?!”, you might think. Well, many Chinese people do. Or, say you’re ill but you know you just need to drink a lot of water, rest for a few days, and maybe pop a few tylenol, but your Chinese boyfriend insists you need to go the hospital for an expensive and uncomfortable I.V. You agree the first few times because it is sweet that he cares, but every time you have a cold you end up with an IV and you’re starting to worry that you’re becoming immune to antibiotics anyhow. But this is the Chinese way.

There will be times when what you know to be true, due to upbringing and background, is totally at odds with your partner’s own personal truths. It is important not to fight over who is right and who is wrong, but instead to stick to your guns on issues that are important to you and compromise when at all possible. There are some issues that will truly challenge your relationship though so try to talk through possible deal-breakers before things get serious.

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Keywords: Challenges to dating China challenges multicultural couples China

117 Comments Add your comment


Linda Foto


Feb 26, 2011 11:02 Report Abuse



Sounds like a lot of stereotypical garbage to me!

Feb 26, 2011 17:18 Report Abuse



your garbage :)))))

Feb 26, 2011 18:32 Report Abuse



It may sound like stereotypes, but sometimes stereotypes are factual. I just had to give up an 8 year relationship because of the culture clash. Sometimes logic and pure physics defy Chinese traditional (superstition) and outdated practices. I refused IV's and watched as my boyfriend spent endless hours getting glucose and antibiodics for simple sniffles,. watching children with rotting teeth and messed up immune systems and my protestations fell on deaf ears. The continual refusal to accept modern medicine, modern concepts, current educational advances, all in lieu of 1000 year old traditions eventually became too much. Things that seem so trivial became so irritating, like a drop of water continually dripping on your forehead. I congratulate anyone that can continue such a relationship without one having to give up their own culture or being able to become immune to the other.

Feb 28, 2011 10:46 Report Abuse



You silly boy. Of course you should have all drunk hot water! The great saviour of all!!!

May 25, 2012 11:29 Report Abuse



I've been with a Chinese girl (now my wife) for a little under two years, and I can relate to most of the issues mentioned in this article. I have a couple suggestions of my own that might be helpful.

If you are the non-Chinese, I would suggest putting serious effort into learning Chinese. I feel like this has had a lot of benefit, both for our relationship, and for my own sanity. My wife has told me several times how happy she is that I am learning Chinese, as it shows her that I am not just expecting her to conform to me. I am currently in China visiting her family, and even my limited Chinese has been helpful. Many older people (such as her relatives) speak no English at all, so even your limited Chinese ("I really like this food," "It's nice to meet you," etc.) will seem impressive, and will endear you to them. It's also nice to not feel completely helpless. I used an audio learning program (Michel Thomas) and with 2-3 months of heavy studying I could express basic ideas, which is often enough to make it out of a store, or order food.

Second, use the lack of cultural commonalities as a positive. I quickly learned that watching almost any American comedy together was nearly impossible. You don't realize how many jokes are cultural until you hear them with someone from a completely different culture. At first this might seem difficult, since watching movies and TV is a common couples activity. However, we used this as a way to try new things together, and develop our own repoire. Rather than relying on culture to connect us, we developed our own connections.

Jun 06, 2012 20:13 Report Abuse



wow,sounds like my husband and I. we don't rely on Chinese or western culture to connect us as well,so,we just developed our own connections which's good for both of us. Good luck to you guys.

Apr 26, 2013 11:12 Report Abuse



Comedy is the last frontier in learning a language. My Chinese wife is at that frontier, but it's still very hard.

Apr 30, 2013 14:33 Report Abuse


Mike S.

This article is trash and the narrow mindedness of the author is astounding.

She writes as if the ONLY multicultural relationship that's possible in China is a Chinese-"Western" one.

Feb 26, 2011 17:42 Report Abuse



This is a site for the English speaking assumedly Western, and China.. It would seem that the generalities would fit any cultural or religious intermarriage or relationships. She is speaking to her own audience, if the shoe doesn't fit.......paraphrasing....

Feb 28, 2011 10:49 Report Abuse



Another stereotype - the narrow-minded laowai with only negtaive criticisms because his oil supply has run out

May 25, 2012 11:31 Report Abuse



Hi to everyone, well what this article say lots of it is realisticly true. I have live'd in China for 70 day, and my Girlfriend at the time.She was always mumbling!! about the culture difference, between me and her,and the reason why. This was happening , because her mother, was alwyse telling her, about this cultural differences, so all the time there was an argument . Havin eating and having shower , there was a difference... Cleaning the house in General, was the worst Problem . and the fact that she was more educated than me!!! even worst !!!! so this is the things, that make lots of probles~ marring someone of different culture.

Feb 26, 2011 20:02 Report Abuse



nick, Oh wow!....you had been in China for 70 days! ....
I can see why there was an education difference between you and your g/f. Your English grammar is ridiculous! You managed to make no less than 15 grammar, punctuation and spelling errors! Congratulations!
Your g/f probably left you, because of your lack of education!

Mar 04, 2011 17:11 Report Abuse



Nick is probably not a native speaker. I would like to direct your attention to your own grammar mistakes. If we need to change our own writing, then we cannot tell someone else to change their writing. May I?

“I can see why there was…”
This is better, “I can see why there is…”

The verb must agree with the subject.

“Your g/f probably left you, because of your lack of education!”
This is better, “Your girlfriend probably left you because of your lack of education!”

The comma is not necessary.

Native speakers make grammar mistakes too. Sometimes my Chinese friends correct me. If you are going to post a comment about someone’s grammar, then you should use proper English to do so.

Mar 04, 2011 19:08 Report Abuse



Chaching..not necessarily you need to be perfect in grammar to make a comment criticizing grammar. I dont agree with the attitude of ajada to use peyorative words, but in fact when i read it was not clear.

Apr 19, 2011 21:20 Report Abuse



Says the man criticising another's grammar whilst displaying a complete ... yeah. Go wash the kettle, pot.

May 25, 2012 11:33 Report Abuse



You are right, Aajada, this person's English is worse than most Chinese people's English.

May 25, 2012 17:06 Report Abuse


Johnny English

Oh great, the grammar nerds are in town. You all suck, especially if any of you are American because then you wouldn't have learnt how to spell properly either and therefore have even less right to criticise others.

May 26, 2012 07:18 Report Abuse


Mr. Grammar

Johnny, why don't you go ef yourself?? Ciao!

Jun 29, 2012 07:26 Report Abuse



@Aajada...What do you mean by "Nick" not been a native speaker? So native speakers are so perfect that they don't make mistakes...what a "wacko"

Jul 08, 2012 21:56 Report Abuse




Feb 29, 2016 10:48 Report Abuse



This article has some true issues in it and a warning to those chinese girls or boys who seek westerners. I have married a chinese lady myself and can confirm the cultural difference but I see that a positive rather than negative. I know more about chinese histiry than any normal chinese man. I have learnt a lot about chinese culture and can adjust myself to most of of it except fengshuei! If a man or women makes informed decision to marry with other national of any country then the he or she can build the bridge .

Feb 26, 2011 20:57 Report Abuse



i totally agree with the things above. But with so much differences, how can two person fall in love?????

May 27, 2012 05:22 Report Abuse



Hi guys! Everything mentioned by the writer of this article is true.I have been in China not for long time and I succeeded to find a beautiful chinese gf.During our start and until now she is always talking about our marriage and future plan but when she think about culture differences and her family she get confused! so Multicultural should be considerd well before intermarriage.....The point is if true love exist btn couples everyithing can be adapted and live happily it doesnt matter where they are comming from.

Feb 27, 2011 00:43 Report Abuse


David W

Wow, does anyone check their grammar on these posts before hitting "submit"?

May 25, 2012 17:10 Report Abuse