Gone are the days when marrying your daughter to a “waiguo” (foreign) man was something to take pride in, something to make your neighbours green with envy. Whereas two or three decades ago, a waiguo son-in-law was both rare and carried with him the added prize of a ticket out of a sparsely resourced China, the mentality now has quite shifted.
Photo: Giuseppe Milo
We’re in the age of the only child. Many of the 80s and 90s generation in China’s urban sprawls are the sole bearers of the family torch, and there’s much pressure on them to keep the bloodline thriving. For the parents of these only daughters, marrying them off to a foreign man can present formidable hurdles.
Regardless of the rights or wrongs of these mind-sets, the reality is that the average Chinese parents live for their offspring. They want to keep their children close, many relying on their children to be their carers in old age. That’s all the more so when it’s the only child. Yet they have heard all about the “freedom-loving foreigners”, who like their space and abhor the idea of living with the in-laws. The real complication comes when the next generation is in the picture. It’s a standard scene we see out in the community – grandparents dropping off and picking the little ones up from school, fussing over them. On more occasions than one, Western male friends have moaned to me about their Chinese mother-in-law staying for long bouts and imposing on their parenting and lifestyle, offering unsolicited advice. For the other side, the social norm is shaken, and parents are held back from involvement in their children’s lives by the fear of treading on foreign toes.
And what about for parents of those daughters who plan to uproot their lives and move abroad? A friend recently immigrated to Canada with her Canadian husband. Her parents are well-to-do and contemplated following suit, though the idea of adapting to a whole new way of life is undoubtedly daunting. But they’re the lucky ones who have the option. For those countless parents who don’t have the financial means, they’re faced with the future of being left behind to grow old.
A note about me – my childhood was split between China and the UK, and while my lifestyle preferences are Western, certain Chinese family and cultural values remain deeply rooted. Now my parents are rather open minded, and in fact overly encouraging of me flying far from the nest and leaving them to their peace and freedom. But even so, they still lament that my being with a “waiguo”man means they're missing out on all the pampering that they would typically expect to receive – the deferential treatment, the dinners and gifts, the on-call-anytime handyman. It’s all said with tongue in cheek, but it does reflect this chalk and cheese view of Chinese and Western values.
So with all this in mind, we daughters have our work cut out. Convincing parents in the first place that any man is deserving of their only daughter – the pearl of their palm – is often taxing enough. But throw into the mix a “waiguo”man with all his foreign ways is asking for double the trouble. Persuading the family he’s not poles apart from the rest of us takes real tenacity. And while there is entertainment value, it can be exasperating having to deal with and dispel the bewildering stereotypes. My family is always quick to get the hard liquor out when my man pops around, despite it being 10 in the morning. And my eighty-year-old grandmother recently inquired whether he eats anything besides burgers and white bread.
Then there’s the truth universally acknowledged, that only a gao fu shuai (tall rich handsome) is in want of a wife – what, no car no house? Well, you’d be better off with one of our Chinese boys.
And that there is this disconcerting “cultural protectionism” I have personally encountered. As the big cities see more and more inter-racial couples among its ranks, there are those who tut at this trend. I have had several uncomfortable cab journeys through Sanlitun, shrinking in my seat to the ranting of cabbies about how Chinese girls are turning their backs on decent Chinese boys for foreigners who own nothing and are on unimpressive salaries. And call it paranoia, but when out in public together, I have definitely sensed judgement being passed on me for being with a “waiguo”man.
Anyhow, leaving public opinion out on the streets where it deserves… Once we’ve passed the parent test, there’s the rest of the clan. The endless coaching on etiquette, the tiresome interpreting, the anxiety that someone will say something inappropriate – need I say more about the dreaded ordeal of family gatherings. Well, with Chinese New Year approaching, I’m sure I’m not the only daughter with my nerves on edge.
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Keywords: relationships China cross-cultural relationships foreign boyfriend china
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Very interesting and good article. I have been in China for 3 years now and for the past year and a half am together with a Chinese girl from the north (黑龙江). I am Latvian (yes, this is a country) and am 25 years old. She is 21. She is the first ever Chinese lady I wanted to start relationships with. That time I did not speak a word of Mandarin and she did not speak English very well, but what is more funny, we have always understood each other very well. As our relationships progressed we have told our parents about the fact we are together and already live together in one flat as well. First reaction of her parents was not positive, because they were aware of the fact that foreigners just "play" with girls and them dump them with the broken hearts or something else as well. I did not panic when she told me about the fact that did not really liked me being together with her. I just asked myself a question: Why? The answer is simple ladies and gentleman, because every single parent on earth (a normal parent) wants their kid to be 1) Happy 2) Healthy 3) and with a good partner . So, they have never met me, but they already ban our relationships. That's ok, their worries are reasonable, because we are of totally different cultures and they just do not know about me. Later when our relationships progressed they calmed down and understood, that this particular "xiao gui" is actually taking a good care of their daughter. I also need to point out that her parents are not rich and they are open minded down to earth, which is also unique for most parents in China. This January we have met for a first time and had a great time together eating, visiting parks, drinking "bai jiu" and going to KTV. Now they feel completely relaxed and actually stand on my side if we have an argument with my girlfriend. And they do not care if their daughter marries a foreigner or Chinese. All they care is that she is happy. So, coming back to an article. Even the first sentence that author mentioned is great: "Gone are the days when marrying your daughter to a “waiguo” (foreign) man was something to take pride in, something to make your neighbours green with envy. " You see, in my opinion even having this "pride" for your child marrying a waiguo ren is totally wrong! Yes, this is unique in the eyes of "tianxia" people, but it is a 21st century. Look at America and Europe. It is a mix of nationalities! I have family members from Poland, Israel, Russia, Latvia, Ukraine, Belarus and Romania. Cocktail. And also, why need to be racist in the age when we can get education! And by education, i do not mean schools or universities. I have worked in 4 countries already (Russia, Switzerland, Ireland and now China), and am always amazed how different people are and how most of the time they are unaware of what is happening behind their "fence". And I am not judging older generation. They have been through 2 world wars and the life was totally different those days. But if you are below 45, please open up your mind. Basically, we are all different people with our own personality. Black, white, yellow or green. Who cares as long as your child is happy? Yes, finding a good match is hard. Not only in China, everywhere in the world! I can not disagree that there are issues between cross cultural relationships or marriages between Chinese and other nationalities, but if you are willing to compromise, it all will be just wonderful. Tianxia is a unique country. I have been living in villages and big cities. Saw different things and say only what I have experienced. Stereotypes can be broken. Just educate someone about the thing they do not know :)
Jan 18, 2015 19:51 Report Abuse
Why would any foreign guy, or girl for that matter, even *want* to marry a Chinese person? They (i.e. the more narrow-minded Chinese) love pointing out the faults of foreigners and why marrying one is a bad idea, but are themselves so selfish and dysfunctional. Just look at the way they treat each other, never mind non-Chinese. I've lived in China over 3 years and have learned and experienced enough by now to know that I'd only consider marrying a really unique and independent local girl who has a welcoming, open-minded family. Otherwise it's a no-no, no matter how pretty or charming she is.
Dec 19, 2014 21:59 Report Abuse
Guest 229.... I totally understand you....white people here are so arrogant; often thinking the only foriegners who date Asians. Indians Africans Hispanics Blacks and Brown dont exist to them...And the sad thing is that Chinese perpetuate it. I always feel like because Im black I am commiting a crime when I smile at an Asian woman here...because whites and Chinese make us feel that way(not all but many)
Dec 18, 2014 18:48 Report Abuse
And how do blacks in China behave towards those "arrogant" whites? When i worked in a college with a lot of foreign teachers (about 20 white and 5/6 African-American) the blacks formed their own little group who made snide racial comments about the whites (and Chinese, too) and were never criticised for it because the allegedly arrogant whites didn't want to be accused of racism. They also pooled money to buy a printer which was for "blacks only". But i'm sure *you've* learned by now that bitching about whites is fine, because it's the only acceptable form of racism left.
Dec 19, 2014 22:05 Report Abuse
"Whereas two or three decades ago, a waiguo son-in-law was both rare and carried with him the added prize of a ticket out of a sparsely resourced China, the mentality now has quite shifted." The backward mentality that pervades this country has not shifted. It's been here since the Cultural Revolution and will be here for generations to come. Foreigners will always be seen as a threat to their sacred "bloodline." I'd never want to be part of a family that does not accept you, or reluctantly accepts you. I deal with enough false pretenses in my professional life here. I draw the line at having to deal with it in my family life.
Dec 17, 2014 16:32 Report Abuse
I got lucky too....my Chinese family have disowned their daughter/sister since she married me and I couldn't possibly be happier. Nor my wife, thankfully. In fact, they were always arseholes and never gave her any time or respect anyway because they have a son. That is, unless they wanted money out of her.
Dec 21, 2014 20:50 Report Abuse
As long as us foreigners are portrayed by the Chinese as burger loving, alcoholic bums, it's no wonder that parents don't want their daughters to marry a western man. However, for the most part, this is complete nonsense. The main factor we are dealing with here is that in China, marriage is a business contract - nothing more. It is rarely based on love or happiness - hence why most married Chinese men I know cheat on their wives. How on earth can Chinese parents make assumptions about foreign partners when the majority of these people couldn't even locate our countries on a world map and have never even been abroad.
Dec 17, 2014 10:39 Report Abuse
I don't really "fault" any chinese girl for being with a "laowai", and by "laowai", I mean white guys. I resent rather the current Chinese or Asian culture (you often encounter the same type of "racism" in Korea as well) which designates all white guys in China with this exotic aura, and automatically assigns them a higher class than anyone not white in the curious minds of the Chinese girls. Now, I don't have a bone to pick with the author here particularly. she's experienced both the western and asian cultures enough to have made an informed choice, and if that choice is a "waiguo" man, then so be it... I just wish that I weren't treated like a second class citizen every time I even smile at a girl in a club, or I'm not always left out when a chinese girl decides to "broaden her horizon" (often by sleeping with a white guy), just because of the color of my skin... I'm a tiny, insecure person full of self pity. I'm just jealous, jealous of what simply being white affords someone to have in China, and knowing all too well that I will never be on a leveled playing field with the white guys when it comes to picking up Chinese girls in bars and clubs...
Dec 17, 2014 10:05 Report Abuse
To be fair though, not all Chinese girls like going out with white guys. While some of them will only go out with whites, there are many more who would never want to have a foreign boyfriend, because they are convinced the cultural gap is too big or something. I think you are making the mistake of assuming that the life of white people in China is all roses. Well, it isn't. In some situations white people really do get better treatment and more respect, but in other situations they can face prejudice, racial hostility and resentment for simply being foreign.
Dec 19, 2014 08:46 Report Abuse
I hear you man, but my problem is that I'm really attracted to the bar and club girls, and for one night stands only.. In this arena, white guys have the inherent advantage of..well..being white...I'm just bitter and tired of getting rejected because I don't look any different here.. if that makes any sense
Dec 19, 2014 16:25 Report Abuse
I'm the author of this article, and I completely agree with you about the skewed way in which it seems many, not all, Chinese people view the rest of the world: Chinese and "foreign" (ie Caucasians), for which the myriad of other races don't appear to qualify. The conversations I sometimes overhear on the streets from other Chinese really make me cringe and even angry. It's hopefully a viewpoint that will change gradually. Admittedly my article is also skewed as I can only really speak personally from my perspective of a Chinese girl dating a white foreigner. But the point I really wanted to make is how difficult any cross-cultural relationship can be, with all these misjudgments and stereotypical perceptions on both sides. We hear plenty of nightmare stories from foreign men dating Chinese girls, and it's just as big a headache often for the girl! As one comment pointed out, there are plenty of independent women who don't depend as much on their parents' approval, but for those who do, understanding why parents are reluctant to accept the relationship could at least help to persuade them to see beyond the superficial differences... Hopefully.
Dec 24, 2014 19:09 Report Abuse
.....You just have to accept the way the world is. If you come and live in europe youll be picking up loads of white girls!! I see it everyday, but i dont moan , I just accept it LOL White Girls Like Coloured Guys, Asian Women Like White Guys, ....and chinese guys: They got more money than all of us LOL For whatever reason thats the way god created the world ...accept it :)
Dec 29, 2014 04:08 Report Abuse
I liked the comment about the liquor at 10AM. Whenever I go back with my wife her father always breaks the Baijiu out at lunch. I have to scramble to get in a run and some work because by the afternoon I am fairly drunk. I was actually fairly naive the first time, believing that they were fairly accepting of our relationship.It was only later that I found out that it was somewhat the opposite. I believe that the only thing that made it easier was that my wife has a brother. ALL resources and attention from the family were, are, and forever will be, reserved for him. As long as I was a good guy and could take care of her I guess they could learn to be accepting.
Dec 17, 2014 09:50 Report Abuse
I can relate very well to what you write (married to a Chinese woman). "For those countless parents who don’t have the financial means, they’re faced with the future of being left behind to grow old." => That works both way, my own parents would certainly enjoy a visit every few weeks, rather than once every two years. I don't see an healthy relationship if one side get most of the attention. It's especially hard for my parents to see that we have access to poor healthcare, and breath polluted air.
Dec 17, 2014 09:49 Report Abuse