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

48 Comments Add your comment



Eventhough the culture and customs are greatly different, I have found that being married to a female Chinese citizen is not complicated as people would think. There is a give and take of 50% give and 50% take. Since we have moved back to the United States; although this is my wifes first time here, she has found that her pay is as much if not more than most Americans. Although I am retired, my wife makes a little less than my retirement pay. But we live very comfortably. Since I no longer work and I have a comfortable monthly income, I do alot of the housekeeping, shopping, and errands. This way when she comes home, she can rest, watch her chinese movies, or do her hobbies. Since I have taken over most of the household activities, pay the bills, and buy the groceries, This allows us to have our weekends together to travel, and do things together as a couple. I love each and evryone on my wifes side of the family. And I have no doupt they all love me as well. All I have to say is... Don't be fooled by hear say on mixed marriages. To love it, is to experience it.

Jun 14, 2011 11:40 Report Abuse



I also have a wonderful marriage with my gorgeous Chinese wife. It's only still early days, but her family has been very gracious and welcoming to our relationship. My in-laws are the nicest people you could ever meet. My own family back home are also very happy with our marriage and love her like she's one of their own. We are still in China but work together in the family business so both of us are breadwinners and contribute equally to the family and monetary issues. Even though we are not rich, we are comfortable. Anyway, it's not perfect but we are happy.

Oct 20, 2016 12:34 Report Abuse


Mr. Martel

Thanks for the great article.

Though I'm now single, in my previous relationship with a Chinese woman (which was a serious relationship with the possibility of marriage) a number of these issues came into play. My ex would sometimes complain about my not owning an apartment in China, and also mentioned how, if we had a kid, she would send it off to her in-laws in a remote village somewhere for a couple years, in spite of my strong wishes to the contrary.

Both of those things caused some annoyance, and though they weren't the cause of us breaking up, they didn't exactly contribute to the well-being of the relationship either.

Anyhow, they often say flexibility is key in an inter-cultural relationship, although I wonder if it isn't often more successful where one partner is willing to mostly adapt to the culture of the other, rather than trying to find a genuine 50-50 balance.

Jun 14, 2011 13:57 Report Abuse



I agree with you Mr. Martel. However, based on my experiences I have always found that it's usually us foreigners that are expected to do most of the 'adapting'.

Jun 15, 2011 01:17 Report Abuse


Mr. Martel

Probably, although I imagine it could just be a function of us being in China rather than the reverse. A Chinese married to an American and living in America would probably find the cultural balance more likely to err towards the American side than it would if they were living in China.

Jun 16, 2011 19:48 Report Abuse



The sight of a chinese woman with a horny White guy always makes me want to puke.

Jun 14, 2011 18:29 Report Abuse


Jesper's dad

Son, go to bed. Stop your hate monegring or no more inernet time for you.

You know damn well how horny your own Chinese mother was when she got me drunk and intentionally got pregnant. We could have opted for the abortion, but against my better judgement didn't.

Go to bed!

Jun 14, 2011 19:20 Report Abuse


Jesper's gay boyfriend

Don't be jealous my love...if you liked women you would also want a girlfriend.

Jun 14, 2011 19:58 Report Abuse


Jesper's gay boyfriend's secret lover

You told me you only have me :( HOW COULD YOU??!

Jun 16, 2011 20:49 Report Abuse


D Mark

Jealous much? It's not our fault you cannot attract a Chinese woman.

Jun 17, 2011 23:47 Report Abuse



It is not the white guys fault, blame the horny Chinese women. They are no saints either , there are tons of single white women in China , why are they getting no loving ?

Mar 26, 2012 02:35 Report Abuse



You are right about this. We met a number of young single foreigner women in China and none of them saw any kind of romantic intentions, interest, 'courting' or pursuit from any local men.
In my opinion, all of the five girls we met were perfectly attractive and reasonably good friendly personalities.
*duly note, it is not uncommon to see a caucasian Canadian woman dating a foreigner, married to an asian man or our college kids casually dating (not necessarily serious) different combinations.

Jun 15, 2012 09:09 Report Abuse



You lose all your girlfriends to the well-hung white boys huh ? Shame.

Perhaps if you got a life, and a spine, and some creativity, and learned some basic manners, and how to use the toilet properly ... and could cook something more than dreary ole eggtomato. But what are the chances.

Jun 15, 2012 17:02 Report Abuse


Jesper's dog

Jesper, who's those guys? How could you!?

Jun 15, 2012 19:05 Report Abuse



the heading of the article should be chinese vs western tradition ...

Jun 14, 2011 19:07 Report Abuse



Thanks for the great article. I think it really make sense to me as well, And my partner as well. It's good to have open communication to know what each party wants. Sometimes, it's hard especially with monetary or financial related issues like having an apartment or house before marriage. As sometimes it take both parties to contribute at the same time. Because you are marrying someone because you both love each other. And it shouldn't be just one way. Like if you can't purchase a house then we just had to break up. Sometimes both parties need to consider and prioritize what is more important? Monetary values or Love..

That is also a test of true love. That is what I often tell my other half. What is more important? Love or Money? I can't give my partner a million dollars or buy a big massive mansion or drive a BMW Z4 then we can stay within a relationship. I think it's being genuine and sincerity that's the most important. If someone truly love you even if you have no money they would still love you. Though you can be poor today but be more realistic if you work hard. Both of you can earn alot of money together. It's a matter of being more down to earth as well.

I am a foreigner so I valve genuine relationship more than anything. Though I maybe a breadwinner but seriously. When it comes to relationship. I prefer someone to be more genuine and truly love me for who I am..

Jun 14, 2011 20:00 Report Abuse


David Weiss

I am married to a Chinese woman for 10 months and live in China. I do not like to measure how much we do for each other. It is not a business when you are in love no matter what inmterculture relationship you have. It is quality. But if a man does not provide income for wife or the wife marries just for money marriage will end in due course. Love is not for the taking. Sacrifice a little to each other. If my wife was to busy to cook, then i will acook for her and visa versa. Even though our new chinese friends speak English fairly well, they tend to want to speak Chinese to each other for a long period and I haven't got a clue what they are talkingt about. This is normal manner with Chinese people, and I feel very much left out, and I believe it is rude no matter what country you come from. I look at things that we as Americans probably have poor manners from a Chinese perspective in some way. China has been cut off from the world for so long they are still very attached to Chinese traditional way of thinking and living. America is a melting pot where we are becoming more multicultural. My wife still doesn't accept the fact that no one talking to me at the dinner table for 15 minutes makes me feel socially akward. I suggested that she stop talking for a moment and tell me what the conversation is about, so I may comment and feel part of the group. This is all part of culture shock maybe that I never approve of.

Jun 16, 2011 15:24 Report Abuse


Ivan Grozny

Mein boychikl: I empathize with you, and share many of your feelings. Thank you for writing and sharing your thoughts, which many of us Westerners can share. My Chinese in-laws have been very wonderful and accepting of me, and they are as truly my family as my own family in America. They have made me very welcome into their family, and I could not ask for better people for in-laws. As for speaking Chinese for long periods in front of me, I encourage them to do so, without regret. Perhaps it will improve my Chinese.

Jun 16, 2011 16:00 Report Abuse



what about shabbat and high holidays.

Logically you may have the upper hand if you learn some chinese and not tell them...

Jun 16, 2012 17:42 Report Abuse



Truth is I am a gay Chinese man with a ravenous appetite (bottom? yes please!). I am jealous of other Chinese women taking all the white men from me.

NOT FAIR!! 555555555555555555555555

Jun 14, 2011 20:04 Report Abuse



Sorry, but even within the title, you lost my interest. Then I read the article and wanted my time back.

1) Only chinese people see the world as china vs. LaiWaiGuo.......... It's so small-minded and ridiculous.

2) What exactly does "foreigner" mean?? Foreign to china only? What if you're chinese but foreign to Canada? That makes you a foreigner as well, right? Or is it a special word only to be used for non-chinese? Not only is that by itself silly, it's also quite rude in many cultures.

3) Even when you specified "Western" cultures, you were still making extremely large assumptions. How many countries (plural, not singular) fall under the aegis of "Western"? How many cultures? (Try HUNDREDS) What are the specifications of being a "Western" country? Geography? Government? Language? Food? Race? Good luck on that...

4) Your article really can't serve as an example for most relationships because it just barely scratches the surface by using mostly stereotypes that don't apply to "Westerners" (seeing as how that definition doesn't even exist) nor does it apply to even half of chinese families.

All in all, I found this article to be a fairly superficial look at inter-racial marriages in china based on poor definitions and already know stereotypes. D-

Jun 14, 2011 23:20 Report Abuse



Inter-racial marriages in China ARE superficial, therefore the article was spot-on.

NB. Chinese, even when they are in Canada, America, Australia, Britain etc still refer to non-Chinese around them as 'lao wai'. So for them, the term 'foreign/foreigner' tends to refer to non-Chinese.

Jun 15, 2011 16:46 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