An ‘Overseas Daughter-in-Law’ in China

Here is the second installment of my international marriage posts. I began yesterday by describing my own personal experiences, along with some cultural tips I believe anyone considering marriage to a Chinese woman should consider.

Like I said, the vast majority of international marriages involve Chinese women, yet there is a sizeable number of couples where a lady from overseas has tied the knot with a Chongqing man, and this will play the central theme to my post today.

Over my 16 years in China and Korea, I have known many friends in the same boat as myself, but none of the inverse family background, a personal illustration of the imbalance that matches the myriad of statistics I hear occaisionally.

Technically, this remains the case, but I am now at least acquainted with Anne, from the USA. A squash buddy put us in contact earlier this year so that I could share my experiences with the Chinese green card. Though we have never met in person, she is the first ‘daughter-in-law’ of Chongqing I have come to know.

Media sources and locals often bestow the warm epithet ‘Foreign son-in-law’ to men like myself, expressed in Chinese as ‘Yang-nv-xu洋女婿.’ Inversely, Anne may enjoy the title of ‘Yang-xi-fu洋媳妇.’

Drafts of these marriage posts have long sat on my hard drive, held back as I ponder the right approach and tone for an issue that does touch upon cultural sensitivities, yet inspires great interest, as seen from the reaction to my personal story yesterday.

Cutting to the chase. I cold messaged Anne with a request to answer a few non invasive questions about her life in Chongqing, to which she kindly accepted without hesitation in her ever friendly and bubbly manner.

As I can only speak for myself, I will present her answers in the original question-answer format.

I wish to offer Anne my heartfelt gratitude for the time, effort and thought she has investeded into her answers. Especially so, considering she has never met me in person.

Our writing styles are slightly different, so I have kept her answers in their original form.

 

Would you mind introducing your personal background a little for us?

I am from a small town in the USA. I grew up and attended college in the northeast. I met my husband almost a decade ago, and we have just celebrated our sixth year wedding anniversary. I have been living in china for seven years, and have a four year old daughter and 1yr 8m old son.

 

Could you talk a little about how you met and came to live in Chongqing?

We both studied overseas in the South Pacific, and met through our university’s hiking club.

 

What impressed you about Chongqing when you arrived?

How huge it was, and how lively it is at night time.

 

Did you adapt quickly to life here? What difficulties did you experience?

When I moved here, I could not speak any Chinese, which meant I could not do many things for myself. We also moved in with my husbands parents initially. Living with your in-laws is always interesting no matter what culture or country you are from. When you can not easily communicate together because of language barriers, that’s even harder. But now we have our own place, and also my Chinese has improved greatly, so I am lucky to generally get on very well with my in-laws. Also, with improved language skills, I can do things for myself. From doctor’s appointments, to taking kids to the vaccine clinic, to grocery shopping, or classes at the gym.

In general, I think I adapted relatively fast. When I first moved here, I loved the vibrancy of the city center and staying out at night. Now with kids, I love the family orientation, and the mellow lifestyle in Yubei District.

What qualities do you think men in Chongqing possess that western women appreciate?

That’s hard to answer cuz guys are guys. Each guy is unique, and I wouldn’t say there is a key quality I have noticed in all CQ guys. One thing I think Chinese culture does place a large emphasis on is family connections. Cuz I come from a small town in the USA, being very family oriented is a characteristic I appreciate, and at least in the case of my husband, he possesses this.

Most international marriages in China are between Chinese women and foreign men. Is there a lively community of women in Chongqing with a similar marital background?

Yes. I have a friends’ group of over ten ladies in CQ who are married to Chinese guys. Most of us also have children. So we often plan playdates for the kids. There are also China wide Wechat groups made up of women like us.

Do you sense any difference in people’s attitudes towards marriage between Chinese men and foreign women, as opposed to the opposite case?

I haven’t noticed a big difference. But I do feel like us ladies are expected to adapt more and change to fit into our Chinese families, where the guys are more just accepted as they are and there are less expectations on them to adapt.

Do you speak Chinese well? Is it important for you to learn?

I speak chinese very well now. I didn’t when I moved here. When I was pregnant with my older child, my daughter, my Chinese was only okay. I felt pressure to improve my Chinese because I was responsible for keeping my child safe and well. If i couldn’t understand what ppl where saying to my child, that would not be very good, so I hired a teacher 1-1 and I worked hard. Now, daily Chinese and conversing with friends is easy for me, as is attending athletic classes or dentist/doctor appointments. I am still studying, increasing my vocab on more complicated topics, my grammar, and reading. While my Chinese is decently good, I still have tons to learn, and will probably always keep studying it.

Finally, what advice would you offer women considering a move to Chongqing under similar circumstances?

I met my husband overseas, and we moved back here because of his work. I didnt speak Chinese initially, but once I learned it, it opened so many doors for me. I learned from traditional study, going to gym/yoga classes, making friends etc. I suggest ladies make learning Chinese and becoming part of the community they live in a big priority. Lots of ppl will ask to be your friend so they can practice english, or ask you to teach their kid. It’s ok to say no, and dont feel.bad about saying no. You moved here to be with ur husband, not to teach English. You will easily find friends who are very genuine friends here. Do things you love like yoga etc, and find friends through these activities.

If you marry a chinese guy, typically they are very family oriented, and you need to understand that going in. They feel a great responsibility to care for and spend time with their parents. You will find your balance and your own dynamics, but do know you’re probably going to see your in-laws way more than if you had married a western guy. I do think living seperatly is a good idea, it doesnt matter if it’s in the USA or china, mother-in-law and daughter-in-law living together can cause frictions cuz each person has their own expectations, preferences, and habits. I find living very close but with our own homes was the perfect balance. In our case, we will travel as a big family once or twice a year and will visit together 1-2 times a week. This gives everbody their own space, but also lets us enjoy family time together.

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