I have a double header of international marriage in Chongqing for you. The first today is from my own perspective, the experiences of an Englishman married to a Chongqing lady, which should generalise well enough for males from western countries.
Though international marriages in Chongqing involve foreign men and Chinese women, as is the case with virtually all my expatriate friends here, the inverse situation does indeed exist, and is slowly picking up in numbers.
Earlier this year, news of my Chinese green card spread through the grapevine to the ears of an American lady called Anna, who married a Chongqing man, has lived in Chongqing for over six years, and subsequently applied for a green card herself.
I hope readers while appreciate the balance of this two way double header, as well as learn from our experiences in overcoming cultural and linguistic barriers to live together harmoniously.
My reason for coming to Chongqing was that I had recently graduated in French from the University of Leicester, was still young and free, so when chance brought the unique opportunity to work in China my way, I grabbed it open arms.
Early 2003, during an interview at the British Council headquarters in Trafalgar Square, the fact my home city is twinned with Chongqing, coupled with my avid taste for spicy food, paved the way to a Chinese school in Shapingba District, where I subsequently lived for over three years.
Overall, I settled in Chongqing very well, thanks to the friendly support of teachers and students alike.
Keen to learn Mandarin as quickly as possible, the early gains I made through Dashan’s Communicating in Chinese, pirated karaoke VCDs, and Crazy English Reader soon allowed me to converse half decently with locals outside the school environment.
Even before I set foot in China, I had learnt the gene pools of Sichuan and Chongqing produced the most physically attractive people in China, enhanced only further by the humid, low UV climate and wide consumption of chilies.
Back in those days, there were relatively few mainlanders studying in England, and I had little basis to judge the veracity of this claim. However, I can now vouch with much authority that despite the subjective nature of the matter, I do believe Sichuan and Chongqing come out top, with many other regions not far behind.
In that first year, a few senior teachers suggested possible matches with me. My mentor teacher even covertly introduced a young relative from Chengdu during my first National Day holiday, on a trip we all made together to Hailuogou Glacier Park in the mountains of Western Sichuan.
She was indeed very nice, but my stubborn determination to immerse in Chinese language from a more traditional family background let me in another direction.
Fittingly, I eventually met ‘Lucky’ by chance over a hotpot meal with a Scottish friend, who also came to Chongqing with the British Council that year. The Taiwanese owner, wishing to show off his loose acquaintance with us, pulled a chair over and sat her down with us.
Within a year and a half, it was a done deal (Chinese marriage booklets).
Overcoming the Barriers
In this part, I’m going to explain cultural points you need to understand when considering relationships in Chongqing.
Experiences can and do vary greatly, so the following are based purely on my own subjective opinion, rights and wrongs aside, from the perspective of a western caucasion male.
Aiming to keep this concise, I will bring you the most important factors in bullet point style.
Visiting the family home – I start here because foreigners generally do not appreciate the gravity such a visit entails. While it’s not a big deal in the west, you need to know that staying with the family is looked upon as a marriage interview. Amongst the hospitality, you can expect a rather direct grilling on your background and intentions.
This is not the same as a matchmaking date arranged by parents, who will choose a neutral venue to discuss prospects as a one off meeting. In this case, the couple or families can turn down the offer without any ill-feeling or loss of face.
The golden rule of thumb is that unless you envisage marrying the lady in question, you should politely refuse her invitation.
Traditional or progressive – Chinese society is extremely complex, and which portion best suits you personally depends on your character and expectations.
Put very simply, families native to the major cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chongqing will be more progressive, in the sense they will be more open minded, may speak English quite well, and the higher social status should mean you find them more cultured than the average.
I strongly advise that westerners who struggle with the Chinese language, food and culture, but wish to marry into China go this route.
A ‘traditional’ woman comes from a family with a practically non-existent concept of foreign culture, speaks little to no English, perhaps standard Mandarin even being a major issue, and will be more narrow minded, perhaps even hostile, to alternative mindsets.
Normally, their home town is in the
This is the hardcore route for those who want to get up close and personal with the local culture, and wishing to learn Chinese to the greatest extent.
Despite it being potentially more challenging and rewarding, the latter option is not for the faint hearted.
Country versus city – Although the English countryside is home to picturesque villages, sumptuous cottages, nestled amongst pristine rolling hills and fields, yet with all the amenities of modern life.
Forget that in China. Answering that you’re from the country is like saying you’re just a peasant. No matter what the truth is, just say you’re from a city whenever a prospective in-law delves into the question.
Jokes – While some western humour goes down well in China, there is one kind Chinese people generally hate in my experience, and that’s sarcasm! Unfortunately, that happens to be an art form in my home country, and I’ve put in enormous effort over the years to curtail this when speaking Chinese.
Also, any humour a little risque in nature tends to be scorned upon, as society is still relatively conservative, at least on the surface.
Matchmakers – In my early days in China, I was not open minded towards this social phenomenon. Looking back, however, I now regard this less as a bunch of nosy acquaintances pressuring a stranger onto you against your will, but rather a considered, obligation free method of judging how well a partner and family are suited to you.
When you are new to China, but keen on finding a potential match, you should perhaps be willing to consider a matchmaking date. Friends and colleagues you trust certainly won’t try to stitch you up, and there’s not really anything to lose.
The noisier, the merrier – I couldn’t even begin to recount the times foreigners have mistakenly equated speech volume with anger.
While behavioural patterns are shifting slowly with each generation, people in Sichuan, Chongqing and neighbouring regions still love talking loudly, especially in company of friends and family.
A vital piece of advice is to reprogram your thoughts and reactions. Whenever you feel you’re the innocent target of vented anger, just robotically mark my words and continue behaving as normal. You’ll find there wasn’t even an issue most the time.
Personal space – Along with the natural forces of attraction that exist between Asian women and western men, there’s also the fact how neither side ever truly understand the innermost workings of each other’s brains, due to a gulf in culture and mentality. While this can lead to conflict and misunderstanding, I love how bridging this gap still leaves you mental freedom, the ability to think and behave in ways the other half can’t fully comprehend.
Try to picture this abstract concept for me. Whilst a partner from the same country can normally see through your motivations and read between the lines of every word you speak, a foreign spouse will never understand you that well.
The benefits are that you have mental space for escape sometimes, recesses she can’t shed the light of day upon. Secondly, this perceptory no-man’s land continues as a source of mystery and wonder that I find helps maintain the attraction.
Generosity – In China, you want to come across as 大方(Da fang), or generous. This means you eagerly gift red envelopes to hosts at weddings, major birthdays, hospital bound relatives, and to children over New Years.
As you could imagine, these occasions can seriously eat into your wallet. However, you gain on the swings what you lose on the roundabouts. Over time, your generosity will get its reward when your turn next comes round.
Jealousy – There’s no way around it, this is something you must come to terms with. Full stop!
While it’s normal to meet other women under perfectly innocent circumstances in the west, Chinese women just never think this way.
For argument’s sake, when you find yourself in this situation, arrange for her or somebody else to tag along. Also, never add another woman’s number or Wechat contact in her presence.
‘Soft ears’ – Like the spicy chilies of Sichuan, the ladies here have a repuation for fiery temperaments, hence the term ‘Spice girls辣妹 (La-mei). Again, appearances are often very deceptive here, and you’ll probably mistake heated enthusiasm for overt aggression a few times.
The funny term ‘Soft ears’ in Chongqing dialect is 耙耳朵(Pa-er-duo), and refers to men who submissively appease their partner’s temperament and personality. It’s similar to ‘Under the thumb’ in English, but it’s used more jokingly in Chongqing than an actual serious imbalance of power in relationships.
A Quick Final Word
I’ve been working on this post all day, so I’m going to put this out there first, and hopefully refine over time.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this post, and perhaps find it of use to yourself.
Stay tuned for the story of an American lady who married a Chongqing man, and settled here over six years ago. I’m hoping it’ll provide a fascinating contrast to my experience.
Finally, please take the time to share my post!!!!!!!!!!!!!