Today’s guest post comes from Mr. Kuaizi, who writes wonderful comments in response to many of my posts (and sometimes he eve agrees with me). He writes a blog that covers a wide variety of topics, and that can be found here. I was very thankful that he agreed to share his story for the first time here for all of you.
After reading much of the commentary on foreigner/Chinese relationships related to Tom’s recent post on “I hate the Chinese ideas about marriage”, I feel compelled to offer some of my own insight on the subject matter.
I am American and my wife is Chinese. We first met in China more than 15 years ago when I was there on scholarship teaching English and studying Chinese and have been married for more than 12 years with an 11-year-old son. I can tell you that relationships between foreigners and Chinese in China are not easy – or at least they have not always been so.
When we started going out (and I use that term very loosely), we did so in secret. If the school had discovered that we were dating, they likely would have taken action against one or both of us. In the end, my extension to continue teaching for another semester was denied – in large part, I believe, because they had finally discovered our relationship. In the end, it was probably for the best because the pressure on us to maintain a relationship in such secrecy would have proven too much to continue successfully.
If we went anywhere outside of the school, it was incumbent upon us to ensure that we were accompanied by other teachers. This was as much to ensure the secrecy of our relationship as it was to protect her from any recriminations. At that time, there was nowhere near as many foreigners as there are today and all relationships were far more formalized. Indeed, seeing foreigners at all was often still something of a novelty. Seeing them in a relationship with Chinese was still not something that was looked fondly upon.
It is also worth pointing out that neither of us had family nearby. My wife is from northern China while I am from the US – we were teaching in southern China. At that time, I had not met her family and it would be another year after we separated before she told them of our relationship. When I asked her to marry me, it was with the condition that her family meet me and approve since I knew they would not agree otherwise (nor did I blame them). It was three years after we first met before I was able to return to China to meet her family and bring her back to the US. During those three years, we had communicated weekly by phone and letter (this was before the days of prolific internet usage) and I had the phone bills to prove it. Her family knew we were serious and finally assented to the marriage – unhappy though they were that she would be moving to the US as a result. When I finally did meet her parents and have the opportunity to show them I was serious and would be a good husband, they agreed to the marriage.
But not everyone was so agreeable. When we went out in her hometown together, I remember one day where she told me (after the fact) that she was almost near tears hearing others talk about her in a very negative fashion for being with a foreigner. I won’t repeat the comments but it was clear that it was considered unacceptable by some Chinese to be dating a foreigner. The clear implication was that she was of loose moral standards, probably a gold-digger and in it for the money.
When we returned two years later with our 1-year-old son, he was an object of fascination for many people who were less than subtle in wanting to see him. My most vivid memory is being at a hotel in Beijing before our return flight home. While my wife checked us in, my mother-in-law told me to wait in the car (so as not to attract undue attention) while she held our son outside to keep him calmed down. However, the sight of a mixed-race child was enough attention unto itself and others still persisted in wanting to see the child and knowing about the parents (who obviously were not both Chinese). In this case, it was more fascination than criticism but it still was telling in how Chinese viewed inter-cultural relationships (at least to me).
One final example was on our most recent trip to China several years ago. While shopping in the historical district of my wife’s hometown, I wanted to stop by a store that was selling silk Chinese tunics. When we walked in (my wife, myself and our son), the owner immediately went to my wife and asked if she was from the same city and then proceeded to suggest that they could charge the foreigner more if I wanted to buy something. He evidently thought that she was my translator though I’m not sure how he came to that conclusion (since his wife immediately saw the connection between us). Making it worse for him was that he was saying these things in front of me – thinking I was just another foreigner who didn’t speak Chinese. His wife finally got his attention and straightened him out – but too late for us to drive a better bargain for what we eventually purchased. The key point here was that, even though our son was with us, he automatically assumed that she was just my translator rather than my wife.
These are just some of my experiences on the negative side of how inter-cultural relationships are viewed in China. But I will add that my in-laws have been very good and accepting of our relationship so we have been very fortunate from that perspective. Certainly, with greater numbers of foreigners in China, the number of relationships will likely grow and society will (hopefully) become less judgmental. And, indeed, there have been changes, especially with the younger generation and in the cities. But there is still a little ways to go. (Thanks to Tom for letting me share this.)
If you have any questions for Mr. Kuazi, just leave them below and he will be happy to answer them.