Inter-racial relationships are challenging in general but even more complicated in China as the cultures being different is the understatement of a lifetime. In any functional relationship there seems to be a balance between understanding and holding on to one’s traditional values. That holds true no matter whether we’re talking about raising kids, where to live or which religion to practice.
In my limited experience, I think that even if two people are from the exact same place it’s still possible for the relationship not to work. So I write this post with the understanding that no two people can “work out” simply because they are from the same culture/background.
But in China this is complicated further by cultural norms. I have multiple friends who’ve married Chinese women and regardless of where these women are from, they’re exceptional people and the relationship works. I attribute this mostly to the fact that both are willing to do an amazing amount of compromising to stay together. Many start, but few finish…. So what’s the compromise?
Well in my culture (American), two people normally join forces out of choice and not necessity so deciding to get married can happen for a variety of reasons. And if the couple decides not to get married but simply to “shack” as my mom would say, that’s up to them. But in China, there is a huge amount of cultural pressure to buy a house first, then get married and finally have a kid. In that order.
Now to the average American, I’m thinking okay cool that sounds pretty logical. But we also account for the variation of what if the guy is a good guy and in the process of saving enough money to buy the house, maybe he’s still good enough to be a solid groom. But I just had an interesting conversation with a 26-year-old man from Guangzhou (southern China) who said in a very matter of fact way, if he doesn’t have a house, he doesn’t have enough to get married! Wow, that blew my mind. I mean on the surface level we can all understand the need to have the security of a house before getting married but a mandatory obligation? That coupled with the housing policy in China that the initial down payment is between 30-50% of the purchase price puts buying a house out of the realm of possibility for many average earners. Unless their family has enough cash saved to pay for the house, it might take them 50 years to save enough for the purchase!
So as a foreigner, dating and maintaining a relationship is made even more complicated by the expectations from both sides. Her family EXPECTS me to buy a house first. My family EXPECTS to have someone they can take to church and carry on the family legacy. Difficult.
In addition to these expectations, relationships are complicated further by two things. I’ll tell a story to illustrate the points.
I have a good Chinese female friend who’ll remain nameless. She’s about 37 years old and a little over 4 years ago had a child with a Canadian man. Now this would seem normal as she is intelligent, has traveled abroad many times, speaks very good English, works for an international company and is physically attractive. So in her case, she’s said many times that even though her family wasn’t happy with her relationship with a foreigner, they also were not surprised. But after the child was born the Canadian decided to exercise his freedom and not settle down. This completely destroyed her and she’s still dealing with the emotional backlash associated with the relationship not working out. In addition to that, for no other reason that the fact that he child looks more Canadian than Chinese, she’s pretty much ostracized by other potential Chinese mates and there is definitely an undertone of negativity from her family. Kind of like an “I told you so…”.
I can only speak from the perspective of a man, but the two main problems I see facing inter-racial relationships in 2012 (specifically for Chinese women and foreign men) are exacerbated by the past 15-20 years of swift economic growth & wealth creation in China.
Issue #1: Why date a foreigner with the possibility of him exercising his “freedom” down the road and you being ostracized from your family, friends and other possible mates when you could date a Chinese man with potential to earn the same amount of money if he hasn’t already?
Issue #2: In general, the foreign men who’ve come to China in the past few decades didn’t follow the cultural norms of buying the house & getting married and as a result have created a sort of bad reputation for foreign men as being promiscuous, not culturally sensitive and willing to leave and go home at some point.
With those fears lingering, there’s definitely a risk associated with inter-racial relationships on both sides. What if he leaves? What if my family can’t accept her cultural differences?
As I said, it’s complicated but definitely not impossible. Two committed people, no matter where they are from can make it work but seems to me they have to be very realistic from the beginning and willing to have open and honest dialogue about where they are respectively in their lives and what they are and aren’t willing to accept from each other.
But with the world becoming smaller and more and more people deciding to live wherever they want, this mixture of people is inevitable. In fact, I thoroughly believe in the next generation living in another country and/or marrying someone of a different ethnicity or racial background will be even less of an issue than it is now. So guess we just gotta learn how to make it work! C’est la vie…