Brides on Sale

Taiwanese Cross-Border Marriages in a Globalizing Asia

by Todd Sandel (Author)
©2015 Monographs XII, 189 Pages


Beginning in the 1990s large numbers of women from Mainland China and Southeast Asia married men in Taiwan. They now number over 400,000, warranting some to call them «Taiwan’s Fifth Ethnic Group». This book argues that the rise of these marriages is a gendered and relational phenomenon, linked to the forces of globalization. Traditional ideas of marriage, such as the belief that a woman «marries out» of her natal family to be dependent upon her husband and his family, and the idea that a man should «marry down» to a woman of a lesser social and economic status, have not kept pace with changes in women’s educational and career opportunities. How these relationships are formed, how they impact gendered understandings of women and men, how families are constituted and relationships developed, and how they affect the children of these families and their education, are the issues explored in this book. It breaks new ground in our understanding of transnational and cross-border marriages by looking at the long-term effects of such marriages on communities, families, and individuals.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • A Note on Translations
  • Introduction
  • Folk Theoretical Understandings
  • Cultural Ways of Speaking about Marriage
  • Gender and Control in Chinese Contexts
  • Research Methods
  • Negotiating Access
  • Overview of the Book
  • References
  • Chapter 1. The “Advertized” Foreign Bride: A Semiotic and Discourse Analysis
  • Terms of Reference and Address in Taiwan
  • Foreign Bride Advertisements
  • New Immigrant Women and Mothers
  • Contested Understandings of the “Foreign Bride”
  • One Taiwanese man
  • A woman’s story in Yunlin County
  • A village of Vietnamese women
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter 2. Historical and Contemporary Marriage Arrangements
  • Girls Marrying Their Brothers: Marriage Patterns of Taiwan’s Past
  • New Marriage Patterns: Cross-Border Marriages of Present-Day Taiwan
  • Cross-Border Marriages Examined Up-close
  • Mr. Chiu: A Family Decision
  • Ms. Xu: Do You Want to Know the Real Story?
  • Ms. Lin: It Would Be Better if I Married to Here
  • Conclusion
  • Note
  • References
  • Chapter 3. What It Means to Be a “Foreign Spouse”: Gendered Understandings
  • Ethnomethodology
  • Membership Categorization Analysis
  • Categorizing and Encountering the Foreign Spouse
  • A Son-in-Law of Taiwan
  • Taiwan’s Foreign Spouses, Women and Men
  • Paths to Marriage: Women’s and Men’s Stories
  • Ms. Chen from China
  • Three Cambodian women
  • Foreign-born men in Taiwan’s high-technology center
  • How men are perceived as foreign spouses
  • How women are perceived as foreign spouses
  • Money issues
  • Taiwanese citizenship
  • Men’s citizenship
  • Women’s citizenship
  • Children’s identity
  • Men’s children
  • Women’s children
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter 4. Educating the “Foreign Spouse” and Her Children
  • Research Sites and Participants: Five Elementary Schools and 30 Educators
  • Declining Birth and Marriage Rates
  • Challenges Faced by Foreign Spouse Families and Their Children
  • Profiles of Students and Family Members
  • Challenges of “Waipei” (Foreign-born) Mothers and Their Children
  • Challenges of Taiwanese-Waipei Families
  • Educators’ Efforts and Empowerment
  • Conclusion: Schools as Sites and Agents of Multiculturalism
  • References
  • Chapter 5. The End of Brokered Marriage?
  • Singkawang: A Chinese Indonesian City
  • A History of Violence and Poverty
  • Reasons Why Singkawang’s Youth Want to Leave
  • Types of Interview Participants
  • The First Wave of Singkawang-Taiwan Marriages, “Old Soldiers”: Late 1960s–1980s
  • The Second Wave of Singkawang-Taiwan Marriages, “Brokering”: Late 1980s to 2000s
  • Stories of Marriage with Taiwanese Men
  • Matchmakers’ Stories
  • Good Marriage Stories
  • Bad Marriage Stories
  • She Hit Him on the Head with a Bottle
  • The Fourth Daughter’s Marriage Was the Worst
  • Ah-Lei’s story
  • The End of Brokered Marriage?
  • Postscript: Return to Taiwan
  • References
  • Chapter 6. Conclusion: Critical Reflections on Cross-Border Marriage
  • Critical Intercultural Communication
  • Nation Does Not Equal Culture
  • From Culture to Ideology
  • Intercultural Communicative Competency
  • Lessons Learned and Proposed Solutions
  • Human Trafficking
  • References
  • Index
  • Index

| vii →


This book has been years in the making. I am indebted to many people who gave their time, support, assistance, and encouragement to me. Those who receive the greatest thanks are the many individuals who must remain anonymous. I am deeply indebted to them for sharing their experiences and stories with me, often meeting me in their homes and private, inner places.

I wish to thank acquisitions editor Mary Savigar at Peter Lang, who responded positively and enthusiastically to the initial book idea, and then helped facilitate the text through all stages of review. I also thank Tom Nakayama, series editor at Peter Lang, for providing helpful comments and feedback that strengthened the arguments and impact of this book.

For financial assistance I am grateful to the Fulbright Foundation for supporting me and my family in Taiwan for a year of research. The Executive Director, Dr. Wu Jing-jyi, created a warm and supportive environment for all of us Fulbrighters. Thanks especially go to fellow Fulbrighters Chris Reed and Charlie Chern for your companionship, insights, and the contacts that you provided. Jean Rose, a Fulbright teacher, also facilitated contacts with a community in northeastern Taiwan. I also thank National Chiao Tung University (NCTU) for hosting me in Taiwan, and the Chair of the Center for General Education, Tsai Hsiung-Shan, for his friendly support; NCTU also provided a grant that was used to hire student assistants who assisted with the project. ← vii | viii →Finally, financial support came from the University of Macau during the latter stages, allowing me to conduct research in Singkawang, Indonesia, and visit a Hakka community in Taiwan.

In Taiwan, where most of the work for this project was done, I want to first of all thank Professor Chung-Hui Liang. She has been a constant and reliable source of support and friend for many years. I also thank the following students at National Chiao Tung University who worked with me from 2007–2008: Chang Ya-ching 張雅晴, Su Jyun-wei 蘇俊瑋, Liu Shu-yu 劉書瑜, Lin Chi-wen 林紀汶, Hou Patricia Hsiao-ying 侯曉穎, Kuo Liang-ting 郭亮廷, Alice Chen 陳柔諭, Diane Hsiung 熊得恩, and David Chang 張之偉. They helped with the sometimes tedious task of transcribing interviews, and provided insights and reflections that helped me better understand the data. I also want to thank Kuo Chung-Ru 郭忠儒, whom I was fortunate to meet in 2013, and provided access to another community in Taiwan. I also want to thank Peter Dodd for the help you provided in communities you know well.

Professor Hsieh Chih-ling 謝智玲 of Da-Yeh University 大葉大學, was another great help to me. She not only introduced me to many teachers and administrators, but also gave me car rides, and stimulating conversation. Other educators in Taiwan I wish to thank include Principal Liu Mei-hui 劉美惠, Principal Wang Sheng-tai 王昇泰, and Principal Kuo Hsiou-yu 郭秀玉. They care deeply about their students and the many “waipei” mothers who have made Taiwan their home.

Many family members and extended kin, to whom I have been blessed to know through marriage, gave meaningful assistance. Some I can only anonymously thank here. Those I can name include each of my three sisters-in-law, Hsu Chin-yu 許錦玉, Hsu Chin-li 許錦麗, and Hsu Li-chiau 許麗嬌, who gave invaluable assistance in finding participants, and provided many memorable meals and enjoyable times together; thanks also goes to my brother-in-law, Hsu His-chin 許錫欽, who helped me better understand the experiences of some Taiwanese men.

In Indonesia, a place that was unfamiliar to me until the latter stages of research, I was helped by a number of people. Aimee Dawis of the University of Jakarta, and Sunny Lie of St. Cloud State University, Minnesota, provided my initial contacts and entreé. They also read the chapter about Indonesia and gave helpful suggestions. I also wish to thank Pak Hartono, Janto Tjahjadin, and other members of Permasis Singkawang, Chinese Indonesians who met with me, and who are deeply concerned for the needs of the people of Singkawang. Thanks also must be given to Hasan Karman, ← viii | ix → former mayor of Singkawang for discussing the project with me and facilitating contacts. Iwan Ong Santosa, journalist for Kompas, and author of many books on Indonesia, was a wonderful guide in Jakarta, and a fantastic source of information. In Singkawang I wish to first thank Ulung Wijaya and Fredy Lie, for working with me as assistants. Their contacts, language skills, knowledge of the local community, and good-heartedness made the research there possible. I also wish to thank Elisawati and A-Thong for providing important contacts, and Christian Valentinus for leading me on a trip into remote parts of Singkawang that I will never forget.

At the University of Macau I was assisted by a team of students with a range of linguistic abilities and diverse cultural knowledge: Anastasia Lijadi, Fiona Wu, Hazel Wan, Julie Zhong, Florence Fok, Melissa Chen, Siau Thung, Jenny Zhi, and Agy Yan. I thank each for their meaningful and important assistance.

Last I wish to thank my immediate family. My mother, Rebecca, and my father Robert, not only encouraged me and repeatedly asked, “When will you finish your book?” they also read early drafts of the book. My oldest daughter, Sarah, read and critiqued early chapters, and is a wonderful daughter and Dajie in the family. Robbie and Pearl, shared in the experience of living in Taiwan with me, and gave me times to recreate and rest. Finally, none of this would have been possible without Donna, who not only pushes me to be a better father, scholar, and man, but is the love of my life.

During one field trip participants explained to me that they see me as a “bridge” between them in their community, and others in a world outside. They said this in the context of sharing with me their hurts and needs; that hoped that the publication of this book would let others know their stories, and serve as a lesson to others. Thus, I have written this book as a bridge between individuals, families, cultures, and worlds. May this book be a bridge that can inform, warn, and help those in need.

| xi →


Mandarin Chinese, Taiwanese (Hokkien), and Hakka are tonal languages with regional variants. These are represented using both Chinese characters and Romanization systems. Following standard practice, I have chosen to represent spoken Mandarin with Pinyin, absent tonal marks, and in most cases provide Chinese characters. Likewise, Taiwanese utterances are presented using the “Church Romanization” system, minus tonal marks that was developed in the nineteenth century by foreign missionaries and is currently used in publications by Taiwan’s Presbyterian Church. Hakka utterances, however, were transcribed using Chinese characters, that I have translated into English. Similarly, Indonesian dialogue has been translated into English, with assistance from Anastasia Lijadi who knows both languages well. Those interested in seeing dialogue in the original languages may contact me.

| 1 →


“I bought a bride!” exclaimed a middle-aged man when I met him the summer of 2004. Like many other men in rural Taiwan without a high paying job, advanced degree, or home in one of Taiwan’s cities, this man was approaching 40 years of age without a wife or child, requisite symbols of success and maturity in this Confucian-influenced society. With few opportunities for marriage in sight, he decided to pursue a path toward marriage taken by thousands of other men in Taiwan: He contacted a professional marriage broker, who for a fee arranged to have him fly to Vietnam where he could meet women interested in marriage. He and five other Taiwanese men, who previously did not know each other, boarded a plane for Vietnam, and there met women who had left their homes in Cambodia, waiting to be “chosen” by their future husband. My friend expressed interest in one woman he found attractive and intelligent, who had graduated from high school and attended university. She assented to his request, and they were married in a brief ceremony, as were the other four couples. Then after a short “honeymoon” with their brides, the Taiwanese men flew home, while the women remained in Cambodia for several more months until the marriage company arranged their spousal visas, which allowed them to fly to Taiwan and begin married life. ← 1 | 2 →


XII, 189
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (August)
cross-cultural marriage transnational marriage marriage
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2015. IX, 189 pp., num. ill.

Biographical notes

Todd Sandel (Author)

Todd L. Sandel (PhD, University of Illinois) is Associate Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Macau. A Fulbright Scholar, he is past Chair of the LSI Division of the National Communication Association, and President of the Association for Chinese Communication Studies.


Title: Brides on Sale
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