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Brides on Sale

Taiwanese Cross-Border Marriages in a Globalizing Asia


Todd Sandel

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.
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Chapter 3. What It Means to Be a “Foreign Spouse”: Gendered Understandings


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Gendered Understandings

From 1994 to 2012, of nearly 3 million registered marriages in Taiwan, more than half a million, or 16 percent, involved a spouse from either China or a foreign country (See Table 3). Taiwan’s foreign spouse population, however, is not exclusively female. Since 1998 when Taiwan’s Ministry of Interior began keeping detailed information on the national origin of both female and male foreign spouses, more than 50 thousand (2.4 percent) registered marriages involved a Taiwanese female and male spouse from either China or another foreign country (Ministry of Interior, 2014). Nearly half of these foreign-born men, approximately 20,000, came from more “advanced” countries such as Europe, North America, or Japan. Most possessed advanced education and/or technical skills. Yet while foreign-born women and men differ in many respects, they share in the activities that make it evident that they are “spouses,” “family members,” and if they have children, mothers or fathers. And because they are foreign—marked often by physical appearance (e.g., skin color, body type, language, accent, or some other quality), this presentation of the self may lead others to treat them as a “different” sort of person.

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