In­ter­cul­tural cou­ples, for­eign en­trepreneurs share their Chi­nese sto­ries

Global Times – Metro Shanghai - - FRONT PAGE - By Huang Lan­lan

When asked to of­fer Sino-for­eign cou­ples tips to keep their mar­riage happy, Juli Min, a Korean mer­i­can writer and lec­turer who mar­ried a Chi­nese man, said on­stage that her per­sonal goal is to “get his par­ents on my side.” “My in-laws are su­per kind, very nice to me,” she smiled as the au­di­ence burst into laugh­ter. “When my hus­band and I get into ar­gu­ments that we can­not solve eas­ily, some­times I come to my in-laws and com­plain like, ‘why is your son like this?’ – usu­ally they proac­tively go to talk to him and help us deal with the sit­u­a­tions.” “But of course, peo­ple are in­di­vid­u­als and there are so many dif­fer­ences be­tween per­son­al­i­ties,” Min said, adding that she doesn’t think in­ter­na­tional mar­riage is nec­es­sar­ily an in­ter­cul­tural thing.

Min was at­tend­ing a shar­ing sem­i­nar hosted by the Global Times Shang­hai News­room on June 10, which in­vited a dozen “third-cul­ture” en­trepreneurs, over­seas stu­dents and for­eign spouses to share their ex­pe­ri­ences and ideas about busi­ness, ca­reer plan­ning, in­ter­cul­tural mar­riage and ex­pat life in China.

One of the sem­i­nar’s pan­els was themed around Sino-for­eign mar­riages and romantic re­la­tion­ships. In­ter­cul­tural cou­ples are grow­ing at a rapid pace in China.

Due to the cul­tural and life­style dif­fer­ences be­tween East and West, mixed cou­ples have to face more chal­lenges than usual in their mar­riage.

Many Chi­nese cou­ples tend to live with their par­ents, which most West­ern­ers find dif­fi­cult to get used to. Min re­called that she had also lived with her in-laws for a few months af­ter first ar­riv­ing in Shang­hai. “For­tu­nately they were very re­laxed and ac­cept­ing,” she said. “Al­though some of my friends joked that they tried to treat me nicely just be­cause I’m a for­eigner.”

From a Korean back­ground, Min is fa­mil­iar with East­ern fam­ily con­cepts. “In Korea there are a lot of so­cial rules about how to treat your in-laws, re­spect­ing and serv­ing them,” she added. “But ac­tu­ally I found that most Chi­nese in-laws don’t have these ex­pec­ta­tions. My in-laws are quite ca­sual, never forc­ing me to be a ‘per­fect’ daugh­ter-in-law.”

Ryan Thorpe, an Amer­i­can as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor who is en­gaged to a Chi­nese wo­man in Shang­hai, said that they will not live with their par­ents (in-laws), ei­ther. “My in-laws are ac­cept­ing peo­ple, but we can af­ford our own house and we de­cided [liv­ing apart] is a bet­ter op­tion.”

Un­mar­ried guests were also in­vited to share their opin­ions at the event. Rillera, Beth Lim, a 21-year-old Filip­ina study­ing in Shang­hai, said she does not want to live with par­ents or in-laws af­ter get­ting mar­ried. “They have their lives, and we [my fu­ture hus­band and I] have our own,” she said on­stage. “I don’t want us to bother each other too much.”

Chi­nese-Swede Yaou Wu said that, in Swe­den, the sit­u­a­tion of liv­ing with in-laws is more com­mon among East­ern im­mi­grants than true lo­cals. “Per­son­ally I would ac­cept it due to cer­tain rea­sons such as health or fi­nance,” he said. “But I pre­fer they live by them­selves, with my fu­ture wife and I of­ten vis­it­ing them.”

In fact, fewer mod­ern-day ur­ban Chi­nese cou­ples are will­ing to live with par­ents or in-laws than in pre­vi­ous times. Nonethe­less, most heav­ily rely on their par­ents to raise their ba­bies. Ac­cord­ing to a 2017 re­port by peo­, more than 80 per­cent of ur­ban Chi­nese se­niors helped look af­ter their grand­chil­dren. Liv­ing with par­ents, as a re­sult, be­comes a forced choice for many.

In many West­ern coun­tries, by con­trast, se­nior cit­i­zens sel­dom get in­volved in rais­ing their grand­chil­dren. “Grand­par­ents look­ing af­ter kids is un­com­mon in Swe­den,” Wu con­firmed, ex­plain­ing that nan­nies and the so­cial wel­fare sys­tem jointly take care of chil­dren when par­ents are at work.

“When I was in ele­men­tary school, I had classes from 8 am to 1 pm. Since my par­ents work un­til 5 or 6 pm, I went to an after­noon school that pro­vided chil­dren a place to stay when par­ents were busy with their work.”

Sim­i­lar to Swe­den, Amer­i­can grand­par­ents play a

much smaller role in rais­ing their chil­dren’s chil­dren com­pared with their Chi­nese peers. “I find Amer­i­can cou­ples are more self-suf­fi­cient, but that’s partly be­cause hir­ing a babysit­ter or go­ing to a day-care cen­ter is a lot more ex­pen­sive [there],” Min said, adding that rais­ing chil­dren is more chal­leng­ing for young cou­ples in the US. “But I do find that peo­ple [in the US] do par­ent­ing more in­de­pen­dently.”

“As for my­self, I would like to play a ma­jor role in rais­ing my own chil­dren, though I think it would be great to have grand­par­ents in­volved,” she said.

Thorpe men­tioned the church’s con­tri­bu­tion in chil­dren rais­ing. “I’m from the south [of the US], where we have the church in­volved in terms of pro­vid­ing care-tak­ing and af­ter school ser­vices for chil­dren,” he said. “It’s a very strong so­cial struc­ture.”

Fam­ily fi­nance

Split­ting the bill (go­ing dutch), though quite com­mon in the West, is unac­cept­able to most Chi­nese cou­ples. More­over, many Chi­nese hus­bands tend to hand over their en­tire salaries to their wives.

Ac­cord­ing to a do­mes­tic sur­vey, 72 per­cent of Chi­nese male re­spon­dents were will­ing to hand over salaries to their wives, Shang­hai Morn­ing Post re­ported in 2016. Even though 13 per­cent said they were re­luc­tant to do so, they would still con­sider it as long as “it could make her happy.”

Min does not force her Chi­nese hus­band to hand over his in­come to her. “In­stead, we share a bank ac­count, and if I need to spend money, I don’t have to ask ‘Can I buy this?’” she said. “Buy­ing lux­ury things like cars or houses is an­other story, but in terms of daily ex­penses and rel­a­tively small things that I want, I don’t ask for per­mis­sion.”

In China, hus­bands are gen­er­ally con­sid­ered the pri­mary con­trib­u­tor of fam­ily fi­nances. Ac­cord­ing to sta­tis­tics from All China Women Fed­er­a­tion and Na­tional Sta­tis­tics Bureau in 2010, Chi­nese women’s in­come ac­counted for 67.3 of men’s in 2010. The Chi­nese phrase yang jia hu kou, lit­er­ally “feed­ing a fam­ily,” is of­ten de­scribed as one of the big­gest tasks for hus­bands.

But nei­ther of our two male guests have this sort of mas­cu­line, ma­cho mind­set. “For me, it doesn’t mat­ter that much if you are a male or a fe­male,” Wu said. “My prin­ci­ple is that both the hus­band and the wife should fi­nan­cially con­trib­ute to the fam­ily as much as they can. If I earned more than my fu­ture wife, I would of course fi­nan­cially sup­port our lives more, and vice versa.”

Thorpe agreed. “I’m in ed­u­ca­tion [in­dus­try], and my wife-to-be is in busi­ness, which is gen­er­ally more prof­itable,” he said. “It won’t be prob­lem­atic for me.”

Stereo­types and con­cerns

Apart from mar­riage and re­la­tion­ships, our four guests also shared their per­sonal Chi­nese sto­ries, in­clud­ing stereo­types and con­cerns, about mov­ing to and liv­ing in China for the first time.

“I watched many kung fu movies, and that made me be­lieve that Chi­nese could fly,” Lim laughed. “So be­fore com­ing to China, I was ex­cited but a bit ner­vous, fear­ing that Chi­nese might beat me [up].”

Af­ter years of study­ing and liv­ing in Shang­hai as well as South China’s Guang­dong Prov­ince, Lim joked that she is no longer scared. She even tried mar­tial arts her­self, prac­tic­ing Tai Chi for a few months.

Study­ing trans­la­tion at Shang­hai In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies Univer­sity, Lim was the only for­eign stu­dent in her class. “My Chi­nese is not that good com­pared with my lo­cal class­mates, which does put pres­sure on me,” she said. “But my teach­ers are all very nice to me, of­fer­ing me a lot of help.”

As the VP China of a Swedish tech­nol­ogy com­pany, Wu shared the chal­lenges he has met so far when do­ing busi­ness in this coun­try. “In Swe­den, peo­ple com­mu­ni­cate much more di­rectly, like ‘this is not good, we should redo it,’” he ex­am­pled. “While in China, your part­ner may not di­rectly point out the prob­lems, and you have to be very sen­si­tive about it.”

He ad­mit­ted that some­times it is not easy for a for­eigner to know ex­actly what is on the minds of his Chi­nese part­ners, col­leagues or clients. “But I think be­ing in China we do need to ad­just our be­liefs to the Chi­nese cul­ture.”

When dis­cussing his fu­ture goals and ex­pec­ta­tions, Wu said he hopes to bet­ter co­or­di­nate the Chi­nese and Swedish mar­kets in terms of trade and in­vest­ment. “China is a great, huge mar­ket,” he com­mented. “Even though there are a few prob­lems, in­clud­ing traf­fic con­ges­tion, in some ar­eas, most other as­pects are all very at­trac­tive to me.”

Photo: VCG

Pho­tos: Cour­tesy of VPhoto

Main: All the speak­ers at the panel dis­cus­sion; From left: The host Huang Lan­lan; Rillera, Beth Lim, a Filip­ina study­ing in Shang­hai; Chi­nese-Swede Yaou Wu; Korean-Amer­i­can Juli Min; Ryan Thorpe, an Amer­i­can as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor

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