The two major questions I will analyze here are:
– why have Taiwanese men been marrying more and more Chinese women in the last two decades?
– what is the perception of Taiwanese men by their own society and by Chinese women?
The cross-strait marriage is becoming more important as we consider the worsening demographics in modern societies, which definitely include coastal China and urbane Taiwan. In both cases the birth rate is among the world’s lowest. In addition, the existing sex imbalance, which favors men over women, makes one clear. In both countries is a battle going on – the one to find the right person for the rest of your life, your one and only Ms. Right.
Both countries have until now been conservative and patriarchal in terms of family and marriage. In an interview in 1994 Singapore’s leader Lee Kuan Yew said “The Asian man…preferred to have a wife with less education than himself.” But this is changing. The situation in both societies shift dramatically. Apart from demographics, another significant change in recent decades was the women’s education and participation in the job market. Both make them more and more independent from their fathers, husbands and in-laws. Also more demanding towards their male partners. Illyqueen, a popular Taiwanese blogger, recently ranted about “Mama’s boys” in their 30s who have had “no hardships, no housework, [and who] …have lost the ability to keep promises (like marriage).” 
So we are looking at a very competitive dating environment in a very demanding society. We have two camps: strong and modern, confident women versus men often perceived as immature, lacking confidence – shy and spoiled. All this becomes even more complicated with the arrival of Chinese and Southeast Asian brides. Is it really so bad?
Most of the first batch of „mainland brides” were married to the veteran soldiers who fled to Taiwan in 1949. Ex-soldiers who couldn’t find spouses in Taiwan, were able to return to their hometowns after 1987 to look for brides.
The Chinese mainland and Taiwan resumed communications in 1987 after they were broken off during the civil war in the 1940s. Cross-Straits travel was first permitted in 1987. Direct flights started in 2003.
The first cross-strait marriage was recorded in 1989 in the coastal city of Xiamen, facing Taiwan across the Strait. More than 10,000 cross-Strait marriages are now registered annually.
Although the two sides have the same origin, in spouses from the mainland were discriminated against in the earlier years in terms of identity cards registration, gaining permanent residence and employment rights. For these women, these were bitter times.
When economists discuss the development of contemporary cross-strait economic trade they often refer to two distinct periods, the early period, (1980s to the early 1990s) and the “second wave”. It started as a result of Deng Xiaoping’s call for economic reform in 1992, which opened the PRC’s domestic markets to foreign firms, coupled with Taiwan’s legalization of economic interaction across the Taiwan Strait.
Yet, in those two decades, as the trade increased, so did the number of couples. In June of 2003 the China Daily reported that overseas marriages in Shanghai had increased almost seven fold since 1980, and that of these marriages, 38% are to partners from Taiwan. It was also becoming more commonplace for mainland women to marry Taiwanese men and immigrate to Taiwan. In the last almost three decades (the data collected by the Ministry of Interior dates since 1985) there are registered almost 275,000 Chinese women in Taiwan as wives.
As of now marriages can be considered the fourth link between both countries, apart from the previous ‚three links’ of mail, transport and trade. As their number increased, they became also a political issue, which quickly transformed into a major cause for concern for the Taiwanese government. From the 90s to 00s negative media reports on mainland brides (中國新娘) spiked tremendously. This trend has to be seen in the political context of a pan-blue vs. pan-green rivalry (two major parties KMT vs. DPP).
We can distinguish a third wave of Taiwanese-Chinese relationships, namely the just recently in Taiwan arrived students. Chinese authorities and media are warmly encouraging ties between both countries’ youths. Especially, those women are quite different from the previous waves. They are mostly highly intelligent, ambitious and skillful urbane students.
In the following two paragraphs I will present how both media and authorities treat cross-strait couples and shape the societal perception. Those various attitudes affect the lifes and decisions, which spouses make.
- Differing perception of women
It is important to clarify that in Taiwan both mainland brides and foreign brides are considered a threat to Taiwan but often in different ways. The term “foreign bride” in Taiwan is ideologically charged as it refers to brides from less developed countries and “reflects the discrimination against Third World women. Foreign brides and their children are considered a threat to Taiwan’s “population quality”. Such discrimination is even reflected in government policy and rhetoric. For example, in July 2004 the Taiwanese Deputy Minister of Education made an appeal to foreign brides to “not give birth to so many babies”, because of their “low quality” while referring to their Taiwanese spouses in extremely negative terms stating that “everyone knows well who marries foreign brides”.
A Chinese bride would be referred to in Taiwan as a “mainland bride,” who are often portrayed as “prostitutes,” “uneducated,” and “poor.” Even advocates for mainland brides in Taiwan portray them as marrying primarily for economic purposes. As the before mentioned excellent dissertation summarizes, because cross-border marriages are considered inferior to marriages between Taiwanese in the public discourse, it is assumed that no woman would make such a choice unless for economic gains. Both Southeast Asian and mainland brides are considered different from Taiwanese not for their lower socioeconomic status, but also for certain characteristics associated with traditional ideals of women, such as submissiveness, hard working, accepting fate and femininity. What is important for our topic here, is the fact, that these characteristics make foreign and mainland brides a desirable choice for some Taiwanese men and families, yet in the eyes of the community the men and families opting for foreign and mainland brides are considered socio-economically and culturally backward. This explains why although the intention of looking for a wife or a daughter-in-law with the above mentioned traits is perfectly justifiable and common among Taiwanese, the foreign and mainland brides with these traits do not give pride to the families.
In general mainland brides are widely regarded as women marrying for economic gains.
- Differing perception of men
According to a study of the factors that have contributed to the increase in transnational marriage in East Asia offers further evidence as to why such characterizations (as mentioned in the previous paragraph) persist. They divide such marriages of Taiwanese men into two primary types. The first includes men from more prosperous regions who are “less marketable” as potential husbands in the local area because they are “poorer less educated, and/or reside in rural areas” and therefore seek out brides from less prosperous regions. The second type is related to increased mobility of people across borders but is less targeted. This includes those who cross border for business, tourism, international study or to find work and do so without the express purpose of finding a marriage partner.
Local and national media outlets in Taiwan however, tend to lump these two marriage patterns into one generalized model which broadly defines cross-strait couples in Taiwan as comprised of desperate unmarriageable men and poor, economically motivated women.
Taiwanese husbands are regularly described as undesirable “peasants” who are too undesirable to find Taiwanese brides.
In some cases, Taiwanese men married to mainland women in Taiwan, are also considered a threat to Taiwan’s population quality, and are often described as desperate, unpatriotic or peasants. Taiwanese husbands have the ability to return to Taiwan at will, leaving their mainland brides and families behind. This is one clear example of the way in which migration is often a gendered process.
On the mainland side however, cross-strait couples are treated quite differently. For those women who stay on the mainland and marry Taiwanese men the representation and experience appears to be markedly different. Having a husband from Taiwan can be a source of social capital that can improve women’s status rather than diminish it. Taiwan businessmen who move to the mainland and marry mainland women are supported by the PRC’s government policy and are seldom mentioned in negative terms in the media. Taiwanese managers and business owners are in a stronger economic position on the mainland in part, because of the influence of the Special Economic Zones and because Taiwan currency is worth considerably more in the PRC. Many enjoy “a lifestyle and prestige that they would often be unable to afford in Taiwan”. Also in part because of the influence of Taiwan popular culture in China many are often considered to be more forward minded than Chinese men. This experience of being more popular than local men also corresponds with the interviews I conducted with Taiwanese men.
As discussed above, political relations between the mainland and Taiwan have a profound effect on the lives of those involved in cross-strait intimate relationships. The governments of both the PRC and ROC employ policy and media discourses to cajole citizens to support their oft conflicting government agendas, in part, by influencing the desires of those on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.
Taiwan’s policies with regard to cross-strait economic and social interaction may have created an environment that encourages more Taiwanese men to migrate to the PRC and set up businesses and form families (both officially and unofficially).
Given the PRC’s policies with regard to Taiwanese businesspeople investing and residing on the mainland it comes as no surprise that many experience upward economic status.
Which brings us to the next topic
Who looks for what?
We just discussed the male part of the equation – who are the men in question. Let us now analyze, who is expecting what. What are the Taiwanese men confronted with, what do they have to live up to? We will do so based on some hard data.
Since Taiwanese women may be likely to enter marriage at older ages, it becomes relative difficult for those who prepare to marry earlier or socio-economically less favorable men to search for potential partners.
Around 97% of Southeastern Asian and mainland Chinese spouses (in Taiwan) are female. Remarkably, the former group is consisted of relatively young marriage migrants with basic education attainment.
Most foreign spouses come from People’s Republic of China (66% of all foreign spouses). However, this is a bit tricky, as these „foreigners” have a special status in Taiwan. Most foreign female spouses, that are of non-Han Chinese descent, come from Vietnam.
Although most of the cross-strait marriages happen in Taiwan, the number of „Taiwan brides” in the mainland are also on the rise as the mainland economy becomes more powerful and offers more job opportunities.
Surveys conducted by the (Taiwanese) Ministry of the Interior (MOI) showed that there are far more unmarried males than females in the country. Around 50% of women between the ages of 20 to 49 are married, while only 44% of men in the same age bracket are married, an MOI survey conducted in 2010 said. At the end of 2011 the figure was 2,17mln women and less than 2,7mln men. These numbers look much worse if broken down to particular ages, like i.e. late 20s – 15% women and 30% men unmarried. While this may be a continuation of the shift to late marriage, it may also indicate an emerging trend toward lifelong singleness (since the beginning of the 90s called ‘single nobles’ 單身貴族) Those numbers are even more interesting, when we consider, that according to a Nielsen study from 2009 the willingness to marry is stronger among single men (especially those aged 36-49) – less than half, while of respectively aged women two-thirds are not willing to do so. The study states “Our survey found that the institution of marriage seems to hold less appeal for Taiwanese women these days.”
Taiwanese women are looking in their men for traits like being responsible, without any vices and for income when looking for a boyfriend. The opposite way – men look for – good temper, good looks and being caring.
Foreigners vs. locals
This is the most difficult and most polarizing part of this essay, since it might be easily misunderstood and interpreted as racist. Which it in no way is.
A very interesting and totally omitted issue is the one of foreigners, mostly Western and white, dating and marrying Taiwanese women. This trend is taking for granted, it seems like no one is interested in exploring this fact, as opposed to Taiwanese men marrying Chinese women and those of other nationalities. This topic flashes in the media from time to time in very sexual and physical terms (both in Taiwan and in China) described as “those horny foreigners having sex with our shameless women” as in one recent Apple Daily footage. This one is interesting, as here the media portrays its own Taiwanese women in a negative way as sluts, like showing the foreign brides in a negative way in above cases.
The point here is – the issue of other Asian nationalities – mostly female, married to Taiwanese, seems interesting and worthy media and academic attention, however the other way around – foreigners – mostly white and Western, marrying Taiwanese women, is not interesting. It seems to be something acceptable.
In relation to foreigners marrying Taiwanese women and Taiwanese men’s conservative attitude, we might quote here one research paper, which states. “On the other hand, the power structure of gender in Taiwan has been changed, but people’s ideas of an ideal husband or wife are still quite traditional. That is, for men to find a wife that is of lower status and for women to find a husband that is of higher status. As a result, some Taiwanese women marry to men of other countries and the men have fewer chances to find themselves an ideal Taiwanese spouse. As a result, the number of immigrant wives is increasing.”
Interestingly, doing research for this paper, I realized, that there is a lot of publications on the poorer men and women and much less about the middle class Taiwanese men marrying Chinese women.
Another conclusion is a disparity regarding on one side Asian brides, who are both by the public, some scholars and even officials, perceived in a descending way and on the other white male foreigners, mostly looked up to. Both categories are marrying into the Taiwanese society but are treated in a different way.
So we can state bias in terms of which foreigners are worth doing research and which are not.
This way Taiwanese women also have more choices – not only their own local males, but also foreign men living in Taiwan. The more entrepreneurial and successful Taiwanese men make this disadvantage up by having a seemingly endless pool of mating opportunities across the strait. This way the situation seems balanced.
So we can state that Taiwanese men partly enjoy a position in China like foreigners in Taiwan. Privileged and desirable. It also seems, that for Taiwanese males after preferential treatment as investors came a preferential treatment as spouses.
This paper also proved less willingness on the female part of the population in their 30s an 40s to marry than on the male part. We did not state why and what is the reason for this.
As we have seen that those human cross-strait relations are interwoven in cross-strait governmental politics. Which partly influence their decisions. There is also the aggressive media participation in the discourse, often not correlated to the real circumstances, but looking for its own gains.
 “The flight from marriage”, 20 August 2011, www.economist.com/node/21526329
 Marriages, another cross-Strait relationship, accessed June 29, 2012, www.news.xinhuanet.com/english/indepth /2012-06/18/c_131661264.htm
 Tse-Kang Leng, The Taiwan –China connection: democracy and development across the Taiwan Straits, (Boulder Colorado: Westview Press, 1996), 89-91.
 Joseph Leo Cichosz, “Marriage across the Taiwan Strait: male migrants, marital desire and social location” (PhD diss., University of Oregon, 2011), www.d-scholarship.pitt.edu/6571/1/Cichosz_4_20_2011-1.pdf.
 The data from the MOI is collected and compiled by a well-known Taiwanese blogger, My Kafkaesque life, “Interracial relationships in Taiwan”, November 26, 2011, accessed July 1, 2012, www.mykafkaesquelife.blogspot. com/2011/11/interracial-relationships-in-taiwan.html.
 Melody Chia-Wen Lu, “Gender, marriage and migration: contemporary marriages between mainland China and Taiwan” (PhD diss., University of Leiden, 2008), www.openaccess.leidenuniv.nl/bitstream/handle/1887/13001/ whole%20thesis%20final.pdf?sequence=1, p. 168-171.
 More on their perceived role and its implications for the society, see “As in the old days, China orders love”, accessed 29 June, 2012, www.taiwanreports.wordpress.com/2012/06/22/as-in-the-old-days-china-orders-love/.
 Hsiao Chuan Hsia, Foreign brides: multiple citizenship and the immigrant movement in Taiwan, (Asian and Pacific Migration Journal 18/1, 2009), 27.
 Ibid, p. 31.
 Joseph Leo Cichosz, “Marriage across”, p. 90.
 Hsia, Foreign brides, 35.
 Melody Chia-Wen Lu, “Gender, marriage”, p. 225-226.
 Ibid. p. 218.
 Gavin Jones and Hsiu hua Shen, “International marriage in East and Southeast Asia: trends and research emphases”, Citizenship Studies 12/1(2008): 15.
 Ibid, p. 15.
 Hsia, Foreign brides, 27.
 Joseph Leo Cichosz, “Marriage across”, p. 175.
 Ibid, p. 176.
 Hsiu-hua Shen, “The purchase of transnational intimacy: women’s bodies, transnational masculine privileges in Chinese economic zones”, Asian Studies Review 32, (2008): 61.
 Joseph Leo Cichosz, “Marriage across”, p. 93.
 Ibid, p. 95.
 Ibid, p. 97
 Yu-Hua Chen, “Intercultural Marriage and Its Impact on Fertility in Taiwan”,(paper presented at the International Conference on Declining Fertility in East and Southeast Asian Countries, 14-15 December, 2006), http://www.ier.hit-u.ac.jp/pie/stage2/Japanese/d_p/dp2006/dp291/text.pdf, p. 14.
 My Kafkaesque life, “Interracial relationships in Taiwan”.
 “Spinster remarks meant well: Chang”, 24 March, 2012, www.chinapost.com.tw/taiwan/national/national-news/ 2012 /03/24/ 335655/p2/Spinster-remarks.htm
 Yu Hua-chen, “Trends in low fertility and policy responses in Taiwan”, The Japanese Journal of population, vol 10 no 1, (March 2012): 79, accessed July 3, 2012, http://www.ipss.go.jp/webj-ad/webjournal.files/population/2012_ Vol.10/Web%20Journal_Vol.10_04.pdf
 Ibid, respective numbers: being responsible (63%)’, ‘without any vices (47%)’, and ‘income (38%)’ are the three most important things single women look for in a boyfriend; whereas single men put equal importance to a woman’s ‘good temper (43%)’, ‘good looks’ and ‘caring (both 42%)’.
 Unfortunately this video is no more available online www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=_
PjfEQnN6iA. Due to its extreme narrative, this video was widely criticized among foreigners in Taiwan in the blogosphere and on Facebook. Interestingly, as not only one blogger points out, this particular footage is more about the ‘shameless’ Taiwanese beauties lamei, then ‘evil’ foreign men, see www.yffm.wordpress.com/2011/12/22/thursday-december-22nd-12%E6%9C%8822%E6% 97%A5-%E6%98%9F%E6%9C%9F%E5%9B%9B-extra-i-love-foreigners-big-hot-dogs-are-taiwan-girls-easy-ii/#comm ent-2031
The paper was originally presented on 6.07.2012 at the „Men in Asia” Conference at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Warsaw, Poland.