Cross-Currents e-Journal (No. 15)
Governing Marriage Migrations: Perspectives from Mainland China and Taiwan
Cross-border migration for the purpose of marriage is on the rise, and at present it constitutes one of the most common forms of long-term international mobility in East Asia. This special issue of Cross-Currents analyzes marriage migration in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Taiwan as a subject of governance. The articles included here demonstrate that marriage migration has attracted considerable policy attention and public anxiety not because it is about “marriage” or “migration” per se, but because it is perceived to be inseparable from a wide range of other issues, such as sexual morality, family norms, national identity, and border security. In particular, the long-lasting social relationships marriage migration creates and the role of marriage migrants (the vast majority of whom are women) in rearing the next generation of the state’s sovereign subjects tie marriage migration to state security concerns. Popular anxieties about marriage migration are often based on projections into the future rather than observations about the present reality. On one hand, the fact that marriage migration is deeply embedded in myriad social institutions and relations that cannot be dealt with in isolation causes a projection-based mode of governance; on the other hand, it renders transnational marriage particularly hard to govern, which further exacerbates anxiety. But this should not be seen as a failure in public policy. The articles in this special issue argue that such projections, imaginations, and self-perpetuating anxieties are important parts of how nationhood is constructed in the current era. As such, marriage migration as a subject of governance provides us with a special angle to examine how politics works in subtle and sometimes invisible ways on local, national, and transnational levels.
Transnational marriage migration is an important global phenomenon, yet each marriage remains an intimate, personal, and life-shaping event. This article traces the life of a family in rural northeast China that has developed global connections through marriage. In particular, it focuses on the story of a Chinese husband and his Vietnamese wife, which provides insight into the expansion of marriage migrations to and from China over the last decade. The article analyzes how different streams of marriage migrations are linked, specifically the flow of wives from China to Japan and South Korea, and from Vietnam to Taiwan, South Korea, and China. These flows are interconnected in many ways, including through personal networks, brokerage, remittances, and flows of information. Such interconnections in turn exemplify how apparently independent and unrelated migration flows may present multilayered connections of migration factors, diversification, and increasing complexity of migration experiences.
Keywords: transnational family, commercially arranged marriage, marriage strategy, globalization of householding, chain migration
Marriage migration to mainland China has only recently attracted attention in public and academic discourse. Driven by a complex combination of structural and personal factors, many of these marriages remain unregistered, and understanding them requires a different approach than that used to study other international marriages in the region. To date, most discussions have addressed the phenomenon from a legal, demographic, or economic perspective. Considered as illegal migrants, many of the foreign women involved in these marriages are reduced to silence. Based on the specific case of Vietnamese women engaged in de facto marriages with Chinese men in China’s southern borderlands, this article describes several factors affecting this social group: the condition of “nonexistence” that the couples experience in their daily lives; the local response to their presence in Chinese communities; and the ambivalent position of governmental bodies regarding their residence and life in China. This ground-level perspective demonstrates how the apparent tolerance of this complex phenomenon may, in the long term, actually create more disturbance in local communities than would be expected. This article reveals how significant gaps between official migration policies and actual practices of governance at the local level limit the social integration of marginalized individuals by sustaining the conditions for their long-term invisibility.
Keywords: cross-border marriages, Vietnamese migrants, borderland, China, nonexistence
This article examines changing governing practices in the context of the Sino-Vietnamese border in the Guangxi Autonomous Region of China. The groups inhabiting the mountainous ranges of this ethnically diverse part of Southeast Asia evaded the reach of the state until the 1970s, when China and Vietnam started tightening control over the land border after the border war. With an increasingly rigid and clearly delimited Sino-Vietnamese borderland, binary forms of classification began to replace earlier fluid identifications, and the room for diverse social and cultural expressions became restricted. It is within this context that the ethnic marriage practices straddling the borders of China and its southern neighboring states discussed in this article took place. Cross-border ethnic Yao marriages have gone from customary to illegal in recent years as a result of China’s strict population control, its changing demography, and the accelerated shortage of manual labor in its border area. Border politics have permeated the private sphere, transforming common ethnic marriage partners into illegal migrants. Although ethnic marriage partners are relegated to an illegal status, they are indispensible in the local labor market and moral economy as mothers, caretakers, translators, guides, and manual workers. This article argues that, despite being antithetical to the bordering logic of state sovereignty, they are important agents who depend on and capitalize on the border economy.
Keywords: ethnic marriages, Yao, undocumented migrants, China-Vietnam border, Guangxi, illegality
According to many reports, migrant sex workers often use marriages of convenience to cross national borders in order to avoid laws criminalizing commercial sex in many destination countries. Taiwan is one of the countries developing strategies to prevent this illicit migration, particularly through the application of a fake marriage test. Based on in-depth interviews with eighteen Chinese migrant sex workers and thirteen officers of Taiwan’s National Immigration Agency (NIA), this article argues, first, that the discourse of “national security” has been widely drawn on to justify Taiwan’s rigid border control at the expense of stigmatized Chinese prostitutes who have been scapegoated. Border control is therefore not only racialized or classed but also sexualized, to the extent that all Chinese migrant women are considered potential prostitutes. Second, this article reveals how the exclusion of and hostility toward Chinese sex workers are simultaneously linked with a gender regime that seeks to exclude Chinese spouses who deviate from Taiwanese gender and social norms. The border is therefore a contested site where gender, sexuality, and nationality are interwoven.
Keywords: migrant workers, sex workers, sexuality, gender, “fake marriage real prostitution,” border control, trafficking
Taiwan attracted a considerable number of marriage migrants from Southeast Asia and China through brokers in the late 1990s and early 2000s. With widely circulated, sensational news stories about foreign spouses being abused and advertisements of foreign brides as objects for sale, women involved in the business were gradually seen by the public as victims of transnational marriage brokerage. Under pressure from some women’s groups in Taiwan and the anti-trafficking campaign in the international community, the Taiwanese government eventually banned transnational commercial matchmaking in 2008. This article examines the gender politics behind the ban by reviewing the debate over this policy. It also provides an ethnographic study of women’s power relationships with other parties involved in the marriage business. By exposing the market and cultural logic that made this business blossom, this article challenges the binaries of perpetrator/victim and exploitation/freedom in the dominant representations of the transnational marriage market. It calls for a transnational and transclass perspective to understand these women’s “active submission” to the market and concludes that, without this consideration, the enforcement of the 2008 ban ends up serving only to save the international reputation of the host country and fulfill the liberal middle-class imaginary of moral order of the host society, rather than solving women’s problems per se.
Keywords: marriage brokerage, transnational migration, women’s agency, Taiwan, Vietnam