The Creation of a Nonexistent Group: Sino-Vietnamese Couples in China’s Borderlands

Caroline Grillot, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology
The Sino-Vietnamese borderlands. Source: Google Maps.
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Abstract


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