Gender and Power Dynamics in Transnational Marriage Brokerage: The Ban on Commercial Matchmaking in Taiwan Reconsidered
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