Chinese Workers in Africa Who Marry Locals Face Puzzled Reception at Home

By Damien Ma
In response to a growing gender imbalance in their home country, Chinese men look elsewhere to find partners

chinesewedding2.jpgThis isn't my normal focus, but I found this dispatch from the good people at ChinaSmack amusing. The post is replete with photos and ruminates on the growing phenomenon of Chinese men marrying African women, as Chinese presence in Africa continues to expand. Here is what it had to say:

Chinese women marrying blacks is no longer something rare, whereas in comparison men very rarely dare to bring black girls back home to China. I won't say anything and go ahead and post the photos.

In my neighborhood is a Chinese engineer who returned from Angola, and his wife is a black girl. However, she's one of those very pretty high-end black girls. She's very slender and not one of those fat auntie types. Her skin also isn't the kind of oily/greasy black but rather black-brownish and more brown. They have two children, about five or six years old, twin boys.

As for their appearance, unfortunately, the father's genes were really too strong. Aside from their skin being slightly darker, their faces look very much like their daddy.

Large-scale marrying of African women can effectively solve China's male-female sex-ratio imbalance problem!

Not only is the policy prescription of relying on interracial marriages to solve China's complex gender imbalances as preposterous as the "babe tax," the racial comments (translated from Chinese) are fairly typical of the impolitic language used in China. It's pretty blase by Chinese standards, but certainly would be considered offensive in the West.

A taste of the photos and associated captions:

chinese-man-with-black-african-women-15.jpg"This is a photo of a young Fujian guy with his African wife in Congo. They run a restaurant there to make a living, I've eaten there once, it wasn't bad. The young couple are able to communicate in Chinese."

Maedit.jpg"A Shandong migrant worker who married a wife in Africa and gave birth to a daughter. His African wife passing away from illness when the daughter was two-years-old and he raises his daughter alone planting vegetables in the suburbs of Nairobi being bother father and mother to her. Not easy! What a great Shandong man! A great Chinese man!"

Ma2edit.jpg"This is a Chinese man and African woman's child. I've always wondered, is this child i considered Chinese or not? Very confusing!!!"

Ma3.jpg"The son of a wealthy Sichuan Chinese businessman who married last year's Miss Kenya!!!
Strongly recommend!!!"

I won't say anymore, other than if you so choose, read the comments, which range from the awkward and strange to grating and outright offensive. This diverse range of opinions, on such a narrow topic, is as much a part of contemporary China as the head-cracking underway to quell the spate of protests.

On a related and more serious note about Chinese gender imbalance, which was reaffirmed by the recent Chinese census, a new book on this front seems worth checking out. In Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men, journalist Mara Hvistendahl covers more territory than just China, though the East Asian giant has the starring role. Having not yet read the book myself, I'm not equipped to comment on it further other than to point to China scholar Jeffrey Wasserstrom's review of the book:

One of the many accomplishments of Hvistendahl's book is to show that there have been additional "contradictions" at work in the pan-Asian "missing women" phenomenon. For simplicity's sake, we can boil these down to contradictions linked to visions of what it means to be "modern" and contradictions tied to technology.

A central element in the first sort of contradiction pre-dates the implementation of the one-child family policy. It goes back to Western writings in the 1950s and 1960s that harped on the apocalyptical implications of high birth-rates in the developing world.

Here, in a much stripped down form, is my paraphrasing of the way Hvistendahl lays out the situation, in sections that owe and acknowledge a considerable debt to Columbia University historian Matthew Connelly's important book, Fatal Misconception: The Struggle to Control World Population (Harvard University Press, 2008):

If only, some proponents of "population bomb" thinking argued, methods could be found to ensure that couples outside of the West embraced more "modern" small family ideals. Given the strong bias toward sons in many places, one thing needed was to make sure that couples who kept having daughters would not just keep trying and trying to have a male offspring. To solve the problem of overpopulation, the key would be to convince couples that having more than two children was no longer feasible (the planet could not take having people procreate at more than just this replacement level)--and allow them to be confident that one of those children would be a son (e.g., if their first child was a girl, give them much better than a 105 to 100 chance that the second would be a boy). But something was left out of the equation here: if a magical means could suddenly appear to guarantee that hundreds of millions of couples wanting to stop at two children, who had a girl first, had a boy next, the result would be a dangerously off kilter demographic picture. There would soon be an incredibly large number of men who would be expected to marry (and for the most part would want to marry), but would grossly outnumber eligible women.

Turning to technology, recent decades have seen moves toward--or full realization of--various sex selection methods that can alter the odds dramatically in favor of having a son or daughter, depending on a couple's wishes. These range from the relatively low-tech (sonogram machines that reveal the sex of a fetus) to methods so high-tech they border on science fiction (fiddling with genes to produce babies with sought-after traits). The contradiction here is that, while reports of skewed gender ratios in China in the 1980s sometimes focused on the re-emergence of a very old method of diminishing the number of girls in an area (infanticide by drowning), the single biggest factor in the current tilt toward boys in many parts of Asia has been sex-selective abortion by couples who have learned, after amniocentesis or more often a sonogram, that a pregnancy (in many cases, a second or third one in a son-less family) would lead to a daughter's birth.

What we have here is a messy combination of factors that take us far beyond a clash between "traditional" values and state policies. We find instead situations in which old preferences are reinforced by new practices (e.g., the economic reforms in the Chinese countryside) and can be acted upon by using new machines. There is no "typical" Asian couple responsible for contributing to the large number of "excess men" (males growing up in areas with too few female age mates), but Hvistendahl shows that, when imagining one, we might do well to conjure up a couple striving to embrace a modern ideal (only having two children) and making use of modern technologies, rather than let our minds think only of a "traditional" and "backward" pair who need to be educated by the state to have their ideas brought up to date.

The demographic implications for economic growth, not just in China but globally, could well force some interesting and unexpected policy choices over the next decade.

REUTERS/Bobby Yip



This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/06/chinese-workers-in-africa-who-marry-locals-face-puzzled-reception-at-home/240662/