Saturday, November 26, 2011

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Interracial relationships in Taiwan

11/26/2011 Taiwan Explorer
Statistics, opinions and conclusions

Wow! White guy in a Korean drama "Tamna Island", more about it here.

Since one of my latest posts stirred a minor controversy on a popular Taiwanese forum, I believe it's about time that I write my thoughts on interracial and cross-cultural relationships in Taiwan. There are some undeniable truths, but a lot of stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding this issue. There's also a lot of passion and emotions involved, when this is debated, which was clearly shown during the uproar over my post. This here is not intended to feed the trolls and not meant as a guide to foreigners, who date Taiwanese girls. It's more about a basic overview of the facts and stereotypes accompanied with my personal views and conclusions. I hope it could serve as a reference to those, who are not too familiar with the issue.

1 The "truth": Statistics and what they show

Before we go to all the implications and dimensions of interracial dating in Taiwan, I would like to share some statistics with you. On the government's website Information for foreigners you can find various data about foreign spouses in Taiwan. I used the Number of foreign spouses from the 100 years of ROC statistical reports (外籍配偶人數, 100年統計報表) from 22. March 2011. You can download the excel file here (automatic download) and review it for yourself (it's in Chinese, though).

Chinese word for foreigner 外國人 (waiguoren) is a common euphemism for a White person. The government website dedicated to foreigners is very honest about this, even though Whites constitute a very small percentage of all foreign residents in Taiwan.

I have put together an overview of those statistics, that I see as most important for my post, because they show the gender, the number and the nationality of the foreigners, who married a native Taiwanese. These statistics collected data from 1985 to 2011. The numbers only show how many Taiwanese have registered marriage with foreigners during this period, it doesn't show how many have divorced or moved out of Taiwan, nor does it indicate the actual number of foreigners in Taiwan, which is much higher. The latter non-married are mostly studying or working here, have a temporary permission to stay, but they are also dating local Taiwanese and should be taken into account when talking about interracial relationships in Taiwan, but I will go into that later on.

Foreign spouses in Taiwan: Sorted by country and gender

The data includes the numbers from the past 26 years.

Just a mere glance over these numbers shows some significant trends, which can be summed up in short conclusions:

- There are by far more foreign women married to Taiwanese men than foreign men married to Taiwanese women (94.2% female spouses vs. 5.8% male spouses)*

- Taiwanese, who marry foreigners, will generally marry someone from East Asia or South East Asia (in 97.1% of the cases).

- 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. If we exclude nationals of PR China, they would constitute 62.2% of all foreign female spouses.

- Countries, that are foremost the origin of foreign brides to Taiwanese men include: People's Republic of China, Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia and Cambodia.

- Countries, that are commonly the origin of foreign brides to Taiwanese men as well as foreign grooms to Taiwanese women include: Japan, South Korea, Thailand and "Others".

- Countries, that are foremost the origin of foreign grooms to Taiwanese women are listed under "Others". It includes all countries other than the aforementioned countries from East and Southeast Asia.

- "Others" is the only origin of foreign spouses, where males prevail over females, but with 1.3% of all foreign spouses in Taiwan, their numbers are insignificant.

- I fall into the category of "Others", so do all nationals from Western countries (USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, European countries) and the rest of the world.

* There is a large, but unknown number of Taiwanese women, who registered marriage in another country and moved there. One of the reasons, why there are so many mainland Chinese and Vietnamese brides in Taiwan lays in the fact, that with marriage they move to a more prosperous country with a higher living standard. A lot of times when Taiwanese women marry foreigners, they do the same and therefore move out of Taiwan (for example to Japan, USA or Europe).

Let me add, that there is a trend in Taiwan among rich guys to marry East European (preferably blonde and tall) women, which is seen as a kind of a status symbol of the upper class. I'm not sure, how common this is, but it's definitely a known phenomenon. Brides from Southeast Asian countries are sadly looked down upon.

This chart shows the domination of wives, that come from People's Republic of China.

This chart shows the ratio of foreign husbands vs. foreign wives sorted by nation.

2 The significance of foreign ethnic Chinese spouses

A lot of foreign spouses in Taiwan are of Chinese descent, either coming from People's Republic of China or from various Southeast Asian countries, their numbers are substantial. Even though there is a strong national and local identity of Taiwanese people, there is something like an equally strong pan-Chinese cultural identity, that connects all people of Chinese descent from all over the world. The common history, languages, script, food, traditions and values make it a lot easier for ethnic Chinese to date and marry, because things like racism and stigmatization of dating a "foreigner", acceptance of the parents and communication issues can be avoided much easier. Of course this is a very broad and general statement, which may be more indicative of the expectations local Taiwanese have, when they decide to date ethnic Chinese from other countries, less what they experience in reality. Based on my observations and personal experience with ethnic Chinese people, there is nothing "easy" or "uncomplicated" when they date, so take this statement with a pinch of salt.

It's commonly known, that the relations between Taiwan (officially Republic of China) and China (officially People's Republic of China) are very complicated. Both countries have common historic, cultural and linguistic roots and the majority of the population on both sides is formed by Han Chinese, the descendants of the so called Yellow Emperor or 黃帝 (Huangdi), who is seen as the father of Chinese civilization (but based on myths and legends, less on actual facts). If we look at foreign spouses, who come from People's Republic of China to Taiwan, they will not be seen as foreigners or 外国人 (waiguoren), but at the same time also not as locals or 台灣人 (Taiwanren). They will be called Mainlanders or 大陸人 (Daluren). Unlike most foreign spouses from other countries, they will not have problems of speaking the official language (reading will acquire some additional learning) and understanding the culture. They will also not visibly stand out from the majority of Taiwanese people, however they will have specific problems with the official administration due to the political complications between these two countries.

There are countries in Southeast Asia with a significant ethnic Chinese populations such as Singapore (3.6 mil., ethnic Chinese form the majority), Indonesia (10 mil.), Thailand (7 mil.), Malaysia (6.6 mil), Vietnam (1.26 mil.), Cambodia (1.18 mil.) and Philippines (1.15 mil.), data source here. Most of the listed countries above are typical countries of origin of foreign spouses in Taiwan (exceptions being Singapore and Malaysia). I don't have information about how many foreign spouses in Taiwan from these countries are of Chinese descent, but I would say at least in the case of Indonesia the numbers must be very high, since ethnic Indonesian women are in most cases Muslim and in order for Taiwanese men to marry them, they would need to convert to Islam. I have not observed a significant trend into this direction, therefore I assume that most brides and grooms from Indonesia are of Chinese descent. In this case, they have a similar experience as the spouses from People's Republic of China, just minus the political complications. I would say, that same goes for all ethnic Chinese spouses from Southeast Asian countries, who marry a Taiwanese national and register their marriage in Taiwan.

There is an interesting observation found in this article about the preference of the origin of foreign spouses by the various linguistic entities inside Taiwan. Taiwanese nationals with Hakka roots traditionally marry ethnic Chinese from Indonesia (as there are many Hakka speaking Chinese), those of Minnan roots traditionally marry with Vietnamese and those descendants of people, who came to Taiwan from the Chinese mainland in the late 1940s (so called "waishengren") traditionally marry nationals from People's Republic of China. Check 外籍配偶的關係空間 for your reference, there is a map of foreign spouses by nationality in Taiwan (the post is in Chinese).

3 Of dating a foreigner in Taiwan

Bringing a foreign national to Taiwan and registering marriage is one thing and when it comes to this, Taiwanese men significantly outnumber Taiwanese women. But when it comes to dating foreigners (and as highlighted before marrying abroad), based on my perception, Taiwanese girls and young women greatly outnumber Taiwanese guys.

Why the difference? According to my understanding, as well as based numerous accounts from female friends, there is a great divide between Taiwanese men and Taiwanese women. Most of it roots in culture, that greatly divides the sexes into two separate categories. Sons are preferred over daughters, especially in the mindset of the older generation, young parents are shifting towards equality. Preferred often means spoiled, while daughters have it much harder (they often have a stricter implementation of rules and expectations held by their parents). It usually begins in the childhood. Very commonly sisters need to help their brothers way more than it would be necessary or good for them. It seems to me as the first step of the role the traditional parents expect her to play in the future (to serve and to follow). Ed en Vadruille goes further: "Traditionally women are considered as a second class citizen that will only fullfill herself socially when she marries and has children. Once she loses her virginity she is considered to be a "used sock" (no longer good for marriage)." (Read his full take on Taiwanese girls and materialism). These traditional mindsets are slowly drifting away, as nowadays Taiwanese generally have less children, usually just one and quite late in their life (mostly at the end of 20s and early 30s). That only child gets all the love and attention, but what he or she misses is quality time with his parents. Taiwan has one of the lowest birth rates in the world, most likely because people just work nonstop. Working overtime for no pay is as normal as being unreasonably pushed by the boss, which increases the stress level and decreases the libido. Lack of time, exhaustion and a fast-paced life, where things change so rapidly on daily basis, leaves little room for stiff traditions, that conflict with the common values of today's young generation. Most young Taiwanese women work (many even earn more than men) and know what they want in their life. They have a much higher education than the generation before them and a lot of them have seen the world beyond the horizons of ilha Formosa. That's usually different from what parents might want and very far away from the mindset of some young Taiwanese guys, who believe, that women should be submissive, dependent on their men and family-oriented instead of career-minded. I'm not trying to say what is better or who is right, this is just how I see the reality of today's gender relations in Taiwan.

4 The result of gender difference

The phenomenon mentioned above describes one of the gravest intracultural conflicts in Taiwanese society, but the issues are much more complex and it would go too far to go into that here. There are couples in Taiwan, where both sides are either traditional or modern - they have no problems in dating and mating. There are some couples with a different mindset, but they manage to find a middle way and meet in the center (and it works well, too). But there is a third group of people, who just can't find a common ground when it comes to dating and marriage. This shows, that there is a significant rift between a big portion of the male and female population in Taiwan's modern society. This rift drives the interracial (or cross-cultural) marriages with a very fast tempo and today they have become mainstream, especially when it comes to Taiwanese men marrying foreign women.

From what my Taiwanese female friends have told me, these Taiwanese men (and I'm only talking about this certain group) just can't handle a strong intelligent self-reliant woman, who earns good money and decides on her own what she wants. They see these young women as "too masculine", which makes them feel insecure. In order to find a partner, that would match their expectations, they revert their attention to the ladies from Southeast Asia, who are according to their perception less educated, more traditional, obedient, family oriented and lack material means, which reassures them in their traditional role as a caterer. I have to stress once again that I am talking about a common stereotype, not the actual reality of every single case, so please restrict yourself from comments of sorts: "But my [insert Southeast Asian country] wife is completely different!" I know she is. Try to see these things in a broader sense, I have no means to write about this issue by collecting the information from a half a million interracial relationships, my conclusions here need to be seen as general trends and as purely speculative.

5 Strong independent Taiwanese women

Let's have a look at those strong Taiwanese women: Their dating pool is small, their expectations in a man are high. Sure, there are cases, where the expectations are unreasonably high, especially from women who themselves offer very little. But that's a story for another post. In case of those, who justifiably have high expectations for their relationship, a lot of them revert to foreign men, mostly from Western countries (usually White), who are according to their perception well educated, well situated, confident, handsome, romantic and open-minded. Again, I am talking about the common stereotype, not the actual reality of every single case, which is often depending on personal perceptions, rather than an objective truth.

In addition, if we see this situation in a very broad sense, we come to the realization, that the interracial dating scene of Taiwan mostly consists of four big groups of people (ethnic Chinese from foreign countries are not part of this): Taiwanese men, Taiwanese women, Southeast Asian women and White men (I deliberately skipped the euphemism "Western"). The latter two end up in Taiwan and get caught up in the feud between genders, without really wanting to be part of it. But they receive a lot of the heat (like this post has shown) and they can't always be quiet. There is sometimes resentment on all sides, which is mostly driven by insecurity, envy, arrogance, racism and a whole mix of other emotions.

Are you afraid of confident Taiwanese girls? (Photo: Source)

6 Dating and marriage are two different things

The statistic of the past 26 years shows, that when it comes to marrying foreign nationals in Taiwan, men are clearly dominating the field. But here we're most likely talking about the older generation, I would say men and women in their 30s, 40s and above. How about the young people of today? Unfortunately, there are no statistics about how many late teens and twenty-somethings date outside their race in recent years, but I'm strongly leaning towards the idea, that Taiwanese girls dominate this field. The game has changed due to three main reasons:

Studying abroad: A lot of Taiwanese parents send their daughters to study abroad, most likely to countries such as Japan, USA or EU. It's not hard for them to fall for a local guy, as they are usually pretty open-minded and confident (based on the stories I heard). Quite often, when they return, it's not only a degree what they show to their parents. In case of Taiwanese men, who study abroad, this phenomenon is rather an exception.

Foreign English teacher: In the recent decade it has become common, that young (and usually) White males from English speaking countries (such as UK, Ireland, USA, Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand) come to Taiwan and temporarily work here as English teachers in kindergartens. They are called 補習班 (buxiban), which is also a kind of a cram school. Since the job gives them a lot of free time and less stress than normal jobs, they are known to pursue local girls, a lot of times they are very successful in this. In case of Taiwanese men, there are not many foreign female English teachers, who would fall prey to their flirt attempts.

The internet: Taiwan is a global IT hub and has a very well developed internet infrastructure. The online community is huge and very active. Forums, social networks and blogs are where Taiwanese voice their opinions and share their lives. It's nowadays not hard to connect with people from the rest of the world. And what often starts as an online acquaintance, turns into a real-life love story. This is something, where me and my wife are a good example. And there are lots of other couples with similar stories, also involving Taiwanese guys and foreign girls.

7 The pitfalls of interracial dating in Taiwan

A lot of foreigners, who come to Taiwan, don't realize that dating a local girl should not be taken lightly. It's not really hard to fall for a Taiwanese girl (I know what I'm saying), but you have to be aware of all the implications this might bring to you, to your girl, to her family and beyond. Unlike in the West, where interracial dating is somewhat accepted (well, depends on the combination of the races and the country), in Taiwan it's a fairly new thing and not really mainstream yet (to put it politely). It may not be a completely unknown thing, but you don't see these kind of couples on every corner (like in Pattaya). Here are the most common problems foreigners, who come to Taiwan and date a local girl, might face:

Weddings and marriage are very important to Taiwanese people. Read more here>>

Serious means marriage: A fling with a fellow student might be without any significant consequences, but if you plan to go beyond that and be more serious, you have to understand the girl's culture. Being serious means moving towards an eventual marriage. I have never heard of a Taiwanese girl, that hasn't associated "serious relationship" with "eventual marriage". There is no option of "not marrying" in a Taiwanese girl's mind, so don't even try to mention this to her.

Approval of the parents: A Taiwanese girl will most likely seek approval from her parents and also from your parents, if you're in a serious relationship with her. This part might be tricky for you, as Taiwanese parents are usually very protective of their children, but especially of daughters. Your intentions of dating their daughter might get questioned and doubted and chances are big, that you'll never get their approval, which will gravely affect your relationship. The harmony of the family is one of the most important goals in a Taiwanese woman's life.

Young angry guysAngry Taiwanese guys: There is a substantial number of young Taiwanese guys, who disapprove of local girls dating foreign guys. There are several reasons for this: For one, Taiwanese guys are (as I have mentioned before) a lot of times the preferred child, the focus on sons is very strong in Taiwan. Men of older generation dominate in most aspects of the society (such as economy, politics) and that idea is still often carried on to the younger generation (conditioned by Confucianism). These men believe a woman should follow instead of choosing her life independently. However, those days are past and young girls of today have their own mind and usually don't follow (or follow selectively). Therefore dating a foreigner is seen as breaking a taboo and going against the concept of the traditional Taiwanese society (some even compare it to the Qing Dynasty's blunders with foreigners). These men are insecure and frustrated and foreigners are a good scapegoat for them to vent their anger. They usually release themselves online. They label foreigners (euphemism for White guys) as losers and say they have to come to Taiwan because they can't find a girl back home. They will also attack Taiwanese girls and portray them as cheap, sexually promiscuous, of having a fetish and stupid. Of course we can't deny that history with foreign powers as well as racism play very important roles here. Sometimes foreign guys are losers and sometimes Taiwanese girls are promiscuous, but that's no (let me stress again) - no argument against an interracial relationship, because the same can be the case for Taiwanese couples (and yes, I've seen that with my own eyes).

Biased media, foreign assholesBiased media, foreign assholes: If you're foreigner in Taiwan, you better be careful what you're doing in public. Cameras are on every corner and the 7 o'clock news will gladly report incidents involving foreigners. Public drunkenness is very uncommon in Taiwan, same goes for rowdy behavior. If you engage in these types of things, you'll very likely end up in the media (in many cases rightly so). Unfortunately you can always find assholes coming to Taiwan, committing crimes, breaking taboos and writing stuff online just to provoke people. They worsen the already bad reputation foreigners have in certain circles and feed the media, who's waiting for these things. It's a vicious circle and those of us, who try to live a decent and quiet life here (like me) are dragged into this whether we like it or not. There is a lot of stereotypical thinking among older generations. They know very well how the world used to be decades ago, but show huge knowledge gaps when it comes to the quickly changing world of today. This is understandable, of course. But it's a completely different thing, when this is the case among young people. Most of them are learning English (judging by the number of buxibans), the internet is their window to the world and the possibilities of traveling to foreign countries have never been better.

Cultural differences, miscommunication: A big problem foreigners face is the Chinese language (I'm speaking from personal experience) and the way Taiwanese communicate, even if they speak in English. Communication in Taiwan is indirect, everybody is careful not to say something wrong and make the other person feel uncomfortable (or to lose face). It shows how different we are in this aspect. I've gotten used to it and somehow know how to read between the lines and what to say or not to say in certain situations. But a lot of foreigners, who are new here think, that they can say and demand the same things that they do back in their home country. That's not how it works in Taiwan. On the other hand, Taiwanese are often afraid to speak English and feel awkward around foreigners. It's much better with young people, but the older generation is a different story. I will write about this issue in detail in one of my future posts.

A song by the band Transition about communication mishaps.

8 Interracial dating in Taiwan: Conclusions

Like the controversy over my post showed, this is a hot topic, that can spark a heated and long debate, which I welcome. But I'm totally against personal attacks, racist remarks and hate against certain groups. I know that every transition in a society is painful, it brings about winners and losers and the changes need some time to be socially accepted. That's all reasonable. Nevertheless, don't forget, that we're talking about real people with real emotions, who don't always have it easy. A love between two people from different races can look romantic or frivolous (depends on the perspective), but that doesn't say a tiny bit about the reality of their past, present and future relationship. Why can't we just live and let live? Why can't we just accept diversity and the choice others make, even if we would not make the same one? It was so hard for me to leave my own country and come to Taiwan to be with the love of my life. Every day is a struggle, my family and friends are far away, I can't speak my own language, don't have the chance to eat the food from my home country and much more. I gave up a lot to be here and I'm not complaining, just seeking an understanding. And I am sure that there are thousands of people like me in Taiwan, who have sacrificed even more. Keep this in mind, before you judge someone too fast. I could say much more, but I will leave it at this.

Forgive me for not going too deep into every aspect of the issue, it would need much more time and research, something I unfortunately don't have at this moment. I will however write about certain phenomena surrounding this topic in the future, because it relates to me and my life. This post is meant to start a debate among those who are familiar with the topic and to give people, who are less familiar with the complexities of the situation a basic overview. I am looking forward to the comments below, I would just like to warn you to restrain yourself of comments, that breach one of these rules.

[My UNIQUELY TAIWAN page][Watermarked photos by MKL, 2011]