Is “yangxifu” (foreign daughter-in-law) a magic word in China?


While a cold, misty rain hung over Hangzhou that February morning, in my mind there was nothing but sunshine. A feeling of happiness surrounded me as John and I left that building, a jubilant couple bounding down the street hand-in-hand.

“How could it have been so easy?” I wondered.

We recalled the smiles from the woman at the front desk, who helped us rearrange our materials. We remembered the uniformed officer who told my husband how to write up an invitation letter, word by word. And when we left, both of them offered us a warm farewell, with the officer even complimenting my husband on how outstanding he was.

To think that we had just left Hangzhou’s Public Security Bureau (PSB), and felt as if we were VIPs once John introduced me as his foreign wife needing to get a residency permit.

And what about those calls John made in advance to the PSB? The moment John mentioned he was inquiring about residency permits for his foreign wife, that person on the other line transformed instantaneously. They became a friendly and helpful voice on the phone, as if John had just dialed customer service.

All it took was one magic word: yangxifu.

In Chinese, yangxifu (洋媳妇) means foreign daughter-in-law. But people here — including my husband — commonly use the term to refer to any foreign woman (like me) married to a Chinese man. And sometimes it seems like the very mention of a yangxifu can light up some of the toughest people you’ll encounter in China. Meanwhile, my husband’s friends have called him a “legend” from the time he married me, and his cousin even wanted us to find him a yangxifu.

And if you turn to the Internet, there’s even more evidence of the popularity of yangxifu. For example, Baidu has two entire forums devoted to discussing yangxifu: Yangxifu Ba (洋媳妇吧), with over 5,000 followers and over 180,000 threads, and Waiguoxifu Ba (外国媳妇吧), with over 1,500 followers and over 40,000 threads. A Baidu forum devoted to yangnǚxu (洋女婿, foreign sons-in-law), however, has only 3 followers and 42 threads.

What is it about yangxifu that makes us popular in China? As I’ve written before:

To many Chinese, having a foreign girlfriend or wife is the best bling money can’t buy. Like cruising in a BMW or popping open a bottle of Moet (part of the worship of all things foreign in China, chóngyángmèiwài or 崇洋媚外) , we suggest he’s truly “made it.”

With a foreign woman by his side, that Chinese man casts a powerful aura around the world in China. People crown him as lihai (厉害, awesome), gaping in awe at his good fortune — and his social status soars.

My husband also believes that China’s love of yangxifu has something to do with how his country views marriage. The traditional view is that when a woman marries, she leaves her family to join his for good. So from this perspective, while a yangnǚxu will theoretically take his Chinese wife away from China to his foreign family, a yangxifu marries into a family in China (and thus, it’s a “gain” for China). Yangxifu are also much less common than yangnǚxu (as I’ve written before and a reader recently confirmed during a trip to Hong Kong), making us more of a novelty in China.

Still, it’s not like being a yangxifu will guarantee you a “magical life” in China all the time. I’m reminded of what fellow yangxifu Charlotte once wrote in a comment on this site:

No, being married to a Chinese gives me nearly no benefits when it comes to living here….

And after all, nothing — not even a marriage — can shield you from every sorrow in life. I should know, because my husband and I have experienced a lifetime of them together!

But really, when I think about it, the real wonder of being a yangxifu is not in enjoying a little VIP treatment from the PSB or making my husband a “legend” among his friends. To think that I could travel thousands of miles to from the US to China — a country I barely knew most of my life — and find a wonderful husband here, living happily ever after in his rural village. Now that’s magical!

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24 thoughts on “Is “yangxifu” (foreign daughter-in-law) a magic word in China?

  • April 21, 2014 at 9:24 am

    The last paragraph is beautiful and so true!! I can truly relate to what you are saying in this post!!

    It is amazing how welcoming my in-laws are as well – they put in an extra effort to ensure that I am comfortable and happy in Taiwan. And not only my husband’s family – everyone the I cross paths with in Taiwan are very kind, welcoming, and helpful.

  • April 21, 2014 at 10:57 am

    My husband dislikes it if people think of him differently just because he’s married to a Western woman (or if they say he’s 厉害 because he is). He wants others to see him for the person he is, not for the person who married a Western woman and he also wants people to see me for who I am, and not just think of me as “the foreigner”.
    Positive racism is racism too, and it can easily become a negative kind of racism if people only see the foreigner in you (or only see your husband as the guy who married a Western woman). There might be backlashes from people who think that as a Westerner you do enjoy preferential treatment in China anyways. I’ve personally encountered these kinds of backlashes a few times after getting pregnant and though subtle they were, they were still obvious enough to make me think.

    And I agree with Charlotte about the nearly non-existent benefits of being married to a Chinese in China (I have yet to come across any benefits).

  • April 21, 2014 at 6:46 pm

    Well, a yangxifu certainly sounds exotic because it is still a rare phenomenon in China.

    I guess it has a cachet about it. While it still does, it is good to just bask in its magic.

    I do hope we won’t want to reduce everything down to racism.

    Come to think of it, at it most reductionist point, just being male and female is racism itself. Please blame god for being a racist. Or Darwinism. Or what might you have.

    Of course, everyone is entitled to her or his opinion.

    But it get a bit tiresome, to pin everything on racism.

  • April 21, 2014 at 7:18 pm

    @ordinarymalaysian I agree that everything shouldnt be reduced to racism, but the perks of being yangxifu do have racist elements. Of course the foriegn is novel element is present and might be fun for a while if it benefits you. But there is some racism wrt the race of yangxifu. This isnt true just for china but many other asian countries.

    I know of a instance where in my mandarin class the teacher mentioned how if foriegn girls could speak chinese people in china would be very very impressed. She then went on to say that it of course only applies to european (white) women. Many asian countries are quite racist even to this day so its hard to separate the plain novelty (that would probably be there for any minority interraial pairing) from preferntial treatment of one race over another.

    I also agree with @chinaelevatorstories as again I have witnessed many chinese men agree that getting a white woman is some sort of victory. This is the kind of positive stereotype that doesnt benefit the stereotyped person at all. Who wants to be some sort of inhuman trophy? Or be with someone who would rather have a trophy than a lifepartner.

    I think Jocelyn sums it up pretty well. As people who might fall on either the side where being a yangxifu is good or bad, what matters most is the fact that love can come in any shape or form.

  • April 21, 2014 at 7:57 pm

    “So from this perspective, while a yangnǚxu will theoretically take his Chinese wife away from China to his foreign family, a yangxifu marries into a family in China (and thus, it’s a “gain” for China).”

    With the way things are going at least in the US, and extraordinarily tough times getting visa for East Asian spouses in the UK, and with the experiences of Jocelyn and John in [State] and [State] (racism), and even if you want a western life, life in Shanghai and Hong Kong becoming very similar to the west with all the creature comforts, more and more western women married to Chinese women will stay on in China or in a non-western advanced country such as Japan or Singapore. In fact, Malaysia has many Britisn women married to East Asian men, who cannot get resident visas for their spouses.

  • April 21, 2014 at 8:05 pm

    “Many asian countries are quite racist even to this day so its hard to separate the plain novelty (that would probably be there for any minority interraial pairing) from preferntial treatment of one race over another. ”

    In my experience they are mostly racist against Asians…blacks are very few in number and rarely marry Asians and live in Asia. A Malaysian colleague married to a Japanese woman cannot get resident visa in Japan although he is very well qualified…has a MBA from Ivy League…of course his country does not want her either…and they are working in the US, where they are simply regarded as Asians. A case of brain drain caused by tendency to commit national economic suicide due to racism…something the so-called “brain drain” experts never examine in their studies. Of course other same “race of nationality” couple are not so lucky in the US. An Indian-American Christian couple raising funds for some activity in India, whose marriage was arranged (they both speak the same language) the woman being very light skinned and the man being very dark skinned, triggered a vitriol from the reverend Donny Reagan… a video that went viral throughout the world…and then we had a dark skinned Turkish male with his white looking…actually white Turkish wife who barely escaped the rampage of a Neo-Nazi…they were in the parking lot five minutes before the rampage.

  • April 21, 2014 at 10:39 pm

    A moving most and you are truly right. Even though I’m not a yangxifu I can still relate to what you’re writing. People here seem to really respect a Chinese guy who’s dating a foreign woman and the people around him seem to show him respect. In my opinion even a foreign woman who admits to liking Chinese me gets viewed with awe, especially by some Chinese women…

  • April 22, 2014 at 12:07 am

    It is a matter of hierarchy and to the person at the top of hierarchy goes the spoils.

    “In my opinion even a foreign woman who admits to liking Chinese me gets viewed with awe, especially by some Chinese women…”

    The issue here is “why would someone from a race considered superior want to date a Chinese guy?” The perception is that she is dating down…now the Chinese guy may be a multimillionaire from Singapore and she may be a white woman from poverty stricken West Virginia or Eastern Kentucky…she has something “valuable” that he does not have…a white skin.

    Now the situation will be reversed back home in Kentucky or West Virginia. Despite his millions, they will wonder why she wants to marry a Chinese guy…the perception is that she is giving away her white skin privilege.

  • April 22, 2014 at 12:25 am

    I don’t know why people behave like that. In Hong Kong no one cared, maybe people from the building we lived were curious and somehow my MIL believed that I cannot go shopping with her because in her mind if an Asian guy can get foreign wife, especially white, he has to be rich and then she cannot bargain at our local market (she really believes in this!), but literally no one else cared. Then we crossed boarder to China and both in Guangzhou and Shanghai people were so much nicer to us (or at least me). Shopping clerks talked to each other that Sing ‘must be good to handle a ghost girl’ and in Shanghai when we adjusted our watches they didn’t want to do it for Sing but as soon as I joined him (I was outside the shop) they started to be super nice to him. I still don’t know why – love has no race then why not making every guy in love a hero 🙂

    • April 23, 2014 at 11:55 pm

      @Lina, that is so true, I’m glad I’m living in HK and no one cares about international relationship, maybe just a few curious eye from people staring at us. I can see your MIL point of view, given that most expats are quite well off compare to the locals. It may well have not cross their mind that there is a group of peope in the west, who require state assistance to sustain basic living. Hence, her assumption.

      @Jocelyn, I got my first taste of being told as a ‘legend’ (很牛) from Shanghai colleuages of mine, when they visited HK office few months ago. (Yes, they saw a picture of my fiancee and me on my desk). I certainly got grill on this during lunch. They even asked me how and where to get a white gf at Shanghai!? (I was thinking, what? I have only been to Shanghai twice in my life and I don’t know much about it). Anyway, it lasted over an hour and that was not a comfortable experience.

  • April 22, 2014 at 7:35 am

    Agreed Ruth.
    There is nothing more uncomfortable than that. Is positive racism and is not good for the relationship, either for the individuals or society.
    I understand people are curious and ask questions, and that’s fine, I think I get that part. Usually they would right the way jump in assuming I am Russian (we could say is the closest country with western looking people) so asking after that comment is also a way to start a nice conversation.
    But congratulating my husband for example is one of the most ackward things someone can do.
    Discrimination comes in many forms and this is one of them.

  • April 22, 2014 at 1:09 pm

    My Chinese colleagues thought I could get something like a “green card” when I get married. I told them “No, in fact I would just get a one year tourist visa that wouldn’t even allow me to work” and they thought it was quite strange.
    I’m not married yet but I don’t think there will be any advantages, if anything just for C. as he wouldn’t need to pay for the visa fee when he asks for a visa to Spain!
    The PSB officers treating me more or less ok and not giving me new problems every time I go would be a nice change!

  • April 22, 2014 at 1:21 pm

    @ Marta,
    I don’t want to break your bubble but the Consulate can actually deny the visa free waiver.
    We are married and they make us pay our visa fees, actually twice cause they also denied his tourist visa to Spain at first. It was a 16 sad days visa and got denied.
    So we applied two times and paid twice. Both times, no visa waiver at all. They always have a remark at the end that says * Note: The final decision can be..blabla..Consul…

    Regarding our time in China, I don’t have the right to get a Q1 visa here. T ‘s hukou doesn’t belong to Shanghai, he doesn’t own an apartment here and when he presented the employment statement they said… “Sorry but no…”.
    I would need to get back to his home town and apply for a Q1 visa, which as you said, doesn’t allow you to legally work.

    The potential “benefit” would come after 5 years of marriage, when you have the right to apply for a kind of “green card”. But again, you have the right to apply, doesn’t mean you will actually get it. I only know one person which holds that card and he has been in China for over 20 years, owns apartment, has invested and has been a CEO with high returns for a looooong time.

    • April 23, 2014 at 4:39 am

      Helllo Laura,

      I’m not so familiar with Chinese Immigration rules; it’s interesting and does sounds strange to me. If after you married a Chinese citizen and they only gave you Q1 visa that doesn’t allow you to work, so, what do you do now? do you work?
      I’m wondering if there is any way for someone like you to apply a working permit other than through marriage.

  • April 22, 2014 at 5:57 pm

    @Laura, well there goes the only advantage I could think of, haha. How cheap of them.
    You were already married and his visa was denied? That is plain evil.
    We have only applied for the visa once and got it without problems and faster than expected… he doesn’t own a flat but I gave them enough proof that I had money enough to pay for our 2 weeks trip.
    Let’s see how it goes next time we need to apply…

    I also heard about the “green card” after 5 years but understood that is something almost impossible to obtain. Are they scared people will start marrying Chinese just for the green card? Haha!

  • April 22, 2014 at 6:03 pm

    Yes, we were already married when they called us with the news. We needed to re-apply and there was no visa fee waiver at all.
    Actually I don’t know about C’s visa but for T they always stick it in a random page. Page 19, page 21, page 39 ! And this time they included a stamp that says he must go in person to the Consulate when he returned from Spain ( 5 days deadline), so now we also needed to ask for half day off at work to go there and do that… (they stamped : ANULADO, in that note that said he must go to Consulate).. I am talking about last week ah!
    I am sure next time we take a flight we will have questions about that Anulado, because we already got plenty of questions about why he has a stamp saying he must go to consulate….
    The flat requirement would be if you apply for a Q1 visa in China, because of your marriage. If he is not from Shanghai and you live there he needs to own a flat OR bring an employment statement. (apart from the hukou and all that stuff).

    Easy easy eh…

  • April 22, 2014 at 8:57 pm

    As far as getting a spousal or residence visa in your country for your Asian spouse try the UK….type in japanese spouses of British women and visa in the google. It is by far the most difficult. Many a talent has been lost by the UK because of this policy…the Germans are no different. I call it committing economic suicide.

    Talking about brain drain, there was a few years ago a Chinese with a transport engineering Phd from one of the top US engineering institutions…he could not get permit to work in Shanghai…so he moved to Singapore and last I heard was still working there.

    If a country is hell bent on committing economic suicide no one can help that country.

  • April 23, 2014 at 9:21 am

    If your purpose in China is Employment you need to apply for Employment permit+Resident permit.
    That is not linked to your marriage and your marriage will have no impact on that, no support or no negative impact either.
    Is one kind of visa or another, it can”t be a combination of both.
    If you don’t have a job then you need your spouse visa which will not allow you to work. If you have that visa and want to work you need to cancel it and apply for the one mentioned above. (Leave Mainland China and apply for it)…
    Don’t know if its clear with this explanation…

    • April 24, 2014 at 1:16 am

      Hi Laura,
      Glad to see your reply; it’s perfectly clear thank you. hmm… so, it’s not like in some western countries where foreigners married to citizens, they can obtain both permanent resident and working permit through one single application. I didn’t know it’s tougher in China; but, at least foreigners especially Yangxifus still have chances to get those permits.

      The reason I’m asking you is I strongly support Chinese men-Western women relationship. When I read your comment before, I thought the Q1 visa is the only document foreign spouses can apply after marriage and they can’t do any work. It makes me concern about lives of Yangxifus (including you) as I can imagine what it’s like to live in another country without doing anything. Your explanation gives me some reliefs; Thank you so much.

      wish the best for you and your husband,

  • April 24, 2014 at 1:01 pm

    We do work, but when we do we do it with an Employment permit 😉
    The spouse visa or reunion visa is mainly used when you are unemployed, installing yourself, taking care of your babies, trying to start up something,…or in an existencial crisis like…
    I dont know what to do…
    How long will I stay here…
    In which place are we gonna live..

    Said that, I didn’t apply for any spouse-reunion visa yet since I live in China but I did consult it with Authorities to make sure it was an option.

    Some Western countries, as you said, would give you permanent residency, not mine though. If my husband wants to move with me he needs a job / a company that sponsors him (and I didn’t even met one case where this happened..), only if he is European he can move with me and apply for that permanent residency that would let him work without any problem, freelance..etc.

    Here in China there is no such a thing as a permanent resident, it doesn’t exist (yet at least). You can get a visa for few months, for 1 year and renew..for 2 years..for 3…
    Or you can get what some people call a green card, but that looks like a myth since I know many couples like us married for 17 years and none of them ever got it..

    • April 25, 2014 at 1:27 am

      Whoa… I’m a Chinese but you know the immigration system here more than I do; Thanks again for the insights you gave me 😀

      So, your husband can’t even get any residential permit (without working) in your country without company sponsorship?
      if he gets such sponsorship and work there, can he apply for permanent residence after certain period of time?

      O…O… the story in your last paragraph is disturbing me. I’m angry my Chinese government treats foreigners that way; but I can only pray they will change to be better some day…
      if it’s impossible to apply the green card, dose it mean it’s impossible as well to be a Chinese citizen?

  • November 9, 2016 at 11:48 am

    I know this is an old post, but some of the comments really resonated with my recent experiences since I am currently visiting my husband’s family in Hubei. Sometimes people here are impressed that my mother-in-law has a 洋媳妇 and other times they use it as an excuse to charge her more money, like the other day at the playground. My older daughter really liked a bubble wand that a little boy was playing with so my MIL helped ask his grandpa where he bought it and how much it was. He replied that he bought it from a vendor there at the playground and only paid 5 yuan. So my MIL went to go buy one, but the vendor had seen that she was with me so charged her extra. When MIL argued about the price the vendor told her, 你们家有洋媳妇 你们有那么多钱。The vendor didn’t even know us and she just assumed that we had a lot of money since I am American. But when my husband and I got married, we didn’t even have enough money to go on a honeymoon or take any time off of work. He didn’t have a car, or own an apartment or have a savings account. It’s super frustrating to be judged on appearances! Next time my kids want to buy something, I will tell my MIL to go back later without us so she can still get the normal price.


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