Ask the Yangxifu: Love and Location Dilemma With a Chinese Man

A European science graduate student loves a Chinese man, but doesn't love the thought of sacrificing her career to live with him in China. Can they overcome location to be together?

LoveDilemma asks:

I’m a 22 years old girl from europe and currently finishing a master’s degree in biology. Everything was clear in my life until last year, when I meet a chinese exchange student in my university. Our friendship evolved into something so deep that we become boyfriend and girlfriend. But he had to went back to China 8 months ago to finish his bachelor there. We simply could not give up of our relationship and we keep in touch, but now we have a dilemma…He wish he could move to my country but he can’t find a job here. I’m finishing my degree and I also can’t see any job prospects for me in China as well…Even if I move there to live with him, my future seems dark. I wouldn’t even consider the possibility to move to China if my love wasn’t so deep…I’d be completely dependent on him in a foreign country with strict immigration laws… I’m not even a native english speaker nor have any teaching degree in languages or teaching experience, can’t speak mandarin fluently… so my scientific degree seems worthless there. Unless I find a stable job and income in China (unrealistic), I think I won’t be welcome there or get a stable residence permit. How many foreign women had married a chinese national under these conditions? My head tells me it’s not wise but my heart……So we will have to break up because he’s chinese and I’m a foreign girl? I still can’t simply accept this and move on…


Location is one of the biggest hurdles for cross-cultural couples in China — especially couples of Chinese men and foreign women, as I wrote in the article Western Wives, Chinese Husbands:

Going to your country might be your first choice, but what about him? Think of it from his point of view. He will become a minority in your country and many Western countries, sadly, have negative stereotypes of Asian men, from the emotionless Kung Fu warrior to the emasculated nerd. He has to negotiate daily life in a foreign language, which adds to his stress. Even with a favorable visa (for example, a permanent resident card), he will face discrimination in hiring for jobs if he doesn’t: 1) know how to “perform” in job interviews; 2) have a degree from your country (remember, news about China has primed them to be suspicious about China, including Chinese credentials), or; 3) speak good English. As Jessica explains, “my husband has no marketable skills—he’s a career musician—and speaks no English. Guess where we’ll be living for the foreseeable future?”

If you’re considering moving to your country, graduate school may be the solution, at least to overcome discrimination in credentials and accelerate his acculturation. But don’t be surprised if your husband would rather stay in China or move back to China after earning a degree.

Staying in China isn’t going to work for you. You value your career, and would not be able to work there. In China, you’d have to rely on him entirely for income — a perilous option, given that most Chinese couples have a hard time buying and affording homes on one income. As you mentioned, without employment, how will you get that residence permit (especially now that China is more strict in visa enforcement)?

Psychologically, you’d face challenges because you sacrificed your career (and, I’m assuming, your dreams). Chances are, love won’t be enough to overcome regrets over leaving behind who you are — a reality Betty Friedan captured perfectly in the Feminine Mystique.

Instead of thinking about life in China, why not consider life together in your country? He may not be employable now, but graduate school could change that. Since he already studied in your country, he’s clearly fluent enough for school.

But is he willing to live abroad?

Location disputes have the potential to break otherwise happy cross-cultural couples apart. No matter how much you love each other, sometimes it’s not enough to overcome geography. But let’s hope you can. Good luck.


Do you have a question about life, dating, marriage and family in China (or in Chinese culture)? Every Friday, I answer questions on my blog. Send me your question today.

14 Replies to “Ask the Yangxifu: Love and Location Dilemma With a Chinese Man”

  1. I’m a Swedish woman with a Chinese husband- and we’re in fact in China visiting his family again right now. My husband and I have been talking a lot about where to live in the future and have pretty much decided to stay in Scandinavia for now.
    My husband is currently taking an IT-master in Copenhagen, Denmark, and I have a stable full time job in Copenhagen since 2008. Should we ever want to move to China it would most likely only be for a year or two to have our future child going to Chinese school for a year or so and for the child to get to spend more time with grandparents here in China. I’d like my future child to become fluent in Mandarin and preferably also Suzhou dialect which is my husband’s native language.
    For us, housing is no problem as we have an apartment in China already, the only issue really would be what would I do in China? True I could study Chinese for foreigners, but that would not give an income. Visa wise they DO give out 1-2 year visas to foreigners married to a Chinese national- that’s what I’ve heard anyways. I’m currently here in China on a 3 month visa but that’s only because I saw no reason to apply for longer visa this time (staying in China 3.5 weeks this time). But if you have a marriage certificate, preferably translated to Chinese, the embassy “should” give you a longer visa with multi-entrance if you wish and it can be re-newed by going to Hong Kong or Singapore in many cases.

    Something I’m thinking right now: Is there a possibility to live with his parents in China? Or have they bought an apartment for their son? If either one of those is a yes, there’s one thing less to worry about should you live in China.
    What education does he have? Is there job possibilities or possibility for him to take a master degree in Europe?
    What education do you have? Willing to learn Mandarin? Have you been to China and know what it’s like?

    Maybe a first step would be going to China, meet your possible future in-laws (if you haven’t already) and see how it goes.
    I met my in-laws for the first time in 2006, less than a year after first meeting my husband. My in-laws and I bonded instantly even though we to this day, can’t communicate as I’m too shy to try the little Mandarin I know and they only speak a few words of English. But it works anyways 🙂

    Try looking into every possibility! If you feel like moving across the globe for love, then it sure is true love so don’t let any “issues” get in your way!

    As for work in China. Most bigger cities have many western companies in town. I’m in Suzhou and here’s both Nokia, Glaxo Smith Kline and many other companies from west and there are many westerners who live and work here for long term. You can also be a bit creative and look into starting something yourself, like a restaurant with cuisine from your home country. Chinese like to try exotic things 😉

    OK, now I’ll finish this mini essay 😛

  2. Another question: What career do you want, what is your specialization? I mean, still being in school doesn’t help, you’ll have to go for that first job/post-doc/whatever – but you may find that is not so easy either… and, on the other hand, there may be chances (depending on career plans) of wanting/having to do research abroad – such as, possibly, in China? – or working for a company that can make use of a foreigner with specialized skills.
    I’ll be the first to admit to struggling with that issue myself, but even in Europe it’s becoming more and more necessary to think creatively about work you can do – and then you can also be creative about work you may be able to do in/with/from China, just as well.
    Expenses for daily life – absolutely not counting the question of buying a house/apartment, admittedly – are way cheaper in China, at least 😉

  3. There´s nothing you can do. I´d give up on him or have him move to your country. At your age, a career is tons more important than dating, especially since you´ll probably easily forget him after breaking up, like most people do. There are plenty more people for you to date in the future; hopefully more of them will be compatible in terms of location and language.

  4. Even though she isn’t a native English speaker, there would be a demand for a biology teacher with a master’s at universities around China. It certainly wouldn’t pay as well as a job in her home country, but it would be a decent wage in China.

  5. Richard is giving a rational, but cold-hearted advice with which I disagree. I would follow the heart – even if in the end it would not work. Nobody knows what the future holds, so why limiting your options from the very beginning?
    There is NOTHING impossible if you really want something – the rest is just technical difficulties which both of you will have to solve…
    By the way, the advice of moving to some third country (like Singapore) is a good tip demonstrating that there is ALWAYS a way out.

  6. Do you have to decide now? Can you visit him in China, perhaps save up and take an extended visit even (you can get a tourist visa for a month easily, which usually can be extended for up to 3 months), scope out your options, and work on your relationship.

    If you get married your visa options will open up somewhat, and if you have good credentials and experience you might not be limited to teaching. Your boyfriend too, would have more options for working in your home country if he had permanent residence status, which I assume he could get if you were married.

    All of this is to say, you’re young. You don’t have to decide right away where you’ll live or even whether you want to get married or not. You can take a few years, continue visiting when you can, and in the meantime work on the distance issue. If it doesn’t look like it will work out, at least you’ll know that you tried.

  7. I think you should try maintaining this relationship. Options of finding a job in some international cities like Hong Kong or Singapore, can work quite well. Hong Kong pay very high salary and it can be English-speaking too. There is a great demand for biology master graduates there. Good luck!

  8. She could get a good job teaching science at the many international schools in the larger cities in China.

    1. Well, once again, my readers offer a refreshing perspective I completely missed in this article! 🙂

      @Jennie, thanks so much for sharing your experience. Your suggestion to go over there and at least give it a try is good advice.

      @Gerald, thanks for the comment! It’s so true that we all have to be so much more creative about our work, and sometimes China offers the flexibility we need. (though those housing prices are frighteningly high at times!).

      @George, excellent point about Singapore, which didn’t even cross my mind.

      @Richard, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Sometimes a career can be more important, but it ultimately depends on what she really wants to do — and whether she has flexibility.

      @Chinamatt, what a fine suggestion, if she would be interested in teaching. Thanks!

      @Crystal, thanks for sharing your thoughts! You’re right that, if there is true love, couples can sometimes work things out in the end to be together.

      @Jessica, thanks for weighing in once again! You make such a good point that she should at least give it a try, and give herself some time to decide.

      @Ken, thanks for the comment, and great suggestion to, like George, recommend a third city.

      @reloaded, thanks for another great suggestion.

      Let’s hope she’s reading your comments and rethinking her career prospects in China. 😉

  9. First time I read this post.
    All what I can think is , how lucky those of you who can actually choose between your home country and China. For us Spain is not an option, since 2012 the nre Regulation made it semi impossible for mixed couples.
    If the spouse is from a non European country they dont give a visa for spouse or permanent resident anymore, as they did years ago. My husband and I would need to be living in different countries, working, paying 2 rents and missing each other for some years. In average 30 months – or 3 years.
    My aunt has been waiting 34 months already for example.

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