Divorcing Your Chinese Spouse Doesn’t Mean You Must Divorce China

Susan Blumberg-Kason in Hong Kong (photo from Susan Blumberg-Kason)

Divorce is never easy for anyone. But when you married someone from a country you came to love — or have always loved — and decide to divorce them, you might wonder: what will happen to your connection to that country?

That’s a question Susan Blumberg-Kason had to grapple with some 13 years ago when she decided to divorce her Chinese husband, who grew up in rural Hubei Province. She loved China and Chinese culture for years, a love that moved her to learn Mandarin Chinese and study abroad twice in Hong Kong. For her, the answer was this: that a divorce from her husband never meant she had to divorce China as well, something she will detail in today’s guest post.

Before we get to that, I also wanted to share Susan’s exciting news. Her memoir Good Chinese Wife was just acquired by the publisher Sourcebooks! Here’s the scoop on the book deal from Publishers Marketplace:

Susan Blumberg-Kason’s GOOD CHINESE WIFE, a look at the author’s tumultuous five-year marriage to a man from central China and the serious cross-cultural issues she faced as she struggled to adapt to traditional Chinese culture and to her husband’s increasingly abusive temperament, to Stephanie Bowen at Sourcebooks, in a pre-empt, for publication in Spring 2014, by Carrie Pestritto at Prospect Agency.

I’m excited for her and  look forward to reading her book next year!  And now, here’s Susan’s post:


Susan on her wedding day in China in the 1990s (photo from Susan Blumberg-Kason)

A couple weeks ago I celebrated the thirteenth anniversary of leaving my first marriage. To this day, it was the most difficult decision I’d ever made. It’s heartbreaking to end a marriage, and even more so when there’s a child involved. In leaving Li (who came from Hubei province) and deciding to remain in the US, I feared I would also have to abandon my link to China and Chinese culture.

In the twelve years before my divorce, I had been steeped in Chinese culture in one form or another. A high school trip to China in 1988 led to a Hong Kong college year abroad. Five years of Mandarin lessons culminated in a move back to Hong Kong where I started graduate school and quickly met and married Li.

And then it was gone. Five years after I married Li, I was back in Chicago, the place where I grew up and thought I’d never return to after high school. Everyone in my family spoke English and only English. My neighbors weren’t Chinese and the people I started to meet didn’t know pinyin from Wade-Giles. It seemed like the China chapter of my life was finished.

But I was determined not to let that happen. I am lucky to live in a metropolitan area. And if you’re like me and don’t plan to live in Asia again, there are many ways to stay connected to China even after you leave your Chinese marriage.


My son Jake spent his first year surrounded by his grandparents from China. So the first languages he heard were English and a Hubei dialect, similar to Mandarin. We returned to Chicago a few months before Jake turned two. Within six months I had found a parent-tot Mandarin class that met once a week. From there I reemerged myself—and Jake—into Chinese culture.

With my younger kids (from my new husband), I’ve been teaching them Mandarin through picture books that feature Chinese characters. My 6 year-old daughter recognizes more characters than English words.

When I lived in Hong Kong, I picked up a little Cantonese. About eight years ago, I met up with a group of alumni from my university there. They’ve become some of my closest friends, and now we meet for summer picnics and Chinese New Year banquets. I love this connection to Hong Kong and how my kids are exposed to Cantonese language and culture.

The Arts

Susan at a Chinese New Year’s banquet with alumni from the Hong Kong university she attended (photo from Susan Blumberg-Kason)

I’ve been fortunate that Chinese music and dance groups have come through Chicago. We also have an annual Hong Kong film fest and an international one that features films from China. Even without these, I rent Chinese movies from Netflix and from our public library. Sometimes our cable company has free on-demand movies from China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.

The easiest way to stay connected to China is to read. It seems like a dozen new books about China come out each year, not to mention all the fabulous ones that have been published in the past. Between the public library, Kindle, and good old-fashioned bookstores, I know I can stay current on Chinese literature no matter where I live.

Holidays and Festivals

I thought this would be my biggest loss when I left my Chinese family. But as I’ve found out, I’ve been able to celebrate my favorite holidays in my Chicago home. For Mid-Autumn Festival, I buy my kids mooncakes, read to them about this holiday thanks to Grace Lin’s amazing picture book, Thanking the Moon, and buy them lanterns (the Internet is a great resource).

Chinese New Year has become just as important in our home as Hannukah. One of these years I’m determined to cook a Chinese banquet for my family, but in the meantime we’ve been going to restaurants and/or friends’ homes to celebrate the Lunar New Year. My kids not only know all the animals in the Chinese zodiac, but also the animals each of their aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandmas was born under.


Susan dressed in a qipao as she poses with her husband Tom (photo from Susan Blumberg-Kason)

When I lived in Hong Kong and often traveled to China, I loved to shop for traditional Chinese-inspired clothes, whether it was a Western dress with frog buttons or a red-padded jacket. Those clothes were lost in one move or another. So over the years I’ve been replenishing my wardrobe. Again, the Internet is a fabulous resource. I finally made it back to Hong Kong last year after a fourteen-year hiatus, and bought qipao style dresses for my daughter and myself. Now when I go to weddings or fancy dinners, I always try to wear a qipao.


This is not to say that there won’t be times when sad memories resurface. I’ve found that to be especially prevalent when I go to Chinatown. The other night I took my family to eat Sichuan-style hotpot. As we entered the warm restaurant, I felt transported back to another time: A muted CCTV newscast droned on a flat screen TV; the waiters spoke to me in Mandarin after I told them in Chinese that we wanted a table for three; and diners all around conversed in Mandarin. Everything about the restaurant reminded me of my days in China when I was a yangxifu.

But it’s all right to remember the past. I’d like to think my past connection to China has helped shape me into the person I am today.

Susan Blumberg-Kason is the author of the forthcoming memoir Good Chinese Wife, which will be published in 2014 by Sourcebooks.

(UPDATE: edited title of this post to “…doesn’t mean you must divorce China” which better reflects that this is a choice and may not be right for everyone.)

41 Replies to “Divorcing Your Chinese Spouse Doesn’t Mean You Must Divorce China”

  1. I read the story with a heavier heart. Not the personal triumph it conveys. I wish to hear the husband’s side of the story. Will the book do good service to Chinese culture? Some questions I have.
    It is much easier for any American to explore Chinese culture with assistance. Lack of interest is the issue. Learning language is getting easier in internet age.

  2. Oftentimes its painful for me to go to little Koreatown because it keeps reminding me of my Korean ex. Seasons carry the same pain as well.

  3. Having been married to a Chinese myself, I can attest that the CAN in fact have an abusive temperment. I went through so many comments by friends “A CHINESE man was like that ?”. It didnt help my husband was former chinese military for over 20 years, as its not only chinese culture but military culture I was up against. and, we have a child together which makes it harder.

    Im so happy she has remarried and is very happy now. I understand her situation of what about the country I love ? I am feeling the same way now…I still love China.

  4. Susan, if you’re reading this thread, here is a big hug to you. I am moved to see how hard you work toward retaining the Chinese identity of your children, and how your son has grown up to be a handsome young man. One day they will read the archive of your blog and book, and they will realize how much you have given up for them. You are the personification of some of the characters I adore in western woman: curiosity, strength, dedication, and perseverance.

    1. Son? Where? Where did you see the photograph of her son to known that he has grown up to become a handsome young man?

  5. Abusive spouse exists in every race, gender, country and social class. But it is a delicate line to tread when you intend to talk about culture at the same time. Very often, your publisher is selling what you don’t want to sell either.

  6. Divorcing simply means ending a union contractual agreement between two or more people – I know this sounds cold, but in reality, this is what happens when one or both parties in a marriage decides the union no longer valid to what they originally want/desire. With this being said, divorce doesn’t mean you don’t still keep in contact with your in-laws, relatives from the other side that you have bonded with, their likes and dislikes and still keep communicating. I like what my kids told me about friendship, “just because you break up with your BF, it doesn’t mean you have to break up with everyone”.
    What a wisdom, eh?
    Love your life and love what life has to bring with you even though sometimes the people who bring you joy originally no longer there.

  7. Asian men suck at dating and marriage. Statistics show they have the highest divorce rate, so its best to stay away from them.

    1. You will find the highest divorce rates are white american couples.white men and asian women have lowest.also high are white women black men

  8. @Allie.
    please provide the numbers to back up your claims. and if possible provide links so that we may know if the numbers are genuine numbers.
    I believe that people should stay away from people like you. why ? because obviously you’re a low life whose business is here just to run down on Asian men.
    I don’t know whether you’re a man or woman, or your ethnicity. but judging by your comment, you could either be a self hating Asian woman or a Caucasian man who has an inherent inferiority complex. now I know what I’ve just said will invite people to say that I m racist or sexist but then again, I have come to realize that the only way to deal with people like you is to confront you head on.

    1. @Sam
      Sorry my friend but you’re wrong. The only way deal with people like Allie is to simply ignore them. Nature deals with them accordingly because what goes around comes around. Everything in life has a season, you may call it karma. Besides Asian men have very successful relationships and marriages with Asian women. The low divorce rates in China indicate this. Whereas, in western countries divorce is reaching pandemic propositions. I’d love to hear Susan’s husband’s side of the story.

  9. I read some entries in her blog recently, nice family.
    Divorce isn´t easy, but sometimes is the best solution, and I am happy she took the step and she understook that she is connected to China. Not only for herself but because she has a half-Chinese son who should understand where he comes from. That´s what a good mother does.
    Though distance is a great barrier I hope the father goes to visit the kid some times, there is distance but as we said, divorce is something that happens between her and her husband, nothing to do with the kid and his father.

  10. Okay :).. Let’s ask every asian families that question and see if those kids that have fathers in the house!!!!!!!!! and drop down how many asian couples that have been divorced before. The more you stay away from asian men , the more you women want us!! 🙂 lol. Highest divorce rate ? My ass! In asian culture, it’s much harder to get a divorce. Some asian don’t even want to divorce and just stay together for their KIDS.

    1. And what is wrong with making divorce less convenient? What is wrong with two adults that have made a conscious decision to bring life into this world working out their differences and staying together for the benefit of both parents successfully raising their child TOGETHER?

  11. Thanks for all the comments! I hope I can answer/address them adequately.

    @askdsk: I try to show why my ex-husband acted the way he did. I certainly don’t intend to demonize him. An independent editor I worked with a couple years ago thought that my ex was a sympathetic character in my story. Memoir is just one person’s point of view. I hope I show how much I love Chinese culture, but that I was unprepared for some of it. Everything is a learning experience, no?

    @Sveta: I totally understand how you feel. Seasons are hard because we associate certain times of the year with events that took place when we were still with our exes. I hope you can heal from that pain as time goes on. It takes a while, so don’t give up.

    @Rebecca: Wow, what a story. I agree the the military culture anywhere adds certain dynamics to a relationship. I can see how your friends would be surprised by what you told them. Stereotypes are hard things to break, but one of the things I want my readers to learn is that Chinese culture is very macho. It’s not about meek or passive men. Not at all. I hope you’re doing well!

    @Ashleigh Son: You’re so sweet! A tear came to my eye when I read your comment!

    @centaur: Your comment brought another tear to my eye! Thank you!

    @Tiffany: Very wise words! Thank you!

    @Allie: I think some do, some don’t, just like every ethnicity. My ex-husband grew up during a difficult time when children were separated from their parents in their teens or earlier. Without a strong family unit, it was hard for teens like him to learn how to have a decent relationship. I often wonder if things would have turned out differently if China hadn’t been under so much turmoil back then. In any case, things worked out in the end for both of us.

    @Sam: I hear you. I know you weren’t implying that I stereotyped in my book, but I want to reaffirm that I tried to show that personality matters the most. In my case, I was so sure that our differences were cultural that I tried to be patient and understand where he was coming from–without wondering, at least in the beginning, if our problems were instead due to a personality clash.

    @Laura: Thank you! More tears! My ex does his best and I’m happy that he and my son are on great terms. It might not be ideal for most families, but we work with what we have.

    @Bruce: I agree that the divorce rate among Asian families is probably one of the lowest if you break down divorce by ethnicity. In China now, however, the divorce rate is higher than it was during Mao’s time and before. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad, but many of my ex-husband’s friends were divorced in the mid-90s. He was the one who told me that it was more common at that time than during decades that came before that.

  12. Recently I learned that divorce rate in China is steadily raising.
    In 2013 Chinese Government implemented a new law, those who own a second house and want to sell it (make profit) need to pay 20% taxes to Chinese Government. Since this started in Feb 2013 many couples found a creative solution: divorce.

    Therefore in the last couple of months divorces are raising and raising..and raising.

    * > 5,000 couples divorce each day in China ( 2011)
    *2.87 million marriages ended in divorce in 2012 – Tsinghua University & Lifestyle Magazine Xiaokang (7.65% higher than in 2011)

    *1.2 million couples married in 2009, same year 2 million filed for a divorce- People´s Daily
    (Divorce rate is higher in metropolitan areas)

    * International scale: still divorce rate, 57th position 7 years ago, don´t know at present, but it has climbed some positions. Asian scale: Rumours said it has surpassed Japan and Korea and is now 1st in Asia

    Scary stuff

  13. I would love to have more details about divorce rates to gain a better understanding, like…:

    -How many of the couples who divorced in the past few months in order to avoid the tax law have kids.

    – Within those ones who have kids, how many divorced because…:
    1. They do need that money to take care of the kid;
    2. They have enough money but just want to be wealthier ( meaning money is more important than the kid).
    3. They wanted to divorce since time ago and now this is one pro more to take the step.

    – I don´t know about now, but I know that at least years ago there was a law in China that was ” making men laugh and women cry” when they were leaving the bureau after filing for divorce. That law was saying that when the couple divorces the value of the house is not divided by 2 if the house was paid ( purchase or rent) by one of them. In that case the house is for that person. The reason why people said men laugh is because they needed to buy that house in order to marry, and now when they divorce the ex-wife cries cause as she did not contribute ( because she didn´t want, or cause she could not, or cause she was taking care of the family, or she was lazy..never know which reason,..) she can´t get anything out of the divorce.
    I´m just saying, I would really love to know more about those numbers, missing details!

    Any lawyer here?!

  14. @Susan
    Telling both side of stories would make a great book. Maybe many things have nothing to do with Chinese culture.

  15. Thanks, @askdsk. That’s the role of a narrative, but memoir is just one person’s story. I do answer the culture vs. personality issue at the end, but don’t want to give away too much. 🙂

  16. @Susan
    Good luck. I’ve had my own answers. But I think people change over time. China also has changed a lot.

  17. Thank you! I don’t want to give away too much, but I do incorporate what you’ve just described into my ending.

  18. Maybe there are more questions than an ending. We all live with our own choices. Also, when your personal story is published, it is not your own anymore.

    I am very interested to find a book that is written by China’s new generation (born after 85) outside of China. Suggestions?

  19. This is what I’ve noticed!!!! You’re most likely to get a divorce if your parents are divorced! In China is different because everyone is trying to make more money and build wealth and everything hits the chinese people at once.. Just change too fast! You have 1.3 + billions people and everyone is trying to get ahead for a better future. You are surrounded by people everywhere and you will change. “If you don’t adjust to my ways, I’ll leave. there are millions of women/men waiting for me” . This is the type of mentality right now.


  20. Hi All. I was reading all of your comments about the rising divorce rate among Chinese couples. This is a disconcerting fact fo rme. What is the divorce rates between Western men and Asian (Chinese) woman? I am a White boy who is totally in love with a Chinese woman and we are doing so well right now that we have spoken about the possibility of marriage. I do not want to walk down the aisle, and then shortly thereafter walk out of a courtroom post divorce. Please advise.

  21. Manny,

    “I do not want to walk down the aisle, and then shortly thereafter walk out of a courtroom post divorce.” to me , this is funny! I think you rely too much on website to answer this difficult question! You question is very simple to me but it can be the hardest question to answer. Well, it all depends on you and your gf. Ask her this question : ” Are you willing to eat bread and water with me when times are hard? Will you still love me when I’m disabled, fat or injured ? What if we’ll lose everything due to crisis? ” If you two have the same beliefs in relationship/marriage and hardworking, you will be fine. Please explain to me why people get divorces? You will have lots of issues when you’re married and you have to know how to solve them. You just have to know how to treat a woman and you will be fine !! Manny, seriously ?? Your relationship is going pretty smooth huh? It’s your hard work and it has nothing to do with our advices. One more thing….. always hang out with good, honest, earnest friends and family members. People around you are the key to your success in relationship/marriage. You need positive, honest people who are really your friends unlike acquintances.


  22. @ Bruce. Once again, my brother, your advice seemed so earnest and sincere and this is what I love most about you. When I asked the question of divorce rate between WM/AF, I was just trying to get some indication of the trends and prepare for it. I know that the trend in the world does not dictate how a relationship will proceed or end. Many factors will determine success or failure. I know that love conquers all and love can fend of adversity to save a a White boy and his Chinese girlfriend (or wife). So, far Kate and I are doing so well and I am totally in love with this woman. Seriously!!! I rarely turn my head now to peek at other Asian girls’ buxom or bosom anymore when beauties walks by. You see how good I am now? I believe that I will succeed with my Chinese girl as I am totally in love. But there is always this small amount of fear in me that says: walk down the aisle and then later walk out of the court room post divorce. I have seen this pattern time and again among my fellow White boys and girls. That is why I am asking about the divorce rate among WM/AF. So, do you or do you now know the rate, please?

  23. Manny,

    Were your fellow white boys with asian women? Did your friends try to work things out with those gals? Normally people get divorce is when there is no more love anymore or at the point of no return in the relationship. You know usually you can solve any financial or family problems. Maybe your friends and their wives are bunch of control freaks !!!!!!!!! You just have to compromise and cool down a little bit instead of always trying to run away from problems . You always have to use your head first and think first before you proceed to do something. You have to step in your wife’s shoes first because you criticize or vice versa. If you think as a couple and having the same values, you will be fine. As long as she is down to earth, go for it. You have to know that NOBODY can please you for life so you have to please your wife a little bit in return. For example, even I want a divorce right now, my wife won’t let me. This is the confidence I give you!


  24. Manny,

    Take a good look at her mother. Now picture yourself, in 30 years, being married to a woman like her mom. Can you see yourself doing that? If so, then chances are that you will have a stable marriage.

    Also keep in mind that in the US, 50% of white-white marriages end up in divorce.

  25. @Manny,
    Congrats, few months ago you were chasing a goddess and now you are thinking about marriage…let´s say, don´t think about those rates, and about possibilities of divorcing when you intend to marry.
    The reason why I shared those rates are not to scare you, is just information, numbers.
    Example, I am not “scared” of those rates, I just like to read about everything, divorce, marriage, economy, culture,… and I found that those numbers are interesting for a country that is growing so fast.
    Those rates are not scary, what is scary to me is the reason why people sometimes marry; taxes, small argument, disagreement, family,…

    I hope no one says to my boyfriend to look at my mother and imagine if he can be with someone like that. She did not play any role and still doesn´t want. Plus physically we are opposites. She is blonde with light green eyes, small, and very thin, she likes make up, high heels, and lots of sparkling things…I have dark brown hair with dark green eyes, white, “tall”, strong, fat, I like to wear basic / classic colors with no high heels, no make up at all and no sparkling if possible…

  26. @ Bruce. Thanks for the advice once again. We are far from the point of marriage as my Chinese gf is still in school, and I still have quite a ways before I can reach the point of financial comfort to marry anyone. Although I have a job and am saving some money, I am still living with my parents and 2 sisters in my small town in the South. I think I already told you but my Chinese gf lives in another town to attend college, and I can only see her during the weekends and Friday nights. Once we reach the point of engagement, then I want to be able to move with my Chinese gf to somewhere where the opportunities are greater for the two of us perhaps N.Y., Seattle, Houston, or L.A. We simply do not know yet at this time. But I will ask her whether she will love me if I am disabled, fat and bald. I will also ask her if she is willing to eat only bread and drink only water when the times are difficult. I will also ask her many more difficult questions in the near future as per your suggestions above.. And if you (Kate) are reading this comment, may be you can tell me now. Thanks once again for your advice.

    @ Centaur. Thanks for your reply, but you misread my question. You wrote that about 50% of white/white marriages end in divorce. My question was: what is the divorce rate among couples comprised of Western men and Asian (specifically Chinese) women. Do you know? No one has answered this question. Please advise. Thanks.

  27. @Laura.
    Hey girl. It is nice of you to remember me. I thought that only Bruce may recall my excessive compulsive desire for a Chinese goddess. Well, I have a Chinese goddess now and hence I am happy. Thanks for your good wishes and for those stats.

  28. @Manny,
    Sure I remember, you and Bruce shared many messages about goddess and women in general.
    My inbox was full 🙂

  29. @laura: I am Chinese so I am prone to making crude generalizations 🙂 We are talking about Manny’s Asian interest here, so, absent of much context, I am assuming that she fits the general overseas Chinese demographic profile: born and raised in China, in a fairly shielded environment, fairly well educated, etc. And if Manny is talking about her being a “goddess,” I am guessing that she is from a big city (Shanghai?) where women tend to take better care of themselves. And it goes both ways — for a western woman, just take a look at your Chinese bf/hubby’s father — that’s what he will turn into, to a certain degree, when he gets old. I know, this sounds almost offensive to westerners. But, you have to take into consideration how we Chinese raise our children. Often, both parents are very involved in a child’s upbringing and like to control the child’s behavior and value system, sometimes to fault. So, the cliche of “like father like son” is more true among us Chinese people.

    @Manny: you’re in love, does any divorce statistics really matter? and if you are going pop the question, maybe you should think twice before asking her about bread and water 🙂

  30. @Laura,

    Your inbox was full? I want your inbox to explode!! oh yes baby!!!! LOL .

    @Manny, you have a long way to go dude. Save more money now and the rest is history. I will teach you some more later.

  31. Manny,

    You are not the only person who have asked me this question on marriage and divorce. I know another friend who is extremely successful and he is afraid that the girl won’t be around long either. I understand everything dude that’s why I’m the grand master ( sitfu) of life. He owns a very successful financial agency and has a few real estates ,too. He wants a woman who is smart, down to earth and will stay with him until their hair turns gray. He said” I might lose everything and I don’t want to lose my wife eventually due to financial crisis”. He is a very traditional guy but extremely smart and good with his customers. Very ethical guy and responsible. Manny, if a woman loves you, she will follow to the end of this earth with you. I told my wife over a decade ago that I had nothing and I was not successful at all. My wife was willing to work with me and build something from nothing . I told her that in life there is no guarantee so I could lose everything over night eventhough we have savings and investments. She said she will stick with me to the end no matter what. If a woman who will stay with you only for your finance then she doesn’t love you. That kind of women you can find anywhere on the streets, bars, etc. There isn’t one problem in a relationship that you can not fix. The question is are you willing to fix it or not.. You need a woman who will work with you not against you. In the past, I always have this phrase on my mind ” if you leave, don’t ever come back”. My confidence level was above the roof because I had adjusted everything from A-Z for her needs. I guess I have shown her that I really standed out from other men out there. She was mesmerized by my personality, big heart, body, humor and my manly “doer” attitude ! Like I’ve said before that you have to exceed the woman’s expectation in every single categories. Remember once you’re married, you have to think for two people not just for yourself. You need a woman who will never explode over every little things ( just anything). Someone who will solve problems with you. I advice to date for 3 yrs. You will also need a woman who will encourage you in business, hobbies, families etc instead of being like a dumb wood hanging out at home watching tv or looking at 4 walls!! Nagging once in a while is okay with or without anger. If she nags like an old lady on her manopause cycle 24/7 then cool her down and educate her. She acts like that doesn’t mean she’s crazy or being a bitch. Women like men who can communicate with them even for those mean ones.

  32. So true, the past has huge part on what you are in the present. You only divorce the one person, but that doesn’t mean you will keep yourself away from the place that once you called home. Divorce is a devastating life event, and even though things can be complicated what matter is that we are able to cope up with it and continue to move forward.

  33. Hi everyone thanks for all the post , i have a question and i wonder if anyone can help me , i married someone from china about 10 years ago , and i did petition her to come to usa. but for the last 5 years i lost contact with her and still wonder if she came to usa yet ,now i want to serve a divorce with her and i having a hard times doing it coz the china law ,how do i get a legal divorce without knowing where she is now .pls someone help me and thanks a million

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