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!