Ask the Yangxifu: On Being Vegan in a Chinese Family

Jocelyn and her Chinese inlaws at the table
Can this vegan and her non-vegan Chinese family share the same table in harmony?

Allison asks:

I’m a vegetarian in China and am finding that in general vegetarianism is a really difficult concept for people to understand here. Did John always know you were a vegetarian? How did that affect you guys when you were dating? and is/was it awkward with his family? Continue reading “Ask the Yangxifu: On Being Vegan in a Chinese Family”

Double Happiness: A Western Woman Walks Into A Bar

Two beer glasses lined up on a bar
Western women walked into bars, and walked out finding their future Chinese husbands (photo by gianni testore)

“A Western woman walks into a bar…” sounds like the start of a joke. But instead of coming back with a punchline, a number of Western women came back with Chinese men who they would eventually marry.

Sure, bars get a bad rap in the world of dating sometimes — yet these women show that your local watering hole just might turn into the backdrop for your “how we met” story. (In their case, the “how I met my Chinese husband” story.)

Continue reading “Double Happiness: A Western Woman Walks Into A Bar”

On the Kim Lee and Li Yang Domestic Violence Story

Kim Lee's bruises as posted on Weibo
Kim Lee's bruises put a new face on her cross-cultural marriage to the founder of "Crazy English," Li Yang.

Just last month, I discovered a new celebrity couple in the cross-cultural community of Chinese men and Western women — Li Yang, the founder of Crazy English, and Kim Lee, his American wife. If only it weren’t because of revelations that Li Yang beat and battered Kim for many years.

If you’re in China, chances are you heard the news long ago. How Kim brought up the domestic violence by posting photos of her bruised body on Sina’s Weibo. That Li Yang admitted hitting his wife to the public, but then offered an unrepentant response.

If there was a “model Yangxifu” award, Kim Lee deserves it. She courageously shared her private turmoil with the public, starting a national conversation on domestic violence and spurring the Chinese government to reconsider dormant domestic violence legislation.

But Kim’s relationship with Li Yang could easily play into some of the worst cross-cultural marriage nightmares — and, I might add, negative stereotypes of Chinese men.

Of course, I don’t fault Kim for anything. She did the right thing. Still, a celebrity couple in the community of Chinese men and Western women in love makes the headlines… and, unfortunately, it’s for domestic violence. I couldn’t help but wonder — will some people come away with the wrong kind of message? Continue reading “On the Kim Lee and Li Yang Domestic Violence Story”

What if My Chinese Husband Was The Only Child?

What would it be like if my Chinese husband were an only child? (photo by Joseph Hoban)

“How is it your husband has two brothers? What about the One-Child Policy?”

The question came out this afternoon while sharing stories from my summer in China at a party — and, more specifically, photos showing my husband actually has two older brothers. One of the women at the party suddenly blurted the question out, because the idea of siblings just didn’t mesh with the narrative she’d heard all along about China.

I told them he was born in 1978, the first year the One-Child Policy began, and he happened to be the youngest in the family. “But most of the men younger than him don’t have brothers or sisters.”

I thought about this later on, long after I left the party — what would it be like if my Chinese husband were an only child? Continue reading “What if My Chinese Husband Was The Only Child?”

All You Need Is Destiny

A bride and groom holding hands and dancing
In marriage, is love really destiny? (photo by Scott Snyder)

“I think love is destiny.” My Chinese sister-in-law Wenjuan blushed as said these words, her own definition of love in marriage.

But even though I understood her every word, I still didn’t get it. “What do you mean by that?”

She glanced down at the table and then met my eyes with an almost virginal shyness, as if she were yet to understand everything about love. “If a couple has destiny, then they have love. Love is a part of destiny.”

Love is destiny. I thought about her words long after we left the table — especially when I pondered something my Chinese father-in-law once said at my wedding ceremony:

There’s always someone out there who really understands you, they are destined to cross a thousand miles to meet. The same idea will bring two people together.

He never spoke of love between John and I; just that we had this destiny that bound us forever in marriage. I heard the same when I attended Lao Da’s wedding earlier this summer. When the bride’s mother praised their union, she called it “destiny” over and over again, never once coming out and using the big “L” word.

In China, how many times had I heard “destiny” invoked in the success or failure of a relationship? Before Lao Da found a wife, he used to shrug off the dates gone wrong and the girlfriends that never happened with this phrase: “We didn’t have a destiny to be together.” At the same time, so many Chinese friends praised the “destiny” between my husband and I — to the point that even I embraced “destiny” as the reason he and I came together.

If love really is destiny, then maybe that Beatles song could go another way — “all you need is destiny.” 😉

Have you ever heard “love is destiny”? What do you think? 

The Sanshi’erli Scare: Over Thirty and Still A Student?

A desk with a textbook open with a pen and ruler on it.
"Won't you graduate already?" That's the pressure my Chinese husband felt from family and friends, wondering why he was over thirty, with no career or children. (photo by shno)

My Chinese husband John shot me his weary, it’s-way-too-late-on-Sunday look. I expected him to vent about his PhD studies the way he always did when he appeared tired — the homework, the papers, the feeling that you’re always, despite your best efforts, just a little behind. Behind it all, though, I always felt his passion, his love for the path he’d chosen — to become a clinical psychologist.

But not tonight. “I’m tired of being a student,” he sighed.

I dashed into the living room, as if his words signaled some emergency, that his lifelong passion needed life support. “What do you mean?” I asked, staring into his eyes for signs of something, anything, that could tell me what was wrong.

He hid himself behind a generic smile, the kind that doesn’t really mean he’s happy. “My cousin is my age. He is settled down and has a family.”

“So? Your cousin also will never be able to do what you can do after graduating.”

He grinned, and with just one glance I had a feeling this problem went far beyond his cousin. “I’m too old,” he said. Continue reading “The Sanshi’erli Scare: Over Thirty and Still A Student?”

Ask the Yangxifu: Language Barriers in Love

An English Dictionary
Sara Jaaksola offers insight from her own relationship with a Chinese man on what to do when language barriers get in the way of your love.

Over a month ago, Jin Feng asked me if I could share some advice on a special kind of relationship between Chinese men and Western women — where language poses a problem. 

I said “sure, I’ll do it.” But then faced a problem of my own. How could I write about this? After all, the closest I came to this happened in my relationship with Frank — but even then, I spoke decent enough Chinese that communication didn’t really get in the way.

So I decided to turn to Sara Jaaksola at Living a Dream in China, who you might call an “expert” in this — she and her Chinese boyfriend literally have trouble speaking the same language. Many thanks to Sara for stepping in to help out! Read on for her advice. Continue reading “Ask the Yangxifu: Language Barriers in Love”

Finding Friends With Married Chinese Women

A Chinese girl sitting next to a Western girl
A birthday dinner in August reminded me of the value of friendships with Chinese women. (photo by ophelia cherry)

In early August, my Chinese husband and I invited five of our closest Chinese friends to celebrate my birthday a week late. We met at a Thai restaurant in Hangzhou. And while I longed for the piquant curries, I never realized I longed for something else even more until that evening.We happened to discuss the wedding between Min and Lao Da, who just married at the end of May. I really wanted to know about what they did to plan their ceremony. I had asked Lao Da about this almost two months earlier, but he dismissed the subject by saying his wife handled most of this.

When I approached Min about the process, she started dressing down Lao Da before she even got to the topic of dresses.“He did almost nothing to help!” she moaned, her eyebrows furrowed behind her geek-chic black frames. “I kept on trying to get him involved, but he didn’t. He always told me not to worry, that it wasn’t a problem. But we had all of these details to take care of and it was hard not to worry!” Continue reading “Finding Friends With Married Chinese Women”

Ask the Yangxifu: Six Western Women of the Past who Married Chinese Men

Louise Van Arnam Huie, with husband Huie Kin
Louise Van Arnam Huie, with husband Huie Kin (photo from http://www.huiekin.org)

mali asks:

I just came across this book Grace an American in China with a foreign woman marrying a Chinese man in the 1930s and going to China. I thought it was pretty cool that they had their relationship then…wow that must have been so hard!! So I wondered if you knew about other actual women like her that married Chinese in the past?

I sure do. You might call them our “yangxifu grandmothers,” the Western women who paved the way for the rest of us to love and marry Chinese men (and often at great cost to their own lives). Here’s a list of six prominent women I know of — including Grace: Continue reading “Ask the Yangxifu: Six Western Women of the Past who Married Chinese Men”

Ask the Yangxifu: My Chinese Boyfriend is Too Critical

A close up of a network monitoring program with a critical alarm displayed.
When her Chinese boyfriend gets very critical with her, a Western woman wonders, is this normal, and what should I do? (photo by Rob Rosenhamer)

Anna asks:

I came to China about six months ago with the intention of staying for four years to study at University. Three months ago, I met my current boyfriend — Chinese, 24, owns his own hair salon — although we’ve only been “officially together” for roughly two weeks.

He’s from Henan, and his parents are very poor farmers, so he was never able to get a good education and some of our outlooks on life are very different (although we value that about each other). He’s very bright and intelligent, though, and he’s always been the sweetest person to me. He’ll even accompany my classmates and I to the bars and clubs on weekends, and doesn’t mind hanging around the international dorms even though he can’t speak any English. Point is, he’s a great guy.

I’m a digital artist, and a few days ago I showed him some of my artwork. He said he really liked it, and asked if I could do a digital portrait of him. Of course I said okay, and went straight to work that night. I worked really hard, and it turned out really well. I was so excited to show it to him! But… when I did… all he could say was, “You made me look too old. I look 53. I don’t really like it… did you make any others?”

My Chinese is just intermediate, so for a minute I thought he was just joking around and trying to be humorous. But then I realized he was dead serious. Now… I don’t really mind so much that he didn’t like the picture… everyone has their own tastes… and although, to me, he doesn’t look 53 but in fact looks younger, I understand that he might have a different perspective.

What I DON’T understand is why he was so critical about it right off the bat! He often offers me those scolding-words-of-encouragement that I’ve come to appreciate… but he’s never been so directly negative before, especially about a gift. He really hurt my feelings. Is it normal/cultural for Chinese boys to be so harsh about these sort of things? Did we cross into the super-critical-is-okay boundary when we declared ourselves official? He really hurt my feelings… but I don’t want to make a big fuss if it’s jut something normal. The last thing I want is to seem petty to him. What should I think? What should I do? Has anyone else had a similar experience? Continue reading “Ask the Yangxifu: My Chinese Boyfriend is Too Critical”