Seeking Western Men
Email-Order Brides under China's Global Rise
Monica Liu


Contents and Abstracts
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1Why Do Chinese Women Seek Western Men?
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Chapter 1 introduces readers to the Chinese female clients and explores their motives for seeking Western husbands. These women include multimillionaire entrepreneurs, ex-wives and mistresses of rich businessmen, as well as contingent sector workers and struggling single mothers. Given that the majority of the female clients are middle-aged (over 40), I discuss how the revival of traditional patriarchal gender ideology in China today, with an emphasis on the desirability of feminine youth, has put them at a disadvantage on their local marriage markets. I also discuss how age discrimination subjects working-class women to additional disadvantages on the labor market, exacerbating their desire to leave China. This chapter explores the disempowering effects of globalization on middle-aged Chinese women and sheds light on various social problems in contemporary China, such as rising rates of divorce, soaring costs of higher education, and a strained social security system.

2Provider Love
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Chapter 2 highlights the women's expectation for "provider love," or love expressed through men's provision of material goods to women. Coming from postreform China, where masculinity is tied to breadwinning, particularly among the middle and upper classes, many women lost interest in their Western suitors after seeing their "gender egalitarian" spending styles. While equal sharing of fiscal responsibility between men and women is associated with progressiveness and modernity in the West, my respondents viewed men who embrace this doctrine as effeminate and undesirable. Rejecting Western masculinity in its existing form, these women sought a new, hybrid masculine ideal that combines traits from both the Western family man and the wealthy Chinese entrepreneur. This chapter reveals that, contrary to the assumption of some gender scholars, Western masculinity practices do not always have a strong global influence.

3Transnational Business Masculinity
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Chapter 3 examines relationship conflicts that emerge from a disconnect between the Chinese women's sexual desires and their Western suitors' socioeconomic status. Many women found their suitors sexually unappealing because those men did not embody the elite masculine traits that are characteristic of men in positions of power. I chronicle the process through which these women pursued wealthy Chinese businessmen, even if some of those men were married and unavailable, while they simultaneously rejected average-earning, unmarried Western suitors as well as average-earning, unmarried local Chinese pursuers. Examples from this chapter show that men who do not exhibit elite masculinity are deemed unsexy and get rejected regardless of their race, ethnicity, and nationality. This illuminates the increasing significance of class distinction and the declining significance of race, ethnicity, and nationality when it comes to sexual attraction, as an affluent capitalist class emerges in both Western and non-Western countries.

4Embracing Domesticity
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Chapter 4 explores the lives of brides who became homemakers and relied on their husbands for financial support. My results show that this arrangement did not automatically preclude them from having a satisfying marriage. It is not the separation of spheres—the hallmark ideology behind patriarchal bargains—that makes or breaks these marriages, but rather the specific terms and conditions of the bargain. To have a functioning bargain, both parties must view their costs and rewards as equitable. Nevertheless, I also argue that we must not discredit the Western feminist critique of gendered patriarchal bargains in its entirety. When we consider women as a group rather than as individuals, patriarchal bargains still put women at a structural disadvantage. For a subset of unlucky brides who end up in conflict-ridden marriages, their financial dependence on their husbands rendered them powerless to fight back.

5Body of a Woman, Fate of a Man
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Chapter 5 examines brides who chose to work outside the home. Comparing their postmarital lives to those of the homemakers, I did not see a main divide in marital happiness based on whether the wives worked, which again challenges the Western-centric assumption that women who work for pay experience greater marital satisfaction. Interestingly, the women's ability to work often opened more avenues over which differing gender ideologies could prove problematic in these transnational relationships. Identifying with a new strand of Chinese-style feminism called "entrepreneurial C-feminism," many respondents expected to keep any earnings as their private money, while their Western husbands demanded that they chip in on household expenses. By exploring the role of entrepreneurial C-feminism in shaping these women's relationships with their husbands, I highlight how endogenous changes within China's local gender order impact new marriages formed in the West through these cross-border unions.

6Surrogate Dating: Translators behind the Screens
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Chapter 6 explores the livelihoods of staff at the dating agencies. I discuss the various forms of insecurity that the translators faced, including the precarious legality of their industry, their reliance on their clients' marital success for profit, and their own disadvantaged position as rural migrants working in urban centers. I analyze how these competing interests incentivize them to police the morality of their clients. Moreover, I identify the complexities of their work as emotional labor that is driven not only by profit but also by their moral and personal investment in their clients' relationships. This chapter sheds light on the struggle translators face in balancing their profit-making goals with their conscience while living through a chaotic period of social transition in China, when many traditional norms, regulations, and morals have been upturned. Moving beyond their struggles, the chapter also examines the rewards of working in this industry.

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The epilogue summarizes the main points of this book and provides some insight into how new changes in global economy, technology, and public health may shape the future trajectory of the transnational dating industry. I highlight a post-2012 demographic shift among the Chinese female clients, from those born in the 1950s and 1960s to those born after 1980. I discuss how women from the younger generation approached marriage migration differently from their predecessors, due to China's global rise and the younger women's stronger financial position. I also discuss how recent advancements in translation software have caused the agencies in my study not only to downsize but also to shift their business model away from translation toward date coaching. Finally, I discuss how COVID-19 has further impacted cross-border marriages and end the book with my own projection of the industry's future outlook in a postpandemic world.

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