Tens of thousands of foreign women, primarily from Southeast Asia, are moving to China for marriage. At once, they’re trying to escape poverty but are also being drawn to China because of the country’s shortage of women.
For decades the effects China’s one-child policy and strong preference for sons has created a severe gender imbalance in society. In 2011, there were 117 boys born for every 100 girls. And as women “marry up” — especially women from rural areas who seek urban husbands with higher financial or social status — single, poor Chinese men in rural villages are left with few marriage options.
Some of these men search websites for foreign brides, some even go on marriage tours. For the women though it’s often a gamble. While many end up happy, others are forced into marriage and falsely promised jobs in China after they marry.
The Washington Post spoke to one man, Liu Hua, who paid $15,000 to a marriage broker in order to marry Lili, a Cambodian woman:
“People in the village said she’d run away; they thought a foreign wife wasn’t as good as a Chinese wife,” said Liu, who lives in Leping in southeastern China’s Jiangxi province. “But now they don’t think so any more. My wife didn’t run away; she is friendly with the neighbors and treats them politely. Everyone says how nice she is.”
Both insist theirs is a genuine marriage, not a transaction. Happily, Liu’s mother approves.
But Lili still feels cheated, especially after she found out how much her husband had paid. The job she was promised never materialized, and she is furious with the marriage broker for pocketing almost all the fee.
“She lied to me for money,” she said.
Still, Lili says “My husband is a good man and he treats me well,” adding “I don’t want to go back. I have children now.”
But other women aren’t so fortunate. Another Cambodian woman interviewed by The Washington Post explained that she was promised a factory job in China but was forced to marry a man after she arrived.
“My husband said to me: ‘You are my slave; I bought you. If I want, I can do anything to you.’”
Her in-laws locked her in their house and her husband demanded that she have sex with him four times a day. If she refused, she was beaten.
Finally, with the help of her brother back in Cambodia, they convinced her in-laws to allow her to visit her sick mother. The only condition was that she leave behind her baby daughter.
Back in Phnom Penh, she lives in a cruel limbo. She’s scared of being stigmatized in her village — especially because she was unable to send money home — and instead works for at a garment factory in the capital. She’s been separated from her daughter for over a year now.
“I cry every day,” she said.