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2 According to Vietnamnet (http://tintuc.timnhanh.com/kieu_bao/20070830/35A65319/
, accessed August, 30, 2007), about 32,000 Vietnamese women married foreigners, mainly from South Korea, Taiwan, and China, between 2003 and 2005. Over the past ten years, about 22,000 Vietnamese women and children were sold to China (UNICEF n.d.). In the Thuỷ Nguyên district of Hải Phòng alone, 1,340 women have married Chinese.
According to Wei Xiaoming of the Guangxi Women’s Union, “in 1999, an investigation in Dongxing showed that 1,269 Vietnamese women were living illegally without household registration or official registration of temporary residency; almost all were living with local men without being officially married” (see Ma 2002). Among the six thousand or so inhabitants of nearby Wanwei, a small Chinese fishing village that lies 25 kilometers from the Vietnamese border (figure 1), are some fifty Vietnamese women who have settled illegally in the last couple of decades as unofficial wives of Chinese men.3
The newly arrived Vietnamese women entered into unions with Chinese men who were almost as poor as they were. Given the gender imbalance in China, some of these men had not managed to find a mate among Han women; others had been married, but their wives had left them. Poverty was not their only shortcoming in the marriage stakes. Hà explained:
Here, out of a hundred who married Vietnamese girls, ninety-nine have a difficult family situation. If the man is not clumsy and slow, then he is a playboy like Lý’s husband. If he does not have a broken family with a brood of neglected children, then he has a raggedly poor one without house or home. If he is not handicapped, then he is an old man or a widower. You see my case: at the time I married my husband I was almost forty with an orphaned child and without any money. Who would have wanted to marry me? If I went back home to Vietnam, I would stay unmarried all my life.
Nguyễn Thị Phương Châm. 2012. Làm dâu nơi đất khách: Trải nghiệm văn hóa của những người phụ nữ Việt Nam lấy chồng Trung Quốc ở Vạn Vĩ [Being a wife in a foreign land: Cultural experiences of Vietnamese women married to Chinese men in Wanwei]. Hanoi: Nxb Lao Động [Labor publisher].
Phụ nữ Việt Nam lấy chồng Hàn Quốc: Những cuộc hôn nhân không tình yêu và bao nỗi khó khăn” [Vietnamese women marrying Koreans: Marriages without love and countless hardships]. 2006. Vietnamnet, October 6. Available at http://tintuc.timnhanh.com/kieu_bao/20070830/35A65319/
, accessed August 30, 2007.
At the beginning, we [my husband and I] did not talk much, because I could not speak the language. He would show me by example, talking while doing so that I could follow what he tried to explain. He showed me how to cook the way he wanted his food. When he cooked, he told me to come close so I could watch and do the same next time. He spoke slowly so that I could follow. As for conjugal relations, it was difficult; sometimes, he wanted sex and I did not, but I could not explain. Or I wanted to remind him of something but could not show him how. So we just pushed on; eventually, I got used to it.