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Cross-Culture Marriage Increasingly Accepted in China

Love, trust and understanding help people from different cultural backgrounds get to know each other better, and sometimes help pave the way for happy marriages.

Exactly what would make people marry a foreigner? It seems to that question, everybody has his or her own answer.

"I didn't realize that he was a foreigner," said Xiong Lin, a 25-year-old Chinese woman. "I think he is just a handsome and interesting guy."

She is married to Siegfried Verheijke who has been trade commissioner with the Belgian Embassy to China since 1999.

To Lisa Carducci, a Canadian working as an editor for a Beijing-based magazine, what attracted her to Lao Du, a Chinese cartoonist, was his personality.

"I think he is an average-looking man," she said.

Before she met Lao Du, she met some Chinese men who showed interest in her because of her citizenship. When she met Lao Du at an exhibition of her paintings in January 1995, she thought he was just another of them.

"He had a passport already," said Carducci. "When he learned of my thoughts, he tore it up in front of me. I was ashamed of what I had thought of him. Then I agreed to see him more."

For Wang Xiaoyan, a 30-year-old Chinese teacher at the China Traditional Opera's University, the deciding factor was trust. Last year she married Yoon Dongjun, a Korean student of her own age studying Peking Opera in the university.

"He is very honest and reliable," she said. "I was attracted by the word 'trust' in his letters to me. I think marriages fail because of a lack of trust. That's why I chose him."

Different concepts of marriage and family, though, did make marrying a difficult decision.

"In my country, it's fine for people to live together without getting married," said Siegfried Verheijke. "I was against the concept of marriage, which to me was being together with a sheet of paper."

He met his wife when he taught English in 1993 at a school in Wuhan in Central China's Hubei Province. It took him a week to decide to propose in 1998.

"I tried to image myself with her in 20 years' time," he said. "And I decided that I could accept the idea."

His Chinese wife had different ideas.

"I think if a man and woman want to live together, they should marry," said Xiong Lin. "If you have children and you tell them you are not married, I think it is not right."

As an artist and writer, Lisa Carducci wanted a free schedule instead of regular life routines.

"I always thought that I'd like to have a man in my life, but not in my house," she said.

She and Lao Du agreed before marriage that they each would maintain their sphere of working and circle of friends.

As time passes, couples in international marriages seem to learn from each other.

Siegfried thinks that he has learned to be more traditional over the years.

"What you get from love is so gratifying that it pushes away your individual needs," he said. "For me it is the biggest revelation."

Well-known Chinese pop singer Wei Wei is in a particularly high profile international marriage.

"I've learned from my husband not to worry about the past and the future," she said. "And I've learned to show care to my friends."

She married Michael J. Smith, a Swedish-American pianist, in 1994.

The ability to speak a second language is definitely a benefit in international marriages.

Otherwise, in the beginning, communication might be a problem.

"If I speak Chinese, he (her husband) needs to talk in baby Chinese," said Carducci. "And my Chinese is too simple to express my ideas."

It would be the same if she speaks French or Italian, her native languages.

But they have found solutions.

"He (Lao Du) used to teach me Chinese very patiently," said Carducci.

The situation has improved a lot, though, as Carducci's Chinese and Lao Du's English have both improved.

"One of the best chances for me to practice speaking English is when I want to argue with my husband," said Wei Wei with a smile. "Because I had to think of clever things to say!"

Xiong Lin speaks good English and her husband Verheijke speaks fluent Chinese. But still, she has started to study Dutch, her husband's native language.

A common problem for these couples is getting stared at when they walk down the streets in China.

"Even if you become a Chinese citizen, they look at you as a foreigner," said Carducci. "But situations have been improving and now it is quite different from 1992."

Verheijke thinks it has to do with education.

"We got used to it," he said. "It has become more accepted in China. As China becomes more a part of the international community, more and more people would think it doesn't matter to have international marriages."

Actually the couple has learned to look at the matter from another angle.

"If we meet other international couples on the street, I like to check out what the foreigner and the Chinese look like," said Verheijke.

But some couples claim they haven't experienced the problem.

"People are really warm to me," said Michael J. Smith. "Although we do look a little special, as I'm so tall, I never felt uncomfortable having people looking at us.

"You must look for the beauty and the warmth in the people. And then maybe you'll even love a woman from that country," he explained.

(China Daily January 25, 2002)

International Marriages Popular in Shanghai
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