With less than five months until he seeks presidential re-election, Ma Ying-jeou probably isn’t getting much sleep. Despite booming trade with China – the mainland is Taiwan’s largest trading partner – Ma has yet to convince most Taiwanese that the stronger commercial ties make them better off.
In fact, his friendly relations with Beijing are perceived by many more as a weakness than the strength he hoped for. But judging from the increase in cross-straits marriages in recent years, ties between the two may be closer than most people think. Beijing News reported that cross-straits unions have been increasing by 15-20% a year over the last five years. In fact, it has become something of a trend for Taiwanese women to marry mainland men.
Anecdotal evidence comes from high-profile weddings, like that of Barbie Hsu, a famous Taiwanese actress, and Wang Xiaofei, the son of Zhang Lan, founder of the South Beauty Group, a luxury restaurant chain. Taiwanese TV presenter Chen Yu-chia also recently tied the knot with mainland media mogul Jiang Nanchun, founder and chairman of Focus Media.
Model-turned-actress Meng Guang-mei, 43, is also engaged to Chinese property tycoon Ji Zenghe.
For Taiwanese women, marrying across the Strait was widely frowned upon until a decade ago, with mainland China regarded as culturally and financially backward.
But that perception has changed as Chinese wealth rises. An estimated 2 million Taiwanese also now live and work in China.
Plenty of Taiwanese women say it’s easier to find a husband in China too. The country’s gender imbalance means that there are a lot more single men than women (the latest census says a surplus of at least 34 million).
“I was already 37 years-old and pretty successful,” Nien Hsiu-ying, a Taiwanese woman, told The Straits Times. “It would have been pretty hard for me to find a Taiwanese man of comparable age who was my equal in career achievement. The mainland, on the other hand, had plenty of eligible bachelors”.
What makes Taiwanese women appealing to their mainland suitors? It helps that they speak a shared language and share a cultural tradition. Pan Hsien-fang, a Taiwanese salesman in Beijing, told the Global Times that Taiwanese girls are also “less aggressive and more refined than their mainland counterparts”. He complains further that mainland women are “more materialistic”.
Presumably, Pan won’t be marrying a mainlander himself any time soon.
But it seems that the statistics back up his personal view. While the number of marriages between mainland men and Taiwanese women has been going up, unions between Taiwanese men and Chinese women have been falling.
“Taiwanese men still think women should play the traditional role of a dutiful wife while at home but mainland women are less willing to give up their career and do not want to be bossed around by patriarchal husbands,” says Professor Lin Chia-ying, who heads the sociology department at National Chengchi University in Taipei.
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