Qualitative Sociology

, Volume 42, Issue 3, pp 431–453 | Cite as

Seeking Western Men: Divergent Trajectories of China’s “Email-Order Brides”

  • Monica LiuEmail author


Based on 17 months of ethnography at three different online dating agencies in southern China, this article examines the life histories and decision-making processes of women who seek marriages with Western men. Most women in my study are middle-aged (over 40), divorced, and come from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds. I explore how emerging inequalities brought on by China’s transition from state socialism toward a global market economy shaped their shared desires to seek out-migration via marriage. My work is set against the backdrop of China’s economic ascendance on the world stage alongside a relative decline of the West. I compare how Chinese women from diverse class backgrounds envision a relatively homogenous group of men: Western men in agriculture, manufacturing, and small business sectors who feel they have been left behind by globalization. My results show that China’s uneven development has fractured the local marriage migration market into different niche sectors, where each sector is occupied by women who envision Western men and the relative decline of the West differently due to differences in their own social positions and access to resources in China. Their social positions are, in turn, shaped by the intersectionality of many factors including age, generation, parental status, income, etc., which I explore in depth in this article. This study illuminates the importance of adopting a more intersectional approach to analyses of migration as our world becomes increasingly decentered, diversified, and yet polarized.


Gender Globalization Marriage Migration China 



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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sociology and AnthropologyColgate UniversityHamiltonUSA

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