On Tuesday, Oct. 10, Providence College’s Department of Sociology along with the Women’s and Gender Studies program welcomed Dr. Monica Liu, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of St. Thomas. Dr. Liu spoke about her recently published book Seeking Western Men, which focuses on global internet dating, specifically in China.
Dr. Liu noted that her research focuses on Chinese-based agencies that help women find men from different countries, particularly Western European nations and the United States. The female clients typically immigrate to their husband’s country once a match is made. Without knowledge of other languages, many clients rely on translators to communicate with prospective partners.
While this concept may seem unusual, Dr. Liu pointed out that this specific type of online dating is a 2.5 billion-dollar industry, which is equivalent to the entire online dating industry in the United States. Even though these strategies are unique globally, they are incredibly popular in China.
Dr. Liu’s presentation then transitioned into her specific case study. In her book, she examines a Chinese agency with around 1,700 female clients. This agency works with foreign-based companies to find male clients.
When a woman joins the agency, she pays a $1,000 annual membership fee while men pay $5 to $10 to read or write a letter. Once a match is made, the man will fly to China to meet the woman. Generally, at this point, the two people will get married, continue written correspondence, or end the relationship.
In the next part of the presentation, Dr. Liu provided profiles of the agency’s clients. Most of the male clients are American and self-report their race as white. Many of the male clients also come from lower self-reported income brackets.
Dr. Liu synthesized twenty months of ethnography to report these results. She spent extensive time in China observing the agency’s operations between 2008 and 2019. The study included 61 female clients and 19 male clients with data collected through interviews and participant observations.
The fact that the data is longitudinal, which means it follows the same group of women for 11 years, makes this study unique. It allowed Dr. Liu to track how women’s power and agency shift during the process.
With this framework, Dr. Liu strove to answer whether these marriages empower the women who seek them, and what motivates Chinese women to date Western men. Firstly, she mentioned that China has a gender imbalance in the sex ratio at birth which favors women in the marriage market.
Next, Dr. Liu addressed any misplaced stereotypes attendees might have about a mail-order bride. While this group of women is often thought of as young and never married, at the agency, Dr. Liu found that most women are in their 40s or 50s.
Additionally, 57 percent of these women are divorced. Since China’s economic transition, divorce rates have increased, particularly in urban areas. A common theme throughout these cases is that Chinese men are becoming less faithful to their wives because they have a newfound power within the capitalist class. Many powerful men take mistresses or leave their wives for younger women in this new social order.
The women are from a wide range of economic backgrounds, with both wealthy former wives and taxi drivers represented at the agency. Dr. Liu then identified specific types of female clients that she encountered in the agency. These included the rich woman, the middle-class professional, the mistress, those who struggle in the labor market, and single mothers.
Throughout the cases Dr. Liu outlined, attendants could tell that the switch from socialism to capitalism caused societal changes that go beyond how men behave towards women. During the Cultural Revolution, many women were left without a college education and placed in factory work. Once the transition to capitalism occurred, state factories closed, leaving many women without job prospects.
With an increased value on feminine youth within Chinese culture, Dr. Liu concluded that the challenges facing women in China cause them to seek love elsewhere because marriages can be unstable and economic opportunities are not always accessible.