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Unlovable China yet marriageable Chinese: Cross-border marriage between Chinese men and Ethiopian women

posted on 2022-09-19, 06:44 authored by Wei WangWei Wang


Sino-Ethiopian cross-border marriage in Ethiopia challenges the existing knowledge about Chinese-African encounters and cross-border marriage. Media and scholars’ foci on ‘China in Africa’ primarily stay at the macro level with a specific interest in the quantified economic facets. While a few studies cover the quotidian interactions between Chinese and local Africans, Chinese workers are often depicted as ‘segregated’ or ‘living in a collective arrangement.’ Mixed-race intimacy is reported as a taboo inhibited by the Chinese managers. Besides, the marriage flow is often from the global South to the North, which is produced by both the hard and soft power of the North as the forces, transnational family networks, and/or industrialized marriage brokerages as connections, and the material and immaterial imagination about the migration destination. The formation process and mechanism of Sino-Ethiopian marriage are distinct from the literature.

Based on an eight-month multi-sited ethnography in Ethiopia and China, I identified an unusual conjuncture of global forces, connections, and imaginations that facilitated cross-border marriages between Chinese men and local women, which should be considered a novel ideal type. Its conceptual novelty is not only about the unique dynamic among Sino-Ethiopian spouses vis-à-vis the ‘segregated’ Chinese, but also these cross-border marriages were formed without the aforementioned constitutive outside. As the global force, China shows strong hard power while lacking desirability in Ethiopia, especially among ordinary Ethiopians. The workplaces, such as shop floors, and the local community networks serve as the key connections. Also, Ethiopian women do not want to migrate to China even though they choose to marry Chinese men.

To follow the extended case method tradition, which suggests ethnographers should always connect the micro-site with macrostructure, understanding global China through exploring Sino-Ethiopian marriage is not just possible but preferred. In this study, I show how China has not yet been a colonial power or an empire in Ethiopia even if Beijing intends to. There has not been enough labor-time for China to accumulate a robust symbolic power as its expansion in the African continent only started 20 years ago. China is only a rising South instead of a North.

In conclusion, I argue that Sino-Ethiopian cross-border marriage is an ideal type of South-South cross-border marriage through which a partner from a less developed South marries the other from a rising South. Furthermore, this study calls for a paradigm shift in research examining cross-border marriages between a developing South and a rising South in this dramatically changing global capitalist world system.


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