Dear Ms. Wai: Worried About my Niece Marrying a Chinese National

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Heres the deal… My niece is marrying a Chinese national. They are in college. He hasn’t expressed a desire to return home.

They are getting married in December. I am performing the wedding and also leading them through premarital counseling.

My brother really likes him. Thinks he is nice and approves of the relationship. 

He has expressed concerns to me about things he is hearing from his daughter that pertain to family dynamics, financial responsibilities etc.

I have been searching for articles and answers online to help me be informed and navigate these issues but haven’t come up with anything that is helping.

Then, I stumbled on your site and hoped you could steer me in the right direction. Any articles or experiences would be greatly appreciated. 


Congrats on the upcoming nuptials! I hope the wedding goes well and everyone has a good time!

I’m not exactly sure what you mean by what your brother has “heard” from his daughter. I’m guessing perhaps he heard some more and rigid things regarding your nephew-in-laws feelings about responsibility to his family?

I’m also not sure if your niece’s partner is an only son, or if he has any other siblings, but regardless of where he actually lives, it is near impossible to escape some of the responsibility he has towards his family. As a Chinese national living abroad he might have more guilt that he can’t physically be with his family, so he will compensate financially by wanting to give more to his family back in China. And if he is the only child, he will have a ton more pressure to be the sole provider.

In China it is actually a law that children must financially (and physically if need be) take care of their elderly parents, even if the parents were cruel or mistreated their children when they were young. I know it sounds harsh, and it is in some cases, but that’s just the way the social system works in China and it likely won’t change anytime soon. His living abroad won’t change his legal responsibility nor erode his feelings of societal pressure.

But how that filial piety and financial responsibility play out is different in every family. Some send a small portion of their salary every month, or one large payment a year. Some children feel so guilty, especially if their parents sacrificed a lot to give them the opportunity to study abroad, that they want to send the vast majority of their earnings back, living a very impoverished lifestyle themselves (aka sacrificing themselves to make up for the sacrifices of their family).

Also physical distance is always an issue when a child moves abroad, especially if they are not intending to move back. Relocating the parents to foreign country is a common solution, with them usually living with the child’s family and taking care of any grandkids they might have.

I know for western culture that seems quite cloying and overbearing, but it is not only common, but expected in Chinese culture. So it’s something your niece needs to be aware of before agreeing to spend the rest of her life with her future husband.

But the good news is since your brother knows about it, then your niece and her future husband must have talked a lot about it. The biggest hurtle, and pressure in a multicultural relationship isn’t filial piety, but his doing so without considering his wife. Many of these problems can be solved with good communication and understanding between the couple. They can decide together how much salary to send back home, or if/when the aging parents should live with them or they should move to China.

If the guy is already talking like it is “his duty and responsibility” and not willing to share the burden, or decision-making, with your niece, that’s where problems can occur. Sometimes Chinese men might think their Western spouse can’t understand their cultural pressure, or the necessity of their financial responsibility and therefore they keep quiet and do everything on their own, without their partner’s knowledge. That’s where the problem lies.

So since you are counseling them, really dig into that problem. I know we never want to discuss money openly with other people, but this would be the time and place to help them. What percentage of their salary will they send abroad exactly? Will it change overtime? What does he feel like is his duty as his parents get older? These are all questions that need to be addressed early, so both of them are going into the marriage with open eyes and hopefully you and your family can feel assured as well.

Ms Wai

One comment

  1. Good job answering, Ms. Wai. I would not have been able to answer the question. The letter raises too many questions that I would need answered before I could respond.

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