Wives, Husbands, and Lovers: Marriage and Sexuality in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Urban China

Wives, Husbands, and Lovers: Marriage and Sexuality in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Urban China

Wives, Husbands, and Lovers: Marriage and Sexuality in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Urban China

Wives, Husbands, and Lovers: Marriage and Sexuality in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Urban China


What is the state of intimate romantic relationships and marriage in urban China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan? Since the 1980's, the character of intimate life in these urban settings has changed dramatically. While many speculate about the 21st century as Asia's century, this book turns to the more intimate territory of sexuality and marriage-and observes the unprecedented changes in the law and popular expectations for romantic bonds and the creation of new families.

Wives, Husbands, and Lovers examines how sexual relationships and marriage are perceived and practiced under new developments within each urban location, including the establishment of no fault divorce laws, lower rates of childbearing within marriage, and the increased tolerance for non-marital and non-heterosexual intimate relationships. The authors also chronicle what happens when states remove themselves from direct involvement in some features of marriage but not others. Tracing how the marital "rules of the game" have changed substantially across the region, this book challenges long-standing assumptions that marriage is the universally preferred status for all men and women, that extramarital sexuality is incompatible with marriage, or that marriage necessarily unites a man and a woman. This book illustrates the wide range of potential futures for marriage, sexuality, and family across these societies.


Deborah S. Davis and Sara L. Friedman

ON NOVEMBER 6, 2010, CHEN WEI-YI, a thirty-year-old Taiwanese woman, married herself in an elaborate Taipei wedding ceremony in the wake of an online publicity campaign that attracted thousands of comments about the pressure on single women to marry before age thirty. Two years later, Hunan television broadcast a thirty-eight-episode soap opera entitled “Dutch Treat Marriage” that parodied the efforts of newly married couples in the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) to clearly demarcate spousal finances. Later in 2012, the BBC circulated a sensational story about Cecil Chao, a never-married Hong Kong shipping tycoon, who was offering £40 million to “any man able to woo and marry his lesbian daughter who had already married her partner in France.”

Media representations such as these titillate a broad public precisely because they resonate with more general anxieties about the fate of marriage in contemporary Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the PRC. Marriage in these three societies is changing so rapidly that young and old alike often struggle to come to terms with new sexual mores, the erosion of traditional gender norms, and growing rates of marital infidelity and divorce. To marry oneself, as Chen Wei-yi did, might first appear as a bizarre twist on normative heterosexual marriage, but her act underscores the persistent centrality of the institution of marriage and the multiple ways that contemporary marriages differ from those of the past. Similarly, for those who do marry, changing expectations of marital roles and obligations challenge long-standing definitions of the good husband or the proper wife. Carefully splitting food and restaurant bills, as did the couple in “Dutch Treat Marriage,” pokes fun at these renegotiations . . .

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