Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of South, Southeastern, and Central Asia

The Making of a Modern Self: Vietnamese Women Talking about Their Cross-Border Migration to and Marriagfe in China *

Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of South, Southeastern, and Central Asia

The Making of a Modern Self: Vietnamese Women Talking about Their Cross-Border Migration to and Marriagfe in China *

Article excerpt


Research Gap in Existing Literature

With the growing mobility in Asia over the last decade, cross-border marriage migration in the region, "like international labour migration, has become an important part of the globalized migration stream" (Wang & Chang, 2009, p. 211). According to Wang and Hsiao (2009), "the global economic restructuring in this region contributed to the influxes of migrant workers. Increasing contacts between local citizens and foreign nationals were also to result in cross-border marriage" (p. 2). However, as Constable (2006) argues, "despite some broader gendered migration patterns, the overall theme lends itself too easily to the well-accepted logic of a more simplistic modernization narrative: of course poor women will want to move from a poor or 'backwards' country to work for or marry a richer person in a more 'modern' country. The structural inequality of such a situation provides a common and readily accepted logic for the growing pattern for female labour and marriage migration. This logic is not necessarily wrong, but it is not the only way to tell and understand the story" (p. 3). In global marriage markets, both China and Vietnam as bride-sending countries are quite noticeable (Constable, 2005; Freeman, 2005; Kung, 2009; Oxfeld, 2005; Piper, 2005; Wang, 2007; Wang & Chang, 2009; Wang & Tien, 2009). However, academia has shown a lack of concern about the emergence of cross-border marriage between China and Vietnam. Similarly, although some studies have noted a growth of foreign immigrants in China (Pieke, 2011), less focus is on the increase of marriage migrants from other countries. These marriages, in many ways, have challenged the linear and one-way migration from less developed countries to more developed ones. There is indeed an urgent need for scholars to catch up with the new trend in the field and make contributions to the existing literature on marriage migration.

Another problem is that mobility's reconfiguration of gendered identities is particularly significant, yet often overlooked (Kim, 2011; Martin, 2014). In post-reform China, the capacity to be geographically mobile is represented as a value connected with both national modernization and personal success (Lyttleton, Deng, & Zhang, 2011). Thus individuals' conscious awareness and valuation of their own mobility can have significant consequences for their (re)configuration of identity (Martin, 2013, 2014). The geographic proximity, relatively low cost and risk to cross the border and the rapid development of trade and tourism have made mutual and circular mobility between China and Vietnam a common practice for many Vietnamese women. The topic of how cross-border mobility has informed new ways of self-making and how the Vietnamese brides' mobility is gendered deserves more research attention.

Giddens (1991) talks about the development of modern subjectivity, and agrees that "modern" people must "produce themselves": "We are, not what we are, but what we make of ourselves." (p. 75). In his discussion of "lifestyle" in high (late) modernity, Giddens considers it is "adopted" rather than "handed down;" thus has little applicability to traditional cultures (p. 81). Giddens's optimism of increasing choices for women is well illustrated in his book The Transformation of Intimacy (1992) within which women are portrayed as the "emotional revolutionaries of modernity" (p. 130). I find this observation problematic and doubt not only Giddens' de-traditionalization thesis but also the more "choices" and "freedoms" that women can enjoy in late modernity. Therefore I tend to agree with Foucault (1977, 1978) that modernity is not necessarily a total emancipation for human beings and it has produced new constraints and "forced people to produce narratives of the self that explained their present predicaments in terms of past choices and life-span events" (Collier, 1997, p. 26).

In late modernity, the construction of ideals of femininity and women's agency in forging a sense of modern self-hood are associated with women's social positioning within a particular locale (Jackson, Liu, & Woo, 2008; Rofel, 1999, 2007). …

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