Chinese-Indian cross-cultural couples face family and cultural road blocks when fighting for their own happiness

By Zhang Xinyuan Source:Global Times Published: 2018/3/6 18:23:40


Zheng Momo and her Indian husband Raj Shekhar Singh Photo: Courtesy of Zheng Momo

Growing up, Zheng Momo from Guangze county, Fujian Province never imagined that she would marry a man from India, a nation that is geographically close China but still remains a mystery to most of China's population.

She and Raj Shekhar Singh, from Bokaro in India, have been married for 9 years, and live in the US.

"What attracts me to him is his rich spiritual world, his respect for women and his mercy to people and animals," Zheng said.

"We went through a lot of barriers to be with each other like most other people in China-India cross-cultural relationships. We really cherish what we have today."

The number of China-India cross-cultural relationships and marriages has increased in recent years because of the more frequent economic and cultural exchanges between the two countries, according to Zheng's observations.

Hu Zhiyong, a research fellow at the Institute of International Relations of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, also observed the same trend.

"As the internationalization got deeper and the economic and trade relationships between China and Southeast Asian countries develop, China-India cross-cultural relationships and marriages will increase," Hu said.

"Under the influence of the Belt and Road initiative, more Chinese are visiting and working in Southeast Asian countries. It also provides opportunities for Indians and Chinese to learn about each other," Hu said.

Zheng Momo's mother and mother-in-law from India with Zheng's two children Shiv H Singh and Aditi Q Singh Photo: Courtesy of Zheng Momo


Zheng Momo with her husband and her two children Photo: Courtesy of Zheng Momo


Closer relationships

Zheng and her husband Raj met in 2008 in the US while they were participating in an academic exchange program. They fell in love quickly and a year later, they got married.

Ever since they met, Zheng has been observing the trend of China-India cross-cultural relationships and marriages. Back in 2008, there was no information about these types of relationships online. "But now when you search on the internet, you can always find new stories about China-India cross-cultural relationships," Zheng said.

Zheng is a member of a WeChat group made up of people in China-India cross-cultural relationships and marriages.

"This group alone has 200 such couples," Zheng said.

Most of the relationships consist of an Indian man and a Chinese woman. According to Zheng, there is only one couple in the WeChat group where the woman is Indian and the man is Chinese. Most of the couples in the group live in China; a small percentage of them live in other more developed countries like the US.

"This shows the inequality of men and women in India. Men have more opportunities to get an education, go into the world and be free to choose their own marriages. Not many women in India have these opportunities," she said.

 The increasing number of such couples indicates the more frequent exchanges between the two countries.

"More Indians are coming to cities in China like Guangzhou, Guangdong Province and Ningbo, Zhejiang Province to conduct business in trade. Once they are here, they meet the love of their life in China," Zheng said.

Besides the business community, there is also more education exchange between China and India. From this education exchange process, more China-India cross-cultural relationships and marriages have emerged.

According to a report by the People's Daily in January, there were 18,171 Indian students in China in 2016, which surpassed the number of Indian students in the UK, a country that has been very attractive to Indian students.

According to the same report, most Indian students choose to study medical science majors, engineering and computer sciences in China because of the lower cost and better job prospects.

According to a Global Times report in August 2017, the number of Chinese students in India has also increased in recent years. Chinese students are attracted by India's cost-effective higher-level education and English-language environment.

Dheeraj is a 22-year-old medical student who currently studies at Peking University, and he met his Chinese girlfriend a year ago on campus.

"Most Chinese girls are well educated, independent and have an open mind to people from other cultures. Besides that, their personality is very gentle, and they care about their family," Dheeraj said, adding that many of his Indian friends in China want to find a Chinese partner.

Besides the business and student community, many Chinese and Indians meet each other and fall in love in a third country while they are traveling or studying abroad like Zheng and her husband Raj did.

Yankee Chen, who runs a coffee shop in Beijing, met her Indian boyfriend in Malaysia while she was traveling with her friend.

"I fell in love the first time I laid eyes on him, and we established a relationship the day after we met. Five years later, we are still together," Yankee Chen said. "Most of my friends don't understand why I insist on dating an Indian, whom they presume are uneducated, poor, unsanitary and have no respect for women. It's not easy." 

Barriers to surmount

To Zheng and her husband Raj, their road together is a bumpy one, and they had to go through many obstacles to be together, mainly from their families.

When Zheng first announced to her parents that she was dating a guy from India and they were going to get married, her mother cried for an entire year.

"They didn't even know where India was, and they just assumed that people from India are poor, could not provide a good life for me, are superstitious and abuse women," Zheng said.

"They came to those conclusions based on the pieces of information from the internet where the media only report extreme cases as a hype to attract audiences."

"My family threatened to disown me if I insisted on being with him," Zheng recalled.

While Zheng was under pressure from her own parents, her boyfriend Raj was under even more pressure from his parents. Raj's mother also cried every day and worried about their relationship.

Arranged marriage is still the ideal choice for most Indian families. The older generations still believe that only by arranged marriage can their children have a stable marriage and that free love is a bad thing, according to Zheng, especially since Raj is from a place that tends to be closed-up to foreign cultures, and Raj is the first person in his hometown to marry a foreign woman that he knows of.

"Free love is frowned upon, not to mention finding a foreign woman, that's a catastrophe," Zheng said.

This is due to the stereotypes the older generation has for foreign women, according to Zheng.

The literacy rate and the internet penetration rate are not high in India, so their perception of the outside world is limited, according to Zheng.

India went through a rather closed period, and the media created some stereotyped images of foreign women, like in the popular Indian movie Purab Aur Paschim (1970), the Western women in the movie are depicted behaving rather loosely and they trick the kind, pious Indian boys, according to Zheng.

"Under those circumstances, it is no wonder that many older Indians are defensive about foreign women. The obstacles we went through are mainly because of the misunderstandings between people from the two countries," Zheng said.

Fortunately, their love for each other is determined. Zheng and Raj eloped in the US, where Raj was doing his doctorate degree. Later, due to the constant persuasion and the confirmation that they are nothing like the stereotyped images, their parents finally accepted their marriage.

The many similarities

With nine years of marriage and two children, Zheng said despite the misunderstandings and the stereotyped images, people from China and India actually have a lot in common in terms of the relationship in a marriage and the strong attachment and feelings to their families.

The family culture in China and India are both ones where the parents sacrifice everything to support and take care of their children, and the children take care of their parents when they are old, Zheng said.

"Couples in both countries are dependent on each other. They put their money together and make important decisions together," Zheng said.

"We have close relationships with our close relatives; we would live close by and take care of each other. This familial culture is different from Western countries. I think because of the similar familial cultures, Raj and I get along even better," Zheng said.

Besides, Zheng believes that she has learned a lot from her Indian husband in terms of the peaceful and rich spiritual world, his philosophical worldview and his love for all living things.

"I believe that with the more frequent exchanges between the two countries, people from China and India will get deeper, and we will see more cross-cultural relationships and marriages between the two countries," Zheng said.

Newspaper headline: Penetrating preconceptions


blog comments powered by Disqus