Which Chinese people are more likely to marry foreigners?

Here is a fun piece of Chinese data journalism that got sent my way–somebody added up the total number of marriages between Chinese and foreigners over the past ten years, and then broke it down by province. I don’t have access to the underlying data but I can reproduce the main chart below, which shows marriages with foreigners as a percent of total marriages in each province:


The top 10 provinces are, in order: Fujian, Shanghai, Hainan, Guangdong, Zhejiang, Liaoning, Heilongjiang, Beijing, Yunnan, Jilin. Give how many mixed couples are in my social universe, the opportunity for doing a little armchair sociology here is downright irresistible. Theories for what each of these provinces are doing in the top ten:

Fujian, Hainan, Guangdong, Zhejiang. Pretty obvious — these provinces are the historical origin of most of the overseas Chinese diaspora, and have substantial populations of overseas Chinese returnees as well. It’s very likely that a lot of these marriages between PRC citizens and non-PRC citizens are marriages between two ethnic Chinese.

Beijing, Shanghai. Also not that hard — Beijing and Shanghai are where most of the foreigners in China live, so not too surprising that more marriages between foreigners and Chinese would happen as a result. Yunnan as a border province with a lot of cultural ties to Southeast Asia also has a fairly large foreign population, so the same explanation applies. Here is a quick plot of some data from the 2010 census to illustrate:


Liaoning, Heilongjiang, Jilin. Hey, what are the three northeastern provinces doing on this list? The original article also notes that while it is not surprising for the more economically developed and more internationally oriented provinces to have more marriages with foreigners, it is “quite surprising” for the former Manchuria to show up with such a high ranking. This is a little unfair to Liaoning: as the chart above shows, the foreign share of the population in Liaoning is higher than the national average. My guess is that this is due to the substantial investments by Japanese and Korean firms in Dalian.

But yeah, it’s definitely a bit surprising for these somewhat isolated and economically troubled provinces to be matching or beating China’s most cosmopolitan places. My circle of friends in fact includes a not inconsiderable number of men (both Chinese and foreign) married to northeastern women; I had always enjoyed this as a happy coincidence and did not suspect it might actually reflect some broader social trend.

My informants suggest that the economic troubles of the northeast could in fact be the explanation. As a result of the relative stagnation in the northeast, there has been a lot of out-migration over the past decade as people seek better opportunities elsewhere. (One point of detail is that China’s hukou system means that a Chinese-foreign couple who register their marriage in Jilin don’t necessarily actually live in Jilin; they could live elsewhere but have to return to the Chinese spouse’s home province to register the marriage.) So for the other provinces mixed marriages seem more likely to be a result of “pull” factors–more people mixing socially with foreigners–but for the northeast it could be “push” factors where a bad economy drives people out of their native social milieu. That makes some sense, though I’m open to other theories.

One Comment

  1. I personally suspect it has to do with northeastern women being prettier by conventional/western standards (i.e. tall and long limbed, fair skin) and northeastern people in general are known to be very funny and outgoing. Interesting fact – a large proportion of popular vloggers (主播)on Chinese streaming apps are from that region. Reminds me of frat boy types of smooth operators. But again, it gets crazy when you start asking a Chinese’s opinions on provincial stereotypes.


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