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 Wednesday, 25 December, 2002, 00:40 GMT
Taiwan's foreign brides
Women born in China married to Taiwanese protest against changes in the law
Some foreigners who marry Taiwanese face problems

To a background of saccharine pop music, young Vietnamese women smile nervously at the camera in a room decorated with traditional paintings.

As the camera pans from front to back, giving an all-round view of the women, an announcer details their vital statistics, including height, weight and age.

Because of my job, I didn't meet a lot of women

Chen Dong-he, construction worker
Watching men are also told that the women are loyal, considerate and obedient.

This dating TV programme, and others like it, are becoming increasingly popular in Taiwan as the island's men seek wives from overseas.

Government officials say there are now around 250,000 foreign women married to Taiwanese men. Last year, almost one in nine marriages on the island was mixed.

Perfect partners

Not surprisingly for an island with a strong entrepreneurial spirit, many people are treating this trend as a business opportunity.

For a fee, matchmaking agencies will arrange for Taiwanese men to meet their perfect partner.

Nguyen Diem Quyen, who married a Taiwanese man eight years ago, is just one of more than 40,000 Vietnamese women in Taiwan married to local men.

The foreign bride, who recently opened a restaurant, shop and meeting place in Taipei for other Vietnamese wives, said money was one reason why foreign women wanted to marry Taiwanese men.

We need to teach [Taiwanese men] that the bride is not just something you buy

David Lee
"When I was a child my mother encouraged me to marry an American man when I grew up. In Vietnam people have the idea that it is better to marry a foreigner because you can get a better standard of living," she said.

"They like to marry Taiwanese men because people here are generally richer."

Taiwanese men looking for a foreign bride most often choose Chinese women. There have already been more than 140,000 such marriages since the late 1980s.

But many others select women from all over Asia.

Construction worker Chen Dong-he, who is married to a Vietnamese woman, explained why he decided to pay a matchmaking agency nearly US$10,000 for an introduction.

"Because of my job, I didn't meet a lot of women. It was hard to get a girlfriend. And I was told that Vietnamese girls are more tender, gentle and obedient," he said.

Not surprisingly, the influx of so many women has led to problems, partly as a result of mismatched expectations.

David Lee is a spokesman for the Eden Social Welfare Foundation, which has just set up a hotline for foreign wives in Taiwan.

No bed of roses

He said: "What is really needed is more education on the part of the Taiwanese men. We need to teach them that the bride is not just something you buy, that she is a person, not a thing".

Despite the difficulties, the trend of foreign brides coming to Taiwan shows no sign of slowing down

Foreign women should also be taught by their home governments that life in Taiwan will not be a bed of roses, he added.

There are also other problems, such as complications arising from a foreign bride's legal status. This can make it difficult for them to do everyday things, such as getting a job or a credit card.

A group of mainland Chinese wives recently demonstrated outside Taiwan's parliament because new rules mean they could now have to wait up to three years more - and perhaps 11 years in total - before they qualify for Taiwanese citizenship.

"Is not eight years of hardship enough?" commented one mainland wife at the protest.

The government rejects this criticism from Chinese women, saying it is trying to make life easier for foreign brides in Taiwan.

It says it provides such things as language training for foreign women who do not speak Chinese, and documents that make it easier for them to travel abroad.

But with the issue cutting across several different departments, and involving women of different nationalities, these problems will probably never be solved to everyone's satisfaction.

Despite the difficulties, however, the trend of foreign brides coming to Taiwan shows no sign of slowing down.

See also:

27 Nov 02 | Asia-Pacific
21 Sep 02 | Asia-Pacific
20 Dec 02 | Country profiles
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