Marriage Limbo – Why I don’t feel like a Wife

Marriage China

So, how do I feel now I a officially married? Not married at all really. I put it down to a combination of things. Mainly, it is because the trip to the marriage registry office was entirely unceremonious. Yes, we signed a couple of documents but we didn’t even get to say our vows. The most ceremonious aspect of the day was my running around in a dirndl I could barely breathe in, and yes, I am proud as hell that I did that despite the awkward looks it earned me. To tell the truth, I am a sucker for getting awkward looks, very much to Mr. Li’s dismay I don’t give two cents about making a complete fool of myself in public while he is frantically trying to find a way to get his mental laowai wife under control.
Yes, I guess that’s the only thing that has changed now. I call Mr. Li my husband and he calls me my wife when we talk to other people, although not with a bit of panicked stuttering preceding it, “This is Mr.Li, my boyf..h.h.husband.” It usually sounds a little something like that. Because we have not had the wedding ceremony yet and are not wearing our wedding rings, it just all doesn’t really feel like we are a married couple.
Also, in China the woman does not traditionally change her surname to that of the husband’s or take double name. I actually find it rather ironic considering that in traditional Chinese culture the woman is seen as leaving her own household to enter the man’s, who becomes her so called new family. This also becomes apparent in the language, were men take a woman as their wife, which is called 娶and incidentally is made up of the two characters “to take” and “women”, while the woman weds a man, 嫁 often to be seen in the combination of嫁出去 “to wed and go out”, from their former family that is, or嫁给人 “to be given to someone to wed”. Another common phrase in combination with weddings in China in the past is that the daughter is lost to the household. This loss is symbolised during the wedding, when the bride and her mother cry after the husband comes to pick up his bride and take her to her new home with his family.

In light of this cultural background would it not make sense, that the woman also takes the man’s family name as we used to in the West? I always felt that by keeping their own name, while Chinese society may state that the women become part of the husband’s family, they really don’t. This feeling of mine seemed to be corroborated by a conversation with a Chinese friend about the relationship with her parents-in-law. She described to me in detail how whenever the son was around, the parents would behave like a happy couple and live a harmonious life; however, whenever he was away, which due to his line of work was often the case, they would be at each other’s throats fighting like dogs. All this was going on while their daughter-in-law, who was living with them since she was originally from a different city, was sitting in the same room with them. When she was talking to me about this, she said visibly upset “I am supposed to be part of their family now, yet they do not extend the same courtesy to me than they do to my husband, their son.”

However, in front of strangers they would not fight like this either to save face. It makes me feel that they see me as worth nothing, as the lowest rank in the family, since they cannot even extend that most basic courtesy to me.” This comment reflected the impression that the tradition of retaining one’s name upon entering the husband’s family had left on me. Yet, things are not all as bad as that. Mostly, I find it such an irony that in my culture it is still very common for the woman to take her husband’s name, while our being wed does not equal the loss of our family to us. That’s culture for you!


3 thoughts on “Marriage Limbo – Why I don’t feel like a Wife”

  1. In the past when the woman “married out” in China, she used to be called by her husband’s last name, in your case you’d just be “the wife of Mr. Li”. So although people say Chinese women kept their last name, as I understand it, their last name was not actually kept, but their new identity just became that of being the wife of someone. They didn’t need to officially change their last name, but they didn’t use it anymore either. Becoming kind of name-less. Glad that most women get to keep their own name in China nowadays.


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