PHOTO: James Burke and Sun Meidong met online and chose to live in Australia for James’ work. (ABC North Queensland: Nathalie Fernbach)
Love can trump the challenges of relationships and culture, according to one of the findings of a study into intercultural marriage between Chinese and Australian lovebirds.
The study conducted by James Cook University researchers Wendy Li and Amy Forbes focussed on marriages between Australian men and Chinese women aged between 30 and 75 living in north Queensland.
Of the 12 couples involved in the study, the majority had meet via online dating sites and six of the women had very limited English language skills.
“Even for those already married for a couple of years here in Australia, many of them can still not communicate in either language,” Dr Li said.
“Some of them are still using an electronic translator or Google Translate, but many mistakes occur in the translations so they sometimes are very frustrated.”
Dr Li said as more people turn to the internet to find love, intercultural relationships are likely to continue to grow.
“Because of the trade and economic exchange between Australia and China, I think in the future there will be more intercultural marriages between the two countries,” she said.
Career aspirations lost in translation
As with many of the study’s participants, restauranteur Sun Meidong and electrician James Burke met on a dating website.
The couple chose to live in Australia as Ms Sun had some English ability and Mr Burke’s profession would not be well paid in China.
“For me, I had a good financial situation so I don’t mind (in which) country I live,” Ms Sun said.
“I wouldn’t mind living in China, but what I do is not seen as a proper job in China, it’s more higher earning in Australia,” Mr Burke said.
Dr Li said a common challenge of intercultural marriage is the loss of career aspirations and identity when tertiary-educated women come to Australia and find their qualifications are not recognised or language prevents them from gaining employment in their chosen field.
“When they work in, for example, a massage shop or a sushi shop … they feel kind of hopeless for their future and they feel a loss in their aspirations as well,” Dr Li said.
“Particularly for this group, retraining is a must for them to improve their English and also to have local certifications so that it is easier for them to look for a job.”
Chinese-Australian love bears dumplings
Ms Sun’s plans for opening a restaurant in Australia are on hold after starting up a dumpling cart shortly after arriving in Townsville.
The cart operates at local markets, involves the whole family and has been such a success it is now the family’s primary source of income.
“My mother-in-law helped me, we borrowed the money from her (to) purchase the food van and start the business,” Ms Sun said.
“She wasn’t very confident in her English so she needed someone up the front selling and someone to drive her around,” Mr Burke said of his involvement.
Researcher Amy Forbes said their study participants reported that Chinese spouses would often push their partners to achieve more.
“The women were also instrumental in creating change in their husbands in terms of being more entrepreneurial,” Dr Forbes said.
“The Chinese wives tell us that they more or less push their husbands to do better because once they are in the relationship they want to make a success of it.”
Mr Burke said he did not think the evolution of the dumpling cart was a cultural thing, but said it is typical of his wife’s nature.
“She is a workaholic, she has always got to keep busy,” he said.
Results may smooth the way for other couples
Dr Li and Dr Forbes are currently conducting their second round of interviews ahead of the publication of their results later in the year.
Dr Forbes said one of the common experiences of study respondents concerned bringing a foreign spouse to Australia, which they heard was expensive and protracted.
She said they plan to make recommendations based on their results to influence government policy around visas and residency.
“There are very specific and sometimes very difficult situations and circumstances that these couples have to overcome,” Dr Forbes said.
“Putting another barrier to that relationship in terms of laws and regulations is not something that would be helpful to these couples who are genuinely in love.”
The pair are also considering ways to make their findings available to cultural support groups such as local Chinese clubs.
“So we can provide some information for people who would like to come to Australia to marry a local man or a local woman to get some preparation for the difficulties and of course enjoy their happy lives,” Dr Li said.
By Nathalie Fernbach