Bodies and Structures 2.0: Deep-Mapping Modern East Asian History

Marriages with Japanese

A number of Fuqing peddlers eventually brought over their families, but a good number also managed to find Japanese female companions and build families with them; and the ability to marry without having to pay a huge bride-price no doubt appealed to Chinese migrants, especially those from impoverished backgrounds. Having a Japanese wife no doubt also provided a migrant with valuable local knowledge and possibly access to new customers.

Chinese migrants frequently engaged in dual marriages, and their families in China accepted or even encouraged such practices. According to Adam McKeown, who draws on the pioneering work of sociologist Ta Chen, “If the migrant's first marriage occurred abroad, relatives at home might not even consider it to be a real marriage, and still make plans to acquire a primary bride in the village. The primary wife usually remained in China, maintaining the household and raising children born of any of her husband's alliances. Some of these primary wives even encouraged the marriage of their husbands to local women, because the men were then more likely to feel the weight of their responsibilities and be less inclined to gamble, visit prostitutes, or otherwise dissipate their earnings in the recreations common to men without families” (McKeown 1999, 318; Chen 1940). Needless to say, Chinese men did not always inform their local wives of the existence of families back in China.

Place-making: Sino-Japanese marriages in Hakodate, c. 1930

In some places, new Sino-Japanese communities and spaces formed from these intimate encounters. In Hokkaidō, according to a 1930 report, there were 37 mixed couples; 17 of the husbands were from Fujian (mainly from the Fuqing/Gaoshan area), and 14 of them were peddlers, while another had entered Japan as a peddler but had shifted to running a restaurant (Shinajin to dōsei suru hōjin fujo chōsa no ken 1930, DAMFAJ K. The information refers mainly to Hakodate, one of the original treaty ports opened under the 1858 Ansei Treaties. Chinese traders had quickly moved there, and by 1910 had hired carpenters, plasterers, and sculptors from Shanghai to construct a completely Qing-style community hall. In the 1910s-20s, peddlers and traders from Fuqing constituted the leading group in both Hokkaidō and Karafuto, the colony to its north (Shiba 1983).

Some of the men identified in the report had come to Japan in the 1890s, but most had arrived in the 1910s and 1920s. One man had been born in Hokkaidō as the illegitimate child of a Japanese mother, been adopted by a Chinese man and taken to China at the age of seven; and returned to Hokkaidō after completing three years of elementary schooling. Several couples had been together for decades.

This report also provides information about the number and age of each couple’s children and their children’s household registration status, and whether or not the women had given up their Japanese nationality (most had not, and one who had wanted to recover it). It indicates whether or not the couples met through someone’s intercession (there were both Chinese and Japanese intermediaries); whether or not the women’s parents had given their permission for the marriages (some who had not changed their minds when children were born); and, in three cases, whether or not the wives intended to accompany their husbands should they return to China (two said they would and one said she would not).

As important, the report includes entries on the families’ financial situations. Among those identified as active peddlers, one was listed as having no assets (this was a Chinese noodle peddler rather than a cloth or sundry goods peddler), one had assets of 600 yen, five had assets ranging from 700 to 800 yen, and two had assets ranging from 1,800 to 2,000 yen. (The family with 1,800 yen were also helping to raise the children of another Sino-Japanese couple.) As the report noted next to the entry for one couple with 700-800 yen in assets, “They are experiencing no financial trouble in their daily lives.”

The survey also indicated that three of the men from Fuqing had “main wives” (honsai) in addition to their local Japanese wives (two of these wives were in Fuqing while one was in Osaka). One of them, Lin Xiaoxin, had been married 20 years to his Japanese wife in Hokkaidō, with whom he had children. In these cases, at least (as well as in a few cases involving men from places other than Fuqing recorded in the report), the existence of the men’s “main wives” was not concealed from their Japanese partners.

Although the report was presented as “a resource to assist future protection and control” in order to avoid the problems that arose when Chinese cloth peddlers “seduce our innocent women with sweet talk, marry and live with them, or take them back to their country where they are exploited and abused,” the actual information on human relationships it contains strongly resists accommodation to such a narrative framework. Nonetheless, this narrative carried great weight in the evolution of Sino-Japanese intimacies and Sino-Japanese relations during the imperial era.

From here, continue on one of the paths to which this page belongs. Or, explore Ogura Nobu's encounter with Chen Zhaopin. Or explore the history of the Chinese community of Hakodate (in Japanese).

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