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Abstract

The research outlined in this paper focuses on a subfield related to Chinese migrants’ integration in Hungary: Chinese-Hungarian mixed partner relationships. I present some findings of an anthropological study on Chinese-Hungarian couples in Hungary, although other localities may also be involved in some of these couples’ lives. Based on interviews conducted with members of Chinese-Hungarian married, cohabiting and dating, separated or divorced couples, and on data gathered through predominantly online fieldwork, this research explores notions and values that are at play in shaping the dynamics of these relations. The sample of thirty-seven couples features two characteristically different types of relationships: those referred to as “student love”, and the relationships of “typical” Chinese migrants with Hungarians. The former tend to be much more successful and persistent in time, with two cases of divorce or separation out of sixteen, whereas the latter are considerably less persistent, with eight cases of divorce or separation and two cases of crises out of thirteen bonds. Another notable finding is that Chinese-Hungarian marriages are much more persistent in time if the Chinese partner is female. The paper consists of the following consecutive parts: an introduction to the Chinese migrant context and inter-ethnic partner relations in Hungary; a review of relevant literature; presentation of research methods and fieldwork; presentation and discussion of the research sample; presentation of some results from the interviews; and conclusions.
current issues in personality psychology · volume 3(4), 5
doi: 10.5114/cipp.2015.54328
background
The research outlined in this paper focuses on asubfield
related to Chinese migrants’ integration in Hungary:
Chinese-Hungarian mixed partner relationships. I pres-
ent some findings of an anthropological study on Chi-
nese-Hungarian couples in Hungary, although other local-
ities may also be involved in some of these couples’ lives.
participants and procedure
Based on interviews conducted with members of Chi-
nese-Hungarian married, cohabiting and dating, sepa-
rated or divorced couples, and on data gathered through
predominantly online fieldwork, this research explores no-
tions and values that are at play in shaping the dynamics
of these relations.
results
The sample of thirty-seven couples features two character-
istically dierent types of relationships: those referred to as
“student love”, and the relationships of “typical” Chinese
migrants with Hungarians. The former tend to be much
more successful and persistent in time, with two cases of
divorce or separation out of sixteen, whereas the laer are
considerably less persistent, with eight cases of divorce or
separation and two cases of crises out of thirteen bonds.
Another notable finding is that Chinese-Hungarian mar-
riages are much more persistent in time if the Chinese
partner is female.
conclusions
The paper consists of the following consecutive parts: an
introduction to the Chinese migrant context and inter-eth-
nic partner relations in Hungary; areview of relevant lit-
erature; presentation of research methods and fieldwork;
presentation and discussion of the research sample; pre-
sentation of some results from the interviews; and conclu-
sions.
key words
mixed partnerships; Chinese-Hungarian couples; inter-
marriage; migrant marriage; migration anthropology; Chi-
nese-Hungarian relationship types
Cultures unfolding: experiences
of Chinese-Hungarian mixed couples in Hungary
  – Nóra Kovács, Ph.D., Centre for Social Sciences, 1014 Budapest, Országház utca 30., Hungary,
e-mail: kovacs.nora@tk.mta.hu
’  – A: Study design·B: Data collection·C: Statistical analysis·D: Data interpretation·
E: Manuscript preparation·F: Literature search·G: Funds collection
    – Kovács, N. (2015). Cultures unfolding: experiences of Chinese-Hungarian mixed couples
in Hungary. Current Issues in Personality Psychology, 3(4), 254–264.
 06.05.2015· 21.07.2015· 13.09.2015· 28.09.2015
original article
Nóra Kovács
Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest, Hungary
Nóra Kovács
255
volume 3(4), 5
BACKGROUND
Non-Hungarian international migration to Hungary
started shortly aer the shi of regimes in 1989. Ac-
cording to arecent study on migration to Hungary,
in January 2013 there were 141 thousand foreign citi-
zens and 423 thousand foreign-born persons living in
Hungary out of its roughly ten million inhabitants,
and this population accounts for 4.3% of the total
population (Kováts, 2014). Most of the migrants ar-
riving and seling in Hungary are ethnic nationals
from neighbouring countries forming alarge invisi-
ble group (Kováts, 2014).
e Chinese form the largest visible minority group
in Hungary. New visa regulations aer the shi of re-
gimes favoured their arrival: Chinese citizens needed
no visa to enter Hungary between 1989 and 1992. eir
number reached over forty thousand by the late 1990s,
with roughly as many men as women among them.
A large proportion of Chinese migrants to Hungary
were young adults in their twenties or early thirties,
many of whom arrived through chain migration. e
rst reports on Chinese migrants arriving during the
1990s describe them as relatively educated, self-su-
cient people equipped with the social capital of trans-
national networks. Most of them dedicated themselves
to shoes and clothes retail and wholesale in Budapest
and in the countryside; however, alarge majority has
lived in Budapest. Besides commercial units, shops,
markets, food stands and restaurants, dozens of im-
migrant Chinese organisations and institutions have
been formed since the early 1990s.
Probably due to the changing legal and economic
environment, many of them have le since. e 2011
national census registered somewhat less than nine
thousand Chinese citizens living in Hungary, while
experts in the eld estimate this gure to be no high-
er than een thousand. e Chinese in Hungary do
not represent a specic Chinese geographical region
although there is amarked group from the South East
provinces of Zhejiang and Fujian whose members work
in restaurants. eir relative proportion within the
Chinese diaspora in Hungary has risen recently (Nyíri,
2010a). e business model of Chinese entrepreneurs
has, for many of them, changed since the early 1990s
from small-scale trade to transnational network-based
wholesale, oen covering areas in neighbouring Euro-
pean countries as well (Várhalmi, 2013).
Bearing in mind potential Chinese migrant part-
ners for members of the Hungarian host society of
the early 1990s, we could draw the prole of a“typ-
ical” Chinese migrant: this person would be around
25 of either sex, could come from any part of main-
land China, may have had formal education includ-
ing acollege degree, but would pursue commercial
activities and would invest limited eorts in learning
Hungarian.
Although treated as an established integration
indicator1, researchers tackling the problem of inte-
gration of Chinese migrants into Hungarian society
have not addressed partner relationships specically,
considering that the existence of Chinese-Hungari-
an mixed marriages is not typical. As Nyíri stated,
“marriages with Hungarians and interethnic partner
relations are more common in the countryside, but
even there they are infrequent” (Nyíri, 2010b, p. 153).
It seems that this was not generated by endogamous
norms expressed by members of the Chinese diaspo-
ra. “Exogamy is allowed. Some Chinese men, espe-
cially small town business owners, live together with
Hungarian women, and some mixed marriages do
exist” (Nyíri, 2006, p. 44). As to the partner choice of
the second generation of Chinese migrants, “parents
usually have no problem with their sons and daugh-
ters dating Hungarians; they do not interfere with
their partner choice” (Nyíri, 2006, p. 44). So why are
there few cases of interethnic couples? Preliminary
eldwork suggested that there were Chinese-Hun-
garian mixed couples, although their number was
not signicant compared to the size of the Chinese
population in Hungary.
Iwould like to draw the aention to aconcept ap-
plied to the Chinese population in Hungary by Nyíri,
an anthropologist who studied the Chinese diaspora
in Hungary during the 1990s. He interpreted Chinese
tradesmen’s role played in Hungarian society as that
of a“middleman minority”, aconcept introduced by
Jonathan Turner and Edna Bonacich in 1980 (cited
by Nyíri, 2010a). e concept of middleman minority
refers to migrants who, based on cross border ethnic
networks, occupy institutionalised positions in cer-
tain well-dened areas of the economy between the
highest and the lowest strata of society, while they
stay outside the social hierarchy since they are for-
eigners. is notion could possibly have abearing on
the formation of partner relationships between Chi-
nese migrants and members of the host society2.
HOW TO APPROACH THE PHENOMENON
OF CHINESE-HUNGARIAN MIXED PARTNER
RELATIONSHIPS?
Ethnically mixed relations between Chinese migrants
and members of Hungarian society relate to awide
range of issues such as marriage-related social mo-
bility into the host society, and also transnationality.
Demography, sociology, social anthropology and
migration research have addressed several research
problems that are relevant to the study of Chi-
nese-Hungarian mixed relationships. ree branches
of literature have proved to be particularly helpful
in the aempt to approach this phenomenon: ar-
ticles on intermarriage and works within the im-
mense literature of relationship studies that include
Experiences of Chinese-Hungarian mixed couples in Hungary
256 current issues in personality psychology
notions of race, culture, transnationality, and part-
ner satisfaction in their analyses (see for example
Hohmann-Marrio & Amato, 2008; Worner, 2010);
migration studies with afocus on mixed marriage as
a factor of migrants’ integration; and literature on
Chinese society, especially about changes in family
relations. Although more popular than academic,
Ihave found Chua’s views on what she calls Chinese
parenting (Chua, 2011, 2014) and the public reaction
given to it quite inspirational during the interpreta-
tion of data on mixed marriage parenting.
Discussing intermarriage in society, Kalmijn over-
views hypotheses on the causes of endogamy and ho-
mogamy (marriage between partners close in status)
based on empirical and theoretical studies (Kalmijn,
1998). He argues that theories about partner choice
provide important clues to the causes of intermar-
riage. He names three social forces that shape mar-
riage paerns: the preferences of individuals for re-
sources in apartner, the inuence of the social group,
and the constraints of the marriage market (Kal mijn,
1998). Surveying marriage literature, the author con-
cludes that the multifaceted perspective that has
been developed over the years gives sociological the-
orizing an edge over competing theories of marriage
choice such as those developed by psychologists and
economists (Kalmijn, 1998). In another piece of re-
search on the risk of divorce in the Netherlands he
tests the heterogamy hypothesis, that mixed mar-
riages are more likely to end in divorce than homog-
amous ones (Kalmijn, de Graaf, & Janssen, 2005).
Taking into consideration nationality and religion,
the authors found that the greater the dierence be-
tween the social groups of the spouses, the greater is
the risk of divorce, and that new group boundaries in
the Netherlands are more dicult to cross than old
ones. Asimilar line of enquiry is further developed
by acomparative study trying to grasp the reasons
why and how certain national-origin groups in the
US are more likely to intermarry than others (Kal-
mijn &van Tubergen, 2010). Among several ndings,
the authors point out the importance contextual fac-
tors, especially that of culture, in explaining endoga-
my (Kalmijn &van Tubergen, 2010).
e connection between intermarriage and immi-
grant integration in Sweden with aspecial focus on
economic integration is analysed by Dribe and Lundh
using cross-sectional registry data from 39 immigrant
groups (Dribe &Lundh, 2008). e authors draw at-
tention to several important points. ey emphasize
dierences between immigration paerns and immi-
grant integration in the US and Europe, which make
it dicult to draw conclusions about intermarriage
and its impact on immigrant integration in Europe
based on studies from the US (Dribe &Lundh, 2008).
ey have found that the length of the adaptation
period in the host country before marriage is con-
nected with higher intermarriage rates, but the ef-
fects are stronger for refugees than for labour im-
migrants (Dribe &Lundh, 2008). eir data suggest
a negative eect of the relative size of the pool of
potential spouses of the same origin in the residential
community. ey nd astrong association between
intermarriage with natives and economic integration
in terms of employment and income. ey emphasize
that there are dierences between immigrant groups
in terms of family culture (family systems, kin rela-
tions, marriage customs) and also that these are high-
ly persistent over time (Dribe &Lundh, 2008).
Sociological aempts have also been made to set
up an intermarriage typology. Gaspar studied bi-na-
tional partnerships formed by intra-European mi-
grants in Italy and Spain (Gaspar, 2011). Analyzing
large-scale data on the motivations of intra-Europe-
an migrants who moved between 1974 and 2003, she
draws aention to the fact that love or aective rea-
sons have become an important migration rationale
in addition to economic and life quality ones. Gaspar
formulated a threefold typology labelling partner-
ships love migrant bi-national couples, Eurostars’
bi-national couples, and retired migrant bi-nation-
al couples (Gaspar, 2011), with the rst of the three
clearly motivated by “love”.
Social scientic research on international migra-
tion since the 1990s has provided anew conceptual
framework for the study of diasporas, thus seing
new directions for it. “Transnational anthropology”
started to study simultaneously two or more loca-
tions, social networks and discourse and symbol sys-
tems aecting migrants’ lives. e focus in migration
research thus shied from assimilation models, the
melting pot theory, and second generation culture
change towards the study of simultaneous econom-
ic, family and cultural ties of diasporas with two or
more locations or countries (Basch, Glick Schiller,
&Szanton Blanc, 1994). Members of the Chinese di-
aspora all over the world are commonly associated
with atransnational way of life, with simultaneous
social, economic, and cultural ties to several locations
in dierent countries. Literature and eldwork expe-
riences suggest that this form of existence is typical
of Chinese migrants in Hungary as well. Amigrant’s
mixed marriage creates atransnational situation per
se. To what extent does this apply to the lives of Chi-
nese-Hungarian couples and families with children?
How do transnationalism, spatial mobility and si-
multaneous ties to dierent places appear in the lives
of mixed marriage-based families? Is there atypical
connection between the Chinese parent’s transna-
tional strategies and the language strategy they use
in the family? Do mixed marriage children in Hunga-
ry become transnationals themselves?
Western anthropology has expressed along-time
interest in Chinese society and culture. Classical
anthropological inquiry has focused on its institu-
tions and on various aspects of the social bonds that
Nóra Kovács
257
volume 3(4), 5
construct them3. Chinese society and its institutions
have undergone substantial changes in recent de-
cades. Family and marriage and their transformation
in China have been widely studied, and afocus on
gender aspects and power relations4 has increasing-
ly appeared in the literature for several decades now
(see for example Davin, 1976, 1988 on Domenach
&Chang Ming, 1987). Many studies aim at the trans-
formation of Chinese society and family, and their
changing values and norms in a globalising world.
Representing a dierent view of their own society,
Chinese anthropology has joined Westerns scholars
in the aempt to highlight and understand contem-
porary Chinese social and cultural processes (see
Kwokbun, 2013; Staord, 2013; Davin, 1999; Klein-
man, Yan, Jun, Lee, &Zhang, 2011).
e phenomenon and social consequences of
migration and remigration for the sending society
have been explored in China and especially in Hong
Kong, and elsewhere in South-East Asia. e social
eects of marriage migration from dierent parts of
Asia promoted by transnational marriage industries
have also been studied widely. Bélanger and Tran
have shown how Vietnamese women’s marriage
migration to Taiwan and South Korea lead to im-
portant social transformations including the rise of
their own status and that of the other village daugh-
ters in their rural sending communities (Bélanger
&Tran, 2011).
By surveying nearly two thousand Chinese mar-
ried couples about their marital relations and the qual-
ity of their marriage, Efron Pimentel provided avivid
picture of Chinese marriages in an urban seing at
the end of the 20th century (Efron Pimentel, 2000).
“Can acommon set of assumptions about the marital
relationship be applied to dierent societies?” is one
of her central questions regarding Beijing marriag-
es (Efron Pimentel, 2000, p. 32). She points out that
“historically the conjugal bond took adistant second
place to intergenerational ties between parents and
children, especially sons” (Efron Pimentel, 2000, p. 32).
e Chinese patrilineal kinship system, arranged
marriages, and virilocal postmarital residence kept
conjugal bonds inferior to intergenerational ties.
“Marriage was universal and utilitarian, conducted
for the purposes of having children and furthering
the larger family group” (Efron Pimentel, 2000, p. 33).
During the 20th century, however, ideas about marital
relations in China have changed greatly. Free-choice
marriages appeared. e Communist Party placed
most women in paid employment, changed marriage
laws, and promoted mutual love and companionship
as major criteria in selecting amate. e Chinese di-
vorce law recognises that alack of aection between
spouses provides grounds for divorce (Efron Pimen-
tel, 2000). Pimentel found that interaction between
spouses outside the family was not an important
component of marriage quality. Most of the respon-
dents in her research had not dated before their mar-
riage. Parental approval seemed to aect marriage
quality strongly, and the Chinese couples seemed to
share arelatively unromantic vision of love.
How are distance and closeness created and man-
ifested in Chinese-Hungarian partner relationships,
and how are they related to the individuals’ cul-
tural backgrounds? An important set of questions
concerns ospring. What parenting aitudes do
Chinese-Hungarian couples tend to adopt? How do
everyday practices of living together, language use,
childrearing strategies, and aitudes to work in Chi-
nese-Hungarian couples reect the relative positions
of power of dierent cultural backgrounds within the
relationship? How do gender issues inuence this
picture?
At the beginning of eld research in 2013, Icon-
ducted an interview with an elderly Chinese man liv-
ing in Hungary who had been recommended to me as
awell-integrated member of the Chinese community
and who was considered an intermediary between
migrants and hosts by one of his compatriots. He
had dedicated his entire professional life to learn-
ing and teaching Hungarian as a foreign language
and became a university professor of Hungarian at
aprestigious university in China. He had spent sev-
eral long periods in Hungary during the course of his
life before nally seling in Budapest. Ihoped that
he would know mixed couples and could help me to
establish contact with them. He talked in Hungarian
enthusiastically, and Idid my best to tell him that
Iintended to study Chinese-Hungarian mixed mar-
riages from the point of view of cultural anthropol-
ogy. He seemed to follow what Iwas saying, then
told me that once he had afailed relationship with
a Hungarian woman and that he couldn’t help me
by providing contacts because he did not have any.
Iwas on my way home from the interview when he
telephoned and told me that there he was with his
wife siing next to him and that he thought that they
could actually help me. He gave personal data of his
wife’s nephews, two Chinese men in their thirties
who had arrived in Hungary acouple of months be-
fore. He named the prestigious Chinese restaurants
where they worked as cooks, told me how much they
earned per month and added that they were about to
get arise. ey would be interested in marrying Hun-
garian women of their own age or maybe alile old-
er but denitely not divorcees. Itold him again that
my interest in mixed marriages is not seing them
up but studying those that already existed. Ifound
this episode informative on how, in spite of com-
municating fairly uently in the same language, the
cultural embeddedness of certain concepts, such as
“marriage” and “an anthropological study on mixed
marriage” in aChinese-Hungarian context may in-
vite dierent culturally conditioned associations and
drive aconversation onto separate tracks.
Experiences of Chinese-Hungarian mixed couples in Hungary
258 current issues in personality psychology
PARTICIPANTS AND PROCEDURE
SCOPE, RESEARCH METHODS
Originally, the enquiry presented here was aimed at
formalized marriages between Chinese and Hungari-
an persons living permanently or temporarily in Hun-
gary, but later data on cohabiting and dating, and sep-
arated or divorced persons, as well as data from such
couples living outside Hungary, were also included.
Experiences of failed inter-ethnic relationships can be
equally informative of the role of cultural backgrounds
within partner relationships. Also, locating and con-
tacting these couples and individuals proved to be
achallenging task, with ahigh rejection rate, while no
data relevant to the subject was to be dismissed.
Aempts were made to obtain ocial data on the
possible number of formalized relations, but these
records were not kept separately and could not be
accessed. Data on Chinese-Hungarian marriages
registered in Hungary lay separately in district nota-
ries’ record books. Considering Budapest areas with
a concentrated Chinese population, the notaries of
the 8th, the 9th and the 10th districts of Budapest were
approached, soliciting Chinese marriage records for
the last ten years. One of the notaries refused to pro-
vide data, while the other two gave an average of one
marriage per year involving one (in some cases two!)
Chinese partner(s). It also has to be noted that all the
married couples interviewed so far formalized their
union outside Hungary.
e data analyzed in this paper was gathered be-
tween January 2013 and January 2015. Using infor-
mal channels opened up by athree-year-long process
of Chinese language learning and also with the help
of contacts from my personal network of friends and
acquaintances, I tried to identify Chinese-Hungari-
an inter-ethnic partner relationships and obtained
an accidental sample that is not representative of
the Chinese population in Hungary in terms of pro-
fessional activities and education, although quite by
chance it turned out to be so in terms of gender and
age. Several potential interviewees preferred not to
participate in the research, and even some of those
who cooperated preferred to avoid certain topics
such as the detailed description of their work activ-
ities, their economic achievement, or reections on
their sentiments. Although partial, the information
gathered through interviews provides Chinese and
Hungarian visions of the everyday realities of living
in aChinese Hungarian partner relationship.
Chinese language uency seems one of the sever-
al prerequisites of gathering qualitative data among
Chinese migrants in Hungary. Ihave been learning
Chinese for several years but have not reached the
uency to conduct interviews. us the interviews
were conducted in Hungarian. During the eldwork
period Ideveloped the impression that the interview
rejection rate in this particular research has not been
inuenced by the specic language proposed for use
for the interview.
My rst interview aimed at mixed marriages took
place with a successful wholesale merchant and
his second generation son, raised in Hungary, with
auniversity degree in economics. Ihad asked them
to help with this research project by telling me what
they knew about Chinese-Hungarian couples and
how to contact them. e father arrived with ale
case lled with a handwrien list and articles cut
from Hungarian Chinese newspapers about Chinese
persons with Hungarian spouses. During our meet-
ing in ashopping mall we went through his list entry
by entry. He backed up each piece of personal infor-
mation he gave me with anewspaper cuing that can
be publicly accessed by anyone interested. Finally, he
asked me not to name him as the source of all the
information he provided.
Part of the data comes from interviews conduct-
ed with members of couples and with other Chinese
and Hungarian persons (e.g. the director of a Chi-
nese-Hungarian bilingual school; ethnic-Hungarian
Chinese language professionals) whose professional
lives intersect. e interview material was comple-
mented by information from the electronic media,
online papers and magazines, television documen-
taries, and also from online eldwork that included
unprotected information from Facebook.
THE COMPLETE SAMPLE: ALIST OF THIRTY-
SEVEN COUPLES
By January, 2015 Ihad compiled alist of thirty-seven
Chinese-Hungarian mixed partner relationships that
Imanaged to identify. Iinterviewed members of sev-
en. It was only in one case that both partners were
willing to participate. More couples were contacted
from the list and Iobtained some information from
them regarding their relationship without actual-
ly conducting an interview. Out of the thirty other
relations where acomplete interview has not been
conducted, I have uneven and fragmented but rich
qualitative information on eighteen couples from
third parties and from the internet; and uneven, frag-
mented and scarce information on the remaining
twelve relationships.
ere is very rich material available on the inter-
net about certain couples and their families. e Chi-
nese-Hungarian bilingual school is in the constant
focus of the electronic and the print media. Numer-
ous mixed marriage children aend the school and
several parents have talked about their lives and their
reasons for sending their children there in television
documentaries5. Certain mixed marriage children
have drawn media aention due to their sports re-
sults or as Asian beauty contestants.
Nóra Kovács
259
volume 3(4), 5
Itried to obtain the following basic pieces of in-
formation of all the couples: gender of the Chinese
partner, migrant generation (rst or second), living
together or not and country of residence, approxi-
mate birthdates, immigration dates and beginning
(and end) dates of the relationship, country of res-
idence (China, Hungary, other). I also tried to nd
out on what level they speak their partner’s mother
tongue, if they do, and whether they have any chil-
dren together and what language skills their children
have acquired. Wherever Ihad the information Inot-
ed whether the relationship was legally amarriage
and whether either of the partners had completed
university education.
e accidental sample includes people from very
dierent age groups ranging from twenty-seven to
eighty-three, and the relationships are in dierent
phases. Iencountered cases of marriage, dating, long
distance or visiting relationship, separation, and di-
vorce. Lacking direct information from the parties
involved, Irelied on evaluation of people from their
social environment. Migration literature commonly
assumes that the time spent in the host society is an
important factor when it comes to the interpretation
of migrants’ integration, including the formation of
partner relationships and intermarriage, into the host
society6.
Talking about mixed couples with Hungarians
involved with Chinese migrants (mainly Chinese
language teachers and interpreters and long-time
practitioners of tai chi and kung fu), Iencountered
two contradictory stereotypes concerning the typi-
cal gender composition of such arelationship. Some
stated that it is exclusively Chinese women entering
arelationship with Hungarian men, while others said
just the opposite. In the sample of thirty-seven rela-
tionships, there happen to be eighteen Chinese men
and nineteen Chinese women.
e available information suggests an interesting
thing: there seems to be an important dierence in
how “persistent in time” a relationship is depend-
ing on whether the Chinese partner is male or fe-
male. e “non-divorce” or “not separated” rate is
y-three percent in the case of Chinese men and
eighty-seven percent in the case of Chinese women
(divorce/non-divorce data are missing in ve cases).
Bearing in mind the demographic characteristics
and professional activities of the Chinese migrant
population in Hungary of the early 1990s, it would
be most interesting to trace their integration in Hun-
gary through inter-ethnic partner relationships and
mixed families. Out of the thirty-seven cases there
are thirteen Chinese migrants who can be considered
strictly “typical” regarding the date and purpose of
their arrival (early 1990s, making business during the
transition to amarket economy) and current profes-
sional activities (transnational wholesale). ere are
four women and nine men among them. ree other
Chinese men who had arrived in Hungary to pursue
university studies married Hungarian women and
stayed or later returned and aerwards became in-
volved in activities of the “typical” Chinese migrants
of the 1990s. Even if we add them to the thirteen typ-
ical cases, less than half of this sample represents the
typical majority of Chinese migrants.
ere is insucient information on the genesis
of seven relationships. e thirty remaining bonds
clearly suggest two main types. Couples of the rst
group are labelled “student love” relationships. e
label “student love” was inspired by the fact that
some although not all of the couples in this group
had spent study periods together at universities in
China, Hungary, or athird country. What all these
couples share, however, is their educational status:
most of them have completed tertiary education.
Sixteen couples t into this category, with only two
cases of separation or divorce, with relationship time
spans ranging from ve to y years with an average
of sixteen years, and one or two children per mar-
riage. ree Chinese women in this group had “love
as their main motive of migration.
e other type of relationship characterizes the
thirteen “typical” Chinese migrants and is given the
working label of “typical Chinese migrant’s relation-
ship”. ese show dierent scenarios depending on
the dierence between the social background and
the educational status of the two parties. ese thir-
teen relations tend to be much less successful than
the “student love” ones: out of the thirteen bonds,
eight ended in divorce, while two have been strug-
gling with aserious crisis for years and do not seem
to operate smoothly. While in the student love cas-
es of this sample composed of academics, Chinese
language professionals, and university graduates in
general, at least one (sometimes two) of the members
demonstrates advanced skills in her or his partner’s
mother tongue, the language barrier keeps adistance
between typical Chinese migrants and their Hungar-
ian partners.
Finally, there is an unmarried couple with asmall
child, the mother and the child living separately from
the father, in along-distance relationship. ey are in
astate of transition and they do not t either of the
two main relationship types mentioned above.
THE INTERVIEWS
During the current phase of this research seven in-
terviews were made in Hungarian with at least one
member of a Chinese-Hungarian mixed couple.
Some of the information extracted from the conver-
sations is presented in Table 1. Two interviews had
second sessions (#3 and #4). ree interviews were
conducted in cafés (#1, #4, and #5); two interviewees
received me in their homes (#2 and #6) and two of
Experiences of Chinese-Hungarian mixed couples in Hungary
260 current issues in personality psychology
them at their workplace (#3, #7). e group of four-
teen people made up by these seven couples included
four Chinese women, one of them second generation
Chinese, and three Chinese men. e seven cases are
very dierent from each other. Four of the seven cou-
ples were formally married.
Itried to obtain basic data about the interviewee
and his or her partner and made up alist of open-end-
ed questions to nd out about: spoken languages and
language strategies in the family; the relationship
history; the migration history; data on children and
on parenting strategies and practices; data on their
everyday life including household division of labour
and work activities; relations with Chinese and Hun-
garian friends and relatives; and asection on how the
Chinese and the Hungarians are dierent, based on
their own experiences.
e rst interviewee was an eighty-three-year-
old Chinese academic (#1) who met her husband,
ascholar himself, at aBeijing university during the
1950s. She moved to Hungary with her husband and
rst born child in the late 1950s, has lived in Bu-
dapest ever since, and has proved to be one of the
most uent Hungarian speakers of all the rst gen-
eration Chinese persons Imet during this research.
She had become awidow acouple of years before.
e second interviewee, aHungarian Chinese lan-
guage professional in her mid-thirties, was engaged
in along-distance “visiting” relationship with aChi-
nese scientist (#2) holding a high ranking govern-
mental position in the PRC. ey had asmall child
and she was making great eorts to move to China
to live together with the father of her child. e third
interviewee, a middle aged Hungarian economist
and tai chi practitioner, had divorced his Chinese
wife (#3) several years ago. He described his divorce
as damaging both psychologically and nancial-
ly. e story of the fourth relationship was told by
amiddle aged Hungarian woman with teenage chil-
dren (#4) separated from her Chinese husband, the
father of her children. ese two cases show large
social as well as cultural dierences between the
Chinese and the Hungarian partners. e h inter-
view was made with the active participation of both
partners, in this case aChinese wife and her Hun-
garian husband (#5), both in their late thirties. My
seventh interviewee, a second generation Chinese
woman raised and living in Hungary, dated ayoung
Hungarian man (#6) and gave special insights into
partner selection considerations of second genera-
tion Chinese persons in Hungary. e eighth person
involved in amixed relationship was awoman in her
mid-thirties having an eight-year long dating aair
with asuccessful transnational entrepreneur in his
mid-forties who arrived in Hungary shortly aer the
shi of regimes.
In spite of deciencies of unbalanced data, what
my interviewees shared with me provides aunique
view of several aspects of the life experiences and
everyday reality of living in a Chinese-Hungarian
mixed relationship in Hungary. No maer how much
Iwould like to avoid producing an ethnically biased,
ethnocentric image of this phenomenon, during the
course of the research I noticed that marriage is
aculturally strongly embedded concept, and it is es-
pecially so in Chinese society, as we have seen in the
story about the respectable Chinese gentleman and
his wife’s nephews.
Table 1
Survey chart of the seven interviewed Chinese-Hungarian partner relationships
Couple #1
(A-B)
Couple #2
(C-D)
Couple #3
(E-F)
Couple #4
(G-H)
Couple #5
(I-J)
Couple #6
(K-L)
Couple #7
(M-N)
Gender FMFMFMF MFMFMFM
Chinese yes no no yes yes no no yes yes no yes no no yes
University degree yes yes yes yes no yes yes no yes yes yes yes no yes
Interviewed yes no yes no no yes yes no yes yes yes no yes no
Registered mar-
riage yes yes no no yes yes yes yes yes yes no no no no
Divorce, separa-
tion no no no no yes yes yes yes no no yes yes no no
Residence in
Hungary yes yes no no no yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes
Children in com-
mon yes yes yes yes no no yes yes yes yes no no no no
Speaks partner’s
language yes yes yes no yes no no yes yes yes yes no no yes
Nóra Kovács
261
volume 3(4), 5
e seven interviews conducted with members of
Chinese-Hungarian couples show many dierences
and involve people coming from very dierent back-
grounds and life situations. e age of my interview-
ees varies from twenty-eight to eighty-three. ere
is an elderly Chinese woman who has lived most of
her adult life in Hungary aached to her Hungarian
family (#1) and there is ayoung second generation
Chinese woman who has not found a stable part-
ner yet – of any nationality (#6). ere is ayoung
Hungarian woman in arelationship with a Chinese
politician dedicated to his career (#2). ere is aHun-
garian student majoring in Chinese who married
aChinese girl, afellow student in Beijing, and started
afamily with her in Budapest (#5). Couple #4 started
out from asimilar international student situation in
athird country, Ethiopia. However, the Chinese hus-
band’s professional career makes him afairly typical
example of the Chinese entrepreneur migrant to the
Hungary of the 1990s. Adierent migrant strategy
is employed by the woman who arrived in Hunga-
ry with her Chinese husband on the way to the US,
which she could not eventually reach (#3). According
to her divorced Hungarian husband’s account, she
fullled stereotypical expectations of Asian wom-
en, being submissive, silent and accepting. She did
not work outside their home and became dependent
on her Hungarian husband, with whom she could
communicate in alimited way. It has to be borne in
mind that the relationship literature suggests that
wives and husbands may experience their marriage
separately and that sometimes the two versions, “his
marriage” and “her marriage” cannot be meaningful-
ly combined into acouple version (Efron Pimentel,
2000, p. 35).
e relationships Iinquired about are all in dif-
ferent phases. One marriage (#1) ended with the
Hungarian partner’s death, two (#3 and #6) with di-
vorce or separation. e second longest relationship
(#4) has gone through dierent phases with periods
of separation with apossible divorce in sight at the
time of the interview. e shortest relationship lasted
several months, the longest nearly y-eight years.
Transnationality is one of the most extensively dis-
cussed aspects of Chinese migrants’ lives. Marriages
between migrants and members of the host society
inevitably create simultaneous social ties to dierent
geographical localities. Although this applies to the
Chinese members of the seven couples interviewed
so far, successful transnational practices cannot be
observed in the lives of spouses and children. Couple
#1 lived most of their lives before the transnational
era. e Chinese partner in couple #2 is tied to China
inseparably by work, responsibilities and family re-
lations. Even while in Hungary, the Chinese woman
in couple #3 did not act as atransnational business-
woman, in spite of periodical family visits the couple
paid to China. e Chinese tradesman of couple #4
could be considered an exception. However, he did
not teach his children Chinese, and according to an
episode of failed family aempt to sele in China
related by his wife, he lost the ability to become in-
tegrated again in his home country aer nearly two
and ahalf decades spent in Europe. Members of cou-
ple #5 cultivate family ties in both countries; their
work as translators, however, tie them to Hungary
for the time being. A transnational way of life for
the children of Chinese-Hungarian mixed marriages
is dicult to lead without Chinese language acquisi-
tion. Four of the seven couples have children. In two
marriages, parents did not teach their children any
Chinese (couple #1 with two adult children; couple #4
with four children in their late teens and early twen-
ties). Reaching adulthood, the younger daughter of
couple #1 decided to take Chinese as auniversity ca-
reer and became auent speaker. Couples #2 and #5
have children aged from two to eight; these children
understand and speak Chinese.
e total time of the seven interviews is twen-
ty-two hours, with the shortest being eighty minutes
and the longest seven hours in two sessions. Some
of the interviews reached special qualitative depth
about relationship histories and personal experienc-
es of lives in Chinese-Hungarian mixed partner rela-
tionships. ese oer themselves for narrative analy-
sis that is outside the scope of the present paper.
e sociological literature on marriage suggests
that homogamous relationships have beer chanc-
es of being successful over time than heterogamous
one. Studies of intermarriage support the view that
the greater the cultural dierence between the part-
ners, the greater is the risk of relationship failure.
ere were several cultural issues raised during the
conversations that seemed to be at the core of the
coexistence with their partners and that prompted
very active reactions from the interviewees. ese
covered values, norms and practices and observa-
tions of culturally conditioned behaviour. Hungarian
interviewees expressed their preferences for certain
Chinese cultural traits and the lack of it for others
more explicitly than did my Chinese informants
concerning Hungarian values, norms and practices.
Some notions appeared in apredominantly negative
context (culturally conditioned Chinese emotions,
norms and expectations of Chinese family culture,
use of socioeconomic resources), some in amarkedly
positive context (conservative Chinese family values,
Chinese work ethic).
Culturally conditioned emotions, culturally
conditioned expression of emotions
Several questions concerned the dierences between
Chinese and Hungarian notions of love and emotions
in general and whether or not there are cultural dif-
ferences in how they are expressed. e Chinese and
Experiences of Chinese-Hungarian mixed couples in Hungary
262 current issues in personality psychology
Hungarian interviewees coincided in expressing that
hiding thoughts and emotions is typically Chinese.
e elderly Chinese academic (#1) stated that “the
Chinese keep their emotions to themselves” and the
young Hungarian mother (#2) held the view that “the
Chinese don’t let their emotions show. AChinese
person always hides the thing that is most valuable
to him or to her. ey wouldn’t let it show”. In her
husband’s account his Chinese wife (#3) was hiding
her real self and real emotions from him for years.
Another Hungarian mother (#4) talked about her
Chinese husband’s sentiments like this: “My husband
doesn’t show his emotions. ey [the Chinese] can-
not love the way we think about love. His children
also feel that he doesn’t love them. And he doesn’t
understand why they think he doesn’t love them”.
Family culture
Norms, expectations and practices related to family
culture were discussed in detail in six out of the sev-
en cases. As we have seen in the previous section,
studies on Chinese family relations emphasized the
importance of parental approval of amarriage and
the importance of the respectful relationship main-
tained with spouses’ parents and relatives. Efron Pi-
mentel has shown that the lack of parental approval
of a union is strongly related to a lower marriage
quality in Beijing marriages (Efron Pimentel, 2000).
Acouple’s relations with Chinese in-laws discussed
in various contexts are acentral theme in ve out of
the seven interviews (#1, #3, #4, #5, and #6). e way
Chinese partners wanted to live up to the Chinese
norms of respect and obligation towards their par-
ents, close kin and extended family, and the way the
couple subsequently handled relations with Chinese
relatives and with each other became asource of re-
current conict in two of the seven cases described
above (#3, #4). e Chinese partner’s relatives stay-
ing with the couple in Hungary for long periods of
time or moving to Hungary indenitely raised seri-
ous tensions between the partners. e second gen-
eration Chinese woman in her late twenties (#6), who
has distanced herself from the Chinese migrants liv-
ing in Hungary, her parents included, has made con-
stant references to some of her peers in the Chinese
colony living in semi-arranged marriages under con-
stant control (in transnational situations under elec-
tronic control via the internet) of parents. e couple
with two small children (#5) make strong eorts so
that the Chinese wife’s recently retired but relatively
young parents could move in with them in Budapest.
Conservative family values
Coinciding with recent anthropological scholarship,
my second generation interviewee (#6) emphasized
that although rapidly changing, conservative family
and parenting values still hold in certain segments
of Chinese society. While explaining the reasons for
their involvement with their Chinese partners and
in contrast with the negative view on Chinese fam-
ily culture, three Hungarian women (#2, #4, and #7)
mentioned that their own conservative family back-
grounds had apositive role in their partner choice
and emphasized their likeness with their partners in
this respect.
Use of socioeconomic resources
e topic of spending and distributing nancial re-
sources earned by members of the couple oen came
up in relation to culturally conditioned responsibili-
ties and duties towards the Chinese partner’s close
relatives and extended Chinese family back in Chi-
na. It was arecurrent issue in four interviews with
couples (#2, #3, #4, and #6). According to Kalmijn,
a couple’s socioeconomic resources produce their
economic well-being and status (Kalmijn, 1998). Eco-
nomic well-being is shared by the family members,
and status is granted to the family as aunit rather
than to its individual members. As aresult, the in-
come and status of one spouse contribute to the in-
come and status of the other by raising the income
and status of the family (Kalmijn, 1998). e Hun-
garian partner of couple #4 remarked that her Chi-
nese husband’s denition of “his family” primarily
referred to his parents, siblings and cousins in China
and did not coincide with her denition of “her fam-
ily”, the laer referring to their nuclear family com-
posed of the intermarried couple and their children.
Disagreement about the use of nancial resources
was amajor source of marital conict for two cou-
ples (#3 and #4), leading to a tormented divorce in
one case (#3) and giving an insight into how wealth is
accumulated by aChinese merchant and how money
earned in Hungary is distributed along family ties in
China (#4).
Morals and work ethics
Changing morals and ethics have in all walks of life
in China been targeted in recent anthropological
scholarship (see for example Staord, 2013; Klein-
man et al., 2011). e issue of the role of Chinese
morals and ethics as culture-specic in several areas
of life was raised in four interviews (#2, #3, #4, and
#6). Two informants (#4 and #6) contrasted Chinese
and Hungarian work ethics, showing that of the
opposing ethnic group in aless favourable light. In
one case (#2) the Hungarian partner described her
Chinese partner’s moral standards and life-guiding
ethical principles positively and associated them
with Chinese ideals of working for the good of the
community. e husband who divorced his Chinese
wife (#3) situated his experience in alarger context of
Nóra Kovács
263
volume 3(4), 5
a“ripping-o marriage industry by Chinese women”
that he considers aside-eect of changing morals in
contemporary China.
CONCLUSIONS
e qualitative anthropological research on Chi-
nese-Hungarian inter-ethnic couple relations present-
ed in this paper focuses on aso far unexplored eld of
Chinese migrants’ integration in Hungary. Asubstan-
tial proportion of Chinese migrant entrepreneurs ar-
rived in Hungary between 1989 and 1992 and formed
the largest visible migrant group in Hungary, reaching
forty thousand persons by the end of the 1990s. It was
assumed that there were very few Chinese-Hungari-
an inter-ethnic relationships. e data put forward in
this study have no statistical relevance for the Chinese
migrant population in Hungary; nevertheless, they of-
fer information on the existence of such bonds. What
interviewees shared during the eld research provides
aunique view of several aspects of the life experiences
and everyday realities of living in aChinese-Hungari-
an mixed relationship.
e paper cannot unquestionably explain the rel-
atively low incidence of this phenomenon. e liter-
ature suggests that it might be related to the socially
isolated “middleman minority” position of Chinese
migrants in Hungary (Nyíri, 2010b), although recent
studies on successful transnational Chinese business-
men in Hungary contest this view, stating that they
are connected to the host society by various types of
social bonds (Várhalmi, 2013).
e sample of thirty-seven couples outlines two
characteristically dierent types of relationships.
e rst type is referred to as “student love” relation-
ships, and it is characterized by closeness in educa-
tional status. e second type is the “relationship of
the typical Chinese migrants” with alarger social and
educational distance between its members. Relation-
ships in the former group tend to be more successful
and persistent in time, with two cases of divorce or
separation out of sixteen, whereas the laer are con-
siderably less persistent, with eight cases of divorce
or separation and two cases of crises out of thirteen
bonds. Another notable nding is that Chinese-Hun-
garian marriages studied in this research are more
persistent in time if the Chinese partner is female.
Articles on changing Chinese family relations
have emphasized the relatively persistent and char-
acteristic nature of Chinese family culture (e.g. Efron
Pimentel, 2000). e personal accounts of Hungarian
partners involved in Chinese-Hungarian mixed rela-
tionships have coincided with the literature reect-
ing on culturally strongly embedded concepts related
to marriage and family, and on culturally dierent
notions of love and morals. Conservative values held
by some of the Hungarian members coming from the
countryside were reported to have found their arac-
tive counterpart in their respective Chinese partners.
Endnotes
1 See for example Dribe and Lundh (2008).
2 This concept is useful during the interpretation of
the partner choices of the first generation of Chi-
nese migrants. The situation is changing with the
bilingual second generation turned young adults
by the 2010s whose position in Hungarian society
is very dierent from that of their parents.
3 See for example Emily Martin Ahern’s classical
monograph on Chinese ritual and politics (Martin
Ahern, 1981), or the work of Maurice Freedman,
Burton Pasternak, and Myron Cohen.
4 In her anthropological analysis of traditional mar-
riage paerns in a Hong Kong lineage, Watson
(1981) connects the ainal relations created by
marriage to the reproduction of social class and
social inequality.
5 The increased aention on the school has made
many mixed-marriage parents adopt a reserved
aitude. Also, Ihave found that men struggling
in a problematic relationship are less likely to
share their experiences than women regardless of
whether they are Chinese or Hungarian.
6 Data from the field suggest that time is also an
important factor from the point of view of trans-
national migrants’ possibly changing partner
preferences through the course of their lives: sev-
eral Chinese male migrants pursuing the typical
career of commerce chose Chinese partners aer
the divorce or separation from their Hungarian
partners. Time and failed intermarriage experi-
ence paired with what Erikson (1997) refers to as
cultural generativity may allow migrant individu-
als (as well as their Hungarian partners) to recon-
sider their partner choice preferences and make
them opt for more homogamous relationships.
is paper was presented previously during 10th In-
ternational Conference “Woman in Culture: Gender,
Culture & Migration” held at University of Gdansk,
Poland, in March 2015. e conference was co-funded
from Norway Grants in the Polish-Norwegian Research
Programme operated by the National Centre for Re-
search and Development.
is work was supported by project K112282 of OTKA,
the Hungarian National Scientic Research Fund.
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... Most migrants were ethnic Hungarians arriving from neighbouring countries, but the largest visible group was that of the Chinese migrants exceeding forty thousand by the mid-1990s. Challenging a task as it was, they were targeted by several research projects, and demographic, social, economic, educational, gender and identity aspects of Chinese migrants' presence in Hungary were already studied (Nyíri 2006(Nyíri , 2010a(Nyíri , 2010bVárhalmi 2009;Beck 2015;Kovács 2015Kovács , 2016Kovács & Melegh 2010;Szabó 2009;Feischmidt & Nyíri 2006). Chinese migrants arrived in massive numbers from the early 1990s, and by the mid-2010s their number fell to fifteen thousand. ...
... How are problems related to transnationalism negotiated in a mixed marriage or family? Some results of the research were published (Kovács 2015(Kovács , 2016 and I would like to emphasize that important results lie in ethnographic details. Space is limited here; nevertheless, some general findings are referred to briefly in a simplified way. ...
... 4 Some results were already published. SeeKovács (2015Kovács ( , 2016. ...
... A másik részkutatás a kínai családok, kiskorú gyermekeik és a gyermekeiket nevelő magyar személyek viszonylatára fókuszált. 3 A kutatás néhány eredménye angol nyelven jelent meg (KOVÁCS, 2015(KOVÁCS, , 2016. kihívásait elkerülhetetlenül magyar szemszögből, saját kutatói nézőpontomból járja körbe. ...
... A kutatás néhány eredménye már napvilágot látott (KOVÁCS, 2015(KOVÁCS, , 2016, szeretném ugyanakkor hangsúlyozni, hogy megítélésem szerint az igazán fontos eredmények az etnográfiai részletekben rejlenek. Terjedelmi korlátok miatt itt csupán néhány általánosabb eredményt szeretnék bemutatni leegyszerűsített formában, összefoglalóan. ...
... This paper is built on an anthropological research project about intimate interpersonal relationships between members of Hungarian society and Chinese migrants entitled 'Chinese person in the family' (see Kovács 2015Kovács , 2016. 2 This project investigated relations between Chinese parents, Chinese children and Hungarian caregivers, and also the effects of these care arrangements on children's lives, behaviour, identities and belonging. ...
... One such difference is the priority Hungarians give to the mixed nuclear family, as opposed to the Chinese emphasis on the extended Chinese family. These often irreconcilable differences fundamentally shape the inner dynamics of mixed relationships (seeKovács 2015Kovács , 2016.3 Transnational Migrant Entrepreneurs' Childcare Practices from the Carers… fviorela@yahoo.com ...
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