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The "Mainland Brides" Of Taiwan Try To Emerge From The Shadows

A wedding in Tainan, Taiwan
A wedding in Tainan, Taiwan
Han Yuting and Du Xue

TAIPEI – It was at 10 p.m., after she had attended yet another social event, that Lu Yuexiang was finally able to meet us at the restaurant.

Lu, 48, is the chairperson of the Chinese Production Party, which she founded in 2010 to fight for the rights of mainland-Chinese immigrants in Taiwan. The party, which has more than 22,000 members, has become an essential player in Taiwan’s political landscape.

Lu was born in Fujian Province in China. In 1992, she married a Taiwanese man and became one of the country’s first "mainland brides." Over the past 20 years she has been trying to prove that she is "not any worse than the others.” She wants her actions to help end Taiwanese prejudice against mainland brides.

In the early 1990s, Lu was in her 20s. Unlike many other young Chinese women, she was full of pioneering spirit, with a tough character and was particularly skilled in business. After graduating from an automotive technical school, she first became a truck driver, and then managed a mine and became the owner of a very profitable fleet of trucks specialized in cargo and coal transportation.

One day, Lu met a Taiwanese woman who was visiting China. She made a great impression on the woman, who decided she wanted Lu to be her daughter in law. Not long after she became a mainland bride.

Thanks to its rapid economic growth, Taiwan became very rich in the 1980s. Poorer men and war veterans started to have problems finding wives. The flow of "foreign brides" gradually increased. At first they came mostly from Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand and Cambodia in Southeast Asia, before the arrival of women from mainland China, who started to make up the majority of foreign brides in the 1990s. Today there are more than 10,000 cross-Strait marriages registered annually.

Lu had never imagined that she would one day end up in Taiwan. "I had $2000 with me. I thought that if my husband was ever unkind to me and abandoned me, I would at least have enough money to buy myself a plane ticket and go home," Lu recalls with a smile.

She never got to use the money, but she went through difficult times because of her status as a mainland spouse. Because of cross-Strait conflicts, ideological propaganda and great differences in social and economic development, there is a lot of discrimination in Taiwan against mainland women.

The first hurdles were imposed by the Taiwanese government itself. To combat a spate of sham marriages and human trafficking in the 1990s, Taiwanese authorities used to impose a vigorous interview process on Chinese spouses before they could obtain permanent residence status and employment rights. The officials handling these interviews were not always trained very well, and their questions ranged from “What does your husband wear as underpants;” “What color is his toothbrush” to “Which foot does he put down first when he wakes up etc.”

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A bride in Taiwan - Photo: zero159

The expression dalu mei (“mainland sister”) became a pejorative term synonym for someone who is lazy, worthless, uneducated. Mainland spouses in Taiwan were given the “second-class citizens” treatment. Their rights were limited and they were barred from participating in associations or organizations until they obtained their Taiwanese ID papers, which could take years. If they breached social security regulations, they could be deported back to China.

Raising awareness to end prejudice

When Lu arrived in Taiwan 20 years ago, she says everyone looked at her strangely. When she was at the market or at the medical clinic, the hateful looks she got were very painful.

She opened a supermarket with her husband, but could not work at the counter – she could only work from the sidelines. This was particularly difficult for someone who used to manage a fleet of trucks. She often came home in tears – almost every night, she recalls. Not to mention the fact that she missed her loved ones at home. More than once she asked herself why she had come to Taiwan?

To integrate into Taiwanese society faster, Lu decided to build up her social circle. “I wanted to know as many people as possible to enter their social orbit, understand their culture – and this included people in associations and political parties,” she says.

It took Lu over seven years to set up a large network of contacts through her husband and her business by giving them discounts and good deals or inviting them to dinner or for coffee.

Meanwhile, she also actively inquired from Taiwanese natives whether they knew any Chinese brides in their communities. She would go and visit them and invite the leaders of these communities for coffee and ask them to take care of these women.

Over time, Lu realized that inviting people for drinks and dinner would not solve the plight of Chinese women living in Taiwan. She created an organization with a few other like-minded mainland women. In two months, their organization reached 400 members. Because they were not allowed to belong to an organization, they had to find ways to get around Taiwanese law.

But that was not enough to raise awareness on the issue of Chinese spouses. “Our voices were rarely heard,” she says. Lu was determined to end prejudice and reach social acceptance.

Her situation changed considerably in 2001, nine years after her arrival, after she finally obtained her Taiwanese ID card. She was able to join the Kuomintang (KMT), the Chinese Nationalist Party. In the 2004 presidential election, she changed the name of her organization to “Soldier Ants” and supported the KMT candidates. Though the KMT lost the election, Lu and her association became a new force in the KMT.

She set up a team to help the KMT with the 2007 presidential election, which the party won. By 2008, Lu was advising eight KMT candidates in the legislative election.

Her endeavors in helping the ruling party ultimately impressed Ma Ying-jeou, the current Taiwanese president and KMT chairman, who promised her he would fight to speed up the waiting time for mainland brides to get their permanent residency status. In 2009, the women also obtained better employment and inheritance rights, as well as social security.

After creating a number of organizations, Lu realized that their influence was limited. She gradually realized that if she wanted to fight for the rights of mainland brides she needed to form a political party to be a part of Taiwanese legislature.

In 2010, Lu founded the Chinese Production Party, of which she is the chairperson. More than 70% of the party’s members are mainland spouses.

In the 2012 presidential election, Lu called on all her party members to canvass for the KMT again. President Ma Ying-jeou won re-election.

“I want mainland brides to have an impact on Taiwan’s political parties and facilitate cross-Strait peace and exchanges. Taiwan has 340,000 mainland spouses. That means 340,000 households, and out of those more than 200,000 have got Taiwan ID cards," says Lu. "This gives us a huge political power."

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