Family Social Reproduction: Conflict and Compromise in Cross-Border Marriages between Chinese Malaysian Men and Vietnamese Women

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Chee Heng Leng
Brenda S.A. Yeoh


In this paper, we use the framework of family social reproduction to investigate care relationships within cross-border marriages in Malaysia. Examining the narratives of Chinese Malaysian men and their Vietnamese spouses, we find that (i) the Malaysian men’s labour migration during their twenties and thirties leads to the deferment as well as enablement of marriage, reconfiguring social reproduction temporally and spatially within their life courses, while (ii) the Vietnamese women’s aspirations for migration, work, and marriage interlink with their desire to seek a better life, and their motivations to secure better options to contribute to the social reproduction of their natal families. Tensions in cross-border marriage arise from unmet expectations of care and sustenance, leading to frictions over contested roles and responsibilities in daily household maintenance and care activities, and compromises as marriage partners formulate social reproductive strategies. Exchanges of care, reproductive labour, and money within these marriages are embedded in relational meanings, pointing to the significance of recognising that the care work that shapes and sustains marital relationships is bidirectional, reciprocal, and undertaken by husbands as much as wives.


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