1992 / 10月
Jackie Chen /photos courtesy of Vincent Chang /tr. by Peter Eberly
The regulations announced on September 18 implementing the Taiwan Straits Relations Act included an expansion of the quota on mainland spouses allowed to enter Taiwan, but the decision to deport those who have come here illegally immediately led them to petition the Legislative Yuan.
Some say that the case of mainland spouses is a perfect example of our risk-taking islander spirit: creating a de facto situation before the regulations have been drawn up and then hoping that the policy will conform.
Who's right and who's wrong? When family togetherness and humanitarian concerns are placed on the same scale with respect for the law, social order and national security, how should they be weighed?
A group of women from mainland China went to Mingteh Park in Shihlin on the outskirts of Taipei one day. Most of them cradled an infant in one arm and carried beverages and snacks in the other. Their husbands were chatting away beside them and pointing out the sights along the way.
They weren't outstanding specialists or figures from the arts and entertainment, like the other mainlanders who have visited Taiwan recently -- just ordinary housewives mostly. They were among the first group of mainland spouses allowed to enter Taiwan this January. Legal residents here, they were taking advantage of the weekend for a friendly outing together.
On September 15, another group of mainland wives and their husbands gathered in front of the Legislative Yuan on Chingtao E. Rd. in Taipei. Unlike the laughing, chatting crowd at Shihlin, the women were tearful and upset, and the men were trying to comfort them. What attracted the most attention were the little children, who sported white protest headbands and were draped in slogans proclaiming "I am innocent." The women were petitioning the Legislative Yuan to let them remain in Taiwan.
A social quandary: The children's mothers were illegal immigrants from the mainland. Before detailed regulations implementing the Taiwan Straits Relations Act were announced on September 18, they had been permitted to stay here temporarily for humanitarian reasons, but now that the law had gone into effect, they were going to be deported just like other illegal immigrants.
The problem of mainland spouses--most of them are wives, in fact--has created a big stir lately. Flip through the newspaper, and you're bound to find articles on it. Every few days there's a story in the crime pages about an illegal bride being caught or a fisherman husband getting in a fight with the police.
Some marriage experts worry that if mainland brides continue to enter Taiwan, it may well exacerbate the already critical imbalance in the marriage market, and even more women will have trouble finding a husband, marry late or even remain single all their lives.
Others approve of mainland brides coming to Taiwan, looking at it from a manpower perspective. We're in urgent need of labor now anyway, they say, and bringing in more young women will help raise productivity.
All the various arguments and attitudes make points worth considering. Indeed, the problem is complex in cause and effect and not one to be weighed in terms of a few petty advantages or disadvantages.
Residency for mainlanders: According to the Bureau of Entry and Exit, as of the end of August a total of 100 or so mainland spouses had been legally approved to enter Taiwan, of whom 54 had actually arrived. The number of illegal entrants is unknown.
The Taiwan Provincial Police Administration has roughly estimated that about 1,000 mainlanders a month enter Taiwan illegally but has no idea how many of them may be spouses.
The number of mainland spouses entering Taiwan may not seem large, but the effects cannot be ignored.
Mainlanders allowed to reside in Taiwan in the past were either elderly people over 70 or children under 12. Otherwise, the only mainlanders who have been able to come to Taiwan have been outstanding specialists or figures from the arts and entertainment, and they for short-term visits only. Letting in mainland spouses can be seen as a touchstone of the government's mainland policy and a major step forward.
A decade or so back, when the fertility rate on Taiwan began to decline due to quickening social change, scholars warned that the problem of population inflow would become greater than that of outflow. Indeed, the "chain reaction" effect produced by mainland spouses coming to Taiwan -- the children they may give birth to and the family members that may follow along--is presenting us with new problems and challenges.
An exam question for the government: Should mainland spouses be treated as foreign immigrants or as fellow citizens? That is the government's main dilemma.
The government has always maintained a policy of "One China"--it just believes that the differences between the two sides must narrow before reunification can be discussed. As long as the two sides remain separate, mainlanders may be citizens of the "Chinese nation," but they have to be restricted from coming to Taiwan.
When the issue of mainland spouses first started to heat up, the prime questions facing the agencies concerned were which kind of spouses should be allowed to come to Taiwan, and what should the quota be. None of our laws or regulations prohibit marrying mainlanders, but a basic legal requirement of marriage is cohabitation.
After visits to relatives on the mainland were legalized a few years ago, many elderly couples who had been separated in the wake of war and turmoil years back were finally reunited and began to pick up the ties of the past. Should mainland spouses like them be allowed to come to Taiwan?
As the number of travelers to the mainland increased, social, cultural and economic interaction intensified. People made friends there, and some of them became romantically involved and married. Now that these people are applying for their spouses to come to Taiwan, what should be done?
In addition, some people went to the mainland surreptitiously before visits were legalized and married. Should their marriages be recognized?
Taking into consideration all these various categories, the government late last year decreed that 20 spouses would be allowed in each month (10 who married before the legalization of mainland visits and 10 who married afterwards) for a total of 240 a year. Registration on a first-come first- served basis was to begin on January 1, and spouses in Taipei began lining up and camping out four days beforehand. The first year's quota was filled before the end of January. By the end of August, according to the Chinese Refugees Relief Association, the number of applicants exceeded 770, over three times the annual quota.
With too few places to go around, there were naturally howls of complaint. On September 18, at the first meeting of the Mainland Coordination Conference, the government announced it would expand the quota to 300 a year, exempting spouses who married before 1949 and eliminating the distinction between marriages made before and after the legalization of mainland visits.
At the same time, the government laid down an ultimatum to mainland spouses in Taiwan illegally, demanding that they promptly register with the Chinese Refugees Relief Association and then return to the mainland to wait word. Otherwise, they would be sent to the holding center in Chinglu, in accordance with the Taiwan Straits Relation Act, to await deportation, the same as other illegal entrants.
Reunification through marriage? That's when the petitioners gathered at the Legislative Yuan. Their plight evoked sympathy in many when it was reported in the media, but some people believe they have tried to carry out "reunification through marriage" while the two side are still in a state of opposition and that, as Chen Kuan-cheng, a researcher at the Sun Yat-sen Institute for Social Sciences and Philosophy at Academia Sinica who has studied the issue in depth, says, "of course, they should have to bear certain social costs. Quotas, document verification and the like are only reasonable."
That is the government's position, in fact. Liu Peng-chun, deputy commissioner of the Bureau of Entry and Exit, points out that from the standpoint of "holding the fort" while the two sides of the Taiwan Strait are still in opposition, careful review is a must.
But there's also the problem of humanitarian concerns.
If you ask the couples themselves, their answer is pretty much the same: "Thinking we're a threat to national security is a bit overestimating us!" What's more, R.O.C. laws don't prohibit marriage to a mainland compatriot.
Some even take a shot at how much ways of thinking have changed. "Didn't we always hear when we were little how we should liberate our compatriots on the mainland? How can it be wrong now that we're really trying to do it?"
Testing the law: In fact, the main reason so few spouses have officially entered so far, despite all the applications, is problems with document verification, with whether marriage licenses and birth certificates issued on the mainland are genuine. The government would like the other side to help out by making a double-check.
But they aren't cooperating. The mainland's attitude is, "Our documents are genuine and ought to be recognized," which has led to a standoff.
The document problem has held up many cross-strait couples, no matter how fully they meet the criteria stipulated by the Mainland Affairs Council of "being married for at least two years and having one or more children." Some husbands can't stand the wait and have their wives brought in illegally, while others see that they're ranked so far at the bottom that they decide to ignore the law, bring the wife over first and then see what happens.
That has created many illegal entrant couples, increasing the government's difficulties.
A mainland wife in Ilan says with righteous assurance, "We came here for love, for our children, for our husbands. What did we do wrong?!"
What did they do wrong? National legislators Chen Ting-nan and Chen Kuei-miao, who often speak up for cross-strait married couples, have suggested that mainland spouses who enter Taiwan illegally should be treated differently from other illegal entrants instead of being deported. But the government's position is, that would just encourage people to break the law and wouldn't be fair to those who have been patiently waiting their turn. What's more, if everyone on the mainland tried to use this method to come to Taiwan, what then?
Cultural barrier: Just alarmist talk? Yet some people think there are grounds for concern.
Anyone who has met them can sense that most cross-strait couples are the product of quick-fix marriages. Most of them got acquainted through travel, business, visits to relatives or even marriage arrangement agencies. Since shuttling back and forth is so expensive, there isn't much time for courtship, and most of them made a hasty trip to the altar.
That sort of shaky foundation, ps the different social systems on either side of the Taiwan Strait and their separation for over 40 years, adds to the possibilities for conflict.
A Szechwanese wife living in Penghu often gets into fights with her husband's family simply because of her strong personality and the language barrier.
"I've got a loud voice, and I speak a different dialect than they do. Every time I raise my voice at the kids, my mother-in-law says it's child abuse." She married in as a stepmother. When asked how she and her husband came to meet each other, she speaks vaguely about being introduced in Fukien through a friend--as to why she left Szechwan to meet a Taiwanese man in Fukien, she prefers not to go into that.
Then there's a Hunanese lass who married into a Hakka family in Hsinchu. Her mother-in-law gets up at four or five in the morning every day, and even though she, as a good daughter-in-law, gets up with her and starts her work, she still feels it's a terrible chore and isn't very happy with her life in Taiwan.
She doesn't understand how her sisters-in-law can work like that year in and year out. The other family members often tell her how hard life used to be in the old days and encourage her to bear with it, but she just can't understand why life has to be so tough and why she had to marry into a family that lives so far away.
Feeling illegal: There are more mainland spouses here illegally who haven't been exposed by the media. Some of them may have married because they longed for Taiwan's political and economic stability or wanted to live here and couldn't find a job back home or even because they fell into clutches of the white slave trade.
In other words, there are complex factors and motives behind cross-strait marriages, and the government must maintain a cautious attitude in evaluating them. Of course, whenever there are restrictions, the innocent may get caught up, too--and couples who wed in all sincerity may have to put up with some inconveniences.
Besides residency, another issue that has been discussed a lot is what rights should be available to mainland spouses in Taiwan. Chu Wu-yu, director of legal affairs in the Mainland Affairs Council, says that the government's position is that legally resident mainland spouses who have completed a two-year adjustment period and the fact of whose marriage has been recognized will receive a citizen identification card and enjoy all the fundamental rights of other R.O.C. citizens, such as voting, health insurance and so forth.
The result is that mainland spouses are in a kind of limbo during their two-year adjustment period, and many of them are worried and frightened about how to get through it. Ma Yu, wife of the actor Lu Chih, for instance, is afraid that without an official ID card she won't be able to find reliable work, get a free vaccination for her child at a public health clinic or use her husband's medical insurance. "We came here legally, but it doesn't feel much different from being illegal," she says.
Weighing conflicting concerns: Perhaps some may feel that new immigrants always have to put up with a little inconvenience--the same goes everywhere. But some spouses aren't just griping. Serious problems have really occurred.
A private civic organization aimed at helping mainland wives adjust to life in Taiwan called Mother's Home for Mainland Brides has reported cases of wives whose husbands have died and have been left destitute because they don't get along with their parents-in-law. And the Mainland Spouse Friendship Society has seen cases of wives breaking up with their husbands after coming to Taiwan and not knowing where to turn.
Has the government looked into these cases? Director Chu maintains that these people should be deported since they haven't been here for two years and aren't considered Taiwan residents, nor has the fact of their marriage yet been recognized. But is that reasonable? Is it humane?
The stickiest problem at present is probably those mainland spouses who entered Taiwan illegally and are to be deported as of September 18. Having come here illegally, they are considered by the mainland to have exited illegally. Given the present political realities, what consequences can they expect?
"After we read the news, the whole family cried for three days straight," a fisherman in Penghu says. He teamed up with a number of couples from Ilan to go to Taipei to petition. "But is petitioning any use?" he asks.
No one can answer his question for now. When humanitarian concerns run up against politics, when keeping a family together has to be weighed against national security and social order, hurt and anger probably have to step aside. Perhaps we can only look to the future and wait for national reunification to keep melodramatic stories that belong in a novel from occurring over and over in real life.
Age Differences in Cross-Strait Couples[Picture]
Mainland Spouses Who Have Applied to Come to Taiwan: Educational Level[Picture]
Mainland Spouses Who Have Applied to Come to Taiwan: Sex[Picture]
Couples married after the legalization of visits to the mainland on November 2, 1987
Couples married before November 2, 1987
Source: Chinese Refugees Relief Association
Couples who used to meet scarcely once in a blue moon are together every day now thanks to improved relations across the Taiwan Strait. This is an outing held by the Mainland Spouse Friendship Society in September at Shuanghsi, near Taipei.
(Above, right) From potatoes to french fries--the switch represents more than just 40 years of separation between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait and the differences between north and south. And why does living in a Taipei high-rise apartment building seem like staying in a hotel?
Despite her coming all the way across the sea, speaking a similar dialect and observing similar customs are of great help to a mainland bride in building up a good relationship with her mother In-law. Huang Hsiu-chen (photo at left) tends to make spicy food, which isn't very good for older people's digestion, so her mother-in-law does most of the cooking. Luo Ching-fen (photo at right), who comes from Fukien also, rarely expresses her opinions. She's still a t the stage of feeling things out.
(Left) When asked if she ever worries she might be cheated in marrying a man from Taiwan, Fu Hsiao-mei, from Hangchow, says that's impossible -- her husband is a distant relative. Mr. Wei, a retiree, says they play at home with the baby all day and are very happy.
(Right) These two women from Szechwan both married Penghu men who had been married before and have become good friends because of their similar situations.
Even though they may have a valid marriage license from the mainland, some couples have still entered Taiwan surreptitiously and live under the shadow of deportation.