Jinmen, Taiwan

Most of the research for this project has been carried out in Jinmen, a group of several islands lying just a few miles from the coast of Southeast China. Jinmen’s role as Taiwan’s frontline against communist China during the Cold War has had a significant impact on local marriage. The most evident change is that today, most young adults marry out of choice rather than by arrangement of their parents. In the past, the Chinese family system prioritised the junior generation’s submission to the senior, and the continuity of the paternal line. Traditional marriage was about preserving families rather than considering individual feelings.

After the Chinese Civil War, Jinmen was under military rule between 1949 and 1992. The remarkable number of soldiers posted in Jinmen during this period boosted small businesses providing food, goods and services to the troops, in which women were the primary operators. While many women had to start working at a young age, they gained autonomy in their marriage choices through their new-found economic independence. These businesses improved the livelihoods of many households and encouraged many young men and women to leave Jinmen to seek higher education and professional jobs in Taiwan. This outward migration has persisted following the country’s democratisation, and today, members of the older generation intervene little in young people’s life decisions, particularly regarding whom the latter choose to marry.

Nevertheless, young people still plan their weddings together with their parents, with a clear division of labour between generations. During my research, I observed parents invest substantial efforts and money in arranging customs, such as ancestor worship and a large feast, which together demonstrate ‘traditional values’. In contrast, young couple themselves focused more on creating individualised memories through new practices (such as wedding photography). Marriage encompasses a mixture of old and new elements indicating conflicting values, but also the values of compromise, mutual care and affection between generations.