First, she fell in love with the country. Then, she fell in love with the man she was tutoring. American Susan Blumberg-Kason was studying in Hong Kong when she met the love of her life in 1994. The two wound up marrying and having a son, and for five years, she tried to be the best Chinese wife she could be. But the marriage did not last, and Blumberg-Kason experienced what she called, “a love affair with China gone wrong.”
Blumberg-Kason wrote about her time as a Chinese wife, daughter-in-law and mother in her memoir, “Good Chinese Wife.” On Thursday, Sept. 18, under the sponsorship of the department of world languages and cultures, she came to the College to give a discussion on “Gender, Romance and Chinese Masculinity” and to read an excerpt from her book.
When Blumberg-Kason arrived in China, she knew about the foot binding the girls used to perform in order to reach a certain standard of beauty. She also knew that in the ’30s, women’s femininity was taken away to make the men and women appear as equals. The Chinese culture continued to change throughout the years, and when she arrived in China in the ’90s, she was surprised to see that men and women shared domestic duties.
“My American friends’ fathers did not share domestic responsibilities,” Blumberg-Kason said. “Dad would come home, he’d kick off his shoes, sit in his chair, watch the news or ‘Wheel of Fortune.’ Even if Mom was working, she would have to get the kids from school, cook and clean. The gender roles (in China at the time) were not as what we think in America.”
She also pointed out that Hollywood is the only institution to teach Americans what Chinese masculinity is, which we are led to believe includes a lot of sparring.
“I saw things so differently than what I saw in Hollywood, and I feel like if I hadn’t had that experience, to meet people from other cultures, my view and my life would be completely different,” she said.
Immersing herself in the Chinese culture, Blumberg-Kason said she imagined she would be living there for the rest of her life. That thought was solidified when the man she loved brought up the idea of marriage.
“In China, couples traditionally date if they plan to marry — it’s not like in the U.S. when people date casually until they meet someone they want to settle down with,” her soon-to-be husband told her.
Blumberg-Kason was at first surprised to hear of marriage so soon.
“So this was normal — talking about dating and marriage in the same sentence,” Blumberg-Kason read from her book. “It’s the first time I heard of this custom, but I trusted him. The Chinese culture was so different.”
It all happened so fast.
Blumberg-Kason was soon married and doing her best to please her husband as well as his parents.
However, she said the marriage was “emotionally abusive.”
“This whole book is about me trying to do what I thought was the Chinese way, and I didn’t really know what that meant,” said Blumberg-Kason, who has not been back to China in 16 years. “I tried to take the cue from him, but it was just five years of trying to figure out how to make the marriage work.”
According to the author, the book’s cover, which shows an unbalanced tower of china, perfectly grasps the feeling she had while in the marriage.
“These cups or bowls are about to tip over at any point, and I’m trying to keep everything together,” she said.
Looking back at the marriage that brought her into a Chinese family, Blumberg-Kason said she realizes that there are things she could have done differently, including making sure she and her husband had a more solid plan for their future and not rushing into the marriage.
But, most importantly, “Rather than just trying to be a good Chinese wife, I should have just been a wife and have my American identity,” she said.