Migrant women's bodies as boundary markers: Reproductive crisis and sexual control in the ethnic frontiers of Taiwan



[Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 2008, vol. 33, no. 4]

䉷 2008 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved. 0097-9740/2008/3304-0008$10.00 Migrant Women’s Bodies as Boundary Markers:

Reproductive Crisis and Sexual Control in the Ethnic Frontiers of Taiwan


round the globe, migrant women are recruitedto provide paid or un-paid forms of reproductive labor.1The hiring of migrant nannies and cleaners has become an essential element of the middle-class lifestyle in the postindustrial West as well as in newly rich Asia. Rates of cross-border marriages have also increased widely across East Asia, Australia, and North America (Constable 2004). The existing literature, however, tends to treat foreign maids and foreign brides as separate subjects of research. Based on the case of Taiwan, this article brings together these two groups of migrant women and situates the comparison at the inter-section of globalization and nationalism.

Although foreign-born residents constitute only 2 percent of Taiwan’s total population, their number has increased dramatically since the early 1990s (from 30,288 in 1991 to 428,240 in 2006; DGBAS 2007b).2The majority entered the country through contract employment (79 percent) or by marrying Taiwanese (18 percent).3 Women from Vietnam,

Indo-I am grateful for the comments of Patrisia Macias, Macabe Keliher, Catherine Lee, Robyn Rodriquez, Rosanna Hertz, Heidi Fung, and the two anonymous reviewers of Signs. I also thank participants in the Women and Society Workshop at Columbia University, the Gender 2007: East Meets West conference at York University, and the seminar at Academia Sinica in Taipei. This research is funded by the National Science Council in Taiwan (NSC-94-2412-H002-002-001). Li Tsz-Ying, Fan Minh-Thu, and Cheng Yu-Ching provided excellent re-search assistance.


I use the term “reproductive labor” to cover biological reproduction (giving birth) as well as the work necessary for the reproduction of families, including subsistence reproduction (such as purchasing household goods and preparing and serving family meals) and social reproduction (including socializing children, providing care and emotional support for adults, and maintaining kin and community ties; cf. Lorber 1994).


It should be noted that Mainland Chinese are not counted as “foreigners” in the statistics. Also, this number does not include foreigners who overstay tourist visas to work in Taiwan.



nesia, Thailand, and the Philippines account for more than 85 percent of marriage migrants, 62 percent of foreign contract workers, and almost 100 percent of foreign domestic and care workers.4These two categories of migrant women differ in important ways. They partake in distinct tra-jectories of migration, one temporary and the other permanent. People who emigrate to work are usually not the poorest; they need to have some money and education to initiate the journey. Those who marry to emigrate are relatively impoverished; they have little to invest but themselves.

Nevertheless, the positions of foreign maids and foreign brides do bear similarity and affinity to each other on a structural level. Unpaid household labor and paid domestic work are not dichotomous categories but con-stitute structural continuities intimately tied to the feminization of repro-ductive labor across the public and private spheres (Lan 2003a). The recruitment of migrant women as maids or wives provides class-specific solutions to the alleged shortage of reproductive labor, constructed as waged work (care deficit) or kin labor (bride deficit). In addition, the social images of foreign maids and foreign brides are often conflated as these differing migratory routes are linked in both lived experiences and popular imagination. Migrant women often combine or change the venues of migration to improve their life chances overseas (Piper and Roces 2003). Xenophobia and anti-immigration sentiment turn such fluid trajectories into fears of bogus marriages and illegal employment.

Foreign brides and foreign maids are “outsiders within” in Taiwan— they are considered class others and racialized aliens despite their intimate contacts with Taiwanese households and their physical presence in the national population as temporary residents or future citizens.5 In this article, I analyze the parallel construction of migrant women in public (labor market) and private (marriage) spheres, examining how their bod-ies, subject to gender-specific sexual controls, mark the imagined bound-aries between “us” and “them” in Taiwan’s ongoing project of nation building.6


My calculation is based on information from the National Immigration Office (2007) and the Council of Labor Affairs (2007).


Shu-Ju Ada Cheng (2004, 47) has borrowed the term “outsider within” from Patricia Hill Collins to describe the status of migrant domestics in Taiwanese households.


This article draws on data collected for two research projects. In 1998–99 and 2002–3, I interviewed forty-six Taiwanese employers, fifty-eight Filipina domestics, and thirty-five Indonesian domestics and conducted observations in migrant communities in Taipei and recruitment agencies in Surabaya and Manila (see Lan [2006] for details). The other data source is an ongoing study of marriage migration, including interviews with twelve


Viet-Women’s bodies as boundary markers

Feminist scholarship has established that the control of women’s sexuality and reproduction is fundamental to the discourses and practices of na-tionalism and colonialism. To criticize the gender-blind theorizations of nationhood, Nira Yuval-Davis (1997) argues that the construction of na-tion—its culture and citizenship as well as conflicts and wars—is achieved through the material and metaphorical use of women’s bodies. Women reproduce nations not only biologically but also culturally and symboli-cally; their bodies become markers for the construction and maintenance of what Benedict Anderson (1983) calls “imagined communities.”

Ann Laura Stoler (2002) has also argued that the boundaries between colonizer and colonized were secured through forms of sexual control that defined the respectable domestic arrangement of Europeans and, in turn, prescribed the personal and public boundaries of race. In parallel with colonial encounters, international migration has constituted “in-terior frontiers” (Balibar 1990, cited in Stoler 2002, 80) that are built within the national frontier and in the intimate spheres of marriage and domesticity.

Sexual control is a strategic site of state power, as Michel Foucault (2003) has argued, where the sovereign state not only disciplines indi-vidual bodies but also achieves equilibrium and regularity of population. Through the practices of biopower, the moral orders that normalize how we live and die simultaneously create racialized segments within the pop-ulation—some are worthy to live and others are let die. State power as such is not an enclosed apparatus but the mobile effect of governmentality. The state governs by allocating norms and rationalities that directly and indirectly prescribe techniques for national subjects to monitor their own conduct (Ong 2003). Scholars have called such exercise of power tech-nologies of citizenship. In contrast, techtech-nologies of anti-citizenship con-struct illegal immigrants as imprudent and unethical subjects incapable of managing themselves and exclude them from the social body through criminalization and incarceration (Inda 2006).

There are three levels of analysis in my discussion of sexual controls over migrant women.7

First, I examine the discourses—political, media, scientific, and so on—that problematize the reproductive activities of mi-namese spouses, observation of immigration interviews, and collection of statistics, media representations, and secondary literature.

7 I am inspired by Paul Rabinow and Nikolas Rose (2006), who distinguished three

elements of biopower: truth discourses about the living, strategies for intervention in the name of life and health, and modes of subjectification.


grant women and rationalize the necessity of governing them. Second, I discuss strategies of intervention conducted by the state in alliance with employers, brokers, and husbands’ families. Third, I look at the modes of subjectification in the making of the self and the other. While sub-scribing to the middle-class lifestyle of the privatized home and the modern ideal of love marriage, the Taiwanese state and people reproduce racialized difference, class distinction, and hierarchical womanhood against the pres-ence of migrant women.

New ethnic frontiers in the construction of the nation

Taiwan, whose national title “the Republic of China” is virtually unrec-ognized, has struggled to improve its participation in the world polity and to settle domestic disputes regarding national identity. The inflows of Southeast Asian migrants since the early 1990s are once again reshaping the ethnic landscape in Taiwan. The recent waves of immigration have created new ethnic frontiers in a country still coming to terms with its own ambiguous nationhood.

The majority of the Taiwanese population is descended from Chinese immigrants. Despite the diversity in customs, dialects, and migratory ex-periences, Han Taiwanese are united as a whole under the umbrella of Confucian culture and against the coexistence of the racial/ethnic other.8 Aborigines of Austronesian descent, who inhabited Taiwan for thousands of years prior to Chinese immigration, constitute a small portion of the population (2.1 percent; DGBAS 2007a). Long characterized by the Chi-nese as primitive islanders, the aboriginal population was described by the Qing literati in gender-specific tropes denoting racial/ethnic differences: indigenous men were feminized, and “savage” women were hypersexu-alized (Teng 2004).

The boundary between the Han and the Aborigines, perceived by many as a self-evident “racial” distinction, has actually shifted several times throughout history and across political regimes (Brown 2004). The rule of the Qing, as well as their Japanese successors, placed the aborigines into two categories, “raw” barbarians (shengfan) and “cooked” barbarians (shufan), according to political submission and cultural assimilation. Cooked barbarians, also known as plains Aborigines, adopted much of the Hoklo culture, including the language, and gradually became sinicized.


Han Taiwanese are generally divided into three subethnic categories: Hakka, Hoklo, and Mainlander (waishengren, those who arrived in Taiwan with the Nationalist regime between 1946 and 1950).


The marked identity of plains Aborigines slipped into history after the Japanese administrator banned foot binding, and intermarriage became more prevalent as a consequence.9

In 1994 the Aborigines secured the new official label of yuanzhumin (original inhabitants) after a decade-long campaign by activists. Their iden-tity claiming in the 1990s went hand in hand with Taiwan’s nation-build-ing project against the backdrop of its sovereignty dispute with the People’s Republic of China. Then-president Lee Teng-hui successfully crafted nationalist rhetoric by coining the inclusive concept of “new Tai-wanese.” This stitched up the fractures among subethnic groups on the one hand, while on the other hand it established the autonomy of a Taiwanese identity vis-a`-vis the political and cultural China (Brown 2004). Although prejudice and subtle discrimination continue to affect their ev-eryday lives, the Aborigines have become a principal constituency of the new Taiwanese identity and nationalist discourse.

As the old ethnic others are now “cooked,” sinicized, and therefore part of “us,” the recently arrived labor and marriage migrants have become the new ethnic other marking the boundaries of an imagined community. Mainland Chinese nevertheless constitute an ambiguous and disputable frontier by presenting an anomaly in the ethnonationalist classification of “us” and “them.” In the early 1990s, Taiwanese legislators debated about the pros and cons of recruiting Chinese workers. They also deliberated whether marriage migrants from China should be exposed to more strict regulations of residency and citizenship compared to those from other countries. In the end, the government decided to close the door to Chi-nese workers and built a heightened fence by imposing quota control for the entry of Chinese brides.10

Although Chinese migrants may be viewed less as cultural and ethnic others in comparison with Southeast Asians, they are nevertheless con-structed as class others associated with poverty and backwardness, and, more importantly, political others suspected to be spies or enemies. The state has reservations about the immigration of Chinese spouses given the cultural proximity of China and the political opposition across the Taiwan Strait. The heightened legal fence is rationalized on the basis that Chinese spouses “hold a national identity that does not prioritize the interest of


According to Melissa Brown (2004), foot binding was the only cultural practice that was not adopted by the assimilated plains Aborigines. This marker for the Han-savage bound-ary faded away after the Japanese government banned foot binding in 1915.


The only exception is the recruitment of contract fishermen, who are not permitted to set foot on Taiwanese land.


Taiwan,” said a scholar drafting the 2007 Whitebook of Population Policy (Lin 2007, A1). Meanwhile, Chinese migrants are too “assimilatable”— “too easy for them to become part of ‘us’” (Tseng 2004, 33)—a situation that only exacerbates the distrust of them as a hidden threat to homeland security.

In contrast, the differences of Southeast Asians from Taiwanese in cul-ture, language, and physical features are assumed to be more evident, despite the heterogeneous cultural and ethnic differences across and within Southeast Asian countries. Taiwan’s government disfavors Chinese mi-grants because of concerns about stabilizing political borders; its prefer-ence for Southeast Asian migrants also serves a diplomatic purpose— migration links can consolidate state-to-state relationships, especially in the case of labor migration (Tseng 2004; Lan 2006). The perspective of state governance, however, is not widely shared by Taiwanese grooms, many of whom prefer brides with whom they have more cultural and linguistic affinity.11

The following discussion will focus on Southeast Asian migrant women. Despite the relative visibility of their ethnic differences, their intimate encounters with Taiwanese households blur their status as outsiders. The reproductive power of marriage migrants, in particular, stirs anxiety about transgression and miscegenation. Facing an expanding foreign-born pop-ulation, Taiwan’s government has shifted its policy agenda from border control and exclusion to inclusive governance by structuring citizenship and incorporation in a hierarchical way.

Care deficit and bride deficit

Taiwan did not open the gate for migrant domestic workers until the early 1990s. In addition to a shortage of labor supply—local women are not interested in this demeaning and strenuous job—the demands for house-keeping, child care, and elder care have grown as a result of gender and family transformations. Women’s participation in Taiwan’s labor market has greatly increased in the past few decades. Career womanhood is now


The total number of Chinese spouses (255,382 registered from January 1988 to May 2007) is larger than that of Southeast Asian spouses (135,735), but, due to the uneven state regulations, fewer Chinese spouses have acquired long-term residency (dingjuzheng; 45,170) compared to naturalized Southeast Asian spouses (53,401; National Immigration Office 2007). In addition, Vietnamese women, perceived to share similar Confucianist culture and customs, are generally preferred to Filipinas and Indonesians.


a favorable life path among higher-educated women.12 Double-income families are also the outcome of economic necessity due to rising housing prices and living expenses in the city. In addition, the nuclear household has become the primary residential pattern.13 Current generations of young married couples prefer to live separately from their parents; modern daughters-in-law tend to shy away from patrilocal extended households and the often tension-laden dynamics of in-law relationships.

The aspiration for a privatized, nuclear home, a lifestyle associated with Western modernity, comes hand in hand with the headache for the care deficit. Taiwan has traditionally relied on the family to provide social welfare. Policy makers praise and encourage three-generation cohabitation as a time-honored solution to child care and elder care. Women in par-ticular serve as prime caregivers in the family. But changing household patterns and gender dynamics have led to a shortage of kin labor and an expansion of market outsourcing. The recruitment of migrant workers provides an economic solution for middle-class Taiwanese women to sub-contract their motherly and filial duties while pursuing career achievement as their husbands do.

The global market transfer of reproductive labor is an institutional practice that upholds the neoliberal agenda of privatization. The Asian host governments have nevertheless played a major role in channeling the inflows of migrant workers. They accept migrant women in order to push local women into the labor force and achieve the projects of industriali-zation and moderniindustriali-zation (Chin 1998; Oishi 2005). Meanwhile, this state plan reinforces the gendered division of domestic labor by excusing hus-bands for their absence (Lin 1999).

While the rhetoric of “care deficit” is used to frame the demand for migrant labor, people have also used the term “bride deficit” to describe the driving forces behind the expansion of marriage migration. Gender asymmetry in the population partly explains the shortage of potential brides. The skewed gender ratio in Taiwan (103 males : 100 females in the total population; 110 males : 100 females at birth) is partly a result of prenatal sex selection used by some parents to meet the traditional preference for sons (DGBAS 2007a). Beyond the demographic factor,


In 2006, 48.7 percent of Taiwanese women above the age of fifteen were gainfully employed, and the number rose to 64 percent among those with a graduate or postgraduate degree (Council of Labor Affairs 2007).


In 2005, 44.5 percent of Taiwanese households were nuclear units with children, 16 percent were married couples without children, 14.3 percent were extended households, and 11 percent of the households were led by single parents (DGBAS 2006b, 16–17).


several sociological reasons contribute to the qualitative, rather than quan-titative, formation of the alleged bride deficit.

The population of single women in Taiwan has greatly expanded. Among women aged between thirty and thirty-four, the single proportion has increased from 7.7 percent in 1980 to 28.7 percent in 2005; the percentage further increased among those with a university degree or higher (44.9 percent; Ministry of the Interior 2007c). Women’s partici-pation in the workforce often leads to the delaying or forgoing of marriage. Financial independence makes singlehood an affordable lifestyle for mod-ern women when their search for an egalitarian partnership is unsuccessful (Coontz 2005). Meanwhile, cohabitating with parents, an arrangement still common among adult children in Taiwan, helps lower living costs for single daughters with moderate incomes.

The opportunities for Taiwanese women to find mates matching their expectations are also curtailed by the gender gap in educational achieve-ment. According to Luoh Ming-Ching (2006), the proportion of col-lege-educated Taiwanese women has gradually outnumbered the same ratio in men, while the proportion receiving secondary education or lower among Taiwanese men is higher than the ratio in women. Given the persisting culture of hypergamy, lower-educated men fall into dis-favor in the local marriage market and develop an increased tendency to seek brides overseas.14

Statistical data show that the majority of Taiwanese grooms who en-tered international marriages are agricultural and factory workers in the countryside (Wang 2001). Due to recent economic restructuring, local women with secondary education are largely employed in pink-collar ser-vice jobs.15

Most of them prefer the glamour of middle-class urbanity to rural lifestyles and blue-collar manhood. Taiwanese working-class men seek cross-border marriages not just to end their bachelorhood; they also need the unpaid labor of foreign spouses to assist with agriculture pro-duction in farming households and the repropro-duction of the next gener-ation (Hsia 1997).

Given the shortage of care workers and the difficulty in finding brides for some Taiwanese men, I emphasize that the deficiency of reproductive labor is also a discursive field constituted by competing narratives for moral


Luoh (2006) also finds that Taiwanese women with higher education have a greater probability of marrying foreign grooms, who are mostly from Western countries.


In 2005, 69 percent of female high school graduates were employed as clerks, service workers, and sales workers, while 43 percent of male high school graduates worked in factories (DGBAS 2006a).


legitimacy. Middle-class employers use the narrative of care deficit (“We cannot find anyone to take care of our children”) to rationalize their recruitment of cheap migrant labor as well as their deviation from tra-ditional gender roles and family norms. Working-class grooms, despite their lower stock of discursive power, justify their actions with the narrative of bride deficit (“No Taiwanese woman wants to marry me”) against the stigma of trafficking in poor foreign women.

Wang Hong-Zen (2001) has pointed out the parallel situation in which upper-class and middle-class Taiwanese households hire foreign maids to outsource housework and care work while working-class households seek foreign wives to provide unpaid domestic labor.16Although these migrant women are recruited to offer reproductive labor—be it biological, social, or cultural—their presence has consequently stirred anxieties in the re-ceiving society about potential threats to the moral order that upholds the reproduction of the national family.

The discourse of reproductive crisis is a powerful narrative of ethno-nationalism and an instrument of state governance. As Geraldine Heng and Janadas Devan (1992) argue, the narrative of national crisis—by re-peatedly focusing anxiety on the fragility of the nation and its vulnerability to exterior attacks—invokes and validates state agency.17

In the following I will demonstrate how marriage migrants and migrant domestics are both constructed as sexualized beings who may weaken the virile nation and examine how the state exercises control over their sexuality and repro-duction to stabilize the new ethnic frontiers.

Fertile bride, unfit mother

In a commencement speech at a Taiwanese university in 2004, then Prime Minister of Taiwan You Hsi-Kuen told the recent graduates: “Bear chil-dren if you love Taiwan” (Shi 2004, B8). Many bureaucrats have expressed worries about Taiwan’s declining birthrate.18 The major themes of pop-ulation policy have shifted from birth control and family planning in the


In their actual labor activities, the boundary between paid and unpaid reproductive labor provided by migrant women is fluid and permeable. Many female spouses work as maids, cleaners, and caretakers (Wang 2001). And it is not uncommon for Taiwanese divorced or widowed men to propose to their migrant workers, usually hired to take care of their frail parents (Lan 2003a).


Kung I-Chun (2006) also applied the concept of national crisis to the discourses of Taiwanese and Vietnamese states regarding cross-border marriages.


The total fertility rate has greatly declined, from 5.8 in 1960 to 1.1 in 2007 (Ministry of the Interior 2007b).


1960s and 1970s to promoting fertility and parenthood in the 1990s. The “womb strike” of Taiwanese women, especially among those with advanced degrees, stems from multiple factors, including no entry or late entry to marriage, career commitment, and the rising costs of child rearing. The government is proposing new policy measures to boost women’s fertility, such as subsidized natal care, child allowances, and tax cuts.

The state’s promotion of fertility is nevertheless selective of class and ethnic preferences. Soon after the prime minister invoked nationalist sen-timents to persuade Taiwanese middle-class women into the mission of patriotic motherhood, Vice Minister of Education Chou Tsan-Te made a discouraging comment about the reproductive activities of immigrant women. In a national education conference, Chou expressed his worry about the “low quality” of immigrants and said that “foreign brides should not have so many children” (Yiu 2004, 2).19

The growth of cross-border marriages has certainly changed the faces of the next generation of Taiwanese. Among every hundred newborn Taiwanese in 2006, twelve are the children of immigrant mothers.20The reproductive activities of migrant women are not considered a fulfillment of patriotic duty but a potential threat to the nation. In August 2004, two members of the Control Yuan submitted a measure to correct the immigration policy, warning that the polarized trends of emigration and immigration are harming population quality.21While wealthy and profes-sional Taiwanese emigrate to North America and Australia, the Control Yuan members argued, “low-quality” immigrants—foreign workers and foreign spouses—are flooding the country.

As Patricia Hill Collins writes about the U.S. population policies that implicitly favor middle-class white women as suitable mothers of the nation in comparison with working-class women and women of color, the state apparatus aims to “increase fertility for more desirable segments of the population and decrease fertility of less worthy citizens” (1999, 119).22


Chou’s remarks led to infuriation and protests among immigrant communities and human-rights groups; Chou later apologized in a press conference.


Some 6.4 percent of babies born in 2006 have mothers of Southeast Asian origin, while 5.2 percent have mothers from mainland China (Ministry of the Interior 2007a).


The Control Yuan is one of the five branches of the central government of the Republic of China (Taiwan). It has the powers to impeach, audit, and take corrective measures against government organizations.


Similar situations were seen in Singapore in the mid-1980s. According to Heng and Devan (1992), then–Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew accused college-educated women, who were largely Chinese, of imperiling the country’s future by not reproducing babies in sufficient numbers. The government meanwhile offered cash rewards to working-class mothers, many of whom were Malays, to restrict their childbearing to two children.


Migrant women, who are perceived as fertile brides in comparison to barren Taiwanese women, are nevertheless captured as alien wombs and unfit mothers who fail to carry on the duty of reproducing the nation biologically and culturally.

Taiwan’s media have coined the term “new Taiwanese children” to describe mixed-race children of cross-border marriages. Similar to the offspring of European men and native women in the colony, mixed-race children embody boundary transgression in the eyes of nationalists. The anxiety about miscegenation and interethnic marriage rests upon a false premise that Taiwanese make up a discrete biological and social entity with common cultural roots and a pure gene pool despite the fact that the Taiwanese are ethnically heterogeneous and the boundaries of the community have been fluid, permeable, and subject to historical change and political disputes.

The worries of Taiwanese bureaucrats and politicians are sometimes conveyed in a eugenic frame, which attempts to “predetermine the quality of nation via ‘nature’ in the ways of selective breeding” (Yuval-Davis 1997, 31). In April 2006, Legislator Lao BYen, coming from a party en-dorsing a strong ideology of Taiwanese nationalism, made a public remark about the many children in Vietnam who were disabled as a result of chemical substances being used by the U.S. troops during the Vietnam War. Lao suggested that Taiwan’s government check to see whether Viet-namese spouses carry any defective genes. Lao’s provocative remarks are indeed extreme, but implicit eugenicist discourses are not rare. A few clinical studies indicate that premature delivery occurs more often among immigrant mothers, and their newborn babies weigh less than the national average. Despite their small samples, these studies attracted grave attention among medical professionals and public health experts, whose diagnoses were based not on biological factors but on the ground of social attrib-utes—alleging that migrant mothers came from areas with poor sanitary conditions and poor national health (Chang 2003). In addition, the media have frequently published alarming reports about the birth of “AIDS babies” from cross-border marriages; migrant women are suspected to be virus carriers because of the thriving sex industries in Southeast Asia (Fan 2006). In sum, these discourses carry a subtle tone of sociological eugenics and a view of biological heredity not as a static essence but as social sediments of poverty, backwardness, immorality, and even wartime suf-fering.

More common social criticism of immigrant mothers concerns their ability to nurture children, that is, social and cultural reproduction for the new Taiwanese children. Media venues have widely reported,


some-times citing comments or observations from scholars and experts, that children of immigrant mothers tend to suffer from stunted growth or poor school performance. The problematization of mixed children is gen-der specific—such worries are never directed to children of migrant fa-thers—because it is women who are assigned as primary caregivers in the family to deliver national and ethnic culture to the next generation (Yuval-Davis and Anthias 1989).

Behind the social accusation of inept immigrant mothers lies an as-sumption that Southeast Asian migrants as a classed, racialized collective are an ill-fitting addition to the ongoing projects of globalization and nation building in Taiwan. Although Taiwan’s educational system has warmly embraced the ideas of internationalization, the hidden curriculum privileges the affluent, modernized West over the developing Global South. Therefore, the language skills and local knowledge of immigrant mothers are perceived as burdens rather than assets that should be passed on to the next generation of Taiwanese.

Southeast Asian immigrants, marked as cultural and ethnic others, need to be “cooked” and sinicized by nation-forming devices like a common language and cultural literacy. Local governments have offered “life ad-justment and guidance” courses for Southeast Asian spouses to learn about Taiwan’s culture, languages, and lifestyles. A new test, which covers ma-terial ranging from basic Chinese language skills and knowledge to Tai-wan’s politics, laws, customs, and lifestyles, was introduced in 2006 as a requirement for naturalization. Some of the questions assume a lack of civilization and intelligence among immigrants and confirm their image as the inferior other (Chen 2006).

Performing intimacy and enacting fertility

To prevent labor trafficking through marriage venues is the primary con-cern of Taiwanese bureaucrats in their regulation of marriage migration. The government formerly prohibited foreign spouses from gainful em-ployment before they acquired Taiwanese citizenship. After years of pro-tests by immigrants and human-rights groups, this ban was lifted in 2002. According to the current policy, foreign spouses with valid residency status can work gainfully without applying for a work permit.23

23 The regulation is tightened when applied to marriage migrants from China. They are

not eligible for residency (juliuzhen) in Taiwan until two years after marriage or after having a child. Prior to that time, they can only hold visitor visas (luxinzhen) and stay up to six


The government has recently set up interview procedures in an attempt to filter out forged marriages. All foreign spouses applying for residency have to go through two interviews, one in their native country and the other at the point of entry in Taiwan. In the second round, if an inter-viewing officer is suspicious about the authenticity of the marriage, the couple will be asked to go for another interview one month after the spouse has entered Taiwan to ensure that the couple is living together as husband and wife (Yiu 2005).

In February 2006, I observed a few interviews with marriage visa ap-plicants conducted by officials at the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in Ho Chi Minh City.24Southern Vietnam has been the most popular region for Taiwanese men to seek wives. When I interviewed the director of TECO, he expressed worries about the negative impact of cross-border marriages on Taiwan’s population quality.25 He considered the growth of “bride trade” as a “national shame” that had tainted the international image of Taiwan.26To prevent trafficking in women through cross-border marriages, TECO in Ho Chi Minh City has altered the in-terview procedure since January 2005 under the pressure of the Control Yuan and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, although this new policy has received strong opposition from marriage brokers.27

Both the TECO director and officers admitted that there were no clear guidelines to determine the authenticity of marriages. They can only man-age to ensure that a couple hold “mutual knowledge about each other and a real relationship,” said the TECO director. Most interview questions months per visit. A visitor visa holder is not entitled to waged employment; even after being granted residency, Chinese spouses still need to apply for work permits.


The TECO office is the de facto embassy of Taiwan (Republic of China) because of the lack of formal diplomatic relations between Taiwan and Vietnam.


Interview conducted at the TECO office in Ho Chi Minh City on February 11, 2006. The interview was originally in Chinese and was translated into English by the author when quoted.


In the “Trafficking in Persons Report” released by the U.S. Department of State in June 2006, Taiwan is listed on the second-tier watch list partly because “the recruitment of foreign brides . . . is poorly controlled and, as a consequence, has become a major conduit for the trafficking of girls and women into the Taiwan sex trade, as well as for forced labor” (U.S. Department of State 2006).


In response to the increasing number of applications for marriage-based visas, the interviews after 1999 were held in a group, becoming more of a bureaucratic format than a filtering mechanism. Since 2005, the interviews have been held with individual couples, and each interview takes about an hour. According to TECO, the failing rate in 2005 was reported to be 30 percent. Due to a shortage of staff, a couple has to wait for six months on average to get an interview.


involve information about the couple’s previous contacts with each other, based on which the officer double-checks whether both sides present compatible facts. For example: “Where did you two meet for the first time?” “How many times did the groom visit Vietnam?” “Where does the bride live? Did you take a bus or a boat there?” “How many people, dogs, and cats are in her family?”

Some questions intrude on the private realm and impose moral judg-ment based on the officer’s own values. The following conversation is an excerpt from my observation of a TECO officer, a Taiwanese male in his forties, interviewing a Vietnamese woman in her early twenties who was engaged to a Taiwanese factory worker who had lost one arm in an accident.28

“Do you want to marry him at your own will?” asked the officer. She nodded, quietly.

“He is handicapped. Are you really voluntarily entering the marriage?”

“Yes. Life in Vietnam is harsh.”

“Do you actually love him, or are you just doing this for economic reasons?

“I really like him.”

“But you only met him for two days [before getting engaged]! How romantic! Love at first sight, um? [sarcastic tone] Isn’t this a way to escape from poverty? I hope you are truly in love, not doing this just for the residency. . . . Do not remit all the money home after getting married. He works really hard for it.”

The officer applied polarized dichotomies to characterize the intentions of marriage migrants—voluntary moves versus trafficking, marrying for love versus marrying for money, authentic romance versus bogus union. Such reductive thinking is a common discursive frame that contributes to the stigmatization of mail-order marriages (Constable 2003). These pre-sumptive values privilege the notion of modern marriage on the basis of romantic love, pure relationship, and free choices of two individuals, while devaluing traditional marriage as an institutional arrangement of extended families for economic or political exchanges (Giddens 1992; Coontz 2005). In this framework, the complex intentions of migrant women are

28 The officer asked questions in Chinese, and the bride-to-be answered in Vietnamese.

The mediation of the translator, who was a Vietnamese Chinese woman, has been omitted in the transcript.


reduced to flat either-or answers: if they are not romantic fools, they must be either trafficked victims without free choices or cunning criminals with ill intentions.29

The interviews often go beyond determining the authenticity of rela-tionships and turn into evaluating whether the couple would be happy (xingfu) and whether the marriage could last. As the TECO director described to me, the interviews help filter those who “are apparently not capable of managing a marriage.” Immigration interviews as such allocate multiple effects of state power. The state not only holds the legal-political power to permit or deny residency but also exercises technologies of gov-ernmentality by subjugating citizens (or citizens-to-be) to particular norms, rules, and systems (Ong 2003).

Immigration officers deliberate who makes a suitable wife with proper intention to marry and urge the women to become loyal spouses and assimilated citizens who presumably keep cash within the conjugal family in the new country rather than pouring remittances to their birth families. The process of normalization is also applied to Taiwanese grooms: the interviews are built on hidden assumptions about who makes a lovable husband and able citizen. The officers questioned Vietnamese women about why they would love someone who is handicapped, aged, or im-poverished. The paternal state feels responsible to protect the underpriv-ileged citizens—the physically disabled or the socioeconomically impo-tent—against the possible harm of foreign women.

In addition, the officers often request that the couple present some evidence of their physical and emotional intimacy, such as photos of them traveling together and long-distance telephone bills for frequent corre-spondences. Some officers even asked the couple to perform their phone conversations during the interview. The Taiwanese groom-to-be, with his hand holding an imaginary phone, nervously yet dramatically asked his Vietnamese fiance´e: “Do you miss me? Do you love me? Do you want me?” “Yes, yes,” she timidly answered with a few broken Chinese words. These couples are performing intimacy under the gaze of immigration officials; they display romantic affections and open their intimate lives to the scrutiny of state power. To dissociate themselves from the stigma of mail-order marriages, the couples have to establish the authenticity and legitimacy of their unions by endorsing the ideal of the love marriage.


Similar situations are reported by Hsiao-Chun Hsia (1997), who observed the visa interviews of Indonesian women in TECO in Jakarta.


This performative act iterates the moral discourse of romantic love and subjugates performers to state authority.30

According to Bonnie Adrian (2003, 80), in Taiwan, romantic love was not associated with marriage until the 1960s and 1970s; marriage was previously considered a family duty, while romantic love and individual desire were something experienced by men outside marriage. Despite the normalization of love marriage as a sign of reaching modernity in Taiwan, mating choices in reality often intertwine with concerns of social mobility and economic exchange, especially among the rich who conflate conjugal networks with business alliances and the poor who can barely afford to be single. The myth of marriage on the sole basis of love is less a mirror image of reality than an ideal that the Taiwanese state projects to represent itself as a modernized nation.

When seeking visas to enter the country, migrant women are urged to perform intimacy as a rehearsal for the role of wife; after residing in the country, they are prompted into motherhood as a stepping stone to as-similation and citizenship. Although migrant women are not desired by the state as ideal contributors to the gene pool or as capable mothers, their reproductive activities, when under control (bearing some children but not too many), serve as embodied evidence of their integration into the Taiwanese family and society. By contrast, empty wombs of migrant women indicate lack of commitment to the marriage and the new country, especially in the eyes of the husband’s family.

In fact, against the common stereotypes, immigrant women do not have higher birthrates than local Taiwanese women.31Yet the former tend to get pregnant sooner than the latter. Surveys show that the majority of foreign spouses give birth to their first child within the first two years of marriage (Wang 2001; Chen 2002). They often receive pressure from their husbands or parents-in-law to produce offspring; some continue to give birth until the number or gender of the children meets family


My discussion of “performing intimacy” is different from the way Denise Brennan (2004) coins the term “performing love” to describe the way Dominican escorts and sex workers feign being in love with foreign tourists for money and visas. I do not imply that the performance of marriage visa applicants is an act of pretending. The intentions of per-formers are not as relevant as their subject positions—they are compelled by state power to engage in the performance of intimacy regardless of whether the couple actually share emo-tional and physical intimacy or not.


According to an official survey, the average number of children of immigrant mothers of Southeast Asian origins is 1.04, and the number is 0.73 for mothers from mainland China. Both numbers are lower than that of local women, which is 1.1 (Ministry of the Interior 2006).


pectations (Yang and Wang 2003). In some extreme cases, in-laws have asked marriage brokers for a “return” of infertile brides as a “defective order” (Chen 2003).

Motherhood can also become a means of sexual control over the mi-grant wife. Many husbands and mothers-in-law believe that mimi-grant women, after getting pregnant and having children, would be locked into domesticity and motherhood, and the risk of them fooling around or running away lowered. Migrant spouses themselves also recognize the symbolic significance and material interest involved in their pregnancy. In Taiwan, bearing children, especially sons, helps a daughter-in-law secure her status in the extended conjugal family (Wolf 1972). Nowadays, the pressure to produce a son to carry the family name has lessened among Taiwanese women, but it still burdens migrant wives, who mostly have limited economic resources and reside with their in-laws. Through child-bearing, a foreign spouse can win trust and status by demonstrating her commitment to this marriage and permanent immigration (Hsiao 1999).32 The pressure for immigrant women to enter motherhood not only comes from the husband’s family but also emerges as a result of state regulations. Childbearing can help them achieve residency or citizenship sooner. This is especially significant for Chinese marriage migrants: once they get pregnant, they can skip the two-year period and apply for resi-dency immediately. As Antonia Chao (2004) has argued, women’s repro-ductive duty stipulated in the sexual contract of marriage becomes tied to the contract of citizenship governed by the politics of ethnonationalism. Migrant women can only become worthy citizens and loyal members after they become mothers of new Taiwanese children.

The pregnant bodies of marriage migrants remain subject to medical surveillance and state discipline. The Department of Health, since 1998, has kept records of the reproductive activities of Southeast Asian spouses as part of the eugenic plan; similar measures are applied to local women of “special groups” like teenage mothers and the physically or mentally disabled (Fan 2006). Public health nurses make regular visits to their households for instruction on contraceptive methods and on hygienic practice of child care. To ensure that immigrant women produce healthy babies in limited numbers, the Department of Health has subsidized


However, immigrant women could also exercise agency to resist such reproductive control. Shen Hsing-Ju (2003) interviewed some Vietnamese spouses who considered re-production a deprivation of freedom and autonomy at their young ages. Some managed to get information about and devices for birth control without the knowledge of their mothers-in-law and husbands.


sures like prenatal exams and amniocentesis, and, more controversially, intrauterine devices and ligation for cross-border couples (Kung 2006). These subsidies and services, posed as well-intended welfare provided by the paternal state, are simultaneously the practice of biopower serving the interests of ethnonationalism. Similar to what Aihwa Ong (2003) has described about Cambodian refugees in the United States, the state project of family planning views Southeast Asian women as “fecund premodern women who must learn self-discipline and new knowledge to make rational decisions” (115). Migrant women must become self-governing subjects with regulated fecundity to seek substantial incorporation in the new coun-try as modernized citizens.33

Flirty maid, unqualified wife

The sex lives of migrant workers have become a target of media voyeurism in Taiwan. A television magazine ran a special report about the Sunday gathering of migrant workers in the park behind Taoyun Railway Station with a salacious title: “Foreign Workers Have Sex Outdoors; X-Rated Live Shows in the Park” (Zhan Jinh Ji Xian Feng 2003). The report provided no firsthand observation except for the discovery of a few discarded con-doms in the bush. Another popular media narrative is that migrant women are part-time prostitutes who provide paid sexual service for male migrants on Sundays. Such coverage mostly relies on anecdotal information and hearsay from Taiwanese managers and recruitment agents.

Media representations of migrant domestics often fall into one of two extremes. Stories with arousing titles like “Foreign Maids Ruined My Family” describe foreign maids as a threat capable of seducing the male employer and jeopardizing the entire family (Li 1999). Or, newspapers carry sensational reports of abused maids who suffer from employers’ harassment or assault, which paradoxically make the victims even more seductive (Shih 1999).34The polarized media narratives share similar


It should be noted that sexual control encompasses a range of power tactics wider than reproductive control. Marriage migrants are penalized by the state for participating in sexual activities that are deemed illegitimate. A foreign spouse working as a prostitute or club hostess will be repatriated even if her marriage is authentic. When tested as HIV positive, a foreign spouse will face repatriation unless she can prove that the virus was transmitted by her Taiwanese husband. I thank Chen Mei-Hua for this insight.


Shu-mei Shih (1999, 287) comments on the paradox in the sexualized representation of dalumei (mainland sisters), a term referring to Chinese women smuggled into Taiwan for prostitution, sometimes through bogus marriages: “Newspaper coverage that is meant to arouse people’s concern over the problem ends up turning the reports . . . into tantalizing tales of sex and money.”


ualized and racialized images of “tropical women”: their plump bodies seem irresistible to some libido-driven male employers, or their intractable nature makes them sexually aggressive women and active boss-seducers.

Filipina maids, compared to other migrant groups, are subject to hy-persexualized images because of their association with the West (Cheng 2003). The association with sex tourism and mail-order brides fuels ste-reotypes about Filipinas as morally suspect, cunning, and promiscuous (Constable 1997). Migrant women from Vietnam and Indonesia, despite their conservative religious and political backgrounds, are not immune from these images either (Chin 1998; Lan 2006). Because these two countries are the leading sources of foreign brides in Taiwan, Vietnamese and Indonesian domestic workers become vulnerable to the suspicion that they may exchange sexual favors for money or the promise of immigration. Social anxiety about these flirty, exotic women is magnified when they are placed in the intimate realm of private households. “The wife’s jeal-ousy” is a narrative widely heard in the gossip of migrant domestics. They allege that the wife’s revenge is a common cause for the dismissal of domestic workers. Driven by feelings of insecurity, some female employers turn their relationship with domestic workers into a tacit competition of cooking skills, beauty, and other wifely qualifications. The husband, with or without acknowledgment, becomes the judge in this competition. Two Filipina workers offered their observations of an attitude of rivalry from their female employers:

My employer doesn’t like me to wear makeup. Once, we were going out somewhere, and she saw me wearing some lipstick. We were already in the car, you know? But then she went back into the house and she put on lipstick!

The wife always told me her husband didn’t like my cooking and that my food didn’t taste very good. . . . But the husband would come into the kitchen and say he liked it! She’s just jealous. [Why?] She feels insecure, I think.

In contrast to the frequent references to the jealous wife among migrant domestics, only a few Taiwanese employers I interviewed revealed personal details on this matter. Most of them described hypothetical situations or preferred to talk about the secondhand stories of others (see Lan 2006, 111–12). Many informants did express their concern about the prevalence of extramarital affairs and marriage breakdown given the fact that Taiwan’s divorce rate has increased rapidly in the last few decades and become the highest among East Asian nations (Adrian 2003, 94). They nevertheless


tried to downplay it to avoid the embarrassment of sounding like a silly woman who lacks sufficient confidence vis-a`-vis a woman who falls on the lower end of the class and ethnic spectrum.

The cultural memory of the bondservant as the master’s concubine, a legacy of the slavery system in feudal China (Jaschok 1988), continues to shadow the social perception of domestic workers in contemporary times (Ding 2002). The scenario of the husband picking up the maid to be his mistress indicates a class-based polarization of femininity: the educated wife who is virtuous yet desexualized in contrast to the flirty maid who knows how to use her body to win the favor of men. Some Taiwanese husbands mitigate their wives’ worry by saying, “My taste is not that low.” While bearing the hypersexualized image that endangers the conjugal harmony of employers, foreign maids are also viewed as too backward and uncultivated to fit into the modern order of domesticity.

Many migrant domestics are hired as substitutes for Taiwanese mothers at work, but their ability to properly nurture Taiwanese children is under suspicion. On November 3, 1999, a television station in Taiwan aired a video in which a Filipina maid was seen kicking a three-month-old baby. A stream of articles appeared in the popular press cautioning readers about the negative influence of migrant nannies, such as the neglect of children or their arrested development. Local newspapers also used sensational headlines to cover stories of contagious diseases carried by migrant work-ers, triggering a public fear that these disdained aliens endanger public health in Taiwan (see Lan 2006, 64–65). Given the economic stagnation of their home countries, foreign maids are associated with backwardness, poor hygiene, and low morals and are seen as in need of reorientation toward modern lifestyles (Cheng 2003).

Foreign maids are portrayed as socially and culturally unqualified to compete with or substitute for Taiwanese wives and mothers. This con-trolling image, however, contradicts the fact that many migrants from the Philippines have some college education and previously held middle-class occupations. Taiwanese parents prefer them as nannies because they can tutor children in English, but their English fluency may also challenge their employers’ authority (Lan 2003b). Some employers reported feeling surprised when they came home to find their maids watching CNN or listening to classical music on the radio. They are also shocked or impressed by the friendships or romantic relationships some Filipina workers have developed with Western expatriates in Taiwan.

In the eyes of concerned employers, the sexual drive of migrant do-mestics not only constitutes a potential threat to their marriages but can also become a path to dangers and vices in the outside world. Many


employers regard dating a migrant boyfriend as a sign of moral degradation (bianhuai) leading to possible consequences such as pregnancy and ex-tramarital affairs of female migrants with male migrants; together with her migrant boyfriend, employers fear, a maid may commit criminal acts harm-ing the employer’s family, like kidnappharm-ing or burglary; her sexual liaisons with other migrants may also increase her proclivity to run away and work illegally.

To seize and expatriate runaway foreign workers (taopao wailao) has always been a priority concern of the Taiwanese government. Compared to other types of irregular migration such as unauthorized work on a tourist visa or fake marriages, runaway migrant workers are more visible, calculable, and thus governable. Despite the public perception of runaway migrants as a threat to social security, the number of those who remain in Taiwan is actually limited (21,051 by the end of 2006).35 Domestic workers are reported to have the highest runaway rate among all categories of migrants (Lan 2007).

The police periodically crack down on undocumented migrants, usually coinciding with government announcements of a new effort to reduce crime. Runaway migrants are constructed as illegal by government bu-reaucrats and the popular press in three senses. First, they violate immi-gration laws by leaving the jobs authorized by their work permits. Second, they are suspected of committing further crimes since they have shown disrespect for legal authority. Finally, they are probable recruits for illegal industries, especially prostitution and other kinds of sex work. In this discursive juncture, runaway migrant workers—as unlawful and unethical subjects—are connected with “runaway brides,” who likewise deviate from the legal track of immigration and normative gender roles, entering the often sexualized terrain of illegality.

Disposable labor, desexualized women

Immigration officials as gatekeepers attempt to filter out disguised labor migration among the applications for marriage visas; by contrast, the state regulation of foreign contract workers aims to ensure that their residency is solely work-based and will not extend into long-term immigration. The Employment Service Law initially mandated that the maximum duration of a migrant worker’s contract was three years and that each worker could


The accumulated number of runaway migrant workers from 1994 to 2006 is 102,339. Almost 80 percent of these workers have been repatriated or have left the country voluntarily (National Police Agency 2007).


work in Taiwan only once. The law was modified several times in response to the opposition of employers. Since January 2002 migrant workers “with good records” have been allowed to reenter once more and work in Taiwan for up to six years (including both contracts). The regulation was further relaxed after July 2007. A migrant can work in Taiwan for up to nine years now.

The exclusion of foreign workers is selective on a class basis. While blue-collar guest workers are not eligible for permanent residency or nat-uralization, there is no limitation on length of stay for white-collar mi-grants such as professionals, managers, and teachers. They are entitled to citizenship after residing in Taiwan for over five years provided they possess sufficient property or professional skills. Despite their foreign origins, class standing and labor market skills enable professional migrants to cross ethnic divides and win acceptance to join the Taiwanese community.

Every migrant worker has to pass a medical examination before entering Taiwan and is required to have a periodic checkup; those who fail the checks are repatriated immediately.36Until November 2003, if a woman was found to be pregnant during a checkup, she would be repatriated.37 Some migrant workers resorted to abortions to avoid being deported. In fact, in most situations, pregnancy does not obstruct a migrant woman’s capability to work. The purpose of this regulation has less to do with her productive labor power and more to do with her reproductive capacity to bear alien or mixed offspring.38 The pregnancy test is essentially a measure of immigration control under the facades of sex control and labor control.

Blatant rules along these lines are still active in Singapore, where the government imposes a lifetime ban on foreign domestics marrying Sin-gaporean citizens, even after the former have finished their contracts (Varia 2007). The state safeguards the boundary between citizen and noncitizen by ensuring the transient status of foreign workers and the temporary infertility of migrant women. Female employers hold similar interest in


The exam includes a chest x-ray, blood tests for syphilis and hepatitis B, a surface-antigen test, a blood test for malaria, a stool test for intestinal parasites, an HIV-antibody test, and a psychological evaluation.


The pregnancy test was lifted to comply with the Gender Equality in Employment Law, in force since March 2002. A female migrant worker still has to take a pregnancy test when applying for a job and entering the country, but the test is no longer included in the periodic checkups.


It should be noted that citizenship in Taiwan mainly derives from descent (jus san-guinis) rather than by birth (jus soli); therefore, the child of a migrant worker born in Taiwan will not be qualified to claim citizenship.


preventing boundary transgression, albeit along the class divide between maid and madam. They allocate migrant domestics to a temporary, mar-ginal position in their family life and, if possible, they want their maids to lose sexual appeal and withhold sexual activities during the contract period.

Potential migrant domestics from Indonesia and Vietnam have to par-ticipate in a training program for a period of three to six months prior to their placement in Taiwan. The program includes moral education, knowledge and skills for housekeeping and caretaking, and Chinese lan-guage courses. Trainees are also subject to strict management of clothing, hairstyle, and manners, so labor brokers can present a proper image of migrant women—defeminized, disciplined, and innately subservient—to mirror the expectations of employers. For example, wearing makeup is not allowed and short hair is the required style. In Indonesia, long hair is generally considered an integral element of beauty and femininity. Sev-eral workers I talked to in Taiwan recalled the saddening moment when their long hair was cut off when they registered at the center. Some saved the cut hair and mailed it back to their families for remembrance or to make a wig for their mothers. Many felt embarrassed at showing me the photograph on their ARC (Alien Resident Certificate) taken when they first arrived in Taiwan: “I looked very ugly! Like a boy!”

After migrant domestics arrive, employers often enforce certain dress codes, such as prohibiting them from wearing makeup, shorts, or V-collar shirts (see also Constable 1997; Yeoh and Huang 1998). Another com-mon regulation is a prohibition against dating. Some workers are also forbidden to receive visitors in the employer’s house or to sleep over at their friends’ places, even on their days off. Migrant women themselves also carefully manage their appearance and manner in the presence of employers. They dress down to mark themselves as different from the lady of the house, they desexualize their bodies by wearing loose-hanging clothes that reveal no body shape, they avert eye contact and smiles while talking to male employers, and they artfully flatter female employers for their looks and fashion sense as part of their deferential performance. In doing so, migrant domestic workers not only ease the wife’s anxiety but also protect themselves from the risk of sexual harassment.

In the eyes of employers, women in particular, the threat of migrant women, as potential seductresses or troublemakers, rationalizes their in-trusion into a worker’s privacy and sex life. Such control is only possible when migrant workers are institutionally allocated a marginal status of personal subordination. The government dictates that a migrant worker can work for only one particular employer during a stay; no transfer of


employer is allowed.39The government also holds employers liable when a migrant worker runs away—the quota will be temporarily frozen so that the employer cannot hire a replacement until the runaway worker is found. These policy measures make employers an extension of state power, and the practices of sex and labor control over foreign maids in private house-holds thus become capillary effects of immigration control. As Shu-Ju Ada Cheng (2003, 179) has noted, “the intrusive surveillance helps relieve the state of its anxiety over the reproduction of alien labor” and assists the state’s agenda in policing national borders.

The surveillance of migrant domestics not only reinforces subordination of alien laborers but also fortifies moral order in the globalized home. Through sexual sanctions, employers wish to secure the position of mi-grant women within legal bounds, under the employer’s control, and away from the perceived chaos and dangers in the outside world. Employers’ worries about the moral degradation of migrant women simultaneously express their own anxiety about the fragility of marriage, safety of children, and the shattering of the image of home as a safe haven in a world where all the solid boundaries have melted into air.


This article extends feminist insights in the studies of nationalism and colonialism to explore the regulation of sexuality and reproduction in the context of global migration. The case of Taiwan is peculiar in two aspects: first, the recent influx of labor and marriage migrants, largely women, has changed the ethnic composition of the population; second, Taiwan’s un-recognized international status and uncertain geopolitical future have made nationhood a battleground in local politics. The conjuncture of these factors has complicated the rationalities of governing migrants and intensified ideological debates in these new ethnic frontiers.

In spite of their different demographic profiles and migratory trajec-tories, marriage migrants and migrant domestics bear similarity and affinity to each other. They are both recruited to soothe the deficiency of repro-ductive labor by Taiwanese households that are nevertheless divided by class. They are associated with similar images that dramatize their sexual drives and biological fertility, and they are tainted with cultural back-wardness and status inferiority. Marriage migrants are viewed as fertile brides yet unfit mothers, in parallel with migrant domestics as loose women


A worker is allowed to transfer in some exceptional conditions, such as being abused by employers, the bankruptcy of the employer, or the death of the ward.


and unqualified wives. These images are posed against the social construc-tion of Taiwanese women in naconstruc-tionalist discourses, who are cast as morally superior reproducers for the nation (educated wives and capable mothers) but whose biological fertility is imperiled by feminist liberation and career ambition.

Yet the strategies of sexual control over foreign maids and foreign brides are nevertheless hierarchically distinct. The state regulation of marriage migrants reveals what I call “technologies of engendered citizenship.” Foreign spouses are propelled to perform intimacy (as wife) and enact reproduction (as mother) in order to become citizen subjects. They are expected to become self-managing individuals and yet are attached to the webs of patriarchal kinship and gender roles. The regulation of guest workers indicates what we can call “technologies of asexual alienness.” To ensure their status as alien subjects and to minimize the danger of cate-gorical transgression, the state apparatus, together with brokers and em-ployers, excludes and marginalizes migrant domestics by depriving them of certain economic and social entitlements (as disposable labor) and sex-ual and reproductive rights (as desexsex-ualized women).

The discourses and practices of sexual sanctions not only control migrant women’s access to sex and reproduction but also uphold the moral orders prescribing the norms of domesticity and marriage in the host society. People’s embrace of modernity—privatized home and love marriage—has the paradoxical consequence of inviting market forces, global migration, and state governance further into the terrains of home and family. Meanwhile, the intimate contacts with outsiders have not always led to the relaxing of borders and prejudices but often prompt an anxiety to reclaim territorial and social exclusions. Migrant women’s bodies have thus become markers for the imagined boundaries of ethnic and national communities and for the discursive landscapes of class and gender differences.

Department of Sociology National Taiwan University


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