Brazil and Religion

To what extent has Catholicism lost its traditional strength in Brazil and how does this change a native Brazilian’s perspective on world affairs, particularly in respect to religious world view?             Brazil, like many other latin American countries, has a an extremely intricate and complicated culture, due to a turbulent history of immigration and colonialism.  The native south Americans that lived in that area before interactions with Europeans have fused, forcibly in most cases, with the successive waves of oppressors, immigrants and missionaries.  The predominantly catholic missionaries that have been common and powerful in Brazil since Europe first heard of the land have had a lasting influence on the culture of the country as it evolved from a slave labor plantation to a relatively stable industrial nation. With influx of new immigrants in the twentieth century, however, the traditionally strong hold of the Roman Catholic Church has eroded and or has been assimilated into the traditionally non catholic cultures of the people.            Before examination the present role of the Roman Catholic Church in Brazil, it is important to first understand the historical roots of the culture, as this will give clues to the world view of Brazilians in general.  The land that would later become Brazil was first “discovered” by the Portuguese in 1500 and colonization began a mere fifty years afterwards.   After most of the interior of the area had been colonized enough so that no other European country could lay claim t o the land, Portugal began building sugar plantations and importing African slaves to Brazil (Rodrigues, 1967, xi). The influx of African slaves, paired with the native susceptibility to European disease and gunshots, radically changed the ethnic makeup of the inhabitants. This change also brought together many different faiths.            Since Brazil was under the control of European powers until 1889, when the people proclaimed a republic, Catholicism was the official religion of the country for about 300 years. During this period of 1500-1889, it is safe to say that conversion to Catholicism was not optional in most cases, particularly for slaves and Indians without a recognized system of worship. There was no real distinction between church and state and as a result a productive member of society would have to be catholic. The official hold of the Roman Catholic Church eclipsed with the proclamation of a republic and allowed for the open emergence of syncretic religious practices. Despite tolerance to different religions Catholicism remained the predominant and most influential religion. In addition, “…the predominance of Catholics among the immigrants of the 19th and 20th centuries contributed to the lasting predominance of that religion” (Brazil, 2006).       Despite the continuing predominance of Catholicism in Brazil, there are several other commonly practiced religions as well as forms of Catholicism that have among their roots ties to African and native South American traditions and rituals. For example, Brazil has the largest group of Japanese descendants outside of Japan and so Buddhism and Shintoism are significant religions in certain areas (Brazilian Embassy,1994 p.15).  What is most significant in regards to Catholicism and its impact on culture is the fact that Brazilian Catholicism is very different in practice to the kind practiced in Italy            The observation of Roman Catholic practices can be drawn along financial lines more than any other division.  Brazil has a high power distance aspect of culture and as such, the rich practice their faith differently than the poor, though both practices could be considered a form of Catholicism. Generally the upper class goes to church and participates mainly for social reasons.  An upper class person is also more likely to practice Roman Catholicism rather than a hybrid of African American traditions and catholic saints (Figueiredo, Jeanenne).  The lower class, particularly in small towns and rural areas, tend to take church practices and doctrines very seriously while also incorporating African and native Brazilian religious practices.            The extent to which Brazilians follows the priestly doctrines can also be looked at from a generational perspective. This is to say that the younger generations do not adhere to these doctrines as closely as their elders do.  This currently causes some problems as the elder generations strongly disapprove of the increasingly modern youth practices.  Pre-marital sex and birth control are hotly contested issues between generations (Figueiredo, Carmen).  This is a good example of how the Brazilian worldview is changing with respect to religion. While it is clear that the youth are still greatly influenced by their religious background, increased exposure to other cultures, specifically North American and European, have eroded some of the traditionally strong religious values.  This is also significant with respect to the representation of culture, as 62 percent of the population is under 29 years old (Brazilian Embassy, 1994 p.9).            One of the most interesting and significant reasons why the Catholic influence is receding is an increasingly open worship of religions thought to have been wiped out by catholic influences.  What actually happened to these native religions was that there were practiced in secret or incorporated enough catholic ideas to fool the colonialists and dictators.  African slaves and native Brazilians retained many of the practices and religions while simply changing the names of the old gods to a catholic equivalent (Durand, 2005 p.2).  Due to this historical secrecy, many of these religious groups require an intense initiation. Ironically, the initiations use methods similar to Catholics during a period of atonement such as fasting and meditation on hurtful acts (Figueiredo, Carmen).             Practices can often be traced back to a region of Africa or brazil itself, helping to further identify the cultural influences of these religions, the most well known being Candomble.  Candomble is the religion of the Yoruba slaves, descended from Africans abducted in the areas of Nigeria and Benin (Brazilian Embassy, 1994 p.15).  Capoeira, a widely practiced ritual dance also has its origins in secret religious practice.  Originally a style of combat used to resolve conflicts in the African region of Angola, the music and dance part of the ritual was a smokescreen for the slaves’ beliefs and internal conflicts (Figueiredo, Carmen).  The influence of these religions is widespread in Brazil and while most are a combination of native beliefs and catholic doctrine, the practitioners see them as native religions instead of Catholic derivatives.  This is important with respect to the Brazilian world view because it adds a unique cultural element to a country that is generally considered a devout patron of the Roman Catholic Church.          The number of Catholics in Brazil is declining from 90% of the population in 1980 to 83% in 1991 and 67% today (Winfield, 2005 p.1).  There are many reasons for this trend, the largest of which can not be measured or accurately interpreted; Globalization.  The upper class in Brazil often sends their children to study abroad and when these individuals return, they bring concepts common in some cultures but alien in theirs.  As the upper class is already in a position of influence, they are more willing and able to spread these non traditional values.           Despite this decline in numbers, the Catholic Church and its representatives still exert a strong influence over the people of Brazil.  All Catholic holidays are national holidays, most people go to church every Sunday and observe lent, take communion etc (Figueiredo, Jeanenne).  Church representatives still exert power over the political process, even if they have to go on a hunger strike to get people behind them(Brasilia, 2005 p.1).              The influence of the Roman Catholic Church is receding because of increased intercultural communication, the reemergence of native religions, and the general rejection of certain key doctrines such as premarital sex and birth control.  This is, however, analogous to spilling a drop out of a reservoir because the religion still has an overwhelming presence in the region.  Catholicism was omnipresent during the creation of what is now Brazil and can not be erased or even eroded to a large degree because it was a tremendously strong player in the formation of the region.  This idea is important because its helps us understand the culture as a catholic culture, the religion being infused with the country’s history and permeating every aspect of culture for hundreds of years.                                                                           Works CitedBrazilian Embassy (1994). Brazil in Brief. Washington, DC: Cultural Sector Brasilia (2005, October 7). Brazil Bishop ends hunger strike over river. Agence France Presse—English. Brazil. ( document.write(new Date().getFullYear()); 2006). Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved document.write(mm[new Date().getMonth()][1]); March  document.write(new Date().getDate()); 25, document.write(new Date().getFullYear()); 2006, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online  http://search.eb.com/eb/article-25085  Durand, Irmin (2005, October 21). Brazil still worships its African Gods. Agence France Presse—English. Figueiredo, Jeanine (22 yrs old). Interview. By Alex Churchill. March 25, 2006 Figueiredo, Carmen (mid forties). Interview. By Alex Churchill. March 25, 2006 Rodrigues, Jose Honorio (1967). The Brazilians. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press. Winfield, Nicole (2005, October 8). Brazilian cardinal wonders how long Brazil, Latin America will be catholic. Associated Press Worldstream.  

Intercultural Communication in Courtship

           Intercultural Communication in Courtship:The Case of Chinese and Americans Alex Churchill and Erik George CO442: Intercultural Communication 2 May 2006                        Two sectors that lead the way in the quantity and quality of intercultural contact are business and education.  Since a large proportion of Americans report meeting their future mate in these same two settings – work and school – it should come as no surprise that along with the increase in intercultural contact there is a concurrent increase in the rate of intercultural and interethnic courtship activity (Choi, 2005). This paper will explore the cultural values that bear on courtship and communication, identify and predict interpersonal communication problems that could arise, and will suggest methods to mitigate their negative effect on a relationship.             The case of Chinese/American intercultural dating is selected as the lens through which this paper will explore its research questions.  This example was selected due to both the increase in contact between these two groups and because the distinct differences between these two cultures makes for a larger variety of inherent difficulties in interpersonal communication between their members.  Because of differences in values, communication styles, and culture-based expectations for dating, Chinese/American cross-cultural couples face distinct communication challenges that can fortunately be overcome through competence in intercultural communication. State of the Field, Terms, and Methodology  The question of communication problems in courtship and mate relationships has been studied across many contexts and variables before, including in research by Nicotera (1997), Blood & Nicholson (1962), Romano (1988) and Hamon & Ingoldsby (2003).  Because the nature of communication difficulties is highly dependent on the specific cultures involved, their research is most often divided into sections or subsections that analyses a particular bi-cultural dyad.  The above-mentioned research does come to use general conclusions about the universal nature and needs of any human couple (Sharlin, 2000 pp. 54-55) which will be utilized in conjunction with more specialized studies of American and Chinese cases.            Because even the cultural labels of “Chinese” and “American” are broad and ambiguous, this study will further sub-divide these terms into the three groups “native Chinese,” “Chinese-American,” and “American.”  For the purposes of both specificity and efficiency, our examples will use native Chinese to refer to the young and middle-aged urban residents in China’s coastal cities.  This is to exclude those Chinese of economic disadvantage because in the past members of these poorer groups have married Americans for political or economic reasons (Xinhua, 2006). We will also exclude marriages of extreme economic and educational inequality because they also pose problems that are outside the range of this study.  American refers to members of the dominant culture of the United States, whose members are more likely than not to be of European descent.  Last, Chinese-American refers to Americans of Chinese ethnic heritage that retain elements of their parent’s or grandparent’s culture.              Chinese-American/American and native Chinese/American are the couple pairs used to compose examples and hypothetical situations.  The research aims to provide the increasing number of American/Chinese couples with information to clarify, predict, and overcome the intercultural hurtles in their romantic relationships and marriages. 

Culture’s Role in Courtship: America

            Culture has a strong effect on courtship patterns and norms.  Americans score low on ratings of power-distance and formality, and this carries over to romantic relationships that are often much more casual, at least at first, than those in other cultures. The American emphasis on individuality and self-reliance as well as progress towards gender equality results in American women that can be more assertive than women in many other cultures.  Ideally, Americans tend to marry for reasons of love and put lesser emphasis on social class and wealth while these factors can play a large role in the mate selection criteria of other cultures.  Last, American communication style is assertive, direct and low-context.  This value is manifested in the level of frankness and directness in dating practices, which can be at odds with the notions of politeness and modesty present in other cultures.              In a study on mono-cultural American relationships, the “mateship attributes” that more than 50% of male and female respondents identified as important to a “mate-type” relationship were trust, friendship, love, and honesty (Nicotera, 1997 p. 22).  Qualities paramount in other cultures such as duty, interdependence and obedience (Kline, Horton & Zhang, 2005, p. 15) ranked much lower or were completely absent.  Foreign men studying in American universities often described the American dating system to be “completely different” from that of their home country – no matter where they were from (Blood & Nicholson, 1962  p. 241).  This can be a result of the qualities that Americans value in a mate, which de-emphasize commitment and duty.  In contrast to their home countries, many respondents noted that in America, dating “is an end in itself rather than oriented toward marriage,” (Blood and Nicholson, 1962 p. 242).  Although men from all areas of the world found this to be different, those from East Asia in particular expressed that Americans’ option to date with casual acquaintances without intent to marry to be the difference that are hardest to accept (Blood and Nicholson, 1962  p. 242.)            American culture values uniqueness and individual expression and so mate selection criteria is generally more varied than that of other cultures.  Among American couples, “shared interests and value system…the ability to give and take, and flexibility,” were mentioned as an important variable contributing to a successful marriage.  However, others mentioned the opposite, “an equalitarian relationship with many complementary features,” as an important factor (Sharlin, 2000 p. 54.)  Americans choose mates based on criteria that other cultures might require in a friend, not a life-partner: equality and shared interests.  In a 2000 study, Woo corroborates this assessment, with her conclusions that “[qualities] making for intimacy [among European Americans] were those closely tied to personal efforts toward realizing one’s individual identity, if not freedom or independence.  Individual autonomy, in fact, seemed to be taken for granted.”  Among the qualities valued by Americans searching for a partner, this preference for autonomy may be the most troublesome for the intercultural couple due to its lack of emphasis in the Chinese culture.            Norms of language use in America are unique when compared with traditional societies like China’s.   Because of America’s comparatively short history, diversity of ethnic backgrounds, and lack of a monolithic traditional culture to prescribe norms for behavior, Americans rely on a low-context communication technique that relies on direct verbal signals.  Factors that lead to effective communication among American couples reflects this cultural background, with most couples identifying “honesty and not expecting the other to engage in ‘mind reading’ to know what is wanted or felt,” as the most important (Sharlin, 2000, p. 66.)  Second only to the differences in role-expectation among Chinese/American couples, the preference of Americans for direct patterns of speech may one of the most difficult obstacles for successful intercultural relationships. Contrasting Culture: The Chinese Example              The Chinese counterparts of the elements of American culture described above show significant contrast.  As a culture Chinese show preferences for harmony, collectivism and hierarchy which presents issues in the context of the individualist-minded dating system common to Americans.  Though it is changing in recent years (Jankowiak, 1989, p. 64; Evans, 1995, pp. 357-359), Chinese relationships still tend to be more formal than casual, and the qualities attributed to a good mate are comparatively rigid.  Chinese communication style is also very indirect and along with the fact that a Chinese/American relationship will have at least one member speaking a second language, the possibilities for technical communication difficulties are significant.            Because of a continued reliance on traditional practices in China, there exists a large gap between the dating procedures among typical native Chinese and Americans.  Americans and native Chinese both engage in activities with spouses such as eating out, “talking activities,” and physical intimacy at similar rates (Kline, Horton & Zhang, 2005 pp. 13-14) but the order and timing of these activities has higher variance.  A 1992 study on sexuality in urban China finds that despite changes due to international cultural influence, “China highly emphasizes female virginity,” and “a girl will be ranked at a much lower status in the marriage market once it is suspected she is not a virgin,” (Zha & Geng, 1992 p. 9).  American attitudes towards sexuality are more liberal, and pre-marital sexual relations are treated with substantially less stigma.  There is also strong resistance in the conservative P.R.C. government to the deterioration of traditional sexual norms.  Jolly & Ram (2001) provide this representative statement by an official: “[sexual] liberation and freedom sound very attractive but on closer scrutiny can be seen to be fundamentally harmful to both the individual and society at large.”  Among a culture that places a high value upon reverence of the past, traditional value systems will persist in playing a large role in shaping the individual decision making process in the context of dating.              Although Chinese society has progressed away from the prescribed mate selection criteria promulgated in 1950 by the first version of the Chinese Marriage Law “appropriate criteria for mate choice: personal compatibility, political attitudes, and character”,  research shows that tradition persists here as well (Jankowiak, 1989 p. 65; Evans, 1995 pp. 387-388).  Kline’s study found that while several general positive emotions were associated with love in marriage were common to both Americans and Chinese, Americans reported “going out together,” or shared entertainment, as important along with honesty, openness, and unrestrained feelings as important qualities, all of which were absent from the Chinese responses (Kline, 2005 pp. 14-15).  This reflects American’s value of directness and equality in a marriage relationship.  The Chinese side, on the other hand, selected respectfulness, reliability, and faithfulness which were absent from the American’s survey (pp. 15-16).  This shows that an American may be expecting his partner to fill a role similar to that of an outspoken and equal friend while the Chinese prefer stable duty-fulfillment rather than unique personal compatibility with their partner.                Criteria other than character traits also enter into the equation of mate-selection among Chinese and Americans, and these too show manifest differences between the cultures.  The Chinese are a proud culture of relatively high ethnic homogeneity and harbor some historically-based prejudices against certain outsiders.  A 1994 study on anti-Black racism in China explains that “historical and contemporary evidence [suggests] that Chinese intellectuals have held notions of black inferiority,” and that “anti-Black bias can in turn be seen in the context of a recrudescence of elitist values that link and denigrate those who are dark and those who are poor,” (Sautman, 1994 p. 427).  This is continued reflection of the traditional idealization of fair skin in Chinese culture which associated it as representative of education and nobility in opposition to the peasantry which became tan from work in the fields.               In a similar phenomenon, the relatively rigid class structure in China does not allow for the free choice of mates more common in the U.S.  Instead, both hypogyny and hypergyny (marrying “up” and marrying “down,” respectively) are regarded as improper.  The case of a man marrying for upward social status is especially egregious, it is assumed that “men who use women’s disadvantages,” i.e. physical unattractiveness or age, “to gain social status are considered unscrupulous social-climbers who do not genuinely care for these women,” (Jankowiak, 1989 p. 68).  In this context, whether the man was interested in the woman to fulfill American style mate criteria (personal compatibility, shared interests) would probably not be considered.  The idea that people from different classes are inherently incompatible for marriage is certainly present in Western European and U.S. culture as well, but not nearly to the extent in China.  For example, in Chinese cities, “when women leave the university campus to go shopping downtown, they prefer to wear their university [ID] badge [because they]… ‘don’t want workers coming up to us and starting a conversation,” (Jankowiak, 1989 p. 68).  This blatant class discrimination, while perhaps unexpected in an ideologically Communist state, is nonetheless considered much more acceptable behavior in China than in the U.S.              Communication behaviors show another significant variation between U.S. and Chinese society.  What is defined as the “good communication skills” necessary for marital satisfaction in an American family includes “openness, honesty, and transparency in self-disclosure… an assertive, clear disclosing of and sensitivity to thoughts and feelings,” (Sharlin, 2000 p. 71).  However, often the opposite is the case in the Chinese situation.  Gao’s study on Chinese language usage finds that “meanings often reside in unspoken messages,” (Gao, 1998 p. 171).  This results in an emphasis on high-context, non-verbal communication.  For example, “a hand movement, a smile, and a shrug…convey embedded meanings,” which can be different from the meanings Americans would associate with these signals: “Chinese may smile to express embarrassment, frustration, or nervousness.”  Even when verbal communication is taking place, “nonverbal communication often provides important cues for interpretation of verbal messages,” resulting in lost or overlooked meanings for the non-Chinese observer (Gao, 1998 p. 171).   

Conclusions: Anticipated Communication Problems, and Their Solutions

            The communication scholar Edward T. Hall wrote, “While personality is undoubtedly a factor in interpersonal synchrony, culture is also a powerful determinant,” (Hall, 1983, p. 163).  So, while the personal characteristics are very relevant in even intercultural relationships, the above comparative culture study results in pinpointing several relevant differences between Chinese/Chinese-American culture and American culture in values, courtship role preferences, and language.  Each of these differences brings with it a host of anticipated communication problems which will need to be addressed for such an intercultural relationship to work.            In the areas of values and role expectations between Chinese and Americans, the primary sources of potential conflict in an interpersonal relationship will likely be the conflict between the American concepts of equality, autonomy, and individuality versus the Chinese expectations for duty and respect in a relationship (mostly the male expecting these qualities in the female).  It can be assumed that if a couple is already dating, these general value conflicts have already been addressed and disregarded.  However, Romano (1988) has found the opposite to be true: that in the earlier “honeymoon” stages of a relationship, conflicts of internal values will be overlooked and it is only after marriage that the couple “[becomes] fully aware of how many differences there are, how deeply embedded some of them are, and how these differences are going to affect their life together,” (Romano, 1988 p. xiii).  The latter stages, after marriage, are described as similar to the effect of culture-shock (Romano, 1988 p. xv).                Hypothetical examples are easy to formulate based on these differences.  A Chinese man married to an American woman may find it difficult to accept a wife who expresses her autonomy and need for personal growth by going out and getting a part time job to the point of neglecting what traditional China would consider a wife’s duties in the home.  In an polar example, an American male married to a Chinese woman may at first enjoy his traditional wife’s dutiful and compliant manner.  However, studies have shown that Americans of European descent reflect their values in “an attraction to individuals who displayed self-sufficiency,” (Woo, 2000 p. 169).  After the honeymoon period, the American husband may become displeased with his wife’s cultural-based inclination to wait for her husband’s approval before making decisions on her own.  These are both generalized examples, but are readily applicable and illustrate the potential for conflict inherent in a clash of values and expectations.                   Language problems can also create misunderstandings that lead to conflict, especially when an English-speaking monolingual American comes into contact with a Chinese who speaks English as a second language.  Although being a native speaker of English, as the lingua franca, might be considered to be an advantage to intercultural communication, it in fact leads more often to misunderstanding and conflict.  This is because without prior experience to the difficulties of operating in a foreign language, the native English speaker more easily and erroneously assumes that everything being said by their partner carries the same meaning as when they says the same words in the same way.  Even if their partner has a strong command of English, absolute clarity and nuance is difficult to achieve (Romano, 1988 p. 92).  If the American does not have the patience and flexibility to accomodate imperfect communication, they may assume that what is being said in English is accurately reflective of what their partner is thinking. This may result in a lack of comprehensive expression and the problems that come with it.                Despite the potential for problems, with sufficient motivation obstacles of intercultural communication can be overcome for Chinese/American couples.  In fact, “most social scientists writing from an assimilationist perspective see the amalgamation of different racial groups as an inevitable final step; and perhaps if the time span is stretched long enough, some type of racial intermingling will no doubt occur,” (Kitano, Yeung, Chai & Hatanaka, 1984, p. 179).  In fact, there is considerable success in this area already.  Weiss has shown in a 1970 study that due to proportionally more success at assimilation to American dating customs, Chinese-American women have had great success marrying Americans, despite some traditional cultural opposition (pp. 277-288).  Though at the time of the study, several factors contributed to a lower rate of success for Chinese-American males. These included a focus on academic studies that precluded sufficient socialization, negative American stereotypes of Chinese men, and a desire to preserve traditional Chinese dating behavior (Weiss, 1970 p. 277).            Studies suggest that a change in role expectations can pose a major difficulty for intercultural couples.  Specifically, “if one of the partners is forced to adhere to a more severe role delineation than was customary at home, there may be severe problems,” (Romano, 1988 p. 47).  Other research shows that one reason that the American male and Chinese female relationships might be more successful is that Chinese have shown to be significantly more persuasible than Americans (Chu, 1966, p. 171).  That is to say that because of a collectivist, authoritarian and hierarchical cultural upbringing, Chinese may be more amenable to changing their behaviors and expectations than their more stubborn American counterparts may be.  Though this would be present in both male and female Chinese, the traditional Confucian relationships deem males as superior to females in marriage, and so although Chinese men might be more persuasible than their American counterparts, they would likely be less pliable when forced to conform to an American wife’s expectations.             With an understanding of the potential pitfalls of intercultural relationships and a motivation to succeed, it is possible to overcome or avoid potential conflicts.  Particular factors contributing to success are (1) a strong motivation to succeed; (2) the presence of common goals between the partners – are you both working towards the same end?; and (3) sensitivity and flexibility towards the inevitable challenges of communication (Romano, 1988 p. 126).              With these factors present, researchers suggest a number of practical steps and ideas that in combination can help intercultural couples.  These include living together before marriage, visiting each other’s family, a commitment to learn the native language of each partner, observing your partner among his/her friends or seeing a professional counselor (Romano, 1988 pp. 141-147).  Based on the success of Chinese-American/American marriage, it can also be concluded that a desire and ability to assimilate into one of the partner’s cultural behaviors can result in a higher success rate (Kitano, Yeung, Chai & Hatanaka, 1984), although this is not always desirable or possible.  Instead, a willingness to understand the cultural reasons for each partner’s behavior (i.e. lack of ethnocentrism) is both more easily practiced and necessary.              Although Chinese and American culture have a large divergence in terms of core values, behaviors, marriage roles and language, romantic interpersonal relationships are nonetheless both possible and oftentimes successful. 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