Society for East Asian Anthropology
Volunteered - Oral Presentation Session
I investigate individual experiences of ‘irresponsible’ inter-ethnic romantic relationships between two heretofore rival ethnic communities in the island of Hainan. Narratives of inter-ethnic courtship not only illustrated how the meaning and practice of courtship was affected by the ethnic consciousness, but also entailed local experiences of appropriating romantic love into private life. For centuries, local Han and Li ethnicities has participated group courtship practices for mate selections of ethnic endogamy. However, inter-ethnic courtship remained condemned by Han villagers; ironically, the same group of rural Han men would go to the dance hall to dance with Li hostesses and have inter-ethnic extramarital relationships. The Han’s self-contradictory attitude toward inter-ethnic courtship was underpin by an understanding that individual romantic love as a form of deceit and betrayal to collective interest of marriage. The paper presents ethnography of Li and Han courtship customs and narratives of inter-ethnic romantic encounters and examine the middle age Han man’s experiences of practicing romantic love with minority others. I argue that if part of Han ethnic consciousness could be attributed to inter-ethnic romance, that would be the sexualised representation of the others, who became vulnerable victims in irresponsible sexual relations. Idea of love, became a trap for Han man who kept on searching for sexual pleasure from Li women. They consciously constrained their inter-ethnic relationship in the 'stage of dating' which would not move forward into marriage or further commitment. Thus, their inter-ethnic romantic relationships, on many occasions, meant relationships only for sex, or illicit lovers.