Between bitterness and sweetness, when bodies say it all: Chinese perspectives on Vietnamese women in a border space

Caroline Grillot

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As emblems of otherness in a space devoted to commercial and human exchanges and dedicated to mercantilism, Vietnamese women who cross the border and now live in areas bordering China have quickly come to represent their country—in the eyes of Chinese people—as a figure of marginal femininity. Observed, dated, used but rarely understood in a linguistic and cultural sense, it is their strong, sensual, and docile bodies that are primarily considered. Contradictory and accommodating images emerge and then expand in the discourses, portraying these women as submissive spouses, tireless workers, prostitutes, manipulators, heartless pragmatists, devoted companions, and ambiguous merchants. This articles explores how, between perception and experience, these women's availability, in every sense of the term, makes them both attractive and suspicious, and how their alliances with Chinese men crystallizes the social atmosphere of a border city like Hekou.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)106-148
Number of pages43
JournalJournal of Vietnamese studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2012

Bibliographical note

Published as Journal of Vietnamese studies, Vol. 7, No. 1, p. 106-148. © 2012 by [The Regents of the University of California/Sponsoring Society or Association. Copying and permissions notice: Authorization to copy this content beyond fair use (as specified in Sections 107 and 108 of the U. S. Copyright Law) for internal or personal use, or the internal or personal use of specific clients, is granted by the Regents of the University of California/on behalf of the Sponsoring Society for libraries and other users, provided that they are registered with and pay the specified fee via Rightslink® on [Caliber ( or directly with the Copyright Clearance Center,


  • Vietnamese women
  • cross-border marriage
  • social representations
  • prostitution
  • stigmatization
  • embodiment


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