When Cultures Collide | Susan Blumberg-Kason


Immersing ourselves in a culture is exhilarating and can change our view of the world. What happens when you are an American marrying into a Chinese family? What could go wrong? Good Chinese Wife is a memoir that explores Susan Blumberg-Kason’s life integrating into a Chinese family and her thrilling search for agency.

Meet Susan

Susan Blumberg-Kason is the author of Bernardine’s Shanghai Salon: The Story of the Doyenne of Old China, Good Chinese Wife: A Love Affair with China Gone Wrong, and When Friends Come From Afar: The Remarkable Story of Bernie Wong and Chicago’s Chinese American Service League. She is the co-editor of Hong Kong Noir and a regular contributor to the Asian Review of Books, Cha: An Asian Literary Review and World Literature Today. Her work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books and PopMatters. Born, raised, and now based in the Chicago suburbs, Susan is represented by Alicia Brooks at JVNLA.

Susan’s Connections to China

As an American marrying into a Chinese family, Susan faced a number of cultural differences, but not as many as most Americans would. Susan’s love for and connection to China started at an early age. She identifies as a Midwesterner in love with Chinese culture.

With her own family line coming from Jewish descent, you wouldn’t consider that there would have been a connection to China for Susan, yet her grandfather’s second cousin escaped Nazi Germany in 1939 and went to Shanghai.

Additionally, her father was a professor in Chicago, where Chinese women began to come to the U.S. for school in 1982. These women were wives and mothers who brought their families with them. She watched these women in the master’s program learning and studying, while their husbands stayed home, took care of the kids, and did all of the housework. She thought this was the norm for Chinese women: modern-day, progressive marriage.

Good Chinese Wife

When Susan married a man from central China , she quickly realized that not everything she’d been exposed to with Chinese culture was accurate for the entire population. She’d primarily known people from Shanghai and Beijing—which is like only knowing New York City as America.

The man Susan married had never experienced someone like her and she’d never experienced someone like him. The truth is, there is not one standard for any culture and they soon found this out.

“For a lot of people who marry Americans, you have an idea of what an American is. Yet we are all so different. We look different and have different backgrounds. And there’s not a set Chinese person either.” – Susan

The Surprises of an Cross-Cultural Marriage

Marriage can be tough on anyone, let alone blending two cultures together where expectations are vastly different. Navigating cultural clashes in international marriages requires a delicate balance of understanding, compromise, and open communication. It’s essential for partners to acknowledge and respect each other’s cultural backgrounds, traditions, and values to find common ground.

For Susan, unfortunately, that wasn’t the case—there were a number of surprises that she shared in her book that ultimately didn’t find resolution.

From realizing that a mother and grandmother were no different—they held the same status and role to children in her husband’s culture to compromising on where they would live, Susan didn’t have much say in the marriage. To add to it, there was an added layer of narcissism with her ex-husband—who grew up with parents who couldn’t say no to him. He was used to getting his way.

After spending years in China and Hong Kong, ultimately, they ended up back in the U.S., because he decided it was the right place to live.

Escaping the Marriage

Susan’s marriage wasn’t great while they lived abroad, but at least in the U.S., she had a support system. Especially since she was pregnant and they had their son, Jake, shortly after. 

The journey of resilience in a cross-cultural marriage is one thing, but add in parenting and the cultural challenges that come with that, it is a testament to one’s inner strength and adaptability.

Since they were in the U.S., Susan felt that it was her sole responsibility for his happiness. One day, her then-husband came to her and said, “I’ve been here almost two years and I now know what American girls or wives are like, I know what Chinese wives are like, and then there’s you.”

That was a breaking point. It wasn’t until she had the “permission” from her mom that she realized that she deserved better. Her mother said to her, “You don’t have to put up with this. There is another way.”

She ultimately made the decision to leave, which brought a full plate of fears—divorce, custody, kidnapping, and more.

It wasn’t until after her divorce that she realized all that she went through in her marriage. Years later, she also reconnected with her ex-husband’s daughter from a previous marriage, who explained that that was how many marriages were in the town her father was from. Her mother also faced similar issues in her marriage.

Respecting Cultural Differences

Susan’s story serves as a source of inspiration for individuals grappling with similar issues, highlighting the importance of perseverance and self-care in the midst of cultural tensions within a marriage.

While her international marriage went wrong, she’s still a Midwesterner in love with Chinese culture.

I appreciate Susan’s energy, openness and wisdom. While my own experience of marrying into a blended family is different, I found myself integrating into a culture—a family that was foreign to me. 

Reading Susan’s book caused me to consider There is the act of exposing yourself to a different way of life—what if that exposure is not good for you? As Susan so eloquently explains, denial is easy. But when we know there is a better way, we owe it to ourselves to seek it.

Connect with Susan


Good Chinese Wife

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