It seems fashionable for French writers to claim that France has been historically
less racist than the 'Anglo-Saxons', British and Americans. This claim has been
based in part on the supposed greater French tolerance of interracial marriages
or intimate relationships. While it may be true that, during the colonial era,
there was more acceptance of intimate relationships between white Frenchmen
and non-white women than between white Englishmen and non-white women,
that does not seem as true when the genders were reversed. There seems to
have been much less acceptance (notwithstanding a few notable exceptions)
of intimate relationships between white Frenchwomen and non-white men.
In the 2006 French-language film 'Indigenes' (aka 'Days of Glory'
, there's a
subplot involving a relationship between a dark-skinned French colonial soldier (of
Berber or Arab heritage) from North Africa and a white Frenchwoman in 1944-5.
After his unit has liberated her town from German occupation, she joins the
the celebration and dances in public with this soldier. Afterward, she invites
him to her home and into her bed. After spending the night with her, he has
fallen completely in love with her. After the war, he intends to return to marry
her and build a new life together in France, not returning home to North Africa.
While the couple continues to write letters to each other, the French military
censors always intercept and block those letters, aiming to stop such a 'mixed
marriage', so both the North African man and the Frenchwoman become worried
of being forgotten by the other. Their romance never leads to their marriage.
Is there historical evidence of the French authorities intervening to stop
marriages between white Frenchwomen and non-white men? Yes, in the intimate
relationships between white Frenchwomen and Chinese men during the First
World War. Around 140,000 Chinese men served (sometimes under fire) as
labourers in France, and more than a few of them were killed (often during
hazardous work such as disposing of unexploded ordnance). Given that many
white Frenchmen had been killed or maimed during the war, more than a few
white Frenchwomen became more willing to consider the marital potential of
non-white men, including the Chinese. While interracial marriage was legal
in France and the French authorities did not always bar marriages between
white Frenchwomen and Chinese men, the French authorities generally seem
to have done what they could to discourage and to stop such marriages, often
deporting Chinese men who were engaged or even married to Frenchwomen.
_Strangers on the Western Front: Chinese Workers in the Great War_
by Xu Guoqi (2011 Harvard University Press) is the leading study on this subject.
"The Chinese (men) seemed to be genuinely popular with French women....Some
French women even went to the Chinese legation to Paris to petition that their
(Chinese) husbands or fiances who were laborers be allowed to return (after
being deported by France). ... Frenchmen obviously disliked the fact their women
were marrying Chinese. ...the (French) Interior Ministry to issue a notice that
discouraged French women from marrying Chinese.... *Unfortunately, we may
never know the true picture of Chinese marriages with the French because the
French government censored any news that mentioned Chinese-French romances.*
Although the evidence is sketchy, it seems safe to claim that about three thousand
Chinese laborers chose to stay in France, and many of them got married to French
women. Sexual relations seemed also to have taken place between Flemish
women and the Chinese."
--Xu Guoqi (Strangers on the Western Front, pp. 149-51)
Why, notwithstanding cultural differences and racial sterotypes, were some white
Frenchwomen attracted to Chinese men? In large measure, it was on account
of the perceived shortage of desirable husbands among white Frenchmen.
The Chinese men had a general reputation as hard-working and non-drinking,
which pleased some Frenchwomen. Indeed, some Frenchwomen said that they
were ready to go with their Chinese lovers, if deported by France, to live in China.
One young Frenchwoman explained that she doubted that she could find a better
husband than one Chinese man who worked hard, did not drink, and never had
hit her. She seemed afraid that a French husband (perhaps a veteran with
serious physical or emotional wounds) would be alcoholic or physically abusive.
Did China's government encourage or discourage marriages between Chinese
men and Frenchwomen? While the Chinese authorities advised Chinese men
to consider marriages with Frenchwomen carefully, China's government did not
take an official position toward such marriages. China's government did assure
France's government that it would make sure that Chinese men who intended
to marry Frenchwomen were unmarried (not having any wives in China).