Reproduction and its role within marriage remain central concerns for most people. This section of the volume has some chapters which focus on the historical constructions of love, sex and marriage in particular local sites and other chapters which focus on how these constructions are being transformed and challenged. Lucetta Yip Lo Kam, in her chapter on changing ideas about intimate relationships in the post-1979 reform era in mainland China, discusses how heterosexual marriage has remained a constant factor in the social construction of a ‘normal’ life. Kam points out, however, that an interrelated set of demographic, economic and social factors are making it increasingly more difficult and less desirable for some Chinese to find a suitable marriage partner. Although remaining single past age 30 is stigmatised, in urban areas there is a growing number of ‘leftover women’ who, having pursued educational and career outcomes, have ‘failed’ to find a partner. In the countryside however, there is a growing female—male imbalance in the population resulting from the selective termination of female foetuses in the context of China’s ‘one-child’ policy. Alongside women’s preference for educated urban spouses, there is a developing crisis of unmarried bachelors who cannot find a wife. Kam concludes that these issues, with the increasing visibility of sexual minorities in the media, are positing a challenge to the notion that a heterosexual marriage is the only ‘normal’ outcome in life.

Hyaeweol Choi takes a historical look at gender relations, marriage and sexuality in Korea, showing how some contemporary patterns in the Republic of Korea (South Korea) draw on this history. She surveys the historical construction of gender relations and how these were transformed in the encounters with Christian missionaries from the late nineteenth century and Japanese colonists from the early twentieth century. After the Korean War, we can identify divergent configurations of family, nation and state in the US-affiliated and capitalist South, and the communist-affiliated North.

Suzy Kim provides us with insight into discourses of gender relations, marriage and sexuality in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. North Korea was originally established as a socialist nation, overlaid with the juche (self-reliance) ideology of the three generations of patriarchal leaders: Kim Il Sung (1912-94), Kim Jong Il (1941-2011) and Kim Jong Un (b. 1982). In the early days of the Democratic People’s Republic there was an official emphasis on gender equality, with women being seen as both workers and wives/mothers. From the mid-century, women came to be seen as housewives, but in the recent decades of famine and economic depression, women must increasingly engage in informal market activities to ensure their families’ survival. Despite these changes in emphasis over the decades, it can still be stated that matters of marriage, family, romance and reproduction are largely subordinated to nationalist goals (see also Choi 2013).

Catherine Earl argues that there is often a gap between societal expectations concerning love, marriage and sexuality in Vietnam and actual practices. While neo-Confucian patriarchy remains a salient layer in the Vietnamese cultural landscape, ‘new’ ways of living which challenge traditional idealised femininity and heterosexual family life are also evident. Control offemale heterosexuality, she argues, is central to traditional and modern, local and globalised discourses of gender, marriage and family in Vietnam. In life as lived, though, female heterosexuality is negotiated. Urban labour migration and transnational marriage are changing the landscape of personal relationships. Young women who contribute to the family economy through paid work are better able to negotiate and challenge familial pressures. Transnational marriages also change the bargaining position of those who enter into them. A gap between the discursive and the phenomenal, Earl argues, characterises Vietnamese social life in the early twenty-first century.