Transnational Bigamy: gender, marriage, and law in treaty port Shanghai

Luke Yin

University of Melbourne

On the 24th of December 1909, a Chinese international student at Yale Law School, Guan Ruilin 关瑞麟, married a 16-year-old New Haven Girl, Dorothy Dorr in Hartford, Connecticut. Little did he realise then that around three years later, the Chinese wife whom he had wed before travelling to the US would sue him for bigamy in the Mixed Court of Shanghai International Settlement. The case raises issues of sex and race in the context of Western imperialism. Sex and race are crucial aspects of the global colonial discourse of modernity that prevailed at the turn of the twentieth century. This paper is concerned with the shape assumed by this discourse in geographically and culturally disparate areas. Locality produced variations in the manifestation of global phenomena. The bigamy case in this paper occurred at a crucial moment of modern Chinese history: the transformation of China from an Empire to a Republic. Sino-American

relations were also at an important juncture. The paper argues that interpersonal relationships cannot take place in isolation from these political and economic developments. The records of the mixed-race marriage, its bigamous character, the divorce, and the aftermath of all this enable a re-envisioning of gender, marriage, and legal practices in both China and the US in the context of the relations between the two societies.


Luke Yin is a PhD candidate in History at the University of Melbourne. His doctoral research concentrates on the urban history of treaty ports and everyday life in late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries China, specifically in relation to social and cultural interactions between foreigners and Chinese. Luke is interested in the historical topics of gender and sex, global migration, and travel. He is a member of the editorial team for the Melbourne Historical Journal, a graduate journal based at Melbourne University.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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