Changing with the times

By LI HONGYANG| (China Daily)| Updated : 2022-07-19

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Marriage customs originated as a way of expressing good wishes for newlyweds, but in some areas, they have developed into a face-saving activity that can place a big financial burden on families, experts said.

In an article posted on an official government WeChat account, Tian Yong, a Party official from Hunan province, said that a survey he conducted in Heping village, Xiangxi Tujia and Miao autonomous prefecture, showed that "three major items" were a must for an engagement. They were: a new house in a village or an apartment in a city; a car for the new family; and a certain sum as a bride price. The three combined can cost as much as 1 million yuan ($150,200).

From 2020 to last year, the average bride price in nine marriages in Heping stood at 128,000 yuan, equivalent to an average family's savings over 10 years and about 20 times higher than in the 2000s, the article said. It added that one villager joked that in the past, when bride prices were lower, anyone who had two sons beat gongs and drums to show off, but nowadays such people just weep.

Marriage customs are demanding in many places, but especially in rural areas, according to media reports.

For example, in 2019, Hubei Daily reported that in some rural areas parents asked for a bride price by a weight standard called "Three jin and three liang", equal to 1.65 kilograms of 100 yuan bank notes-about 130,000 yuan in total. Wedding ceremonies follow betrothal and people must abide by local rules because they will be mocked if they don't.

In 2020, Chuanguan News in Sichuan province reported that cows are usually slaughtered and cooked at wedding ceremonies in the Yi ethnic group. The more beef served, the more dignified the wedding. However, each cow costs about a year's income for the average villager.

In 2018, Shanxi Daily reported that residents in Hejin city, Shanxi province, complained about the costly rules governing wedding ceremonies.

A man surnamed Fan from the city's Fancun town told the newspaper that for his son's wedding, he gave the bride betrothal gifts worth 88,000 yuan and invited 88 tables of guests to the banquet. Eight is a lucky number because in Mandarin its pronunciation resembles the word for "fortune".

The betrothal and wedding cost Fan more than 200,000 yuan, leaving him with a debt of 130,000 yuan.

Tian's article said that poorly educated young men from rural areas mostly perform low-skill, low-income manual labor in cities. As it is hard for them to get a foothold in urban areas, they usually have to return home at some point. By contrast, urban life attracts more young women, who aim to marry men in cities. This has resulted in a high number of bachelors in villages, leading to inflated bride prices that become a burden on families.

Now, local and provincial governments-including those of Gansu, Sichuan, Henan and Jiangsu-have issued guidance suggesting that reasonable bride prices can help cultivate healthy marriage customs.

Liu Xi contributed to this story.