At the end of September, a post that attracted many netizens to watch and comment appeared in Baidu Tieba, a Chinese online community. Baidu Tieba has a certain popularity and influence in China, but it is far from a large first-tier community in China. Therefore, when this post from Baidu Tieba set off the entire Chinese Internet, it is easy to imagine how attractive the content of the post is to the Chinese people.
The post describes the poster’s own story: he has a girlfriend who has in love of him for many years, but he can never get married. When he proposed marriage to his girlfriend and her family, the woman did not refuse him, but asked him for 500,000 yuan as a “bride price”. The poster’s income is not high, savings are not much, it is difficult to come up with 500,000 yuan in cash, it is difficult to get married. To be fair, in China, it is very difficult for a young person under the age of 30 to have 500,000 yuan in savings, so this requirement is usually unreasonable.
But “unreasonable” is limited to the situation where the hero does not have the help of his family. Until his parents sell their apartment, the two old people take the poster’s sister who has not yet taken the college entrance examination to rent a house, and the poster gets the proceeds from the sale of his parents’ house before he can pay the “bride price”. But the poster realized that his persistence in marriage brought troubles to his family and made his family make great sacrifices for him. He finally refused to give 500,000 yuan to the woman’s family, which was tantamount to giving up the marriage.
After the story was widely discussed on the Chinese Internet, the poster publicly apologized, saying that the content of the story was fictional. But this story still resonates with many Chinese. This is because, although more outrageous stories are not common in China, they do exist; on the other hand, there are all kinds of sufferings in the marriage of ordinary Chinese people, which is enough for people to discuss widely.
So, is the phenomenon of “bride price” common?
Bride price is actually a rather bizarre phenomenon in today’s China. In ancient China, although marriage was restricted by a variety of etiquette and rules, and the concept of “betrothal gift” did exist, the betrothal gift at that time was different from that of today.
In ancient times, although on the eve of marriage, the husband’s family needed to give property to the woman’s family as a “betrothal gift”, after that, the woman’s family would also return property to the newlyweds, specifically allowing their daughter to marry with a large amount of belongings, which are called “dowries”.
Nominally, there was no concept of equality between men and women in ancient China. In most cases, when a woman was unmarried, she belonged to her parents’ family members, but after getting married, she was regarded as a family member of her husband’s family. Of course, in fact, women can still interact with their parents as usual, but in general, it is more common for women to live with their husbands, and if women return to live with their parents, they are often seen as having a rift in their marriage.
Unlike women, men are regarded as members of their parents’ families before and after marriage. Compared with women, married men communicate more frequently and closely with their parents, making it easier to use or borrow their parents’ property, such as farmland and houses. Therefore, the financial situation of a woman after marriage is mainly protected by her husband’s family, and the woman’s family gives a “dowry” to avoid affecting her daughter’s life when her husband’s family is poor or stingy.
Therefore, in essence, although the dowry is the product of the limitations of the times under the constraints of gender inequality and unenlightened norms, the dowry also represents the affection and love from parents. In general, when a man is forced to use the property in his wife’s dowry, it will be regarded by others as morally deficient or incompetent. We can understand the dowry as an important independent property of married women, and it can also be understood as the emergency property reserve of the couple’s new home.
But in any case, the property usually belongs to the newlyweds and is at the disposal of the couple. If you study carefully, the property of buying dowry is likely to come from the betrothal gift given by the man in advance. Therefore, we can also think that the betrothal gift in ancient China finally returned to the couple, whether it was the property saved by the man himself at first, or the parents of both sides helped to add some of it. The money will eventually be used to support the lives of newlyweds, and most of the time it no longer has anything to do with their parents.
You are reading Panda!Yoo
A blog about modern Chinese culture and consumption trends. If you are interested in Chinese food, drinks, games, movies, novels, dramas, please follow us.
In New China, that is, the People’s Republic of China, men and women have achieved nominal equality, and this equal relationship is protected by law and is regarded by most Chinese as common sense. At this time, both men and women can maintain a certain degree of intimacy or attachment with their parents after marriage, women no longer need dowry emergency, and men naturally do not need to prepare betrothal gifts in advance.
Although in many cases, the “bride price” and “dowry” still exist in form, the scale of these belongings is relatively small, which is neither enough to serve as a family reserve, nor a heavy burden on the families of the husband or both parties. In fact, the more common form of dowry is already furniture or electrical appliances. Rather than being a reserve property for women, these devices are more like the support and care of their elders for their children’s married life, rather than rules or etiquette, and naturally they should not cause trouble to any family, let alone force people to sell their houses and save money.
In areas with a high degree of modernization in China, the betrothal gift is completely a kind of etiquette and ceremony, and in many cases, the betrothal gift will be returned as it is in the form of a dowry. Depending on the income of both families, sometimes the phenomenon of returning several times the bride price also exists-in essence, it has become the start-up capital given by the mother’s family to the newlywed family. However, in some poor areas of China, under the influence of many factors, betrothal gift has become a concept which is not in line with modern social norms, but also quite different from that of ancient times. At this time, some key changes have taken place in the bride price:
The amount of betrothal gifts is usually very large, reaching several times, ten times or even dozens of times the annual income of men. Without the support of the bridegroom’s parents and other relatives, it is almost impossible for men to collect the bride price through personal efforts.
The betrothal gift is no longer converted into a dowry and becomes a support for the bride’s personal or bridegroom and bride’s married life, but is taken away by the bride’s parents and used to improve their lives.
At this time, the betrothal gift has essentially become a large sum of cash given by the bridegroom’s family to the bride’s parents. On the surface, it is a gift, but in fact it is forced, because if there is no bride price, the marriage will probably not be allowed by each other’s parents-Chinese law stipulates that marriage is free, but most Chinese people still try to build a marriage that is recognized by the families of both parties. Blessed marriage.
Therefore, some commentators bitterly pointed out that in some areas, the money called “bride price” is actually equivalent to the price of buying a wife. Unfortunately, this definition can hardly be refuted. Fortunately, there are few areas in China that still retain such feudatorial customs, covering only about 10% of the country’s population. However, this is enough to breed a lot of absurd marriage stories, such as the one mentioned at the beginning of the article.
How high is the cost of marriage for Chinese people?
The necessary cost of marriage for Chinese people is actually very low and will not be significantly higher than that of any other country. In fact, the cost of getting married is almost negligible, which makes it easy for any Chinese, even a homeless person on the street, to get a legal marriage. Moreover, outside the law, the Chinese do not have some particularly common customs, such as the purchase of gold jewelry by Indians. Therefore, if a Chinese just wants to start a family with his lover, marriage is almost free.
But once the couple wants to please their parents, marriage is another problem. It has been only 71 years since the founding of New China, and in the first 50 years, most Chinese people lived in poverty and hunger-just like in ancient China. As a result, to this day, the parents of most newlyweds have experienced the pain of poverty when they were young. The impact is obvious. Most parents want their children’s partners to be financially capable or at least their families have a lot of property savings.
On the other hand, compared with developed countries, China also has social benefits such as medical insurance, old-age insurance, unemployment insurance and so on. But for a specific Chinese, the various economic costs that need to be borne by individuals in life, and the necessary economic costs are still significantly too high. In China, it is difficult for a person with no money to live comfortably. This also makes many people’s expectation for marriage is to improve their lives. This inevitably leads to consideration of the other person’s financial ability when talking about marriage-which is more critical and common for women with relatively low incomes.
In developed areas of China, these requirements are specifically defined as requirements for real estate and motor vehicles. Some parents believe that after the couple gets married, the new family must be able to own their own property and motor vehicle immediately before the marriage can be established-which actually means that both or one of them must have a house and a car before the marriage, in most cases, this is what the woman asks of the man.
In such a realistic environment, the age of first marriage in China’s big cities has been pushed back. In Beijing and Shanghai, the average age of first marriage has exceeded 30 years old. To make matters worse, it makes many Chinese think that the economic basis for marriage is too exaggerated. As a result, many people simply give up marriage. As a result, China’s fertility rate is very low, and many population experts worry that China’s future aging problem will be even more serious than that of developed countries.
In fact, buying a car in China is not very expensive, and the biggest problem is still real estate. In first-tier cities, it is almost impossible for young people from ordinary families to buy an apartment on their own money without the support of their parents, because house prices in these cities are often as high as tens or even hundreds of times the average person’s annual income. The problem of house prices in China is very special and interesting. If you are interested in it, please feel free to contact us. We will consider writing an article to explain it.
But for most Chinese, as long as they don’t need to buy a house in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, it’s not impossible to buy an apartment before marriage-although it still costs a lot of money. For these couples who are lucky enough to afford an apartment, a large part of the money will be spent on decorating the new house and furnishing the furniture.
In theory, when one’s financial ability is poor, decoration and furniture should be simplified. But in fact, the layout of the wedding house still affects the judgment of the parents of both sides (especially the woman). If you choose to act frugally at this time, marriage may also be hindered if the other party’s parents doubt their financial ability or lack their determination to make money. Therefore, at this level, many couples still need to invest more property against their will.
After that, there is a wedding that does not necessarily spend a lot of money, but it is very troublesome and tiring. The wedding adopted by the vast majority of Chinese is an extremely mixed wedding, which is enough to make every cultural scholar, historian and religious scholar cry loudly. Unlike traditional Chinese weddings with red as the main tone in many people’s imagination, modern Chinese weddings combine Chinese folk customs with a variety of processes, artifacts and costumes of unknown origin. Some of them can be understood as practical, others can be understood as gorgeous. But on the whole, most Chinese weddings are neither practical nor beautiful.
Some people’s weddings will imitate a typical western wedding, in which the man wears a suit and the woman wears a wedding dress, but other than that, it has little to do with Western weddings. Some people will wear traditional Chinese clothes, but the process has little to do with Chinese tradition. Some people simply wear cosplay clothes or other special clothes to get married, but on the whole, Chinese weddings are always accompanied by some inexplicable folk customs.
The origin of these folklore is as dubious as the high betrothal gifts in unenlightened areas of China. In fact, most of these folk customs are unpleasant and are regarded by many Chinese as boring, vulgar, offensive and even insulting. Some folk customs even lead to vicious public events, and even lead to the sudden failure of some marriages. When there is an opportunity in the future, we will write another article to introduce you to a typical Chinese wedding.
Such a chaotic and embarrassing wedding also costs a lot of money. Fortunately, the Chinese recover most of the wedding costs by asking guests for “share of the money”. Some families have a wide social circle, they can invite a large number of guests, so they can even earn more money than the wedding cost through “share of the money”. However, if we simply understand “share money” as the couple’s relatives and friends support their wedding through crowdfunding, we still regret to see that a lot of money is wasted on boring and meaningless wedding ceremonies.
If all these problems are taken into account, a typical marriage of Chinese people, only in terms of money, the cost is also very high. Fortunately, some young people in China are well educated and are beginning to extricate themselves from unenlightened customs. Instead of wasting money on meaningless weddings, they choose to hold simple small weddings. Some young people with more avant-garde ideas have even stopped buying real estate and motor vehicles, and their marriage has become an almost free marriage. Of course, the financial problem after marriage is still an inescapable problem, and the relationship with both parents may bring more trouble, but we can only bless them.
As a Chinese, I hope that in the future more Chinese people can extricate themselves from inexplicable customs and stop wasting money and time. But if you expect to see marriage with Chinese national characteristics widely used, you may be disappointed-on the whole, the Chinese are a very pragmatic nation, and I am afraid that the inexplicable ancient etiquette system will not be restored if it is not necessary.
However, it may be very difficult for Chinese people to get rid of the financial requirements of their marriage partners in a short period of time. In fact, unenlightened areas ask for high betrothal gifts with great exaggeration-as we have already said, it is not a traditional Chinese custom-but also out of pure economic considerations: in short, men and women from poor places are generally unpopular in China’s marriage market, and they often have no choice but to choose members of the opposite sex who are equally unpopular nearby. As a result, rather than improving the financial ability of the entire family through marriage, they chose to ask for a large amount of money at one time before getting married.
This is a bitter story. However, don’t forget that China is still a developing country with a per capita GDP of just over US $10,000. When considering marriage events, the Chinese have no spare power to empty their minds: after all, a happy marriage leads to at least two happy families, and vice versa.