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Marriage causing rural families to be plunged into debt for years

By Xinhua in Jinan | China Daily | Updated: 2017-02-06 08:06

Marriage causing rural families to be plunged into debt for years

A newly married couple raise a toast to guests at their wedding feast in Qiandongnan Miao and Dong autonomous prefecture in Guizhou province last month. [Photo by Peng Huan / For China Daily]

One's wedding day is often considered the happiest day of a person's life. The same can not be said for the parents of a groom in rural China, where saving face and social pressure often leave them in debt for years.

Wang Yueguo, from East China's Shandong province, managed to scrape together enough money to pay for his son's marriage last month. The wedding completely drained the family's savings and left them with a debt that will take a decade to repay.

"My son's marriage cost me more than 200,000 yuan ($29,000), including about 100,000 yuan that I borrowed from relatives and friends," said Wang, whose family earns about 30,000 yuan a year from farming.

Wang is among many parents in parts of China's rural areas that feel pressured to splurge on their sons' weddings in order to secure a daughter-in-law and avoid losing face.

In China, it is expected that the family of the bridegroom will buy a house, pay for the wedding ceremony and provide a dowry, which is usually paid in cash. In the countryside, where people earn less, but tend to maintain traditions more, families often spend most of their hard-earned savings on weddings,

In addition to paying for the wedding banquet, jewelry and home appliances, Wang is expected to provide a dowry of more than 40,000 yuan, as well as a car.

According to a survey conducted last year in Linyi, Shandong, weddings in the city's rural areas cost at least 200,000 yuan, the equivalent of four to five years' net income for a local family of four.

Some families struggling to cope with debts incurred by a wedding have even been dragged into poverty, the survey showed.

Wedding banquets are not free to guests, as attendees are expected to give fenzi, cash in a red envelope, to the newlyweds. It is not unusual for poorer guests to borrow money so that they can give fenzi and not loose face.

"I earn about 15,000 yuan a year, but I easily give out 10,000 yuan a year in fenzi at weddings and funerals, but mostly weddings," said Tao Yuanfeng, 76, who lives in a village administered by Yucheng, Shandong.

As rural families now have more disposable income, extravagance and overspending have become a serious problem. The root of the problem, however, is in the concept of "saving face", as nobody wants to be labeled amiser.

Sociologist Zhou Xiaozheng said the gender imbalance means that the family of the bride can be more picky, andthis is why wedding costs in some rural areas have sky-rocketed. By the end of 2015, there were 33.6 million more men than women in China, heating up competition for brides.

The 2016 Linyin survey suggested that although the majority of respondents disagree with the practice, they will still accrue debt to cover a wedding just to save face. While 80 percent of the respondents said this custom should change.

The good news is that change is already underway.

Shandong has supported the establishment of supervisory institutions to help address the issue of extravagant weddings and funerals. Headed by respected villagers, the institutions have designed and implemented rules to help their fellow residents.

Since his village issued a regulation on banquet budgets, Zhao Yuhua had to limit the cost of his son's wedding banquet to just a couple of hundred yuan. Previously, the banquet would have lasted three to four days in accordance with local customs.

Such institutions have also been established in the provinces of Hebei, Henan and Shaanxi.


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