It's time to fight the burdensome betrothal money
Editor's note: The decline in the marriage rate is related to the rising cost of getting married, especially the high housing prices in some big cities and the increasing betrothal money a bridegroom has to give to the bride's parents, writes a veteran journalist with China Daily.
Betrothal money (or pin jin) required by a bride's parents has long been a financial burden for many bridegrooms and their families. Traditionally, pin jin, or the bride's price, is a practice in which the groom's family offers the bride's family an amount of money as a symbol of respect.
But nowadays, as reports show, the betrothal money could be as high as 300,000 yuan ($43,115) in the more developed eastern region of China, and about 200,000 yuan in the less-developed western region. The sum is equivalent to an individual's five-seven years' income in a city and perhaps 10 years' earnings in rural areas.
After the founding of the People's Republic in 1949, the first law that China passed was the marriage law, which stressed gender equality and stipulated that a person has the right to choose his or her life partner instead of marrying the one chosen by his/her parents.
Although pin jin was not mentioned in the law, it was presumed that with youths choosing their life partners, the betrothal money custom would die a natural death. The fact, however, is that the pin jin custom survived, especially in rural areas. But the deals were reached secretly and the sum became smaller.
The pin jin custom was more or less abandoned in urban areas till the turn of the century. I am among the lucky ones who did not have to pay the betrothal money to my wife's family when I tied the knot in the mid-1980s. During those days, the bride's parents, in many cases, required the groom's family to provide the newly-wed couple with necessary furniture, electronic appliances and a separate room to ensure they led a happy life.
But the pin jin custom made a strong comeback about two decades ago under the cover of traditional practice. Neither the government nor society paid much attention to the revival of pin jin, probably because such deals were struck between two families and the betrothal money was usually small, and neither side broke any laws. This prompted the "betrothal money business" to grow. Traditional material gifts were first replaced with cash. Then the amount of money started increasing. The amounts mentioned above are those normally accepted practice, though in some extreme cases, the required sum could reach 1 million yuan.
In cities such as Beijing, pin jin may be a rarely heard phenomenon, but that does not mean it's easy for a young man to marry the woman of his choice. Reportedly, for a man to marry the woman of his choice, he or his family usually has to buy or have a separate apartment — which could cost 5 million yuan in Beijing where the average monthly salary is about 6,000 yuan.
High betrothal money and the unreasonable housing demand have prevented many couples from tying the knot. I know two men in their late 30s who couldn't marry the women they loved because they could not afford to buy or rent an apartment in Beijing.
Official data for 2022 show that China's population has begun decreasing and that people are getting married at an older age. And according to data from other sources, more and more people are choosing not to marry at all for multiple reasons, though I believe the betrothal money and housing precondition are two of the most important ones.
It may be difficult for lawmakers to pass a law banning pin jin. But something has to be done to curb this unhealthy trend which could have a negative effect on China's efforts to raise the total fertility rate and ensure social stability in the long run.
In fact, some lower-tier cities have introduced regulations limiting the sum of betrothal money — between 60,000 yuan and 100,000 yuan. But they are very cautious when it comes to strictly enforcing the regulations for fear of being accused of violating citizens' rights.
So it is up to us, society as a whole, to condemn this ugly trend. And the media, including social media, can contribute to the cause by helping develop an atmosphere in which asking for huge amounts of betrothal money would be considered a shame.
The author is former deputy editor-in-chief of China Daily.
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