China / Society

Rural bridegrooms fret over high marriage costs

(Xinhua) Updated: 2014-02-14 16:48

HEFEI - This Valentine's Day was meant to be the best of Tang Zenan's life. He will tie the knot with his girlfriend on the holiday, but can't help but feel blue under the pressure of huge wedding costs.

Tang, a villager in East China's Anhui Province, has spent almost all his family's savings preparing for the big day. He had to borrow  40,000 yuan (6,597.52 US dollars) from relatives and friends to make up for the shortfall for the "betrothal gift" required by the girl's family.

"My mother-in-law has even forced me to make a written pledge promising that the debt will not be repaid by her daughter," Tang said. "It seems as though the money issue has made the marriage lose its original meaning."

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According to traditional marriage customs in China, the family of the bridegroom is expected to pay for a house, a grand wedding ceremony and banquet, as well as betrothal gifts that usually come in the form of cash wrapped in a red envelope.

In the countryside, where people usually make less money and attach more importance to traditional formalities, men of marriageable age often find themselves under economic pressure.

Twenty-seven-year-old Tan Xia is from a village in poverty-stricken Linquan County in Anhui Province. After graduation, he went back to his hometown and became a village official.

Since graduation, Tan's family has been busy setting him up with people. He has gone on a dozen dates, but all in vain.

"I am looking for a love that is free from the restraint of money," he said.

According to Tan, betrothal gifts in his village average around 100,000 yuan, while the annual income of a farmer there is only about 4,000 yuan.

"If the groom's family fails to provide the gift money required by the bride's family, the woman's side will feel disgraced and that may even lead to the end of a relationship, so the family of the man usually makes every effort to raise enough money," said Tan.

Tan's elder brother spent a total of 300,000 yuan on getting married in 2009, which cost his parents all their savings, and his family was not able to finish repaying the debt until 2012.

The problem faced by Tan is shared by many young men in the country. According to a survey of 100,000 young people last year by, a well-known dating website, more than 40 percent of women polled believe that men who spend a lot during their first dates are more likely to have a generous personality.

Meanwhile, a demographic imbalance has added to the economic pressure for men in the countryside.

Di Qin is a matchmaker in a village of East China's Jiangsu Province. She said that back in the 1980s, most of the villagers preferred boys to girls, and sex-selective abortions were common. Now there are far more marriageable men than women in the village, and many men have to resort to matchmaking to find a wife.

"Under the circumstances, the fees for matchmaking have been rising continuously," she said.

China's sex ratio at birth has skewed toward boys since the 1980s, and the gender imbalance is especially grave in the countryside.

People in the countryside are more conventional and tend to hold fast to traditions, so the marriage customs there cannot be changed in a short period of time, according to Fan Hesheng, professor of sociology at Anhui University.

To improve the situation, young people and their families should correct their attitudes toward marriage by paying less attention to economic benefits and peer pressure, Fan said. At the same time, grassroots governments should also help by advocating for frugal wedding ceremonies, he said.

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