Top Chinese official warns high cost of marrying off sons is driving rural families into poverty

Alice Yan

A senior Chinese government official has condemned the practice of exorbitant bride prices, which he blamed for plunging many rural families into poverty.

Han Jun, vice-minister of agriculture and rural affairs, also said on Monday that lavish spending at weddings and funerals needed to be curbed and warned that in some areas farming families were engaging in a form of competitive one-upmanship, according to Shanghai-based news site Thepaper.cn.

But rural people and demographers pointed out that the demographic and social pressures fuelling the practice were deep-seated, especially the notorious imbalance in the country’s gender ratio.

Traditionally the family of the groom in China is expected to give betrothal gifts to the bride’s parents. But Han said that these days some families were spending more than 100,000 yuan (US$14,500) on the celebrations, compared with 10,000 yuan in the 1990s and just 200 yuan in the 70s and 80s.

“Our on-site inspections in villages often find that some families become poor when their sons get married. This is not uncommon in some regions,” Han said.

A wedding parade in Shiqian county in Guizhou province. Photo: Xinhua

He also said that expensive wedding gifts and the price of other festivities were the biggest costs faced by some rural farmers after food.

“Farmers complain a lot about marriage-related problems. But they feel it is difficult to change the status quo because they want to save face,” Han said.

“The public are hoping that the government can help to address these issues in an effective way.”

Live from rural China: how a paralysed man found new life as an internet star

But He Yafu, a Guangdong-based independent demographer, said the high costs associated with marriage in villages were mainly due to the abnormally skewed gender ratios in these areas – a legacy of the one-child policy that made it hard for rural men to find a wife.

“China’s gender ratio between infant boys and girls hit its widest gap – 120:100 – around the year 2000. It has dropped gradually since 2010 after the government allowed more couples … to have a second child.”

He said the gender ratio in rural areas was worse than in cities since farmers traditionally preferred boys because the sons were supposed to take care of their parents when they were old.

“Fewer girls means that a girl can get married no matter how poor her family is. But for boys, if his family’s economic condition is not good, he might not get married,” He said.

Tradition dictates the groom’s family must cover a range of wedding costs. Photo: Xinhua

Huang Qin, a 46-year-old from Anhui province who works as a cleaner in Shanghai, said the average cost of a wedding in her rural hometown of Huainan was higher than the official’s estimate and had now reached 300,000 yuan.

This is supposed to cover the cost of building a house for the couple, buying a car, providing jewellery and clothes for the bride and a “greeting gift” for her parents.

“It’s so expensive that many people have to borrow money from relatives – or even from loan sharks – to raise funds,” she said.

“Every parent will try their best to collect the money since village folks will judge each other and the parents can’t afford to lose face in the village.”

Mother in rural China sues her four children for neglect

Huang has a 25-year-old daughter who is working as a manicurist in Hefei, the capital city of Anhui.

She said dozens of people had tried to introduce single men from their village to her daughter, but so far none had caught her fancy.

Huang also has a 16-year-old son who is studying at a technical school in Shanghai. She said that she and her husband, who also works in the city, were already saving money for his wedding.

“It’s all right for us to work and save money for him as we have only one son. But for families with two sons, it’s really a great burden,” Huang said.

While the official suggested that farmers should agree on a cap on wedding gifts that would be written into their village’s regulations, she expressed scepticism that it would work.

“Actually the wedding gifts are given in instalments, not as one-off gifts. How can the government stop that?” she asked.

More from South China Morning Post:

This article Top Chinese official warns high cost of marrying off sons is driving rural families into poverty first appeared on South China Morning Post

For the latest news from the South China Morning Post download our mobile app. Copyright 2019.