China to launch campaign against exorbitant bride prices
Published: Feb 14, 2023 03:00 AM
Family members await the start of the wedding in a village in Zouping county, Shandong Province. File Photo: CFP

Family members await the start of the wedding in a village in Zouping county, Shandong Province. File Photo: VCG

China unveiled its key policy document or "No. 1 central document" for 2023 on Monday, vowing to launch a special campaign against problems including exorbitant bride prices and extravagant wedding ceremonies as a part of nationwide efforts to strengthen spiritual civilization construction in the country's rural areas.

Recently, many cities and provinces across China have intensified their efforts in reining in exorbitant bride prices, as the custom has increasingly become a heavy burden for families, especially those in rural areas. The move has sparked heated discussion among Chinese netizens.

The bride price is a traditional Chinese prerequisite for marriage. Giving a bride price as a betrothal gift has a long history in China as a goodwill gesture between the couple and their two families. However, the bride price has risen from a token amount to very high levels, particularly in poorer areas, and the nature of the traditional customs has changed a lot over the years, becoming a financial burden for many families.

Dingxi in Northwest China's Gansu Province has released details of its achievements after the implementation of a campaign in June 2022 to curb excessive bride prices. The city is one of the last areas in China to be lifted out of poverty at the end of 2020.

According to the Chinese media outlet The Paper, since the campaign, 70 percent of married couples in Dingxi have received less than 50,000 yuan ($7325) as the bride price, down 10.9 percent from before the campaign.

The local campaign also stipulates that wedding parties should have no more than 20 tables both in urban areas and rural areas, with each table costing no more than 880 yuan ($129) in urban areas and 480 yuan ($70) in rural areas.

Multiple cities in East China's Jiangxi Province, which have long been known for exorbitant bride prices, are also stepping up their campaigns to address the custom.

For example, Leping city held a meeting to deploy a three-year special action to promote the transformation of local outdated customs and tradition on February 6.

The city previously found itself in the spotlight after a rumor that a local bride asked for 880,000 yuan ($128,977) for the marriage earlier this month.

The rumor was identified by the police as having been fabricated, but it was still a blow to the city's image and that of the province.

Lin Weichun, the city's Party secretary, said at a meeting on February 6 that high bride prices and other outdated customs still exist in some local areas, endangering family harmony and stability, seriously affecting the city's reputation, and causing a negative impact on the investment environment. It is necessary to face up to these problems, take special actions and work hard to curb them, Lin said.

Separately, as early as 2017, performance in the work of changing outdated customs was included in the assessment of village officials in Guangchang county in Jiangxi, and in 2022 it was included in the training program for local officials.

On September 28, 2022, Guangchang held a group wedding for 10 couples with "zero bride price," vigorously promoting newlywed fashion. The online livestreaming of the group wedding was watched by more than 40,000 people.

Last September, eight national departments, including China's Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, the Organization Department of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and China's Ministry of Civil Affairs, jointly issued a notice to address the problems of excessive bride prices and extravagant wedding ceremonies in China's rural areas, rolling out a special work plan for a nationwide campaign.

An official from Shangrao, another city in Jiangxi, who requested anonymity, told the Global Times on Monday that such exorbitant bride prices never used to be a folk custom or the historical tradition of Jiangxi.

A few years ago, with the improvement of people's economic income and living standards, people started to ask for higher bride prices, the official said, adding that binding the lifelong happiness of young men and women to material conditions went against traditional virtues.

The official revealed a surprising but typical phenomenon that in some urban areas, the bride price is usually in the range of 100,000 to 150,000 yuan, while in some rural areas, the price is even higher. For example, prices of 188,000 and 288,000 yuan are common in less-economically developed areas.

The official said that it is unrealistic and unnecessary to completely stop or forcibly curb the bride price tradition, but excessive and unaffordable bride prices should be restricted.

Now Party members and officials in many areas have taken a leading role in setting an example for villagers by voluntarily rejecting oversized wedding and funeral banquets and other outdated customs, he said.

China has a long way to go before society can rid itself of the bride price custom, Zhang Yiwu, a professor at Peking University, told the Global Times. It is important to advocate a more rational range for bride prices, but how effective this will be largely depends on local economic development and people's mindset, the professor said.