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The Sport of Marriage in China – MMXLII

The Sport of Marriage in China

We’ve talked food, technology, business and sports in China on our site for some time. Part of that being because these are things contributing to the economy and global business in China, but when we thought of business there we never imagined marriage falling into that concept. In current China, marriage is not just about tradition but about negotiating a price to earn your bride and now more so than ever there is a “market share” of brides to be. Why is there a market for brides? Because of China’s one child policy and the preference for boys. This is creating more men than women, potentially to a point where more men will find it harder to actually find wives. So women are a valuable commodity and to ‘settle down’, a new apartment, car and financial gifts may need to be thrown in to win a woman’s hand in marriage. It’s like a top NFL player holding out for more money and bonuses before signing that contract. Is this healthy for marriage? Does this give women more leverage? Is this helping gender equality? Read about it after the jump.

By Louisa Lim, NPR

Women hold up half the sky, China’s Chairman Mao famously said. But in China, the one-child policy and the traditional preference for boys mean that 117 boys are born for every 100 baby girls. By one estimate, this means there could be 24 million Chinese men unable to find wives by the end of the decade.

As China’s economy booms, the marriage market has become just that: a market, with new demands by women for apartments and cars. But are women really benefiting from their scarcity?

Let’s Make A Deal

It’s Derek Wei’s big day: his wedding day. He arrives at his bride’s house early in the morning, knocking on the door accompanied by his groomsmen. It’s locked, as tradition demands.

This wedding ritual, called chuangmen has resurfaced recently, along with other traditional practices like demands for a betrothal gift, sometimes known as “bride price.”

“Red packets! Red packets!” shouts the niece of Lucy Wang, the bride, demanding the men stuff red packets full of money through the door.

“Not enough!” shouts the head bridesmaid, who wants more money before she’ll open up. The women play along, complaining noisily about Wei’s stinginess. This is the last in a series of financial transactions that accompanies this — and every Chinese — wedding.

“It’s like a negotiation,” Wei says. “What do you need to get married? What can I provide? When we reach a deal, we discuss: What does your family want? What does my family have to bargain with?”

Minutes tick slowly, and Wei is getting nervous they’ll be late. “I love you, wife!” he shouts, thumping the door. “Let me in!”

From the other side of the door, his future wife, Lucy Wang, demands a song. He complies, singing a soppy old-time love song to the closed wooden door, along with a groomsman who takes pity on him. The women giggle. But Wang’s demands have been for more than just music.

The Negotiation

Wang has an office job in Beijing, she’s from Shanxi province. Wedding customs there demand the groom to give his future in-laws a big betrothal gift, traditionally known as the bride price. Wei handed over 68,888 yuan — an auspicious number — which is more than $11,000.

Wang, however, is not so impressed. “There are lots of coal mine owners where I come from, so they push the prices up,” she explains.

“In an ordinary family, the betrothal gift is about $10,000. To be honest, where I’m from, that’s hardly anything.”

Finally, the men lose patience and brace their shoulders against the door, noisily forcing their way into the room with battle cries.

Wei is on his knees. It’s the first time he’s seen his wife on their big day: He has a massive grin on his face and a bouquet of pink roses for Wang.

His first thought on hearing of the betrothal gift was pure fear. But his situation is very common. Most young men getting married in China today are expected to fork out, often providing an apartment, sometimes a car and a betrothal gift, too. Things were much easier when his parents got married four decades ago.

“My parent’s wedding was very simple,” Wei says wistfully. “You can’t even imagine how simple it was. They had a bed, a cupboard, a bike and a sewing machine. That was China in the ’70s.”

That Was Then, This Is Now

And this is China in the 21st century. Weddings involve…[Read Full Article Here]

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