THE ASIAN VOICE

'Caili' dowry system a huge burden for China men seeking to marry: China Daily

A bride holding gold bangles for a photograph during her wedding in Hong Kong in 2014.
A bride holding gold bangles for a photograph during her wedding in Hong Kong in 2014. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

In many parts of China, marriage no longer depends just on love. It is more like a commercial deal based on the financial power of a man and his family.

Caili, or the betrothal gift a man usually gives to the bride’s family, has become a heavy financial burden for men who want to get married. 

A court in Liu’an, Anhui province, recently heard a case for returning the gift money of 120,000 yuan (S$26,436) to a man’s parents who committed suicide. 

The young man in Houqiu, an impoverished county in Anhui province, ended his life by jumping off a building in February after paying the caili to his betrothed’s family.

Committing suicide for not being able to cope with the financial pressure of getting married may be an isolated case, but there have been occasional media reports about would-be bridegrooms’ violent confrontations with their parents-in-law over the latter demanding huge amounts of money as caili.

Ideally, what conditions should a Chinese woman set to marry a man?

A woman should marry the man she loves and believes is the one she can spend the rest of her life with. 

But in many parts of China, marriage no longer depends just on love; it is more like a commercial deal based on the financial power of a man and his family.

According to Chinese custom, after engagement, a man or his family usually offers the woman’s parents a moderate amount of money or gifts as a tribute (or caili) for bringing up their daughter. 

Caili, as such, is a token of appreciation to the woman’s parents for gifting their daughter in marriage, and there never was a threshold for the amount to be paid. It basically depended on the would-be bridegroom’s or his family’s social and economic status.

But this tradition has changed and caili has become more like a commercial transaction, as some would-be brides’ parents ask for exorbitant amounts of money and precious gifts as caili.

The Internet is full of different versions of the amount that men have to pay to get married. Although some postings exaggerate the costs, they reflect the ruthless fact that Chinese men who want to enter wedlock face huge economic pressure.

Since a man seeking marriage is generally expected to own a house, men in big Chinese cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, where housing prices are very high, often complain that they can’t think of marriage because they cannot afford to buy a house. 

The condition of owning a house alone is an insurmountable hurdle for ordinary men, not to mention other conditions such as cars, jewelry and huge amounts of money as caili.

For example, according to some online postings, Shenzhen, Beijing and Shanghai are among the top 10 Chinese cities where men have to have more than 2 million yuan to get married.

Even in rural areas, where the per capita income is much lower than in the big cities, the large amounts of money demanded as caili by would-be brides’ parents have become a huge financial burden for ordinary men. In some regions, men even take loans from banks to pay caili.

In a show of gratitude and in deference to Chinese tradition, a man would gladly pay a moderate amount of money as caili to his bride’s parents. But the exorbitant demands of caili have turned this Chinese tradition into a commercial exercise, which is a shame.

If would-be brides’ parents continue demanding even higher amounts of money as caili, they will make it even more difficult for men to get married; in fact, many men already cannot find a life partner because of the gender imbalance.

In a move to offset the impact of a rapidly aging society, China has decided to allow all couples to have two children. 

But the growing demand for higher amounts as caili remains a powerful deterrent for couples to have a second child, because there is a 50 per cent possibility that a new born will be a boy.