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Adam Minter

Marriage in China Shouldn’t Break the Bank

Exorbitant “bride prices” aren’t the necessary evil they’re made out to be.

Cities are drawing potential brides away from the countryside.

Cities are drawing potential brides away from the countryside.

Photographer: Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images

Getting married isn’t cheap in China. In Da’anliu, a small farming village outside Beijing, the local “bride price” — the fee that a groom’s family pays to a bride’s in advance of their nuptials — recently breached the $30,000 mark. That’s extreme for a village where incomes average $2,900 per year. So, this summer, local officials decreed that bride prices and associated wedding expenses shouldn’t exceed $2,900. Violators will be treated as human traffickers.

Da’anliu’s price controls went viral in China and have recently been picked up by media abroad. Out-of-control bride prices play to official and popular Chinese anxieties over the country’s plummeting marriage and birth rates. Nowhere are those fears stronger than in China’s countryside, home to millions of involuntary bachelors, often known as “bare branches.” High bride prices, and the women who command them, are an easy target to blame for this supposed marriage crisis.