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  4. Rural men in China say they're too poor to afford the massive dowries expected of them. People on social media say it's just an excuse.

Rural men in China say they're too poor to afford the massive dowries expected of them. People on social media say it's just an excuse.

Matthew Loh   

Rural men in China say they're too poor to afford the massive dowries expected of them. People on social media say it's just an excuse.
  • A report about a rural bachelor who can't afford a $70,000 dowry in China was met with backlash on Monday.
  • Such a bridal price is many times over what a typical rural worker earns in a year.

A Chinese state media report about rural men struggling to afford exorbitant dowries has triggered backlash online from people who say the bachelors are missing the point.

State-run outlet Legal Daily published an article on Monday covering the dating lives of three rural men in their early 30s, who said they can no longer keep up with rising "betrothal prices."

The story of one man from Jiangxi province, whom Legal Daily gave the pseudonym Cheng Wei, went viral on Weibo, China's version of X.

According to state media, the man "lamented" that dowries in his home region had grown to about 500,000 RMB, or $70,000 — a nearly impossible cost for a rural worker.

"500,000 RMB is a very unrealistic expectation. To put things in perspective, the annual disposable per capita income among rural residents in China is about 20,000 RMB," Mu Zheng, a professor of sociology and anthropology at the National University of Singapore, told Business Insider.

Such a dowry would likely cost rural families years of savings or could sink them in debt, Mu said.

But instead of drawing sympathy, the report received a harsh response on Weibo. Many accounts, who listed themselves as female on their profiles, say men are using the unattainable dowries as an excuse for their undesirability as partners.

"Always discussing the dowry, and not discussing what the man is like, or what the bride's family must pay," one top comment said.

"Then don't get married. No one wants to marry you if you have no money," a blogger, who listed themselves as female, wrote.

As of Monday afternoon Beijing time, the topic received some 32 million views on Weibo, per data seen by BI.

In China, grooms typically pay for dowries to the bride's family and can sometimes be expected to fork up the cash for huge expenses like cars or houses as a prerequisite.

Some urban couples in China are now going for what is often dubbed a "naked marriage," where people get hitched without the man first securing the dowry, car, apartment, or perhaps even a diamond ring. But the traditional practice of paying for your bride is still strong in rural areas, Mu said.

"The expectation for dowries has diverged in China due to both the rising costs of living — particularly with housing — consumerism, and rising individualism," she said.

It's not about the dowries, people say

Rising dowries have unsettled Chinese officials already fretting about plummeting national birth and marriage rates. The state frequently discourages families from demanding exorbitant betrothal agreements, in a bid to remove another obstacle to marriage.

Yet the prevailing perspective on Chinese social media has been that fixating on surging dowry expectations is distracting from the real issue — that modern women want to wed for love and a stable future but are pressured to shore up marriage rates.

In essence: A man who relies on a dowry likely doesn't make the cut, and women shouldn't be expected to marry him.

"If you don't believe me, tell a handsome guy to go on a blind date. I guarantee that someone will marry him even without a dowry, and even give birth to monkeys for him," wrote one commenter, who listed themselves as female.

"Nowadays, independent urban women live freely and self-sufficiently, while older youths in rural areas want to get married," another wrote. "The two don't match up, so there's a severe gap."

"It's not a question of whether the betrothal gift is good," one commenter added. "It's a matter of not finding a suitable marriage partner. If it's clear there's no good match, why persist?"

The furor could partially stem from repeated messaging from provincial governments that affluent city women should return to their home villages to marry rural bachelors. These campaigns sometimes go viral and get slammed on social media.

Meanwhile, it's become increasingly clear that officials are concerned by the growing prevalence of singlehood among rural men, with state media often discussing such bachelors leading loveless lives. Local governments have been concocting various policies and incentives to encourage marriage in poorer areas.

The divide is widening between marriage expectations held by Chinese women and those placed on them, Mu said.

"They demand better quality marriage, and are more likely to decide to get married when they feel it's right," she said. Meanwhile, many families in China still expect the wife to be the primary caregiver and homemaker.

In the case of the dowry backlash, China is seeing more women refusing to take responsibility for fixing the nation's population woes, she said.

"Increasingly, they don't feel incentivized or that it's emotionally and morally right to get married for the sake of marriage, or in this case, to address the imbalanced marriage markets," she said.



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