In China, "golden week" is a good time to get married. With their long holidays and pleasant weather, the first weeks of May and October are when engaged couples compete to book wedding venues and vendors. During these peak times, large sums of money are spent on banquets, ceremonies, apartments and cars. Before all of that, however, comes the betrothal gift, an obligation that puts substantial financial pressure on modern bridegrooms.
"To give my wife the betrothal gift, my family has spent nearly everything we have," said Lin Zhiqiang, a 29-year-old PLA serviceman in Shenyang, Liaoning province. Because his parents went into debt to do renovations on Lin's new wedding apartment, he is worried there will be nothing left for the dowry of his younger sister, who is planning to get married next year. Lin said his sister was a little unhappy with their parents. "I feel sorry for my sister, but I am a man who has to take more responsibility for the wedding. My parents have no choice but to invest most of their savings in me," said Li. "They assume that my sister will get a betrothal gift from her bridegroom as well."
The Beijing News recently did a survey of 50 newly married couples from Beijing, Shanghai, Fujian and Henan provinces, as well as Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. Of all the respondents, 89.1 percent were involved in giving and receiving betrothal gifts; only about ten percent opted out of the custom. Seventy-eight percent of the interviewees believed betrothal gifts to be indispensible - not only because it is a tradition passed down from ancient times, but because a rich gift gives face for the bride and her family.
Some girls believe that the pre-wedding lump sum represents the sincerity of their partners to some extent. "My father used to say that if your boyfriend wants to marry you, a betrothal gift of 100,000 yuan ($16,400) is a must," said a Beijing girl surnamed Ma. "My parents say that if my boyfriend loves me, money should be no object. He will do all he can to get the money and battle any resistance - for my parents' satisfaction and for our marriage. This money is more of a test of sincerity than a request for wealth."
Others think differently about betrothal gifts. "If two people really love each other, then nothing should prevent them from marrying. I would not want to give so much money to my future bride that it seemed like I was buying her from her parents," said Hua Kai, 21, a student from Sichuan Province who is studying in Beijing. According to Hua, Chengdu girls seldom ask for a large sum of money as a betrothal gift. Instead, a "first meeting gift" will suffice. That gift tops out at 10,001 yuan, a number symbolizing "one in ten thousand" and which means the bride is cherished and loved by her bridegroom. In Hua's opinion, the pressure a man has to endure in preparing for his wedding is influenced by location, and the burden will be heavier in first-tier cities such as Beijing and Shanghai.
How, then, do brides spend their betrothal gifts? According to the Beijing News survey, 75.7 percent of brides save the money as community property. "In the end, I gave my wife 80,000 yuan as a betrothal gift," said Lin. "She spent half of it on a diamond ring, bought a lot of cute but useless adornments for our new apartment and put the rest of the money in the bank for our future."