Ramakanta Biswas

Concerned over a significant drop in birth rates, the local governments in China have reportedly undertaken a string of measures to usher in a new era of marriage and childbearing. 

The latest measure being taken by the nation to boost its population is a crackdown on the widespread custom of paying dowries by groom known as 'bride prices'. Under the ancient tradition, a prospective groom pays a dowry to the bride’s family to show his sincerity and wealth.

However, a widening gender imbalance in rural China has pushed 'bride prices' to a record high, making marriage a costly affair and unaffordable for many. 

In order to tackle the situation, officials are reportedly introducing a raft of policies to usher in a 'new era' of marriage and childbearing, The Telegraph reported. 

Local governments have begun rolling out propaganda campaigns instructing unmarried women not to compete with one another in demanding the highest prices. Some town officials have imposed caps and directly intervened in private negotiations between families, the Telegraph reported citing the New York Times.

"In Daijiapu, a town in southeast China, officials recently gathered women at a local civic building to sign a public pledge to reject high “bride prices”. A sign hung at the front of the room read: “Symposium of unmarried young women of the right age,” The Telegraph reported. 

As per the report, cutting bride prices is one of the projects that China’s Family Planning Association, a national body that implements the government’s population and fertility measures, is trialling in more than 20 cities in a bid to grow the nation’s population. 

Earlier, several measures were introduced by Chinese provinces including tax incentives, housing subsidies, and free or subsidised education for having a third child.

What is Bride Prices?

Bride price has a long history in China. Caili, the bride price or the betrothal gifts, is also called pinli or pincai. The perspective groom pays the bride price to the woman's family to demonstrate his sincerity and wealth while compensating them for raising a daughter. It has been one of the most important marriage customs in ancient China since the Western Zhou Dynasty (1046 BC to 771 BC).

In January this year, a young man’s wedding in central China’s Hubei province had gone awry after the original ‘bride price’ of 150,000 yuan (Rs 17.66 lakh) was suddenly hiked to 200,000 yuan (Rs 23.55 lakh) by her family.

A similar incident took place in April last year when a prospective groom, from Zhengning county, Gansu province, wrote on a government message board that he almost married his girlfriend, but the high bride price demanded by her parents forced the couple to break up.