JINAN, Feb. 4 (Xinhua) -- A wedding day is often called the happiest day of one's life. The same cannot be said for the parents of the groom in rural China, where saving face and social pressure often leave them in debt for years.
Wang Yueguo, from east China's Shandong Province, managed to scrape together enough money to fund his son's marriage last month. The wedding completely drained the family's savings account and left them with a debt that will take a decade to pay off.
"All-in-all, my son's marriage has cost me more than 200,000 yuan [about 29,000 U.S. dollars], including around 100,000 yuan I borrowed from relatives and friends," said Wang, whose family earns about 30,000 yuan a year from farming.
Wang is among many parents in parts of China's rural areas that feel pressured to splurge on their sons' weddings in order to secure a daughter-in-law and avoid losing face.
In China, it is expected that the family of the bridegroom will buy a house, pay for the wedding ceremony and provide a dowry, which is usually paid in cash. In the countryside, where people earn less but tend to maintain traditions more, families oftern spend most of their hard-earned savings.
In addition to paying for the wedding banquet, jewelry, and home appliances worth over 70,000 yuan, Wang is expected to provide a dowry of more than 40,000 yuan, and a car worth over 150,000 yuan,
"Fortunately, the girl's family did not ask for a city apartment, otherwise, another 300,000 won't be enough," he said.
According to an official survey conducted last year in Linyi City, Shandong, weddings in the city's rural areas cost at least 200,000 yuan, equivalent to four to five years' net income of a local family of four.
Some families struggling to cope with the debt incurred by a wedding have even been dragged into poverty, the survey showed.
Wedding banquets are not actually free to guests, as attendees are expected to give "Fenzi," cash in a red envelope, to the newly-weds. It is not unusual for poorer guests to borrow money so that they can give Fenzi and not loose face.
"I earn about 15,000 yuan a year, but I easily give out 10,000 yuan a year in Fenzi at weddings and funerals, but mostly weddings," said Tao Yuanfeng, 76, who lives in a village administered by Yucheng City in Shandong.
As rural families now have more disposable income, extravagance and over spending have become a serious problem. The root of the problem, however, is in the concept of "saving face," nobody wants to be labeled a miser because his wedding was plain.
Sociologist Zhou Xiaozheng said gender imbalance means that the family of the bride is more picky, and this is why marital costs in some rural areas have skyrocketed. By the end of 2015, there were 33.66 million more men than women in China, making heating up competition for a bride.
Some rural parents see their daughters' marriage as a lucrative deal. "It just reflects that some villagers are really poor," Zhou said.
The high costs associated with marriage threatens to harm social stability and the wider poverty alleviation campaign, according to Wang Zhongwu with Shandong University.
Private lending disputes in rural China are often rooted in luxurious weddings. Moreover, cash-strapped parents find themselves penniless and unable to cover medical or elderly-care fees, Wang said.
The 2016 Linyin survey suggested that although the majority of respondents disagree with the practice, they will still go into debt to cover a wedding just to save face. And 80 percent of the respondents said this was a custom that should change.
The good news is that a change is going to come. In fact, it's already under way.
Shandong government has supported the establishment of supervisory institutions to help address the issue of extravagant weddings and funerals. Headed by respected villagers, the institutions have designed and implemented rules to help their fellow residents.
Since his village issued a regulation on banquet budgets, Zhao Yuhua had to limit the cost of his son's wedding banquet to just a couple of hundred yuan. Before, the banquet would last three to four days in accordance with the local custom.
Such institutions have also been established in the provinces of Hebei, Henan and Shaanxi.