YINCHUAN, March 24 (Xinhua) -- Tying the knot can be complicated in China. Sometimes there are family issues, and sometimes it is a matter of money.
In China, the groom's family traditionally offers a betrothal gift, known as "caili," to the bride's family before they marry. This can be cash, houses, cars or other assets.
In the past, caili may only have been a few hundred yuan (100 yuan equals 14.5 U.S. dollars), but as standards of living have risen, so have expectations for caili. A betrothal gift can cost hundreds of thousands of yuan, or even a million, in addition to other gifts. Getting married has become such a burden that many families have been left impoverished by the process.
In northwest China, however, the situation is changing, as a poverty-relief campaign brings down bride prices.
Hongsibao district government of Wuzhong City in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region recently issued an open letter to the public, encouraging them to simplify marriage ceremonies and cut bride prices and gifts.
Hongsibao is a large community of ecomigration, where residents formerly living in environmentally vulnerable areas are relocated. There are about 230,000 relocated residents, mostly from Ningxia's poorest counties. Even after the move, around a quarter of them still live under the national poverty line.
In Hongsibao' Dongfang Community, residents have been advised to cut the bride price to no more than 60,000 yuan, while gift money from friends and relatives should not exceed 500 yuan, the local Xinzhixun Newspaper reported Thursday.
It is a merciful relief to the many cash-strapped families there.
"EVERYBODY BEARS A BURDEN"
The joy of getting married was often eaten away by high bride prices in Hongsibao.
"The average annual income is 5,400 yuan per capita in our village, but bride price could be as high as 200,000 yuan," said Guo Rui, head of Xiangyuan Village. "Getting married on loans and repaying the loans after marriage was nothing unusual here."
As many rural families have several children, a family might take the bride money given for their daughter and use it to help their son get married, Guo said.
"Everybody is bearing a heavy burden, but if you want to help your children get married, you have to charge more and more."
And it was not just the happy couple who suffered. Relatives and friends also had to pitch in increasing gift money to show that they "attached great importance" to the nuptials.
"Gift money was maybe 10 yuan or 50 yuan in the past, but now it has risen to hundreds or even thousands of yuan," Guo said.
Ma Yingxiao, of Dongfang Community, said the family's combined income was 74,000 yuan last year, but their gift money to relatives and friends reached a staggering 80,000 yuan, leaving the family in debt.
"Gift money was an expression of congratulation, but it had distorted such feelings," Ma said.
BACK TO BASICS
Realizing many families have run up debt due to the tradition, the government used the poverty-relief campaign to ease the pressure.
In Dongfang Community, a "wedding and funeral council" was set up to carry out educational work, urging residents to go frugal in weddings and funerals, according to the Xinzhixun Newspaper.
According to the council's advice, bride prices should not exceed 60,000 yuan, while gift money from relatives and friends should be below 500 yuan.
Liu Jie, also a resident of Dongfang Community, said that when his daughter recently got married, the groom's family sent 68,000 yuan to them. But instead of taking the money, Liu gave it back and gave 20,000 yuan in cash to the couple.
Liu, who has a daughter and a son, said his idea even influenced the family of his daughter-in-law.
"When her family heard that I did not take a dime from my son-in-law, they also declined to take my money," Liu said.
The campaign is also spreading to other localities in Ningxia. Tongxin County is using self-made movies and opera to attack the high bride prices, while in Qingtongxia City is downplaying the need for high bride wealth through pop songs.
In Tongxin County, the family of Ma Zhanhai were honored for acting thriftily.
"My son and daughter-in-law celebrated their wedding by traveling together," said Ma, 58, in Xinhua Village.
In Yanchi County, lectures and group weddings have been held to promote the spirit of frugality.
"Our ideas about marriage are changing," Liu Jie said. "It does not matter how high the bride price is, what matters is the happiness of your children."