Opinions solicited on betrothal gifts proposal

December 12, 2023

A draft judicial interpretation concerning “bride price” began soliciting public opinions on Monday, with the prohibition of asking for money or other possessions in the name of betrothal gifts.

The Supreme People’s Court, China’s top court, has disclosed the seven-article draft document online, explaining that its formulation came after lawsuits related to betrothal gifts had been rising in the past few years, and some even ended up as criminal cases.

Betrothal gifts, also known as bride price, are a traditional marriage custom in which the groom’s family offers the bride’s family an amount of money as a symbol of respect.

It originated as a way of expressing good wishes for newlyweds, but Chen Yifang, chief judge of the top court’s No 1 Civil Adjudication Tribunal, said that in recent years “it has developed into a face-saving activity that can place a big financial burden on families”.

She pointed out that the high cost of betrothal gifts is not a secret recipe for ensuring family happiness, adding “on the contrary, it may be a trigger for conflicts, which undermines long-term stability of marriages and also leads to opposition between two families, thus affecting social harmony”.

To help solve disputes caused by betrothal gifts, the top court made the judicial interpretation, welcoming suggestions from all walks of life to optimize the document.

The disclosed draft clarifies that money or gifts provided at birthdays or festivals should not be identified as betrothal gifts, stating that Chinese courts, in general, will not support the return of a bride price if litigants are registered for marriage and live together for a long time.

However, if the time of living together is too short and the amount of betrothal gifts is too high, Chinese courts will determine whether to return the bride price and what proportion should be returned in line with specific circumstances, such as whether litigants have children and which side is at fault in the marriage, the draft added.

Individuals and departments can take advice about the draft through postal or email addresses, the top court said, adding that the deadline of the suggestion collection is Dec 26.

Reports show a betrothal gift could be as high as 300,000 yuan ($43,000) in the more developed eastern region of China, and about 200,000 yuan in the less developed western area. The amount is equivalent to five to seven years of income for an individual in a city and perhaps 10 years’ earnings in rural places.

Earlier this year, a man surnamed Liu in Zhenyuan county, Gansu province, wrote a letter to the local government complaining about unreasonable betrothal money, after his fiancee’s parents asked him to pay 288,000 yuan in bride price, not including a car and house.

Liu said in the letter that he could not afford the money, hoping the county government would take measures to curb such unreasonable expectations.

The government replied that it has issued a proposal calling for the public to boycott high-priced dowries, underscoring that people should not take money as a measure of happiness or let the betrothal gifts ruin a good marriage.

In addition, governments in some other provinces, including Jiangxi, Henan and Zhejiang, have also issued guidance suggesting reasonable bride prices can help cultivate healthy marriage customs, Wang Jinhua, an official from the Ministry of Civil Affairs, said on Monday.

He said that the average bride price has been reduced in some cities, such as Hejian and Guixi, adding that the reform of marriage customs has also been launched nationwide to limit betrothal gifts, as well as to scale down wedding banquets and funeral costs.