FOR young Chinese men, the cost of marrying their lady love, especially a city girl, just keeps going up.
The latest bad news spreading on the Internet is a small, self-reporting survey and correlating map of China, indicating where the priciest and most affordable brides live. Everybody's talking about it and what it says about their marriage prospects and a materialistic society.
The results was released last week: Shanghai girls are the costliest in the nation in terms of what it calls "betrothal gifts" or pin li (聘礼). The price of marrying a Shanghai woman is 100,000 yuan (in cash, ring, jewelry, handbags, luxury gifts) and an apartment. No. 2 is Tianjin at 60,000 in cash and gifts, plus an apartment.
Chongqing is on the bottom of the list, where respondents indicated the cost was zero, but that's hard to believe in this day and age of materialism.
"If I was a bride-to-be in Shanghai, I would have been so happy. But unfortunately, I am a bridegroom-to-be," says Peter Fu, a 28-year-old professional.
"This news is like a thunderbolt. My parents are worried because they already bought an apartment that cost them two million yuan (US$326,320)," he tells Shanghai Daily. Originally his parents agreed to buy a one-carat diamond ring for his bride, but this news about more cash and gifts puts a burden on them, he says. "This is tragedy for the bridegroom's family."
Many people say that the rocketing prices in real estate is driven by mothers-in-law, since nearly all of them demand the bridegroom's family buy a new apartment, the bigger the better.
"Frankly, it doesn't matter to me whether I live with my in-laws because they already have a big apartment," says Rachel Lin, a 28-year-old employee in a public relations company. "But my mother told me how inconvenient it would be to live with my in-laws and said I needed independent space for myself and my husband."
She called the requirement of buying a new apartment in Shanghai "daunting." Her fiance's family agreed to give the couple 1 million yuan as a down payment, but that still means a million yuan mortgage costing nearly 10,000 yuan a month. "That really eats into our salaries and will lower our life quality," she says.
She says she'd rather rent, spare the headache of ownership and "use the money for overseas travel and buying clothing for myself."
For some brides-to-be families, these requirements from the bridegroom are not simply about money but about the future status of their daughters in a new family.
"I am not an unreasonable person, but I still insist my daughter follow the mainstream for her betrothal gifts and apartment," says Wan Mengqi, who has a 25-year-old daughter. "If a man cannot prove that he is able to meet the average financial standard of society, then how could he guarantee a secure marriage for my daughter? Money isn't everything, but no money is nothing.
"The ripe age of young girl is so short and I believe the gifts show sincerity and respect of the bridegroom's family. I'm not asking for a big villa or a sum the groom's family cannot afford. Let's say its amount should hurt, but not wound," she laughs.
Mother-in-law-to-be Wan says the family of the bride also pays a considerable amount, what used to be called a dowry or jia zhuang (嫁妆).
"Usually the bride-to-be families in Shanghai are not the ones who don't know the rules," says Pan Yicheng, a 55-year-old primary school teacher with a 26-year-old daughter.
"We don't want to seem stingy and snobbish to the bridegroom's parents. We have a tacit understanding that we will pay for the complete renovation, outfitting and furnishing of the apartment, buy all the appliances and a car," she says.
She says that when the bride's family pitches in and shares some of the costs, the relations between the two families will be better in the future.
Because of the high, one-sided costs, more parents are seeking this kind of balance, with the bride's family paying a larger "dowry" and sometimes cooperating with the bridegrooms parents in paying the down payment on an apartment. Sometimes the material requirements of a woman and her parents price her out of the market.
"Today there are so many 'leftover' older, unmarried girls in Shanghai and some missed their golden opportunity for a good marriage all because the bridegroom couldn't afford an apartment," says Wu Yongjie, a retired worker with a 38-year-old son.
The man in question is a marketing manager at an international company and several girls have showed interest in him. All of the young women are over 30 years old and it's difficult for them to find a husband since men typically want younger women.
The man's father has died and the family cannot afford another apartment for their son's marriage.
"But this doesn't matter, since some girls are willing to share the down payment and mortgage with him," says the mother. "I think this is the right way to go for love and marriage. We shouldn't let an apartment and so-called bride price block the way to happiness."
As a young woman ages, her family's material requirements for the bride tend to fall.
"When my daughter was under 28, I insisted that the boy who would marry my princess must own a downtown apartment," says Chen Yinuo, a retired primary school teacher. "Because of this requirement, she dumped her former boyfriend but now she is 32" and known by the disparaging term "left-over."
Now her mother is eager for her to wed. "I am so eager for a man to walk into her life, whether he has an apartment or not," says Chen. "Now I regret my previous demands. Looking back, her former boyfriend was quite a good boy. I feel dreadful that it was I who forced my daughter into such a 'leftover' situation."
Even if the survey results make Shanghai girls the envy of others, all that money and apartment cannot make for a happy marriage.
"The amount of the bride price doesn't guarantee the quality of a marriage," says Feng Yalan, a local psychologist. "But if the bride's family thinks it's a prerequisite, then they can try their luck. After all, it's better to solve problems before marriage and not leave potentially destructive issues to fester."
In China there are 117 boys born for every 100 girls, so girls are in high demand.
Maybe bachelors and their families who are wracking their brains to afford a wife ought to go to Chongqing Municipality, where the cost is nearly zero.