“I saved my father a lot of money by marrying in 2012”


It’s March, 2015. I have back pain from carrying around baby and get a massage in Siping. I chat with the guy working there.

He asks: “What’s the dowry if you marry in Austria?”
I: “We don’t really have a dowry, at least not anymore.”
He: “That’s great. When I got married in 2012, the dowry was 120,000 Yuan RMB (over EUR 17,000 or USD 19,000) and an apartment. Nowadays, it’s 320,000 Yuan RMB (over EUR 45,500 or USD 51,500) and an apartment. Prices have skyrocketed in recent years. And that’s just Songyuan, where I’m from. Prices are much higher in the bigger cities. I saved my father a lot of money by marrying in 2012 and not later.”

I: “Where did you meet your wife?”
He: “We met at our workplace in Shenyang. We have the same job.”

He has a two-year-old son. We talk about raising kids.

He asks: “What are your plans for your son’s education? Will you send him to school in China?”
I: “We plan to send him to primary school here.”
He: “Chinese schools ask a lot from children. My friend’s child leaves for primary school at 6 in the morning and comes back home at 6 in the evening. She then has to do homework assignments until 12 at night. On the weekends, she has to take private lessons and finish some more assignments. There’s no time to play or meet up with friends. If I were you, I’d think twice about sending him to school here.”

He goes on: “Our son just started going to kindergarten. His grandmother was afraid that he would get hit by the older kids there, but we thought it would be good for him to be with other children. When someone hits him, he’ll tell the teacher and the teacher will do something about it. He’s playing there all day, so I think it’s fine.”

He then asks: “How many kids are you planning on having?”
I: “Probably 2 or 3. How about you, do you plan on having another one?”
He: “I don’t think so. One is enough. We can’t afford having more children. Raising children is expensive. We have to spend over 1000 CNY (about EUR 140 or USD 160) a month just for milk formula.”

Have you ever had a similar conversation? I’d love to read your stories.

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Hi, I'm Ruth, welcome to China Elevator Stories! I have been living in Kunming and Shenzhen in the past and am now staying in Northeast China with my Chinese husband and our baby and toddler son. Join us on our journey bridging worlds!


  1. I was just talking to my b/f about how children, and having a lot of them, seem to be the new status symbol lately in America because only the wealthy can afford to have so many children. This was validated by just finishing Tina Fey’s memoir where she talks about these kinds of parenthood conversations like “How many children do you plan on having?”

    It’s kind of wild that this is what parents have to endure on top of all of the other stresses of raising a child or two. Education in Asia is so crazy compared to what we know in the “West”. Was just having that conversation, too with another blogger. I wish we could all remember to relax and not take things too seriously! Me included!

    • I didn’t know about this trend in the US. In China, it’s usually either the wealthy or the poor (who live in more remote areas) who have a lot of children. The middle-class usually can’t or doesn’t want to afford more children and prefer to spend the financial resources they have on only one child (or sometimes two).

      True, education systems in Asia ask a lot from children. Competition is harsh.

  2. I thought a dowry should be paid by the woman’s family. In China is it paid by the man’s family now?

    Last week, flying from Seattle to Baltimore, I sat with a Chinese woman from Beijing. She was a psychologist who talked about what she considered the problem of raising an only child. She had been so worried about it that she sent her only son to spend his high school years living with a family in the United States that had their own son. This May her son graduated from college in Colorado. Some people worry a lot about giving their children the best chance in life. My husband and I were more relaxed. We took things as they came.

    • In China, it’s usually the men’s family who pays the dowry. That’s why some younger generation couples want a girl instead of the traditionally preferred boy. They say having a boy is too expensive because you need to spend so much money on saving up for the dowry and a future apartment.

  3. Wow. I literally had to look up “dowry” on the dictionary as I didn’t even know what that means!

    As for the education in China, it is pretty much the same (possibly even worse) in Taiwan and Hong Kong. The keyword is: COMPETITION. These poor kids really are robbed of their childhood in my opinion.

    Nice to see you are back anyway!

  4. This is the first time I’ve heard someone refer to the cost of marriage as a “dowry” in China. I mean, I think we have all heard about how new husbands (or their family) are supposed to have a good job and provide a house and car, but actually paying hundreds of thousands of yuan in cash (to her parents? he didn’t specify who the dowry was paid to) is not something I have heard Chinese people talk about so frankly. Have you heard other people talk about this?

  5. I’ve heard many stories of this “dowry” and the sum is really regional. A friend of my wife who is from the deepest countryside in Hunan has a little brother. Well, when he was supposed to get married she had to gather 500.000 RMB so he could buy an apartment in Shanghai. Basically the mother forced the son to get married as he was already too old with his 21 years and she got the apartment for the son UNDER THE NAME OF THE GIRL. But after the money was used for the apartment the girl didnt want to get married anymore and left him and is still happily in Shanghai with the apartment.
    My wife’s friend herself had much trouble to get the money has she and her husband have a huge debt due to buying an apartment in Finland.
    Thankfully I didnt have to pay anything because I know some Germans who wouldnt be allowed to marry their Chinese girlfriends as the family asked for impossible high sums. Some gave up, some paid the money and are still in huge debt (some even over 100.000 Euros!! and the girl left afterwards …) and some just married the girl and left China for good leaving the greedy family behind. There are just so many stories and I wonder when this dowry business will stop

    • pt

      I disagree about the “greedy family” part. Even if some people don’t agree with the practice (me included), it’s still a tradition.

      • I think when the family wants him to pay absurd sums of money you may talk about greedy. I wouldnt talk about “greedy” when it is some standard amount of money in line with the average in the city or area but then taking it sometimes x10 is just not right.

      • Tradition? In some ways, maybe. But the whole expecting a large sum of money, apartment, and a car is a new phenomenon. In fact, it’s gotten ridiculous in the past several years. I think a lot of it is greed. In part, it’s a numbers game. Women are at an advantage–there just aren’t enough of them. Also, men and their families are willing to “paying the price” to marry. The whole situation bothers me. It’s more like a business transaction than a marriage and it isn’t good for men OR women.

    • This is definitely something where the AMWF pairing has an easier way out.

      If you know you’ll have to pay a dowry you’ll probably try to save for it, but if you don’t come from a culture where dowries are common, you won’t. So I definitely see how this can be a big problem when it comes to Westerners wanting to marry a Chinese woman.

  6. Like Amanda, I had heard about the man needing to buy an apartment and a car for the woman to agree to marry him, but a dowry in cash? O_o I had never heard of it. I will ask C. later.

  7. My husband’s cousin (groom) got married last year and I think his parents only paid 10,000 RMB to the bride’s parents (we live in a small city in Hebei). The groom’s parents also paid for the wedding and the couple has their own apartment and car. I think the general expectation here is from the groom to have an apartment, pay for the wedding, and (preferably) own a car.

    As far as raising kids, it can be very expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. It really depends on the choices you make as a parent. Plenty of people manage to have big families without a lot of money, but it may mean you can’t give your child “the very best” in material items and, in some cases, education.

    As for grade school in China, my step-daughter is in grade 5 and I don’t think it’s as terrible as your friend explains. First through third grade were pretty intense as the kids are having to learn so many characters and devote lots of time to studying Chinese, but still my daughter was in bed by nine every night. The past two school years have been less demanding. The great thing is that by 4th or 5th grade the kids have a very good grasp of the language and are able to read/write most characters.

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