Informant: “I have little brother, and my mother always used to tell me that it’d be perfect if I married a Chinese man, because then he’d [his side of the family] would have to pay for the wedding. And if my little brother married an American women, she’d [her side of the family] have to pay for the dowry. So that way we’d be saving money, haha (laughs).”
Me: “Did your husband have to pay for the wedding?”
Informant: “Well, we didn’t have a wedding. (laughs.) So I guess he got off free. He didn’t have to provide Jia Zhuang for me.”
Me: “Do people still do this?”
Informant: “Well, people who are more modern won’t care. After all, most people in China wear white wedding dresses instead of red now that China’s becoming more globalized and what not. Many families share the load of the wedding fee.”
Analysis: 嫁妆, (jia zhuang) literally means “Wedding Decoration”. In the traditional sense, this could include gold jewelry, embellishments, red shoes and bedding, etc. Now, it has expanded to include modern things like appliances.
Through my research I discovered that in China, the bride’s family does pay a dowry but gives it to the bride. Instead, when asking for the bride’s hand, the groom has to give gifts to the family. These gifts, “jia zhuang”, are similar to what typical American couples register for. Bedding, curtains, simple household appliances may all be included. Some of these the family will let the bride keep. It symbolizes respect for the family. What was most important was that it proved that the groom was capable of providing a good life style for the bride.
This goes down to cultural roots and practices such as filial piety, and having respect for one’s elders. When the bride marries the groom, she essentially becomes part of the groom’s family and leaves her own family.
My informant is 53, and currently works as a manager for Dow chemicals. She was born in QingDao China and currently resides in Beijing.