Social Customs & Inequality: Two Weddings, No Fridge

Social Customs & Inequality: Two Weddings, No Fridge

Lavish gift-giving among ’s wealthy has attracted considerable attention, particularly where, as in the case of Xu Ming and Bo Xilai, it shades into bribery. , though, examines the ruinous expense that social obligations such as wedding banquets impose on the rural poor, depriving them of material goods, driving some into , and even affecting pre-natal health “as poor pregnant mothers cut back on food to keep pace with gift-giving.”

IT WAS a big week for Wang Wei. On a recent Wednesday she had two weddings to attend, then on Saturday, two funerals. Each involved a banquet, and by custom she was obliged to bring cash gifts. That was no hardship a decade ago, when the going rate for four banquets was the equivalent of $5-10. And a decade before that, she would have just brought rice or from the family plot.

It is a hardship now. The cost of gift-giving in rural China has gone up much faster than incomes. This week Ms Wang’s outlays added up to 350 yuan, or close to $60—about a month’s income. A pleasant, open-faced woman of 41, she says it is money she could have used to buy basic appliances. A water heater would be nice, she says, so her husband, in-laws and two teenage wouldn’t have to boil water to bathe. A fridge would be splendid. But these are extravagances. Giving gifts for big occasions is an inescapable, and increasingly onerous, obligation for hundreds of millions of China’s farmers. [Source]

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