Among China’s 1.37-billion-strong population, men outnumber women by 34 million – a staggering percentage that has arisen due to the traditional preference for boys coupled with China’s one-child policy. One result of this is that the marriage prospects of low-income men have dwindled drastically.
Yuan Xin, Nankai University’s population issues expert, believes that ‘marriage purchases’ are only going to go up in the next 20 years.
“The women reaching marriage age now of between 30 and 35 were born in the early 1980s. During this period, there were 70,000 to 200,000 more male births each year. Between 1985 and 1990, there were 500,000 to 900,000 more men each year. From the 1990s, there were one million or more male births each year,” he told The Straits Times.
Rather than be condemned to a life of bachelorhood, rural men are buying brides – at high prices and from foreign lands like Vietnam.
Anxious parents ready to pay big sums to secure their sons with wives has given rise to the ‘marriage fraud’ industry. Last year alone, around 100 Vietnamese brides walked out en masse from villages in China’s Hebei province. In Longyan City, since 2009, over 2,000 Vietnamese women have married local men. 25% of those have run away.
For some men, buying a bride is still cheaper than trying to find a girlfriend and then giving in to her demands of a grand wedding, buying a new house, etc.
When Zhang Wei turned 25, his parents urged him to go to a matchmaking session 1,800 km away. They gave him 100,000 yuan to find himself a bride. On May 7, 2015, after 50 days of marriage, his wife went missing, leaving Zhang not only with a broken heart but also with debt that he now has to pay off.
What makes finding her even more difficult is that Zhang never learnt her full name (he knew her as Xiao Hong), or her real age (she said she was in her late 20s).
At the matchmaking session, Xiao had not been Zhang’s first choice. He preferred a girl who was less assertive, but was convinced by the matchmaker that Xiao was more suitable for him. Over time, though, he claims he fell in love with Xiao when he saw how respectful she was towards his parents and how helpful around the house and strawberry farm.
Xiao Hong turned out to be a blessing for the entire neighborhood as she got four of her sisters and cousins to marry the bachelor men.
On May 7, the five women left for an outing. They took with them jewellery, cash, electronics and even motorcycles. Since then there has been no news of them. The embarrassed husbands left the village immediately, while their families are asking for compensation from Zhang’s family and blame them for their losses.
Zhang, for his part, can’t seem to get angry with his ‘wife’. “If she were to appear before me now, I couldn’t bear to scold or blame her. I still love her. After all, I did develop true feelings for her,” he said.