It’s Cold Cash, Not Cold Feet, Motivating Runaway Brides in China
XIN’AN VILLAGE, HANZHONG, China – With no eligible women in his village, Zhou Pin, 27 years old, thought he was lucky to find a pretty bride whom he met and married within a week, following the custom in rural China.
Ten days later, Cai Niucuo vanished, leaving behind her clothes and identity papers. She did not, however, leave behind her bride price: 38,000 yuan, or about $5,500, which Mr. Zhou and his family had scrimped and borrowed to put together.
When Mr. Zhou reported his missing spouse to authorities, he found his situation wasn’t unique. In the first two months of this year, Hanzhong town saw a record number of scams designed to extract high bride prices in a region with an oversupply of bachelors.
The fleeing Mrs. Zhou was one of 11 runaway brides – hardly the isolated case or two that the town had seen in years past. The local phenomenon has fueled broader speculation among officials that the fast-footed wives may be part of a larger criminal ring.
“She called me soon after she left,” says Mr. Zhou, a slight man with a tentative smile. He says she asked how he was doing, and apologized for the hardship she had caused. "I told her, ‘I will see you again one day.’ "
Thanks to its 30-year-old population-planning policy and customary preference for boys, China has one of the largest male-to-female ratios in the world. Using data from the 2005 China census – the most recent – a study published in last month’s British Journal of Medicine estimates there was a surplus of 32 million males under the age of 20 at the time the census was taken. That’s roughly the size of Canada’s population.