A girl from a farming family got a special gift from her parents when she got married last year -- a four-wheel-drive truck.
"I hope my daughter and son-in-law can make some money by trucking farm produce to sell in downtown areas," said the girl's father, a farmer in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, a major Muslim community in northwest China.
But the bride was not envied by her peers, most of whom get expensive dowry items from their well-off parents nowadays. From telephones to refrigerators, ventilators to computers, they can expect anything in fashion in large cities.
"It's the Chinese custom to give a decent dowry when a daughter gets married," said Wang Sumei, president of the women's federation in Pingluo County, "The different dowry items parents can afford over past decades mirrored the people's improved quality of life."
A sewing machine or a bicycle used to make a decent dowry when a daughter got married in the 1970s.
"Not every family could afford such luxury in those days," Wang recalled. "A sewing machine was coveted by many, as you could tailor new clothes with it -- few people ever bought ready-made clothes back then."
A bicycle, according to Wang, was even more of a castle in the air for the poor farmers, most of whom were used to walking long distances carrying heavy loads on their backs.
The reform and opening up, starting from the late 1970s, boosted the farmers' enthusiasm in agricultural production and helped them get richer. "Wristwatches and tape recorders were included as ideal choices for dowry," she said.
The booming market economy kept upgrading the farmers' lifestyles in the 1990s, when daughters could get furniture, motorcycles, color televisions and VCD players as their dowry.
"Regardless of its value, a dowry tells of parents' love and best regards for their children," said Wang, who has lived in Pingluo County for decades. "Be it a truck or a bicycle, it conveys the parents' everlasting wishes for the young people to enjoy better life."
(Xinhua News Agency September 13, 2002)