According to media reports, in 2018 a couple from the city of Weihai, in China’s Shandong province, reported to the police that their 11-year-old daughter had gone missing on August 28.
For months law enforcement agencies looked for her to no avail, until almost half a year later they received a report that the girl was in a village near Heze City, Juancheng County, 800 kilometres from Weihai.
Upon raiding the suspect’s home, the police found the girl lying on a festively, red-decorated ‘bridal bed.’
The police discovered that the victim had been kidnapped by a child trafficker and sold as a bride to a man surnamed Li for 6,000 Renminbi (approximately US$840).
At first the girl said that she did not want to leave, but was later convinced to be taken back home.
Bride-buying is an old phenomenon in China, related to the country’s patriarchal, Confucian tradition.
In imperial China, the lives of women revolved around their roles as daughters, wives, and mothers, in which the principle of filial piety was the central standard of morality. Confucian scholars regarded obedience and timidity as women’s defining virtues. As Margery Wolf wrote in 1985:
“With a record of male chauvinism extending back at least twenty-two centuries, China has an inheritance of well-worked- out rules to control and confine the inferior sex. In traditional society, even illiterate farmers knew about the Three Obediences by which women were to be governed: as an unmarried girl a woman must obey her father and her brothers; as a married woman she must obey her husband; and as a widow she must obey her adult sons.” (Wolf, 1985, p. 2)
Few occupations were open to women, and most of them were related to procreation and sexual life: prostitution, matchmaking, midwifery, and procuring. In rarer cases, women could become Buddhist or Daoist nuns, or fortune tellers. (Lang, 1946, p. 42)
Bride-buying was a widespread custom. “Marriage by purchase” is the phrase used in The New Book of Tang, a work written during the Song Dynasty (960–1279AD). Indeed, husbands acquired property rights over their wives and could even sell them. (Lang, 1946, p. 37)
Upon seizing power in 1949, one of the goals of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was to reform the traditional Confucian Chinese family by abolishing marriages arranged by parents, concubinage, polygyny, child betrothal, the buying and selling of brides, and the notion that marriage was a material transaction involving money or gifts. (Osburg, 2013, p. 163)
Nevertheless, documented cases show that the practice of buying and selling brides has not been fully eradicated, especially in rural and less developed areas of the country.
In 1999 The Wall Street Journal reported that Vietnamese girls were being kidnapped and sold as brides in China, a phenomenon that continues to this day.
As Inkstone News reported in May 2018: “Unable to find wives at home, Chinese bachelors from poor, rural areas of the country are increasingly looking to purchase women from Southeast Asia for marriage. More than a decade ago, they would have been trafficking women from poorer provinces in China itself.”
In March 2019 Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report condemning the governments of China and Myanmar for failing to “stem the trafficking of ethnic Kachin women and girls as ‘brides’ to families in China.”
Victims told HRW that “trusted people, including family members, promised them jobs in China, but instead sold them for the equivalent of US$3,000 to $13,000 to Chinese families. In China, they were typically locked in a room and raped so they would become pregnant.”
- Lang, O. (1946). Chinese Family and Society. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
- Osburg, J. (2013). Anxious Wealth: Money and Morality among China’s New Rich. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
- Wolf, M. (1985). Revolution Postponed: Women in Contemporary China. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
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