My Chinese in-laws married in 1971. Back then, marriage wasn’t house, car and money — it was bicycle, sewing machine, wristwatch and radio, the si dajian (四大件, four big items).
My Chinese father-in-law grinned as he recalled that time. “These were the kinds of things that gave you ‘face’ in your wedding. They were considered hard for people to afford then. Not everyone had them. If you couldn’t afford them, you would even borrow money to get them! Nowadays, it’s silly to imagine this. Everyone wants a home and a car and money for their wedding.”
So I asked if he borrowed money to buy his si dajian. “Eh! I had to borrow from another teacher at my school. It took me two to three years just to pay him back. The sewing machine cost 145 RMB or so. The bicycle 100 or so. The wristwatch 50 RMB, radio maybe 20, maybe 50. But back then I only earned 20 RMB a month! It look me more than half a year just to get one sewing machine!”
My Chinese mother-in-law, lounging on a cot in the corner of our dining room as she played with sister-in-law’s baby, bust out in laughter the entire time he told me all of this.
Which makes me wonder — 40 years later, will we be laughing in the corner over China’s modern marriage must-haves, the house, car and money?
What do you think?