The Four Big Items For My Chinese In-laws’ Marriage

Bicycle, sewing machine, radio and wristwatch, the four big items or si dajian
When my Chinese inlaws married in 1971, the marriage must-haves were a bicycle, sewing machine, radio and wristwatch. (image from

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?

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9 Replies to “The Four Big Items For My Chinese In-laws’ Marriage”

  1. I love reading about your in-laws! It’s interesting to hear what life and marriage was like back in the 70’s and so. Before I was even born. I just hope that after 40 years Chinese people would laugh at house-car-money because in 2050’s everyone is free to marry who they love no matter if they have lots of money or not.

  2. I wouldn’t be surprised if it goes full circle and people start asking for more practical gifts, especially if people continue to struggle to get on the property ladder. The good (or bad) thing about receiving money as a gift is that you can get whatever you want/need with it.

    Personally, I would be more than happy with a new bike and a radio! 🙂

  3. do they know pinyin? can use a computer .. i just had my eyes open to the fact that many earlier generation people never learned pinyin (obviously)

  4. Hi
    Love reading everyones comments, I have some questions.
    Today marriage is a house, car, money and if the young man doesn’t have these “3 big items” the parents of the girl may persuade her to find someone else; was it the same in the 70’s if the man didn’t have the “4 big items”?
    When did house, car, money come into “play” in China? Even in Western societies the chances of a man having all 3 prior to marriage is pretty much imposible.
    If a man needs to have a house, car, money prior to marriage what does the girl bring to the marriage? Does she have some kind of dowry ?

  5. The 4 big items, as my mom always reminds me, consist of the earrings, the ring, the necklace and bracelet, all in gold. I certainly do not recall anything about the big items being the car, house etc.

  6. My wife and I pretty much had nothing when we got married (well, I had my car, but it was 8000 miles away). She just wanted a nice rented place to live and to take care of her mom.

  7. Personally, I feel that it doesn’t matter how much money you make or have in the bank account. It’s how you use money to make you happy. Finding a woman who really knows that concept and down to earth is hard. Normally, Chinese people give gold on wedding day.

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