Volume 11, Issue 4 p. 637-658


Yunxiang Yan

Corresponding Author

Yunxiang Yan

University of California, Los Angeles

Department of Anthropology, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles CA, 90095-1553, USA. [email protected]Search for more papers by this author
First published: 08 November 2005
Citations: 27


Drawing on data collected from longitudinal fieldwork, this article explores how the practice of bridewealth in a north China village has been transformed into a new form of property division within the groom's family and how the bride has replaced her parents as the recipient of bridewealth. At the individual level, this transformation has evolved through a long process during which individual brides and grooms negotiated with their parents over control of bridewealth. A misunderstanding about Western individualism provides village youths with a new ideological tool to justify their relentless extraction of money from their parents. At the level of family life, the changing norm of bridewealth has shaped and in turn has helped to re-shape mate choice, family division, and support for the elderly. These family changes occurred within the context of other social changes at the macro level and are closely linked to the role of the powerful state. While emphasizing the active role of the individual in transforming the practice of bridewealth, an important phenomenon that by and large has been overlooked in most studies of marriage transactions, the article also examines the specific strategies by which individuals exercise their agency, choosing to take advantage of the custom of bridewealth instead of abandoning it when it affords them greater autonomy in mate choice and marriage negotiations.