Curbing costly rural customs
Over the past year, rural governance has helped tamp down customs that have negative effects on society, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs said on Friday.
Expensive dowries and extravagant ceremonies such as weddings and funerals are prevalent in some rural areas in the country, causing economic and mental burdens for villagers.
"In the past, everyone hated bad customs, but no one was able to get rid of them," said Zhang Tianzuo, director of the ministry's department of rural cooperative economy.
"These unhealthy cultures cannot be broken by one family. It requires the whole reconstruction of rural culture."
Village autonomy, which lets villagers decide the standards and rules of rural ceremonies through consultations, is an effective way to solve the problem, Zhang said.
A special council will organize villagers to draw up standards, such as setting the maximum number of guests at an event and the amount of money that can be given as gifts, based on local conditions.
County-level authorities are planning campaigns to regulate rural ceremonies and formulate preferential policies and restrictive measures.
Furthermore, rural authorities should provide public services such as holding mass weddings and dealing with funerals in a simple way to form healthy customs.
The rule of "no betrothal gifts" is popular in Hejian, Hebei province, according to a report released by the Ministry of Civil Affairs.
Shi Jing, from Dazhuang village in Hejian, did not ask for a dowry from her fiance. She also volunteered to cancel a big banquet on their wedding day and refused guests' cash gifts.
"Many people think the dowry they ask shows how much the man respects his fiancee. I don't care about the form, and there's no need to add to our parents' burdens," she said.
Last year, 149 of 3,860 new couples in Hejian married without dowry, the civil affairs ministry said.
This year's No 1 Central Document－a signature document released by the central government each year－stated that China should continue to improve rural customs and promote the local council that is responsible for weddings and funerals.
Customs such as expensive dowries and extravagant ceremonies should be regulated to cultivate a positive country lifestyle, it said.
Villagers' expenses on weddings and funerals have dropped dramatically in recent years thanks to such regulations, according to a rural governance guideline recently released by the agriculture ministry.
Take Feixiang district in Handan, Hebei province, as an example. Villagers there now spend an average of 20,000 yuan to 30,000 yuan ($3,100 to $4,700) on a wedding, a huge drop compared with before. In addition, the cost of funerals has fallen to less than 5,000 yuan, one-sixth of the previous amount.
Mao Dezhi, deputy director of the department of rural cooperative economy, said the habits in many places like Feixiang have been greatly improved, and local authorities have effectively controlled the spread of some unhealthy customs.