Centuries ago, the Chinese customs of dowry exchange was still practiced religiously albeit with variations depending on the financial circumstances surrounding the couple.
The traditional culture was that women were considered as property, and allowing a daughter to marry into the family of a son implies that the husband’s family has to make a form of “payment” in exchange for the daughter.
That was the basis of the traditional dowry exchange.
But in modern times, as gender equality has become a worldwide movement, it is degrading to associate women as being property.
For this reason, even though the groom’s family will still offer gifts to the bride’s family, the underlying meaning behind it is no longer a representation of exchange or purchase.
It is more symbolic of gratitude and appreciation to the bride’s family for bringing up the daughter and accepting the husband in the family.
So even though the word dowry exchange is still used today by Chinese, it is more due to it being a phrase that stuck rather than them feeling that they are buying the wife as property.
As what betrothal gift items actually makes up dowry gifts is slowly getting lost in history with each passing moment, it is important clarify what actually makes up the traditional set of dowry gifts.
1) Baked pastry
As basked pastry is a very common snack for everyone in ancient China, offering it as gifts is akin to signifying a lifetime supply of food.
Cookies are the most commonly used.
No festivities are complete without some candies.
In this case, it is meant to represent a lifetime of sweet happiness for the couple.
3) Chinese wine
Chinese wine represents the love between the young couple as being deep and worthy of celebration festivities.
As chinese wine might be difficult to source these days, alternatives are wine, champagne, herbal liqueur,etc.
Just please don’t send beer.
As the Chinese traditionally prefer sons than daughters due to the perceived need to carry on the family’s name, coconuts are presented to symbolize the married couple having a son.
No almond nuts, no walnuts, cashew nuts or green peas.
Like baked pastries, bread is also an everyday food staple of people in general.
Thus, it is also meant to symbolize a lifetime of food without having to go hungry.
Fresh fruits represent a healthy lifestyle of the husband, which enhances his vitality.
Thus, improving the chances of having a son.
Popular fruits include the orange, apples and peaches.
And no. No durians.
Meat, especially pork used to be a food that only the wealthy were able to afford.
The offering of pork is meant to communicate to the bride’s family that their daughter is in safe hands and will not have to worry about financial problems.
There is a lot of rituals associated with chickens throughout the process of the marriage.
Some of which are too disturbing to detail.
The gist is that they are meant seek heaven’s approval in the bond between the man and woman.
As stated earlier, times have changed.
These days it serves as a symbolic monument of the absence of divine objection to the wedding of the couple.
9) Red packets
Red packets is a must and giving it is one of the most symbolic gestures still practiced today in a lot of events.
People still give red packets for events like house warming, baby shower, and any type of activities associated with celebrations.
Red packets can be filled with money or even jewelry, preferably in gold.
Like pork, seafood used to be affordable only to the rich or well-established.
It’s a status symbol to be able to have a seafood dinner.
So in this case, it is also representative of wealth and a life of no financial problems.
11) Sticky rice balls
Sticky rice balls represents the couple’s willingness to stick together through thick and thin.
A sign that they would enjoy bliss and happiness together as one.
12) Tea leaves
Tea ceremonies are part of Chinese culture and rituals for centuries.
It denotes respect to elders for their blessing towards a marriage that would last the test of time.
Other gift items
While the above is a list of customary gift items that a husband’s family would offer to the wife’s family, it must be noted that times have changed and most couples don’t give the complete set of items anymore.
Not due to the reason of disrespecting culture, but due to changes in modern times.
Some only give a portion of the items as other items are just not practical anymore.
Some give the complete set with more items on top of them to show their gratitude.
For example, other items that often accompany the gifts include dates, peanuts, chicken essence, bird’s nests, etc.
So while the above is the traditional list of dowry items, it is up to your to decide what to give, what not to, and what else to give.
At least with this checklist, you can know for sure if there’s is anything that you don’t want to mistakenly miss out.