They also provided an opportunity for the groom’s family to display its affluence and glory in its prestige in the community. The splendour of these occasions was a severe burden on a family’s resources… An additional expense was the gifts to the bride’s family, the betrothal presents, which were a thinly disguised price for the person of the daughter-in-law and a clear indication of her total subservience to her new family.

This article is about women in ancient China and their wedding ceremonies. I believe "for the person of the daughter-in-law" here is the bride. But what is the meaning of "a thinly disguised price"? Is it indicating that the gift is equal to the bride?

Source: https://www.ancient.eu/article/1136/women-in-ancient-china/

2 Answers 2


Thinly disguised (usually hyphenated) is used to describe something that is officially/formally said to be one thing, but that most reasonable people would recognise as actually being something else.

In this specific context, the notable items are the expensive gifts. They are officially gifts (i.e. optional items given to the bride's family, in celebration of the occasion); but the article implies that they are actually expected to be given, as a payment for the bride.

The value of the gifts is the price that has been paid to the bride's family, by the groom's family, in exchange for the bride's lifetime commitment of marital servitude.

The expectation that the bride's family should receive a payment is an unwritten/unspoken rule, and referring to these payments as gifts lends a veneer of traditional respectability to the process of buying another human being.

You may also see the term thinly-veiled, which might be a little too on-the-nose for an article about weddings. Something that is thinly-disguised may also said to be something, in all but name (e.g. these "gifts" are a payment, in all but name).

A similar practice of exchanging goods or money in return for marrying into a family is referred to as a dowry, but that is more-specifically where a bride (or bride's family) gives money to a groom, in payment for taking on caring for the bride.

  • 1
    Interesting+1 That's why it ( "buying" the opposite sex ) is called thinly disguised price?
    – user17814
    Commented Jul 24, 2019 at 23:46
  • 11
    No, it is thinly-disguised because it is said to be a gift, but is actually a payment (and everyone knows it is really a payment). Commented Jul 25, 2019 at 0:28
  • 1
    It's also probably a reference to the concept of bride price.
    – bdsl
    Commented Jul 25, 2019 at 10:51

It's an awkwardly-written sentence. I would not have chosen to use "price" but rather "payment". In this context, "price" would refer to how much the family wants the groom to "pay" for the bride, like a metaphorical "price tag" on her forehead. "Payment" refers to the amount actually paid to meet that price.

The sentence is supposed to mean that these so-called "gifts" actually represent the value of the "purchase price" of the bride, although they are "disguised" to make it look like she is not actually being sold.

Although this idea of "bride price" is old-fashioned, someone cynical might say it still exists today in the custom of the engagement ring, calling this a "thinly-disguised bribe" (to assure the bride and her family that the groom is financially solvent).


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