She and her mother ran a small clothes shop in their hometown.

Tongtong felt reluctant when the man proposed, but her mother and a matchmaker persuaded her to accept.

A matchmaker persuaded the young woman to accept the man because her mother needed the bride price money. Photo: Shutterstock

The man’s family gave Tongtong’s mother a 270,000-yuan (US$40,000) bride price at the engagement ceremony. The matchmaker received a 4,800 yuan (US$700) fee.

She later told the newspaper Beijing Youth Daily that her daughter did not like the man, who was rude and demanding.

Tongtong wanted to break off the engagement, but the matchmaker dissuaded her, saying her mother, a single parent with six children, needed the money.

Always a considerate eldest daughter, Tongtong dropped out of school to work and help her family financially, and looked after her younger siblings.

The desperate young woman threw herself into the river near her home, 17 days after the engagement.

After Tongtong’s death, her fiancé demanded her mother return the bride price.

She gave him 180,000 yuan, but refused to return the rest because the man lied about his age – he said he was four years older than Tongtong but was in fact eight years her senior.

The man’s family insisted on payment, blocking her shopfront with a car and playing messages in a loop over a loudspeaker, demanding the money. They also asked a local television station to report the story.

The mother, the matchmaker and the man all blamed each other for Tongtong’s death.

“This is such a horror story. The girl is a daughter, a wife-to-be, a good financial resource, but never herself,” one online observer wrote on Weibo.

Forced marriage is not uncommon in China, especially in underdeveloped areas.

In 2020, a 17-year-old girl was made to marry a man she had met only six times.

Forced marriage is not uncommon in underdeveloped parts of rural China. Photo: Shutterstock

She reported it to the local government, which ordered her parents to cancel the engagement and send her back to school.

In urban areas, unmarried women aged over 30 are usually stigmatised as “leftover women”. They also face pressure from their parents.

In 2021, a doctor in Zhejiang province, eastern China told of a patient, a woman in her 30s, who suffered from serious depression because her father said she “dropped in price” the longer she stayed single.

China has seen a persistent decline in marriage rates until last year.

The number of newlywed couples dropped from 13.47 million in 2013 for nine consecutive years to 6.83 million in 2022. It rose to 7.68 million in 2023.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, or you know someone who is, help is available. For Hong Kong, dial +852 2896 0000 for The Samaritans or +852 2382 0000 for Suicide Prevention Services. In the US, call or text 988 or chat 988lifeline.org. For a list of other nations’ helplines, see this page.