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In the villages outside of Handan, China, a bachelor looking to marry a local girl needs to have as much as $64,000 — the price tag for a suitable home and obligatory gifts. That’s a bit out of the price range of many of the farmers who live in the area. So in recent years, according to the Beijing News, local men have been turning to a Vietnamese marriage broker, paying as much as $18,500 for an imported wife, complete with a money-back guarantee in case the bride fled.

But that fairy tale soon fell apart. On the morning of Nov. 21, sometime after breakfast, as many as 100 of Handan’s Vietnamese wives — together with the broker — disappeared. It was a peculiarly Chinese instance of fraud. The victims are a local subset of a fast-growing underclass: millions of poor, mostly rural men, who can’t meet familial and social expectations that a man marry and start a family because of the country’s skewed demographics. In January, the director of China’s National Bureau of Statistics announced that China is home to 33.8 million more men than women out of a population exceeding 1.3 billion.

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