Traditional Chinese Marriage Custom2016-04-19 10:37:30Share:
Traditional Chinese marriage became customary during the Warring States period (476-221 BC). The Han Chinese was the main body of China. Although the detailed customs were varied due to people from different places they followed common practice in general. Traditional Chinese marriage custom was rather complicated so very few modern Chinese people seriously follow the old practice and the traditional marriage customs are much simplified.
In ancient time, a marriage would be arranged by parents instead of the boy and the girl. Only after a matchmaker's introduction and when parents considered the two family conditions were similar and matched they would agree, the marriage procedures could continue. Family conditions included wealth and social status. In China there is a saying: Bamboo gate to bamboo gate, wood gate to wood gate which means the people will marry the partner with the same social class.
There are some cases that the marriage was arranged when both the bride and the groom were very young or even not born. The two families with two pregnant mothers will make the promise that when the babies are born, if they both were boys or girls, they would become brothers or sisters and if one baby was a boy and the other a girl, they would get married. Hence the saying: pointing to the bosom as a marriage promise. However, some times when the boy grew up, his family may have fallen from prestige so the girl's family may refuse to let them get married. There are numerous folktales of tragedies from the arranged marriage. However, there are also many happy endings of the arranged marriage. Anyway it was the fact of life at that time.
The "Three Letters” and “Six Etiquettes"
The "Three Letters" included the Betrothal Letter, Gift Letter and Wedding Letter. The Betrothal Letter was the formal document of the engagement and it is one must in a marriage. Next was the Gift Letter, which was given to the girl's family. The letter would list the types and quantity of gifts presented to the girl's family. The Wedding Letter was prepared and presented to the bride's family on the day of the wedding and was a document that confirmed the formal acceptance of the bride into the bridegroom's family.
The "Six Etiquettes"
Proposing: Once an unmarried boy's parents looked out for a girl as their ideal future daughter-in-law they would then invite a matchmaker. Proposals were the specialties of the matchmakers who were mainly women. The matchmaker would formally present his or her client's request to the girl's parents. If successful the matchmaker would be rewarded by the boy's family.
Birthday matching: If the potential bride's parents did not object to the marriage, the matchmaker would then ask for the girl's birthday and birth-hour to assure the compatibility of the potential bride and bridegroom. If the couple's birthdays and birth-hours did not conflict according to astrology, the marriage would continue onto the next stage. If there was any sign of serious astrological conflict, which meant the marriage would bring disaster upon both families, the proposed marriage would finish.
Presenting betrothal gifts: Once both birthdays matched, the bridegroom's family would then arrange for the matchmaker to present betrothal gifts adhere with the betrothal letter to the bride's family.
Presenting wedding gifts: After the betrothal letter and betrothal gifts were accepted, the bridegroom's family would later formally send wedding gifts to the bride's family. Usually, gifts may include tea, lotus seeds, different fruits, wine, jewelry and brocades depending on local customs and family wealth.
Wedding date selection: The parents would consult an astrologist or astrology book to select an auspicious date to hold the wedding ceremony. The bride's family would prepare dowry for the girl. Usually the bride's dowry should be sent to the bridegroom's family by the day before the wedding day. Sometimes the dowry would be brought by the bride's escorts. The dowry indicated the bride's family social status and wealth and they would be displayed in the boy's home. Generally the dowry was profuse. A traditional dowry normally consisted of valuable items such as jewelry, brocades, silk, kitchen utensils and furniture. The symbolic dowry was also prepared such as scissors like two butterflies never separating, rulers indicating acres of fields, and vases for peace and wealth. Dowry also changed with time passing by. For example, dozens of years ago, a sewing machine, a bicycle, and a recorder were musts in a marriage. Now, they are totally out of fashion.
Wedding ceremony: At dawn on the wedding day and after a bath, the bride put on new clothes, wore a pair of red shoes and waited for the so-called "good luck woman" to dress her hair in the style of a married woman. The first combing symbolizes: from beginning till the end. The second combing symbolizes: harmony from now till old age. The third combing symbolizes: sons and grandsons all over the place. The fourth combing stands for: good wealth and a long-lasting marriage.
The Bride would be dressed in red because red color meant good luck and happiness. Her head would be covered with a red silk veil with tassels. She waited for her future husband to escort her home, with married women talking around about how to be a good wife.
On the other hand, the bridegroom prepared himself to receive his wife. He got capped and dressed in a long gown, red shoes and a red silk sash with a silk ball on his chest. The groom knelt at the ancestral altar as his father put a cap decorated with cypress leaves on his head to declare his adulthood and his family responsibility.
Then the bridegroom set out to receive his bride. Usually a crowd of friends escort the bridegroom and musicians play joyful tunes during the entire trip. Dancing lions, if any, preceded the troop. In ancient times, a bridal sedan chair would be used to carry the bride. A child carried a bridal box among the people, reflecting the bridegroom's expectation to have a child in the near future.
The most interesting part of the reception really took place at the doorstep of the bride's residence, which was heavily guarded by the bridesmaid or the bride's sisters. It was customary for the bridesmaid to give the bridegroom a difficult time before he was allowed to enter. Usually wisdom, courage and his friends would help the bridegroom to succeed in his "trial". However, there was one more situation he had to negotiate with the bridesmaid and sisters of the bride - to distribute among them red packets containing money - in order to take his bride home.
Before the bride departed to the bridegroom's home, the "good luck woman" would lead her to the sedan chair. On her way to the chair, one of her sisters would shield her with a red parasol, while another sister will throw rice at the sedan chair. At the back of the sedan hang a sieve and metallic mirror that were believed to protect the bride from evil. The bride had to cry to show that she was reluctant to leave her parents.
Then firecrackers would be set off to drive away evil spirits as the bride sits into the sedan chair. All along the way people made great efforts to avoid any inauspicious influence. For instance, the sedan chair was heavily curtained to prevent the bride from seeing an unlucky sight (e.g. a widow, a well or even a cat). When the wedding procession arrived at the bridegroom's family, firecrackers would be set off to hail the bride's arrival. Before the sedan chair a red mat was placed so that the bride will not touch the bare earth. By the threshold, a flaming stove and saddle would be set up and the bride is required to step over them to avoid evils.
The wedding ceremony was the focus of interest. The bride and bridegroom were led to the family altar, where the couple kowtowed to Heaven and Earth, the family ancestors and parents successively. They then bowed to each other and were led to the bridal chamber. The ceremony proceeded under the direction of the emcee and applauses of the guests. The bridal chamber would be well decorated with pictures and paper-cuts with auspicious motif. The bridal bed would be installed at the correct place on a selected day before the wedding day. The bridal bed would be scattered with symbolic and lucky fruits. Nobody was allowed to touch the bed until the couple enters the bridal chamber after the wedding ceremony. Children would then be invited onto the bed to bless the couple with fertility.
Afterwards, a grand feast is held for relatives, friends, and those who helped with the wedding. The newlywed couple would drink wedding wine. Generally they were required to cross their arms to sip wine. They also would toast their guests. Guests expressed their good wishes for the couple even though the bridegroom was trying to be humble while acting embarrassed.
Teasing games in the bridal chamber
After night falls, the teasing games start. Usually all young men could participate except for the bride's married brothers-in-laws. These funny and silly games helped ease the tension, since in ancient times the newly weds never met each other before the wedding. Most of the games require the shy couple to act like wife and husband. The festive atmosphere also promoted closeness among all the family members and the community beyond. There also would be other activities conducted by the bridegroom's mother after the roaring laughter fades into the darkness.
The next day morning the bride should get up earlier to prepare breakfast for her parents in law to show her filial and piety.
Bride returning home three days later
Three days after the wedding, the bride is expected to return to her family. The bride will bring along roasted pig and gifts for the family. Some regions require that the groom accompany her while some didn't. Nonetheless, this is probably the last chance the bride gets to see her parents. Therefore, she will bring along a lot of gifts for the family and she may even stay for a couple of days or even more.
As a tradition, the bride's family will also return part of the gifts to the groom's family as a courtesy. Some regional custom requires that the family should return the head and tail of the roasted pig to the groom's family symbolizing the good beginning and end of the wedding.
Traditional Chinese marriage custom has changed too much today. A lot of old complicated customs are overleaped. New forms for wedding become popular. Young people can arrange their marriage and wedding considerably freely but their parents’ advice is still important. A lot of couples choose traveling wedding even collective wedding. Most of them will go to nice hotels or restaurants to hold the wedding ceremony. Some of them even go to church to hold the wedding ceremony. During last few years the traditional wedding ceremony seems revives because it is attractive to some young people.
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