The Attitude Towards Marriage During the Qing Dynasty2016-06-08 15:08:00Share:
In ancient Chinese concept, marriage was not exclusively defined as the union of two heterosexual individuals of their own choice in traditional China, but rather as the reunion of two clans represented by bridegroom and bride.
Therefore the normal marriage was acknowledged and legitimized in the principle of “dictating from parents and facilitation from the go-between” (父母之命, 媒妁之言).
Compared to the introduction of the go-between, the dictates of parents are obligatory conditions that validate or invalidate a marriage of their kids.
As stated in one of the earliest Confucian classics, “it is the obligation to consult the agreement of one’s parent when marrying a wife” and “it is not acknowledged when the marriage is not facilitated by introduction of the go-between”.
This tradition of marriage dictated by the orders of parents had become influential in imperial China from the Qin Dynasty (秦朝) to the end of the Qing Dynasty (清朝) till the Republic of China (中华民国) legally prohibited it. Either in Confucian ethics or conventional legality, the privilege of legitimizing a marriage was exclusively monopolized in the hands of parents.
If the marriage agreement were achieved by both parents of two marriage parties, there should be no alteration by the protests of their kids. So as the young, humble and powerless kids, their rights to free marriage had been naturally abrogated by their powerful parents.
Another serious constraint on free marriage was the concept of “equal match between the male and the female regarding their economic and social conditions” (门当户对).
Respectively, the marriage dictated by agreement between the parents of marriage parties was termed “marriage contracted by heteronomy” (包办婚姻), and the marriage matched by economic conditions was termed as “marriage calculated by price” (maimai hunyin买卖婚姻).
In either case, marriage evidenced no autonomy of the male and female parties. And such marriage traditions still have significant impacts on rural areas in contemporary China.
In the Qing Dynasty, even if the children were adults or served as officials in other places, the marriages agreed to by their parents at home were still authoritative and effective to them.
If these children reported their own chosen marriages, intending to revoke the marriage arranged by their parents, they were subject to punishment from eighty to a hundred stick floggings by law. But if the parents violated the conventions or regulations in the marriage for their children, they were also liable to receive punishment.
As a standard conventional law, children in a family did not have rights to decide upon their own marriage and instead parents held the rights to arrange the marriage of their children.
The principle of “uniting two clans by marriage” was exclusively reserved for parents as “head of the household” (家长). As such, these rights were turned into patriarchal powers to control the marriage process and its essence. Such privilege was also called the “powers to manipulate marriage” (主婚权), presumably affiliated to the clan chieftains in all previous legalities and conventions.
The powers to manipulate marriage in the Qing Codes and Cases were distinctively stipulated to the supremacy of “head of the household”: The marriage of both male and female descendents should be exclusively manipulated by their grandparents and parents.
In this case whereby both grandparents and parents are dead, the relatives at the grandparents or parents generation should be responsible for the marriage of the offspring of the clan.
And if a widow remarried to another family with her own daughter, the mother was legally accountable for her own daughter’s marriage.
Still the domination over the marriage of the younger generation by their elder relatives was gradually weakened by their kinship to the parties in the principle of five-types in dressing-service.
That is, the orders of zhancui斩衰, qicui齐衰, dagong大功, xiaogong小功and sima缌麻were legally accountable for their preference in manipulating the marriage of the clan, and any violating the orders in manipulating marriage for the clan members should be punished according to the interpretations of the propriety.
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