Wedding in modern China is a mixture of contemporary and ancient traditions. In order to understand them better, let’s have a look at what Chinese wedding was like many years ago.
In the past marriages were arranged by parents with the help of special match-makers. They were pretty much like dating services today. Young man’s parents asked match-maker to find a good girl for their son. After the choice was made, the match-maker would approach girl’s family to make a proposal.
But there was one important issue to take care of – check for compatibility of guy’s and girl’s zodiacs. Some zodiac pairs are believed to be incompatible. For example, because of the Chinese idiom 鸡犬不宁(“ji quan bu ning”) literally translated “rooster and dog – no quiet” and used to describe two people who always fight – the zodiacs of Rooster and Dog is a bad match. For similar reasons rare are the marriages between Dragon and Tiger , Goat and Tiger, Snake and Rat. Such pairs are discarded almost automatically. However, for a better match parents would seek for professional advice from fortune-tellers who check the exact days and hours of birthdays.
Both families collect the information about each other to make sure that they meet mutual expectations of social, economical and educational background.
If they are satisfied the negotiations are held to figure out the “bridal price” to be paid to girl’s family. Once the agreement is made a ceremonial exchange of gifts takes place.
First the groom-to-be sends money and presents to the girl’s family: jewelry, clothes, food, alcohol and special bridal cakes.
In their turn the bride’s-to-be side ships bedding sets, quilts, embroidery made by the girl and some food.
After that the guy’s family will give a special certificate as an evidence of engagement. The engagement is formalized when the girl’s family returns a confirmation paper.
Now it’s time to choose the proper day and hour of the wedding. Numbers and dates have a special meaning for Chinese and the best time for the wedding is calculated very carefully.
In the morning of the wedding day a procession carrying red sedan is departing from the groom’s house. This sedan with a chair for a bride is held by 4 or 8 people depending on its size. It is accompanied by people playing different musical instruments and carrying a red lantern. As the sedan leaves – groom’s family lights fireworks.
Firecrackers are also set off in bride’s house to welcome the arriving procession. But the house’s gate is closed and the groom must pass different challenges in order to get access to bride’s room. However the easier way to take the bride is to “bribe” her friends with little red envelopes (prepared for this occasion in advance).
Even if the girl is very happy the customs require from her to shed tears and pretend to be unwilling to leave her parents, while a “good luck woman” from groom’s side urges her to hurry up. Bride’s mother also plays her role which consists of giving advice and wishes mixed with nagging and tears.
When bride leaves parents’ house her face is covered with traditional red cloth. Her elder brother or cousin helps her to get into sedan. As the firecrackers are lit again and sedan begins its journey back to groom’s house the bride makes every effort not to move since there is an old belief that the steadier she seats in that chair the more stable her future marriage will be.
When procession finally stops, groom lightly kicks the chair three times and helps the bride to get down. He however does not take her hand, but holds red ribbon other edge of which he gives to a girl. In such way he carefully leads his bride (whose face is still covered) to the hall where the wedding ceremony takes place.
While the preparations are long the ceremony itself is quite simple. It virtually consists of the “three bows ritual”. Groom and bride first bow to Heaven and Earth, then to parents and finally they turn and bow to each other. This bow is analogous to rings exchange in Western tradition and from this moment they are husband and wife.
After that guests begin the wedding banquet while newly weds go to their bedroom where they enjoy food and drinks prepared for them in advance. Later guy would go out to toast the guests.
Next morning young family will pay a visit to wife’s parents.
Today, even if one of the weds is foreigner the elements of ancient Chinese customs can be combined with the western style wedding as described in one popular site:
First, perform traditional Chinese rituals at home, e.g., hair-dressing ritual, tea ceremony, etc. Then after the bride has served tea to her in-laws and bowed to the ancestral tablets, proceed to the church to exchange wedding vows. After the banquet, you can continue to have the traditional bridal chamber party.
Fascinated with ancient Chinese customs, Crystal Tao