The Fascinating Traditions of Traditional Chinese Marriage

Wedding procession of the Guangxu Emperor, 1889 Weddings are a celebration of love and commitment, and nowhere is this more evident than in traditional Chinese marriage ceremonies. Traditional Chinese marriage rituals are not just about...

Traditional Chinese wedding Wedding procession of the Guangxu Emperor, 1889

Weddings are a celebration of love and commitment, and nowhere is this more evident than in traditional Chinese marriage ceremonies. Traditional Chinese marriage rituals are not just about the union between two individuals, but also the joining of two families. They are steeped in rich cultural significance and have deep-rooted traditions that have been passed down through generations.

The Origins of Traditional Chinese Marriage

Wedding procession of the Guangxu Emperor Wedding procession of the Guangxu Emperor

The history of traditional Chinese marriage dates back to ancient times. From the end of primitive society to the establishment of the Zhou dynasty, various rituals and customs were developed to signify the importance of marriage. These rituals, known as the "three letters and six rituals," showcased the significance that the ancients placed on marriage. Monogamy, remarriage, and divorce also held unique places in traditional Chinese marriage culture.

The Role of Marriage in a Confucian Context

Ruyi (wish granting scepter) used in Empress Xiaoding's wedding Ruyi (wish granting scepter) used in Empress Xiaoding's wedding

In Confucian thought, marriage holds immense importance for both families and society. It is seen as a crucial element for the cultivation of virtue. Traditional Chinese marriage brings together families of different surnames, continuing the family line of the paternal clan. This is why giving birth to a son is traditionally preferred over a daughter. The benefits and demerits of any marriage are significant not just for the couple but for the entire family and society.

The Role of Women in Traditional Chinese Marriages

Traditional Chinese wedding dresses Traditional Chinese wedding dresses

In traditional Chinese society, women had to leave their families and become daughters-in-law, subject to the authority of their husband's mother. They were expected to produce a male heir, and failure to do so could lead to the addition of secondary wives or concubines to the family. The lack of economic independence for women meant that their labor focused on household duties, without bringing in income. They had minimal property rights and were largely illiterate in rural areas.

While both male and female were deemed necessary and complementary, women were expected to be obedient and passive. They were expected to follow strict behavioral norms of obedience and passivity. These norms placed women subordinate to men from infancy, through their roles as wives and mothers. Women were seen as destabilizers, and although they promised descendants, they also posed a constant threat to the bond of obedience between parents and sons.

Ancient Chinese Marriages

In ancient China, marriages took place at a relatively young age. Women would marry soon after puberty, and men would marry a few years later. Mythology surrounding the marriage of sister and brother Nüwa and Fu Xi tells the story of how they invented proper marriage procedures. This story symbolizes the importance of marriage in society and the customs that were established to honor it.

Traditional Chinese marriages included various rituals and etiquettes. The six basic procedures included the proposal of marriage, requesting birthdates, exchanging betrothal gifts, presenting wedding gifts, arranging the wedding date, and finally, fetching the bride in person. These ceremonies varied in detail but were significant in the traditional Chinese marriage process.

Modern Practices and Changes in Chinese Marriage

A collective wedding in Chungking in 1941 A collective wedding in Chungking in 1941

In recent years, there have been changes in traditional Chinese marriage practices due to the influence of modernization and globalization. Couples now create elaborate wedding albums with many different outfits and scenic locations. Confucian wedding rituals, which emphasize the importance of faithfulness within a married couple, have become popular among Chinese couples.

Divorce, which was rare during the Mao era, has become more common in contemporary China. Amendments to the Marriage Law in 2001 made it easier to obtain a divorce, and the divorce rate has increased since then. This rise in divorce rates has led to public discussions about the lack of effort in marriage maintenance and the importance of communication and understanding between couples.

The Legacy of Traditional Chinese Marriage

The bride and groom get married in the presence of their relatives, friends, and the matchmaker The bride and groom get married in the presence of their relatives, friends, and the matchmaker

Traditional Chinese marriage customs continue to influence Chinese culture and society today. They reflect the values and beliefs held by the Chinese people, emphasizing the importance of family, respect, and responsibility. While modernization has brought changes to marriage practices, the rich heritage of traditional Chinese marriage remains an integral part of Chinese culture.

In Conclusion

Traditional Chinese marriage is a fascinating blend of customs and rituals that reflect the importance of family, tradition, and commitment. It showcases the deep-rooted values and beliefs of the Chinese people. While the practices may have evolved over time, traditional Chinese marriage remains a cherished part of Chinese culture, embodying the essence of love, union, and family.

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