Emily: Traditional Chinese WeddingsPresentation Transcript
Traditional Chinese Weddings Emily LeBeau
I would love to go visit China with in a few years.
It has great culture and beautiful architecture and their arts and paintings are gorgeous. China seems like an over all awesome place to go explore. They seem like very nice people too!
Traditional Chinese Weddings
Systemization of apparently pre-existing elements of traditional Chinese wedding ceremony is generally credited to scholars of the Warring States period , 402-221 B.C.Three venerable texts, The Book of Rites , The Book of Etiquette and Ceremonial , and the Baihu Tong outline the Three Covenants and the Six Rites, that were considered necessary elements of a marriage.
However, the full ritual was so complicated that even within the span of the Warring States period, the etiquette underwent changes and simplification.
What remained constant were the chief objectives :
joining and enhancing the two families and ensuring succession with numerous descendants.
Reverence to parents and ancestors, omens to encourage fertility and wealth, financial and social obligations contracted by both families at the betrothal, extensive gift giving etiquette, and the bride’s incorporation into her husband’s family are recurring elements.
2,400 years of tradition
Chinese Wedding Proposal
The process began with an elaborate marriage proposal and acceptance. This process was placed in the hands of a go-between, who acted as a buffer between the two parties – a role similar to that of a real estate agent today. The important parties in proposal and betrothal negotiations were the parents of the prospective bride and groom, rather than the bride and groom themselves.
“ Marriage was for continuing the ancestral line and creating alliances between families –; too important a duty to be left in the rash hands of the young," Costa explains.”
When the boy’s parents identified a likely bride-to-be, they would send the go-between to present gifts to the girl’s parents and to sound out their feelings about the match. If the proposal was well-received, the go-between would obtain the date and hour of the girl’s birth recorded on a formal document .
The groom’s family would place this document on the ancestral altar for three days. If no inauspicious omens, e.g. quarrels between the parents or a loss of property, took place within that time, the parents would give the information to a astrological expert to confirm that the young woman and their son would make a good match. If the boy’s family found the horoscope to be favorable, they gave the boy’s birth date and hour to the go-between to bring to the girl’s family, who would go through the same process.
Only after both outcomes were favorable , would the two families arrange to meet. Finally face-to-face, each family evaluated the other in terms of appearance, education, character, and social position. If both were satisfied they would procede to the betrohal.
First both sets of parents exchanged family credentials as tokens of intention. Then, after extensive bargaining ,the two families would arrive at the amount of money and goods that would make up the gift to the girl’s family.
After presenting engagement tokens , the go-between would ask the bride’s family to chose among several auspicious wedding dates suggested by the boy’s family and also set a date for presenting betrothal gifts.
The boy’s family presented betrothal gifts of money and significant items such as tea, "Dragon (male) and Phoenix (female)" bridal cakes, pairs of male and female poultry, sweetmeats and sugar, wine and tobacco, accompanied by an itemized statement of these gifts. Tea was such a primary part of these gifts in some areas that they were known collectively as cha-li , that is, "tea presents." The girl’s family reciprocated with gifts of food and clothing.
It was customary for the girl’s family to distribute the bridal cakes they received from the boy’s family to friends and relatives as a form of announcement and invitation to the wedding feast. The number of cakes given to each was established according to a rigid etiquette, on the basis of seniority and degree of intimacy. Those who received the bridal cakes, expected to present congratulatory gifts to the girl’s parents.
The boy’s family’s gifts acknowledged the parents’ efforts in raising the girl, and by accepting the gifts, the girl’s family pledged her to the boy’s . It is interesting to note that the bride was given to the family rather than the groom alone. Although the bride and groom probably had not met yet, betrothal was considered binding unless both families agreed to annul the contract.
Betrothals generally lasted for a year or two, although child betrothals would last until the children had grown to marriageable age.
Preparation of the Wedding Day
“ Retreating to the Cock Loft “
In preparation for her impending departure, the bride-to-be retreated from the ordinary routine and lived in seclusion in a separate part of the house with her closest friends. During this period, the young women sang laments, mourning the bride’s separation from her family and cursing the go-between –; as well as the groom’s family and even the girl’s own parents.
Since this extended ‘sleep over’ often took place in the cock loft, the bride’s emergence on her wedding day was sometimes referred to as "coming out of the cock loft."
“ Installing the Bridal Bed “
Preparation on the part of the groom involved the installation of the bridal bed on the day before the wedding. A propitious hour and a ‘good luck woman’ or ‘good luck man’, that is a man or women with many children and living mates, were selected to install a newly purchased bed.
(The installation ceremony consisted of merely moving the bed slightly; the actual work was done by servants or friends.) After the bed was in place, children were invited onto the bed as an omen of fertility –; the more, the merrier.
For the same reason, the bed was scattered with red dates, oranges, lotus seeds, peanuts, pomegranates and other fruits. Part of the fun was watching the children scramble for the fruit .
Day of the Wedding
The "Hair Dressing" Ritual of the bride and the "Capping" Ritual of the groom symbolized their initiation into adulthood and were important parts of the wedding preparations. Red , symbolic of joy, featured prominently in the clothing and other ritual objects pertaining to the wedding.
“ The "Capping" Ritual “
Dressed in a long gown, red shoes and a red silk sash with a silk ball on his shoulder, the groom knelt at the family altar while his father placed a cap decorated with cypress leaves on his head.
The groom bowed first before the tablets of Heaven and Earth and his ancestors, then to his parents and the assembled family members. His father removed the silk ball from the sash and placed it on top of the bridal sedan chair.
“ The "Hair Dressing" Ritual “
At dawn on her wedding day (or the night before), the bride bathed in water infused with pumelo, a variety of grapefruit, to cleanse her of evil influences –; and one suspects as a cosmetic to soften her skin in the manner of contemporary alphahydroxls. She put on new underclothes and sat before lit dragon-and-phoenix candles. A ‘good luck woman’ attended the bridal preparations. She spoke auspicious words while dressing the bride’s hair in the style of a married woman.
After her hair was styled , the bride emerged from her retreat. She was carried to the main hall on the back of the ‘good luck’ woman or her most senior sister-in-law. There she donned a jacket and skirt and stepped into a pair of red shoes, placed in the center of a sieve. The bride’s face was covered with either a red silk veil or a ‘curtain’ of tassels or beads that hung from the bridal Phoenix crown. (The photo below was taken at the mock wedding at a prior year’s Chinese Summer Festival . After completing her wedding preparations, the bride bowed to her parents and to the ancestral tablets and awaited the arrival of the bridal procession from the groom’s house.
Day after the wedding..
On the day after the wedding, the bride awoke early to attend honor the ancestors at dawn .
It was only then that she was then formally introduced to the groom’s relatives and friends.
As she knelt before each of the older relatives, she received a small gift .
The bride’s parents-in-law gave her a title according to her husband’s seniority in the family hierarchy.
Three Days After the Wedding
In general, three days after the wedding, the couple paid a visit to the bride’s family home, where the bride is now received as a guest.
Contemporary Chinese Wedding Customs
The application of ancient customs in contemporary Chinese weddings is of great interest of many of our visitors. The following may be helpful in applying Chinese traditions to contemporary weddings.
Selecting an Auspicious Wedding Date:
Auspicious days are subject to interpretation by fortune tellers that perform the analysis based on one’s birth date (day and hour) after consultation with the Chinese almanac. Almanacs containing predictions for the entire year are sold at the beginning of the Lunar New Year by street vendors and in book stores.
These paperback books are approximately two inches thick with a wealth of information about Chinese beliefs. It is said to be the oldest continuous publication known. Different versions are published in Taiwan, Hong Kong and mainland China, but unfortunately an English version is not available.
In the Chinese community it is considered bad form if an individual consults the almanac and performs a self analysis. That is why a fortune teller or Fung Suey [ Feng Shui ] expert is consulted. They usually can also provide horoscope information in advance of the publication of the almanac.
The 15 day period from the middle to the end of the seventh lunar month is considered inauspicious because that is time of the Hungry Ghost Festival when the gates of Hell are opened and the lost spirits are allowed to wonder the earth. They should not be invited to your wedding!