Marriage is more than just a special occasion. For the ancient Chinese, whether they were commoners or royalty, this was a serious, traditional, and ceremonial ritual within Chinese society as it wasn’t just considered a union between two people, but a union between two families.
The mythological origin of marriage has become the basis of the earliest recorded ancient Chinese marriages. The fabled story about the marriage of sister and brother Nüwa and Fu Xi was the highlight of the time since it was believed that both powerful deities were responsible for the creation of mankind. Although related by blood, they formulated proper marriage procedures after marrying each other. These procedures were then followed by the ancient Chinese throughout different dynasties.
Here is a brief history of the Chinese traditional marriages practiced and arranged per Chinese dynasty:
It was normal during the Han Dynasty (202 BC to 220 AD) for marriages to involve numerous obligatory steps before the marriage was considered “honorable.” The most important was the presentation of betrothal gifts from the groom and his family to the bride and her family. The bride’s family also gave a dowry, and the family would buy goods with the betrothal money. However, using the betrothal money for personal or financial needs were seen as dishonorable. If this occurred upon marriage, the bride would eventually be treated as a concubine instead of a wife.
According to the law in The Ming Code, all marriages carried out during the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644 A.D) must follow the rules written in Duke Wen’s Family Rules. The rules state the importance of an agent or a matchmaker, who is usually a married elderly woman. She is tasked to deliver the messages between the two families having been given the assignment to arrange their marriage and bond the two families. Marriage during this time was seen as an opportunity for noble families to expand their clan’s strength.
It was also during this time when marriages were viewed as “feminine,” belonging to the “Yin” side, and in order to maintain a balance between both Yin and Yang, the opposite sexes must not interfere with each other. If the couple breaks the balance, this is believed to cause misfortune and disorder in their future family.
During the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), wedding ceremonies consisted of several customs. The bride was obliged to wear a red dress, called a qipao, to cover her face with a red veil on her wedding day. In Chinese culture and in marriages, red symbolizes happiness, prosperity, and good fortune. The bride was also helped by an old woman to tie up her hair.
In addition, the groom’s family welcomed the bride to the wedding in a sedan chair. As soon as the bride arrived at the groom’s home, the couple performed the three formal bows and served their parents tea before proceeding with the wedding banquet.
Have wedding fever? Read on for more on ting hun, the Chinese engagement ceremony, here.