Free love was absolutely banned in ancient China and was widely condemned as an offence to public decency according to the traditional Confucian ethic codes, so it was the task of parents to arrange marriage for their children in order to maintain order of the traditional patriarchal society. Not only was the arranged marriage formally favored by society, but it was also politically supported and enhanced by law in ancient China. Having never seen each other before their wedding day, this resulted in numerous unequal and loveless marriages.
The forbidden marriage policy on people bearing the same surname was launched and carried out in the Western Zhou Dynasty BC BC to guarantee a clear feudal patriarchal hierarchy and order of inheritance such as the throne and property.
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People of the same clan and surname were not allowed to get married in the Tang Dynasty , especially among members of royalty. The law interdicted the intermarriage between people of the same clan in the Ming and the Qing dynasties; however, it allowed people of the same surname but of different clans to get married. Generally speaking, it was a traditional national policy to carry out feudalistic monogamy in ancient China, however, the traditional Chinese culture didn't prohibit or explicitly encourage polygamy a man and multi women.
It was tolerated for a man to take concubines other than his primary wife, but only the upper and middle class men could afford it owing to their affluent resources. The traditional marriage customs, to a large extent, reflect the traditional Chinese culture, which varies from one area to another and even from one dynasty to another. The Three Letters refer to the betrothal letter, the gift letter and the wedding letter, each of which is used in a different ritual of the marriage.
The six etiquettes proposing marriage, matching birthdates, submitting betrothal gifts, presenting wedding gifts, selecting a wedding date and holding a wedding ceremony have been adopted in the traditional Chinese marriage customs since the Western Zhou Dynasty BC BC , which shows that Chinese people attach great importance to marriage and are somewhat superstitious.
If the fortune-teller said it was ok, the marriage ritual would continue. Among the submitted gifts, a wild migratory goose was considered the most important one in the Western Zhou BC BC and the Han dynasties BC due to it representing steadfast love. The wedding gifts usually included cash silver , jewelry, cakes and sacrificial articles. The boy's parents selected a wedding date through the art of divination and solicited agreement of the girl's parents. If both parties didn't object to the date, the girl's party would deliver the bride's dowry to the bridegroom's house at least one day before the wedding ceremony.
The traditional dowry included jewelry, scissors symbolizing the couple would never separate , a ruler symbolizing thousands of acres of fine land , a slab of sugar symbolizing the sweetness of a happy marriage , a silver purse symbolizing wallowing in money , a vase symbolizing richness and honor , shoes symbolizing the couple would remain happily married to a ripe old age , quilts, pillows, clothes and lotus petals symbolizing the couple would have many children.
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It had become a custom to welcome the bride at her home and carry her to the bridegroom's home in a bride's sedan since the Western Zhou Dynasty BC BC. The matchmaker would formally present his or her client's request to the identified girl's parents. If the potential bride's parents did not object to the marriage, the matchmaker would then ask for the girl's birthday and birth-hour to assure the compatibility of the potential bride and bridegroom. If the couple's birthdays and birth-hours did not conflict according to astrology, the marriage would continue onto the next stage.
If there was any sign of astrological conflict, which meant the marriage would bring disasters upon both families, the proposed marriage was immediately quashed. Once both birthdays matched, the bridegroom's family would then arrange for the matchmaker to present betrothal gifts, including the betrothal letter, to the bride's family.
After the betrothal letter and betrothal gifts were accepted, the bridegroom's family would later formally send wedding gifts to the bride's family.
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Usually, gifts may include tea, lotus seeds, longan, red beans, green beans, red dates, nutmeg, oranges, pomegranate, lily, bridal cakes, coconuts, wine, red hair braid, money box and other delicacies, depending on local customs and family wealth. Picking a wedding date: An astrologist or astrology book would be consulted to select an auspicious date to hold the wedding ceremony.
On the selected day, the bridegroom departs with a troop of escorts and musicians, playing cheerful music all the way to the bride's home. After the bride is escorted to the bridegroom's home, the wedding ceremony begins. Unlike Western tradition, the color red dominates traditional Chinese weddings.
Chinese people tend to use or wear red to add a joyful atmosphere of such a festive occasion.
At dawn on the wedding day and after a bath in water permeated with grapefruit, the bride puts on new clothes, wears a pair of red shoes and waits for the so-called "good luck woman" to dress her hair in the style of a married woman. Her head would be covered with a red silk veil with tassels or bead strings that hang from the phoenix crown.
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She waits for her future husband to escort her home, with married women talking around her about how to be a good wife. On the other hand, the bridegroom prepares himself to receive his wife. He gets capped and dressed in a long gown, red shoes and a red silk sash with a silk ball on his chest. The groom kneels at the ancestral altar as his father puts a cap decorated with cypress leaves on his head to declare his adulthood and his family responsibility. Then the bridegroom sets out to receive his bride. Usually a crowd of friends escorts the bridegroom and musicians play joyful tunes during the entire trip.
Dancing lions, if any, precede the troop. A child carries a bridal box among the people, reflecting the bridegroom's expectation to have a child in the near future. The most interesting part of the reception really takes place at the doorstep of the bride's residence, which is heavily guarded by the bridesmaid or the bride's sisters. It is customary for the bridesmaid to give the bridegroom a difficult time before he is allowed to enter.
Usually wisdom, courage and his friends will help the bridegroom to succeed in his "trial". However, there is one more situation he has to negotiate with the bridesmaid and sisters of the bride - to distribute among them red packets containing money - in order to take his bride home. Before the bride departs to the bridegroom's home, the "good luck woman" will lead her to the sedan chair. On her way to the chair, one of her sisters will shield her with a red parasol, while another sister will throw rice at the sedan chair. At the back of the sedan hang a sieve and metallic mirror that are believed to protect the bride from evil.
The bride has to cry to show that she does not want to leave her parents. Then firecrackers will be set off to drive away evil spirits as the bride sits into the sedan chair. All along the way people make great efforts to avoid any inauspicious influence. For instance, the sedan chair is heavily curtained to prevent the bride from seeing an unlucky sight e. When the parading troop arrives at the bridegroom's, firecrackers will be set off to hail the bride's arrival. Before the sedan chair a red mat is placed so that the bride will not touch the bare earth.
By the threshold, a flaming stove and saddle will be set up and the bride is required to sidestep or step over them to avoid evils. The wedding ceremony is the focus of interest. The bride and bridegroom are led to the family altar, where the couple kowtows to Heaven and Earth, the family ancestors and parents successively. They then bow to each other and are led to the bridal chamber. The ceremony proceeds under a director's prompts and applauses of the audience. Afterwards, a grand feast is held for relatives and those who helped with the wedding.