Everything you need to know about marriage in China

7 Feb 2023·20 min to read
Articles
Everything you need to know about marriage in China 01

China is the most populous country in the world with an average of 10 million couples getting married per year, resulting in one of the biggest wedding industries in the world. The country has a long history and an affluent culture regarding marriages and relationships. In China, marriage rites are performed the same way they have been done for decades, with few changes as time passes and as the general public's acceptance changes. 
Traditional Chinese marriages are extravagant ceremonies for the purpose of celebrating the love of the couples as well as their respective families. The celebration involves rituals and traditions as they have been performed in ancient times and symbols to represent love, prosperity, unity and abundance in the lives of the couples as well as their family and friends. This article will give you a detailed description of what marriages and weddings are like in China. Let’s get started.

Traditional Chinese Marriage

Traditional Chinese marriage is an elaborate ceremonial ritual involving both the couples and their families. It is a union between couples and their respective families. This marriage is always either based on family pre-arrangements or a prior relationship and love between the couples involved. Although various kinds of practices are popular in the present age, China is still big on romantic love and monogamy according to Chinese norms and customs. 
Traditional Chinese marriages have been in existence since as far back as 421 BC. The traditions typically involve six rituals referred to as the "three letters" and six etiquettes," as they have always been since the primitive era. In the Fuxi era, Chinese marriages were done in deer skin engagements, and later on, during the Zhou Dynasty, the marriage etiquette, which included six rituals, was formed. This rite is widely practiced in China now. Every ceremonial rite, including both marriages and divorces, in the country is performed in a unique way.

Traditional Marriage Rituals

There are some rituals and laws guiding traditional marriages in China. The tradition that has been practiced for centuries involves six rituals (three letters and six etiquettes).

Three Letters

The three letters are written in the following order: Betrothal Letter, Gift Letter, and Wedding Letter. The Betrothal Letter serves as the formal document for the engagement of the couples; the gift letter is then written and presented to the girl’s family to include the type and quantity of gifts and various items required for the acceptance of the marriage. 
If both families have come to an agreement and are satisfied with the contents of the gift letter, a wedding letter is then drawn up and presented to the bride’s family on the wedding day as a formal acceptance of the bride into the bridegroom’s family.

Six étiquettes

These generally refer to the procedures that are followed during the wedding ceremony. These etiquettes, stated below, are customary in every Chinese marriage.

1. Nacai (Marriage proposal made by a matchmaker)
This is the first etiquette that involves the choice of a matchmaker by the parents of the bachelor when a possible daughter-in-law is found. The matchmaker has to protect the interests of the family and carry out all marriage discussions as regards the ceremony and rites on behalf of the family. 
The matchmaker must ensure that both parties are compatible and that the interests (honor and love) of the husband-to-be are fully protected. The primary purposes of marriage in China are reproduction and honor, and these purposes are to be safeguarded by the groom and his family.

2. Wenming (Requesting the name and date of birth of the bride) 
If both families are satisfied with their children getting married and find the proposal to be suitable, the matchmaker will proceed with a process called Suan ming to match the birthdates of the couples. 
This rite is used to determine the fate of the man as well as what the future of the couple will be like. If the result of the Suan ming is favorable and both couples are found to be a match, both families can then proceed to the next step.

3. Naji (delivery of betrothal gifts and divination announcement)
This is the third step involved in the six etiquettes. Here, the matchmaker presents the bride price with all the betrothal gifts and a letter to the bride’s family on behalf of the groom’s family. This step is also popularly referred to as the "Brideswealth. 

4. Nazheng (Sending wedding presents to the bride’s family) 
The marriage preparations are already progressing at this step. Here, the groom’s family will prepare special gifts and packages for the family of the bride. These gifts may include food, clothes, religious items, etc.

5. Qingqi (A request for the date of the wedding) 

According to the Chinese Tung Shing, both families have to meet to set a wedding date that is suitable for both parties. It is a custom to select a favorable day as there is a belief that this will make the lives of the couples pleasant. If there is no potential favorable day, the wedding may be set for a later date on the calendar to ensure nothing goes wrong and the perfect date is chosen.

6. Qinying (in-person introduction of the bride and the wedding ceremony)
This is the final step of the marriage ceremony where the bride and groom will be joined together as husband and wife. The wedding ceremony includes four major parts, as stated below.

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Wedding Procession 

The wedding procession is an elaborate part of the ceremony where the bride is dressed in a beautiful red garment, as this signifies happiness in China. The procession is made up of the bride’s sedan, maid of honors, a traditional band, and the bride’s dowry. It is a custom for the bride to cry with her mother when the party arrives, as this symbolizes that she is reluctant to leave her family home.

Welcoming the bride 

The groom’s home is greeted by the wedding procession of the bride’s family, and it is customary to lay out a set of obstacles and challenges for the groom. This is meant to test how dedicated he is, and it is only until he passes all the tasks that he will get to see his wife-to-be.

The main wedding ceremony 

This is the actual wedding where vows are shared and people are able to wine and dine. The bride is ushered to the red carpet with her sedan on arrival, with firecrackers and music playing. The groom is also dressed in red attire, and the couples pay respect to the Jade Emperor, Patron Family Deities, deceased ancestors, elders, members of the family, and friends. After this process is completed, the new couples proceed to their bridal chamber as the celebration with music, food, and drinks continues.

Wedding banquets 

This is the last stage of the ceremonial site, which is held to high standards and importance. Here, the bride presents wines and beverages like tea to the parents, spouse, and guests. The banquet is usually very elaborate and lengthy, with courses of meals ranging from five to ten. The bride’s father organizes the wedding banquet as a way to thank families, friends, and various guests for coming to celebrate with them.

Modern Marriage

Several centuries have passed since marriage traditions started taking place in China, and the country has passed through a reform and opening period due to changes in legal and family planning policies. The shift from some of the ancient transitions started in the twentieth century. This saw a change in some traditional structures, such as arranged marriages. Now, one is free to choose whoever they are in love with as their partner or spouse. 
As marriage has always been held to a high level of importance in China, despite the fact that times have changed and there have been changes in some traditions, people, especially women, still face both parental and cultural pressures as marriage is viewed as one of the yardsticks of a responsible and upright citizen in the country.


Relationships with Marriages in China

The different types of marriages that have been practiced over the years in China are stated below:

Monogamy 

This is the practice of marrying and staying married to just one man or woman. In current times, monogamy is the norm in marriages in China, where partners are marrying for love. However, in ancient times, dignitaries and men generally had a wide range of concubines with whom they had sexual affairs, and women were seen as less than men. But now, equality and monogamy are widely practiced, and couples who practice this have only one sexual partner, which is their spouse.

Ruzhui 

This is a custom in China where a wealthy family with several children but no heir is arranged with a poor family with male children. Here, a male child from the poor family marries one of the daughters of the wealthy family to carry on the name and family line of the bride’s family.

Sororate

This is a Chinese custom where a man is allowed to marry his wife’s sisters, cousins, or other females from the same clan. The man is allowed to marry his spouse’s sister while his wife is married or in the case of her death. This type of marriage arrangement was popular in ancient times, especially in the Zhou Dynasty. 
There were certain conditions that allowed a man to have multiple wives. If a man thinks his wife died and remarried, he can take back his first wife if he eventually discovers that she was alive and did not die. This will make him married to two wives, and this act was popular during the war.

Concubinage 

This type of relationship was very popular in ancient China. Men were usually the only ones who could afford this lifestyle, and they could take on as many wives and concubines as they wanted. The wives were those who were legally married in the proper traditional way, while most of the concubines were not married legally or they only eloped. 
The concubines were usually regarded as inferior women compared to the wives, and they usually had little or no rights in the relationship. Some men sometimes used the number of concubines they had to define their social status and wealth. This was popular during the ancient times and is not widely practiced anymore.

Polyandry

This is the practice of a woman marrying more than one man. This act is, however, considered by Han as immoral and improper. It is prohibited by law and very uncommon these days. It was practiced during ancient times. 
Poor men often pawned their wives to rich men and received money in return. Also, some families married all their sons, usually two or three, to a woman in situations where they had inadequate resources to cater for children and take a bride.

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Marriage Practices in China

There are certain practices regarding marriage that have developed in China over the years. These are stated below.

Naked Marriage

This term was first introduced in 2008 to describe the increasing number of marriages between partners who had yet to amass wealth or any significant assets. There was a slang of "Five No’s" involved, namely, no ring, no home, no car, no ceremony, no honeymoon. 
This type of marriage goes against the norms and traditions of marriages in China, where a man must be capable financially with the provision of a house before getting married. The families are not subjected to several expenses as they would be in a traditional marriage, and once registered, this marriage is legally recognized and protected by law, which is a reason why the number of people adopting it has continued to grow over the years.

Flash Marriage

These are also known as "blitz marriages" and they are characterized by the speed with which two partners get married. A marriage that occurs when the partners have not known each other for more than a month or two is speedy and regarded as a "flash marriage. 
This type of marriage is usually strategic and may be due to increasing real estate prices or pressure from family and society. However, this type of marriage often crashes because the couples usually do not know enough about each other's personal traits before deciding to tie the knot.

Sheng nu (Leftover woman)

This term was coined by the Chinese media and government to describe women in their thirties who are not yet married. It is used to place pressure on women to marry at a younger age, and those who do not marry early are often stigmatized. 
The population of China is imbalanced as there are more men than women, and this is why women are urged to marry early so as to fix the population and aid the birth rate in the long term.

Marriage Laws, Rights, Costs, and Duties

Rights and Laws

Marriage laws and rights date as far back as the 1950s, with modifications as time passes. The first legal document of marriage laws was first written in 1950 before they were re-written in 1980. It states that marriage is based on freedom, and partners are allowed to choose their partners, practice monogamy, and practice sexual equality. The law further emphasizes freedom in marriage by stating that marriage must be a willing action and no one should be forced into marriage through coercion or any means against their decision. 
The marriage law in China bans any form of marriage between close relatives or anyone related to someone by blood. In China, children have the choice to take either the last name of their father or mother and also demand proper care from them. The family relations section states that the husband and wife are equal partners and are both allowed to work. 
The law guiding divorces in China states that both partners are allowed to get a divorce only when both parties have decided and are willing to end the marriage. The termination of a marriage, however, does not absolve either parent from their duties and obligations as parents to their children.

Costs 

The average cost of a marriage in China is between 500,000 yuan and 600,000 yuan ($68,000 to $82,000). This cost varies depending on some factors, such as neighborhood (rural or urban area), number of guests, size of the wedding party, and how big or small the couple will like to go. 
According to the customs and rites in China, there are various expenses to be covered, from the wedding banquet to the dowry, betrothal gifts, clothes, etc. The cost of the wedding ceremony can be agreed upon by both families involved, but it can easily scale up to about 1 million yuan for a standard wedding with all things in place.

Duties

Even to this day, family roles are relatively traditional in China. The man is expected to make provision for shelter, and it is customary for a husband-to-be to have a house before planning a marriage. The man is also expected to be financially buoyant enough to provide food for his wife and children. 
In China, a woman is expected to take care of her family and the household in general. She must take care of her children and ensure they are doing well. In China, a married woman may not live alone or share a sleeping space with someone of the opposite sex.

Conclusion

China is one of the few countries that still follows traditions to the last detail. Although times have changed and new laws have been formed, there are still various customs and traditions that are followed to this day. Marriage is a big deal in China and it is often seen as a way to determine successful and responsible people. Once people start getting older, there is usually parental and societal or cultural pressure to get married. 
In China, a marriage does not involve just the bride and the groom but also carries the parents and families along during every step. This article includes everything you need to know about marriage in China.

 

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