weddings, rural

weddings, rural
Chinese weddings serve to build and reinforce social networks, in addition to joining a man and a woman. As in other communities with a dominant pattern of patrilocal postmarital residence, marriage inducts new members into the family and village—namely, women from other villages. Contemporary Chinese weddings are based to some degree on the ‘six rites’ from the Confucian Book of Rites (Liji): inquiries made by the matchmaker; gathering of genealogical and horoscopic data of the bride and groom; matching the couple’s horoscope; transfer of brideprice, dowry or other gifts; fixing the date of the wedding; and the transfer of the bride. While there are differences as to what constitutes the six rites, postsocialist accounts of marriage still have six events: engagement (dingqin); receiving the betrothal gifts (silk) (nacai); welcoming the bride (yingqin); worshipping the ancestors (baitang); clowning around the nuptial suite (naodongfang); and the third-day visit of the bride to her natal home (zuosanchao).
Traditionally, marriage was a family concern, for the production of male heirs and the maintenance of the economic well-being of the family. The traditional ideal of marriage, with an adult bride moving to the home of her adult groom’s home, results in the establishment of new alliances between different families and lineages. (Note that there are other forms of marriage, including uxorilocal and sim-pua or ‘little daughter-in-law’ marriages that deviate from this norm, for which see below.) In the traditional major form of marriage, the bride and the groom may not have laid eyes on each other prior to the transfer of the bride. There is a Chinese saying that ‘marriage is based on the commands of parents and the arrangements of a matchmaker’ (fumu zhi ming, meishuo zhi yan). In contemporary practice, however, marriage is increasingly the concern of the individuals, preceded by an extended acquaintance or dating. Contemporary Chinese weddings reflect this shift, yet still contain ritual elements that emphasize the familial aspect.
Weddings are ideally a series of events occurring over three days, ending with the bride’s third-day visit to her natal home. Prior to the wedding, the couple will have scheduled the shooting of wedding photos with a studio, where the bride may wear a Western-style white wedding dress. On the first day, the bride and her dowry are transferred from her natal home to the groom’s home (the brideprice and other gifts would already have been transferred following the engagement). Wearing a red dress, the bride is picked up by a group of the groom’s family and friends and placed in a sedan (in the past, it would have been a sedan chair). Some female friends and relatives usually accompany the bride on the journey to the groom’s village. Upon her arrival at the village, firecrackers are set off, and the bride is rushed into the conjugal bedroom (later containing displays of her dowry). The bride is then presented to the ancestors, where the bride and groom kneel before the ancestors (for Chinese Catholics or Christians, a cross may be substituted for ancestral tablets). The bride is then presented to her new relatives, and instructed as to the proper kin terms to use with each relative. The bride and groom together serve tea or wine to each relative, and in exchange the bride is given a gift—a red envelope containing money (hongbao). In contemporary practice, this is followed by one or two wedding banquets; for those with the means to have multiple wedding banquets, one is primarily a family and village concern (held in the groom’s home), while a second (held outside the home in a restaurant) is primarily for the concerns of the nuptial couple. The home wedding banquet is attended primarily by relations and friends of the groom’s family; some female members of the bride’s family may also attend. At some point during the banquet, the bride and groom will visit each table, pouring wine, tea or sodas, and making toasts with them. At the end of the banquet, gifts will be given to representatives of the bride’s natal family to take back home. If there is a restaurant banquet, the guests are friends and former classmates of the bride and groom. The bride and groom stand outside and greet each guest as he or she enters the restaurant. In exchange, the couple receive another hongbao. As in the earlier wedding banquet, the bride and groom will visit each table and make a toast with each group. As a result, contemporary Chinese weddings reflect wider changes in marriage patterns and social concerns such as a growing emphasis of individual over family concerns; the increased social influence of the youth and young adults; and the commodification of cultural practices.
Although rural wedding celebrations, when compared to urban weddings, reflect differences in urban and rural lifestyles and social concerns, rural weddings in contemporary China are increasingly mirroring modern urban weddings. Through multiple forms of media, including widely circulated bridal and women’s magazines, movies and television, a modern, Western-influenced and highly commodified wedding celebration is also becoming the standard for rural weddings. Nonetheless, rural Chinese weddings reflect the social concerns of villagers such as the need to produce male heirs and the stronger lineage and family ties in the countryside. Unlike urban areas, where financial and political limitations on the number of children are stronger, rural families may have more than one child.
Wedding celebrations, as we have said, are mostly held for the major form of marriage, where the adult bride moves into the adult groom’s home. There are, however, other forms of marriage that address specific economic and demographic concerns and for which an elaborate wedding celebration may not be organized. One example of such a marriage is uxorilocal marriage, where the adult groom moves into the adult bride’s home—a marriage form that meets the needs of families who only have girls. Children resulting from such a marriage will then become the heirs of the bride’s father. Uxorilocal marriage, however, is not preferable for both bride and groom in the countryside, where patrilineal kinship relations form the dominant structure of rural communities. Another kind of marriage that would not have an elaborate wedding celebration is one common in south China prior to 1949. This is sim-pua or ‘little daughter-in-law’ marriage, where a juvenile bride is transferred to the home of her future groom’s family to be raised by her future mother-in-law. Sim-pua marriages were much more affordable for poorer families, as they did not incur the considerable expense, including brideprice and marriage gifts, that are required by the major form of marriage.
Freedman, Maurice (1970). ‘Ritual Aspects of Kinship and Marriage’. In idem (ed.), Family and Kinship in Chinese Society. Stanford: Stanford University Press: 163–89.
Judd, Ellen R. (1989). ‘Niang jia: Chinese Women and Their Natal Families’. Journal of Asian Studies 48. 3:525–44.
Stockard, Janice E. (1989). Daughters of the Canton Delta: Marriage Patterns and Economic Strategies in South China, 1860–1930. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Watson, Rubie S. and Ebrey, Patricia Buckley (eds) (1991). Marriage and Inequality in Chinese Society. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Wolf, Margery (1972). Women and the Family in Rural Taiwan. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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