Ancient and modern
   
 
Marriage customs

Marriage has always been one of the major events in one’s life. It marks an individual’s start of family life and continuation of a clan. As old Beijingers were particular about decorum, there were complicated etiquettes for marriage. The steps are as follows.

 

Betrothal gifts

After matchmaking, the meeting of the prospective spouse, and the engagement, all arranged by the parents of the future husband and wife, the man’s family would send betrothal gifts to the woman’s to express the decision to marry her. Although the wedding was not held, the woman would be considered the man’s wife. Some of the gifts were symbolic. The sending of such gifts was the last and the most important step before the wedding.

 

Dowry

After the woman’s family received the betrothal gifts, it would send the dowry to the man’s house on the afternoon of the day before the wedding. A middle-class family would send twenty-four or thirty-two trunkfuls. Some families would give dowries that were worth twice as much as the betrothal gifts in return.

 

Wedding

On the wedding day, the ‘sedan attendant’ would come to the bride’s house. The bride would mount the sedan and be carried to the bridegroom’s house. There would be a grand ceremony with complicated etiquettes, displaying family circumstances. The ‘wedding lady’ played an important role, accompanying the sedan attendant to the bride’s house and guiding her through the ceremony. She would preside over the wedding ceremony. The best man and the bride’s maid would direct the couple in the accomplishment of the etiquettes.

 

Bridal chamber etiquettes

After ‘kowtowing to Heaven and Earth’, the couple would formally meet for the first time when the husband lifted the bride’s veil. After the ritual kowtowing, the newlyweds would be ‘hazed’. They would eat ‘fertility cakes’, drink wine from each other’s cup. Fruits and candies would be scattered over their bed. The theme of these activities was the wish for happiness and prosperity.