Even in modern society, this kind of marriage still exerts a great influence and in the following paragraphs, a systematic description of this marriage form will be presented. Finding a partner “Marriage was for continuing the ancestral line and creation alliances between families -; too important a duty to be left in the rash hands of the young. “3 This quote shows how important a marriage was regarded. The three basic elements of an arranged marriage in ancient China were the parental sanction, the Matchmaking and the betrothal gifts.
Generally speaking, society at that time believed that marriages were obtained by the gods and therefore sacred, as a result this life-changing event was handled with utmost care, so much that the typical Chinese wedding ceremony evolved into an complicated sequence of rites and customs. Major considerations in arranging their children’s marriage were not unlike those of modern-day parents. They would consider the age, status, appearance and wealth of their potential sons- or daughters-in-law. Age: this was one of the first consideration points.
The couple should be of marriageable age, meaning mature enough to live as husband and wife and the age difference should not be too big. According to The Rites of Zhou (?? ) and The Book of Rites (?? ), a man’s marriageable age ranged from 20 to 30 years, a woman’s from 15 to 20 or 23 years, by which they would have reached physical and mental maturity, be self-disciplined and independently responsible. It was common for the husband to be three to five years older than his wife, a 10 to 12 year age difference was probably the limit, since a couple which age differences exceeded this, would fall victim to gossip and ridicule.
Yet there were exceptions, for example in the Sui and Tang Dynasties. In these societies scholars were viewed very highly. A scholar had to prepare for and pass the annual imperial examinations in order to become an official in the emperor’s court and a career would guarantee one’s future in terms of wealth, reputation and authority. Aspiring scholars focused much of their attention on their studies and might have to attend the imperial examinations repeatedly, sidestepping the marriage issue year after year until they succeeded. In this way, scholars were far older than their wives.
In the Ming (1368 – 1644 AD) and Qing (1644 – 1911) Dynasties it was popular for a wife to be slightly older than her husband, since an older girl was more likely to take better care of her parents-in-law and her husband and to better manage household affairs. Status: by the time of the Zhou Dynasty (1027 – 221B. C. ) marriages were conducted according to social ranks, especially among the reigning classes. For example, a minister in a powerful country could make a marriage alliance with a noble in a weak country, while a prince in a weak country only could marry a senior official’s daughter in a powerful country.
Appearance: the couple’s appearance and talents were important factors in a harmonious marriage. In general, a young woman would focus more on her prospective husband’s virtue and talent, while a young man would pay more attention to his prospective wife’s appearance. This behaviour can still be seen in the modern time China. Wealth: This was an important point of reference in marriages. Two families united by marriage had to present betrothal gifts which were of similar worth. The bridegroom’s family expected a good dowry and the bride’s family expected similar good betrothal gifts.
Yet, not all parents were tyrants when it came to deciding their children’s marriages. Some considered their daughter’s or son’s wishes before asserting their authority. However, there were cases of extreme conservative and obstinate parents, which would take complete control of their offspring’s marriages even before their birth. Thus arose two abnormal marriage customs: antenatal betrothals and posthumous marriages. In antenatal betrothals, children were engaged to be married even before they were born, which had many disadvantages, for example one of the children could become seriously ill, very poor or work in a faraway place.
For the sake of the social stability, the government banned this practice, but were not able to eradicate it entirely. Posthumous Marriages, also marriages with the death or ghost marriages meant that unmarried young man and women were married in the after world by the arrangement of their living parents. If a son died before marriage, his parents arranged a ghost marriage in order to provide him with children to continue the lineage and give him his own family. 4 Miniature house, furniture and money made out of paper were burnt for the dead in the belief that they would be able to enjoy these material possessions just like the living do.
In the Ming and Qing dynasties another type of posthumous marriages arose – marriages between the dead and the living. For example, if one’s betrothed died before the marriage, the living partner still had to marry the one who had died. If it was the woman who died, her groom had to bring her spirit tablet home in a sedan chair and regard her as his lawful wife. Later he could take a concubine, who would never be given the full status of a rightful, but only his second wife.
If it was the man dying before the marriage, his bride had to live a life of a widow at the home of her parents-in-law for the rest of her life after the wedding ceremony. As the practice of monogamous arranged marriages became more widespread, parents sought help from relatives and friends to find possible candidates to marry their child and to carry out background checks. Thus matchmaking came into being and became essential in the wedding procedures. The vast majority of Matchmakers were married women, thus leading credibility to their skill in finding a good match for those intending to get married.
Until the present day, the custom of matchmaking has persisted. The matchmaker’s role was just as important as that of the parents in the arranged marriage. As Confucianism attained a dominant position in the social ideology, restrictions on contact between unmarried men and women became stricter. This way, appearance, disposition and proficiency in needlework were unknown to the people outside the family. Matchmakers had contact with many families and therefore knew everything about these families, like social status and relationships, their children’s physical appearance, dispositions and so on.
Since marriages were arranged based on considerations of those, a matchmaker was necessary for the parents to learn more about prospective sons- or daughters-in-law. According to The Rites of Zhou (?? ), official and private matchmakers existed before the Qin Dynasty. Official matchmakers provided legal recognition of a marriage. Later on, private matchmakers became popular and had the same authority as the official ones. Engagement Traditionally, the matchmaker delivered the proposal from the bridegroom’s side with which the discussion about weddings began.
Before the Qin Dynasty (221 – 207 BC) people would offer a wild goose as a gift, as some people regarded those as punctual and honest birds. Others considered them as a symbol of a lasting marriage as they only have one mate throughout their lives. Yet, from the Qin and Han dynasties, the gifts changed. The family would for example send a bouquet of lilies or domesticated ducks or geese instead of a wild goose. If the girl’s family was satisfied with what the matchmaker presented them, they would accept the gift; otherwise they would politely reject the offer.
Once the gift was accepted, the matchmaker would report the news to the bridegroom’s family, who then would ask the matchmaker to take another gift to the girl’s family in exchange for detailed information of the bride’s family, including the parent’s family names, the bride’s name, whether the girl has siblings and her exact time of birth. It was usually written on a piece of red paper. The compatibility of the marrying couple was analyzed with the help of a chart of the couple’s “eight characters”.
Fortune-tellers played an important role in this, as they could determine a person’s eight characters based on astrological calculations. The families of the couple who intended to get married would take the detailed birth information about the prospective couple to the fortune teller to see if their eight characters were in harmony. If their birth information matched properly, it meant that they would have good luck in their marriage; otherwise the pairing would be unsuitable and would bring harm to the couple and their families. The compatibility of the Chinese Zodiac Signs of the couple also was important.
There were many superstitious beliefs based on Chinese zodiac compatibility, for example, in the northern part of China, a girl born in the year of the goat was considered harmful, because she could bring an early death to her husband. In order to get a good match, the families of those girls would disguise the information. The taboos revolving around the compatibility varied. For instance, in some places, a person born in the year of the snake should not be married to a person born in the year of a dragon, because both are aggressive animals.
After the parents had compared the couple’s birth information, the pre-wedding procedures could go ahead if the results were good. The bridegroom’s family would inform the bride’s family about the good result of the comparison and ask them to fix the time of the wedding. The parents on both sides arranged meetings in order to exchange more information on the couple and to get to know each other. No matter when or where they met, the Matchmaker would stay with them and introduce the two sides. After the bride’s parents agreed to the marriage, the bridegroom’s side would offer betrothal gifts.