Chinese Wedding Traditions (III)
Marriage Customs in Taiwan
Marriage is a rite of passage for individuals and also a big event for their families. Naturally, different societies have different matrimonial ceremonies that reflect their unique cultural characteristics and traditions. In ancient China, the Duke of Chou first formulated the “six rites” of betrothal and marriage:
(1) presenting betrothal gifts to the girl’s family;
(2) checking the girl’s name and horoscope (English Characters);
(3) divining the destiny of the marriage at a temple;
(4) arranging a dowry for the girl’s family;
(5) setting a wedding date; and
(6) receiving the bride.
The majority of Taiwan’s families originated in the southern Fujian and eastern Guangdong, and although some of the marriage rites brought from the Chinese mainland have slowly changed over the centuries, much has been retained. However, the geographic separation from the Chinese mainland has allowed unique marriage rites and ceremonies to develop on Taiwan. In addition, Taiwan’s indigenous peoples have their own specific matrimonial customs, clearly demonstrating Taiwan’s cultural diversity.
According to the legend, the Old Man under the moon is the God of Matchmaking who brings lovers together and then uses a red thread to bind them to each other. Thus, temples dedicated to this legendary character are constantly filled with eager young worshipers.
Parents usually arranged traditional marriages through matchmakers during Taiwan’s early years. The first marriage rite was yi hun or na tsai- the presentation of betrothal gifts to the bride’s family. The matchmaker who was contacted by the boy’s family would first inquire whether the girl’s family was agreeable to the marriage. If so, the boy’s family would then ask for the girl’s name and “Eight Characters”(the year, month, day, and hour of her birth) to determine whether the match was predestined. If divination, know as na chi, revealed a propitious sign, the couple would then prepare for the next stage-engagement.
Any date concerning the marriage must be chosen in accordance with the Chinese almanac, ant the wedding can only be held during specific hours on an auspicious and pleasant day.
In traditional Chinese marriage, matchmakers are essential for communication and coordination between the families.
Before any marriage, the Eight Characters and horoscopes for the couple must be written together on a red card and submitted to the gods to determine whether they approve of the marriage.
During the engagement ceremony, the bride offers tea to the groom, his parents, and other elders of his family.
Betrothal and the Presenting of Wedding Gifts
Ting meng, which is also known as sung ting or ting hun, is the rite of betrothal. The boy’s family presents such betrothal gifts as bridal cakes and engagement ring to the girl’s family. Once the girl’s family has accepted the betrothal gifts, they are committed to the engagement, and the girl’s family will then distribute bridal cakes to their relatives to announce their daughter’s engagement. Presenting wedding gifts, known as na cheng, is one of the “ six rites” of betrothal and marriage. The groom’s family sends the bride’s family an official marriage certificate, a token amount of money, and various wedding gifts. In addition, the groom performs special rituals in the bride’s home to inform her ancestors of the engagement.
Bridal cakes are distributed to the bride’s relatives to announce her engagement.
To show sincerity to the bride’s family, the groom’s family must prepare token money as part of the six or 12 presents for the engagement.
A pair of large turnips is often used in Hakka marriage ceremonies, since the Kakka pronunciation of the Chinese characters for “turnip” is the same as for “good luck”.
At the end of the rite of betrothal, the bride’s family prepares sweet glutinous rice balls. Which symbolize a happy and perfect marriage, to all the guests.
In a Hakka wedding, the bride must stand on top of a rice container because her cannot touch the ground. This custom helps to avoid evil spirits and bring prosperity to the family when she leaves.
Bidding Farewell to the Bride’s Parents and Escorting the Bride from her Home to the Wedding.
Before a bride leaves her family, the groom will come to her home, where they will burn incense and pay respects to her ancestors. The bride will then bid farewell to her parents and leave with the groom for the wedding ceremony and then for his home.
The bride and groom bow to the bride’s parents to bid them farewell and thank them for raising and educating the bride.
Before the bride departs from her home, she must drop a fan from the car window. This tradition signifies that the bride has left all of her old, bad habits behind.
A blanket and two pillows embroidered with a dragon and a phoenix are required for the bride’s dowry.
A traditional Chinese wedding procession is a lively and exciting experience.
Lanterns with the Chinese character for “happiness” are carried at the front of a wedding procession.
As soon as the wedding procession has returned to the groom’s home, a young boy will hand oranges to the newlyweds, because the pronunciation of the Chinese characters for “orange” is a homonym for “good luck”.
Arriving at the Groom’s Home for the Wedding Banquet
After the wedding procession had arrived at the groom’s home, the new couple must “pass under the rice winnowing basket” “cross the fire”, and “ break a tile with their feet” as part of their wedding ceremony. These rites reduce misfortune and bring blessings as the couple prepare for their new life together. The groom’s family invites friends and relatives to a wedding ceremony and banquet to serve as witness and celebrate the event. In the city, couples usually hold their wedding banquet in large hotels or restaurants, whereas in the countryside, they do it outdoors.
T he first thing a newlywed couple does after entering the groom’s home is to inform his ancestors of the marriage.
Newlyweds often purchase a pair of seals inscribed with their names to show that they are soul mates.
Marriage certificates are legally binding documents.
Friends and relatives of the bride and groom will often write good wishes for the new couple and sign their names on a large piece of silk at the wedding celebration.
The bride and groom raise their glasses in a toast to thank their guests for attending the wedding.
Newlyweds entwine their arms and drink a cup of wine in celebration of their happy union.
The Bridal Chamber and Return to the Bride’s Home.
Food and drink always have a special place in Taiwanese celebrations. After the newlyweds enter the bridal chamber, they eat auspicious foods and then curl their arms together before drinking a cup of wine to symbolize everlasting marital bliss. Several days after the wedding is kuei ning, the day that the newlyweds return to the bride’s parents’ home to honor her ancestors. The wedding is considered to be officially complete after the bride’s parents have given a feast on kuei ning.
The Chinese character for “happiness” decorates a wedding curtain hung above the door to the bridal chamber.
Today, the bride’s parents usually prepare apples, oranges, and bananas for their newlywed daughter on kuei ning to wish her good fortune and prosperity.
In the past, the bride’s parents prepared chickens and sugarcane leaves for their newlywed daughter on kuei ning as a symbol of prosperity for her new family.
The bride’s parents now host the kuei ning feast for their son-in-law, relatives, and friends at a large restaurant instead of in their own home.
Eight strong young men carry a Rukai bride to the groom’s home on her wedding day.
Marriage Customs of the Indigenous People
Taiwan’s indigenous people consist of ten major tribes, many of whom formerly lived in mountainous areas close to nature. Each tribe has its own unique wedding customs. For instance, in the matrilineal Ami society, a newlywed man normally moves into his wife’s parents’ home. The Rukai and the Paiwan on the other hand, still have caste system, so marriages are only allowed within the same caste.
At a Paiwan wedding, pottery jars are such valuable wedding gifts that they are usually given to members of noble families.
Millet and machi (glutinous rice cakes) are popular engagement gifts in aboriginal society.
Betel nuts are also popular aboriginal engagement gifts. The “heat” of the betel nut tree is cut and the shape of its edges is examined. Tradition holds that “ the rounder the heart, the happier the marriage.”
A Rukai groom from a noble family presents many precious gifts to the bride’s family.
The Taipei Representative Office in Belgium offers text that originates from the Government Information Office of R.O.C.