Chinese marriage’s models and people’s outlooks on romance have gone through many changes. It was in the 1990s that young people finally won the freedom to love in the fullest sense of that word.
The bright red bridal sedan, the magnificent wedding procession, the arrow shooting, the stepping over brazier, the sitting astride the horse saddle, the lifting of the bridal veil, the paying of respect to Heaven and Earth, the offering of fragrant tea to the parents … If you are not physically present, it is difficult to imagine a traditional Chinese wedding ceremony with so many symbolic elements: for example, stepping over the brazier is symbolic of striding into a life of prosperity, sitting astride the horse saddle represents living a trouble-free life, lifting the bridal veil symbolizes contentment.
However, traditional Chinese wedding ceremonies of today are by no means one hundred percent traditional, rather a combination of Chinese and Western bridal traditions. An example of the latter being the exchange of wedding rings on the ceremony. Today, an increasing number of young Chinese people regard their traditional Chinese wedding ceremony as the most memorable event of their lives.
Both Qin Qin the bride and Jack the groom want to have a traditional Chinese wedding ceremony. Indeed, it is largely their shared fascination with traditional Chinese culture that has made this international marriage possible in the first place.
A blind date
“Kowtow to Heaven and Earth. Kowtow to parents. Kowtow to each other. Enter the bridal chamber together.”
On the wedding day, the blond Jack, wearing a red flower, a black gauze cap and a Number One Scholar costume, looks tall and handsome; and the charmingly ethereal glow of Qin Qin the bride gained even more attention.
The happiest people in the whole crowd of witnesses are probably Qin Qin’s parents.
It was this elderly couple’s greatest headache to live with the fact that their over-30 daughter was still single; they just could not accept the fact. To them, both born in the 1950s, the most suitable age for getting married is about 25. A blind date arranged by someone else, then romance, then marriage, and then children – that was how most of their generation went through it all.
Qin Qin’s mother remembers clearly the scene when she first met Qin Qin’s father. It was in her parents’ home. Qin Qin’s father walked in behind the matchmaker with his head looking down. Since it was their first meeting, the two young people both felt a little awkward, especially Qin Qin’s father, who talked only when he was asked a question. As for the questions from either side, they never went beyond basic information about home and work. The first impression that Qin Qin’s mother had of her future husband was honesty and straightforwardness. After that day, they began to go out together and eventually walked into marriage, a marriage of more than 30 years.
Qin Qin, too, had previously experienced a Chinese blind date, which was arranged by her parents. The man was 3 years older than she, had a doctoral degree, and was teaching at a university. In the eyes of her parents, if their daughter married him the chinese marriage would be one of “two doors on an equal footing” (a marriage deemed prudent considering the fact that the woman’s family and the man’s family were of equal social and economic status).
They agreed to meet at a coffee shop and Qin Qin went there unaccompanied. Just as her parents had told her, the two seemed to meet every criteria for a good match, but throughout the whole event she just couldn’t find “that chemistry”. So, there was no follow up on that blind date. This was exasperating to Qin Qin’s parents, who could not understand the importance of the “chemistry” aspect of their daughter’s generation nor accept the fact that she remained single at an age that was well past the perfect age for chinese marriage.
In fact, the “post-’70” Qin Qin (She was born after 1970.) enjoyed her single status. She liked the “carefree” aspect. Her other girl friends who, like herself, were called “surplus girls” (unmarried young women of a relatively old age, most of whom have a good educational background, good income, high IQ and an impeccable looks). Times have changed; Chinese society has become more diverse and more tolerant than it was when Qin Qin’s parents were young, allowing everybody, including Qin Qin, to have more life choices.
However, Qin Qin was not against taking a certain opportunity to look for her other half, for, like the absolute majority of other “surplus girls”, she was no advocate of celibacy. She often went to gatherings organized by friends, went on outings, even mountain climbing, and took part in activities organized by clubs for married people. Yet she still could not find her “Mr. Right”.
And then, Jack came along.
At the wedding there was a bushy pair of attention getting QQ. They are the matchmakers between Qin Qin and Jack.
Qin Qin works at a foreign investment company. At work, she used E-mails to communicate with Jack, who was based in the company’s headquarters in the US. When they became familiar, they added each other to their QQ Space and had frequent chats using video.
Before long the two young people, roughly the same age, extended their online communication from work to private life. Then, there came a time when they found that they could talk about anything. They had fallen in love with each other.
Qin Qin’s parents were aware of her Net love affair, but they did not place much hope in it. They felt that a serious romantic relation requires face-to-face communication and that Net love affairs would probably all end up “dying when exposed to light”.
When they had been in online “love affair” for a year, Jack appeared in Qin Qin’s real life. In 2010, after Jack’s application to work at their company’s China office was approved, he suddenly appeared in front of Qin Qin, with an engagement ring – he had come to propose to her.
Surprised, but without hesitation, Qin Qin said “Yes”, for she had always felt that Jack was the one that she had long been looking for.
However, the course of this international Net love affair was not without obstacles placed by Qin Qin’s parents, who found it very difficult to accept the fact that their daughter was two years older than Jack. In traditional Chinese thinking, the husband is usually supposed to be older than the wife. Of course, there was also the fact that Jack is a foreigner.
Yet, Jack was finally able to convince Qin Qin’s parents of his maturity and his true love of their daughter.
A modern family
International love, Net love, “sister-and-younger-brother” love … Qin Qin’s love story has gone far beyond the wildest imagination of her parents’ generation: they had never thought that love could occur in so many shapes and colors. They can see from their daughter’s smiling face that she is happy.
About the family life that they are about to enter, Qin Qin and Jack are full of anticipation. But this is not just rosy anticipation; they have also made rational plans.
They have agreed that they will take it easy and relish their two-person world, traveling to different parts of the world when they are free from work. They have decided not to have children during the first three years of their marriage. Whether or not they will stay DINK (Double Income, No Kids), they say, is a decision that they cannot make yet; time will tell.
As for housework, which has been worrying Qin Qin’s parents because they know it to be close quarters for their daughter, Qin Qin and Jack have agreed that it will be shared half and half: he will cook; she do the housekeeping. It has also been agreed, with Qin Qin’s insistence, that they will each be responsible for half of all major expenses of the house. Qin Qin does not want to depend on the husband; she insists that she be independent financially, spiritually, and even intellectually.
Although the thought of married life like this staggers Qin Qin’s parents, they do not object to it, for they have now understood the love and marriage outlook of today’s young people: “I choose my own happiness.”
The Changing Love and Marriage Outlooks of Chinese
From ancient words of love such as “Guan! Guan! Cry the fish hawks / on sandbars in the river: / a mild-mannered good girl, / fine match for the gentleman” to modern tales like “I love you, but this love has nothing to do with you”, from timeless vows such as “In the skies, we want to be like a pair of Biyi birds; on the earth, we want to be like two trees whose trunks and branches grow together” to popular slogans like “I don’t cherish everlastingness; I only care about whether or not I’ve been there and done that” – Chinese people’s outlooks on romance and models of chinese marriage have gone through many changes.
Before the 1940s, parents usually had the most say over whom their children should love and marry. What mattered was the parents’ order, the matchmaker’s word, and whether or not the two families were equal in social and financial status. At the same time, young men and women believed in male dominance and female subordination, thinking that a woman’s life belonged wholly in the family.
In the 1950s, “freedom to love, autonomy of marriage” as a new outlook on love and marriage sent shock waves that were upsetting the traditional model. The New China enacted laws that guaranteed women total equality to men both at home and in society, a milestone achievement.
“We have come from different corners of the land to be together in order to reach our common revolutionary goal,” was a revolutionary feeling that was normally expressed when men and women met each other. In those days, love had to be based on common revolutionary beliefs. Workers and soldiers topped the lists of potential candidates for boyfriends.
The shockwaves of the reform and opening to the outside world began to shake the foundations of the traditional Chinese outlook on love and marriage, one that had always emphasized everlasting marriage at all costs. 1980 witnessed a second milestone in history of chinese marriage. In that year, New China’s second Marriage Law was enacted, which held a couple’s feelings for each other to be a main element in maintaining a marriage. In those days, however, people’s attitude toward love and marriage was one of conflict. On the one hand, they pursued a liberated personal life and romantic feelings; on the other, they would often give up love under pressures from their parents or from social reality.
It was in the 1990s that young people in China finally won the freedom to love in the fullest sense of that word. “I don’t cherish everlastingness; I only care about whether or not I’ve been there and done that” became an outlook on love that has been adopted by many people. Attitudes about love and chinese marriage have become diverse. Net love, international love, fast-food marriage, DINK family, “aristocracy of singles” … I choose my own happiness. When young people make choices about love and marriage, they now find more tolerance from their families and from society.
Published in Confucius Institute Magazine.
Number 9. Volume IV. July 2010.
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