Marriage practices evolve in a changing China

December 9th, 2008 - 11:20 am ICT by IANS  

Beijing, Dec 9 (Xinhua) The far-reaching social changes in China over the past four decades are nowhere seen more clearly than in the evolution of marriage practices in the country.In 1971, Wang Shan and his bride Yang Ying walked into a local marriage office in the central Henan province with letters of reference issued by their respective work unit, proving they had approval to get married.

There were no photographs and no wedding gowns. Instead, they bowed to Chairman Mao Zedong’s portrait, worshipped at home, and visited their parents.

With a monthly salary of 30 yuan ($4.4), Wang borrowed a door panel from his work unit to be used as their “new” bed. They gave candies to colleagues and relatives and in return, got tea cups and paintings as gifts.

“For most newly-weds in the 1970s, the dream was to own a bicycle, a sewing machine, a watch and a radio,” said Yang.

The 1980s were an age of conservative ideas, but winds of change were blowing.

“Naughty friends forced us to kiss at the wedding in front of parents and relatives,” recalled Han Tong, who got married in 1988. “It was very embarrassing indeed.”

“The 1980s were still a time when people took love and marriage very seriously. We barely kissed or hugged in public,” added the 46-year-old man.

Sun Shuangding, 58, now a librarian at Nanjing University of Science and Technology, had a different story to tell.

“My wife’s parents strongly objected to our marriage though we had been in love for three years. All we could do was to get married secretly at the marriage registrar’s office and live apart.”

In 1983, Sun’s wife finally persuaded her family to solemnise the marriage, but due to “tight economic condition” the couple was unable to hold a wedding ceremony. “We only went to nearby Zhenjiang city for a trip.”

The 1970s’ modest dreams of a bicycle and a radio were not difficult to realise now.

“But we still could only manage to live frugally. Home-made furniture was popular and basic electric appliances such as a TV and refrigerator became common in urban families,” Sun said.

Zhi Ying, 38, recalled how she fought to be a fashionable bride in 1995. She insisted on wearing a western bridal veil on the freezing cold day, despite strong objections from her mother.

“I’d rather go to hospital after the wedding,” said Zhi. Finally, the mother and the daughter made a compromise: the bride wore her dream veil, but only in pink as white was traditionally used for funerals.

Zhi paid her six months’ earning to rent the veil.

“Western style wedding dresses were the trend in the 1990s. Most young people chose to wear western suits and gowns at weddings, at any cost,” she said.

Also, at that time, a groom had to give his bride a ring, a necklace and a pair of earrings, all gold, as wedding gifts, according to Zhi’s husband Wang. Washing machines, stereos and honeymoon trips became hot choices for newly-weds.

Wang added, “Another interesting thing is that professional wedding service companies came into being in the 1990s and became popular very quickly. At first, they only provided on rent dresses and helped brides put on make-ups. Later, they took on everything from car arrangement to ceremony anchoring.”

The new century brought about a revolution of another kind.

There are those who do not think a formal marriage is necessary for living together.

“I can understand if two people in love live together before getting married,” said Wu Dan, a customer service worker in a US company’s Shanghai office, “But as girls, we also have to be beware of unsafe sex.”

A recent survey showed almost all boys or girls in their 20s said they have no problem with live-in relationships with their partners before getting formally married.

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