The Professional Matchmaker - Presents of a Live Pig, or Goose and Gander - The Bridal
Procession - Picturesque Ceremonial in China is of two kinds, one in which the pair do not even see each other until the evening of the wedding-day, the other in which the couple are acquainted with each other beforehand.
The arrangements are always made by a go-between, employed to negotiate. There is in China a curious sentiment of shyness throughout the whole proceedings, nor does this cease with marriage, for it is considered a terrible breach of etiquette for anyone to inquire of a Chinaman after the health of his wife, or even to allude to her in the most distant way.
The suitor, therefore, is aided by his best-man. If the girl's father is satisfied with the match, he makes known his acquiescence, and the suitor sends her a present. This is conveyed by the best-man, who makes certain necessary inquiries of the girl's relatives, and communicates them to his friend. Her age, for instance, her character, her health, and perhaps some delicate inquiries are made as to any personal defects, such as a hump, a squint, lameness, impediment of speech, appearance.
Astrologers are consulted, and if their opinion is favourable to the marriage, the best-man carries a formal proposal on behalf of his friend. The next step is for the bridegroom's father to write a formal letter of agreement to the bride's father.
With this document are sent presents of sweetmeats, or, perhaps, a live pig, or sometimes a goose and gander, this testifying to the good faith of the sender.
These preliminaries settled, the bridegroom prepares two large cards, on which are written the particulars of the agreement. One of these he keeps for himself, and on the outside of it is pasted a paper dragon. The other is sent to the bride, and, instead of a dragon, is adorned with a phoenix. Each card is ornamented with two pieces of red silk, which signify (so runs the legend) that Fate has bound them together in-dissolubly.
The bridegroom then begins to send presents to the bride, and the date of the wedding is fixed - not by the bride, but by the astrologers. There is no wedding ceremony. The only thing approaching to this is formal worship of the ancestors of both families. And prostrations in honour of heaven and earth and the bridegroom's parents complete the rite which consecrates the marriage. Even this does not occur until the evening, after the bride has been borne in procession, accompanied by musicians, to her new home, the husband having gone to the house of his bride, or sent his best-man to escort her. In the former case he is received by his father-in-law, who conducts him to the central hall, the chief apartment of almost every Chinese house, and offers him a goblet of wine, from which the visitor pours out a libation to the emblematic geese, in token of his nuptial fidelity, accompanying the action with a deep reverence to the family altar. The bride makes a deep obeisance towards the place where she thinks her future husband is standing. She is covered with a thick red veil, an all-enveloping garment, and the sedan chair in which she is conveyed from house to house is also red.
The procession then takes place, and the bridegroom, on her arrival at his house, taps on the door of the sedan chair, whereupon the professor of matrimony, who prompts the bride at every turn (the professor is a woman) opens the door, hands her out, and she is lifted across the threshold over a pan of burning charcoal, or a red-hot brazier, the servants at the same moment offering her rice and prunes.
In the reception-room the bridegroom awaits her on a dais, at the foot of which she humbly prostrates herself. He then descends to where she stands, raises her, removes her veil, and sees her face, perhaps for the first time in his life. Without exchanging a word they seat themselves side by side, and each tries to sit on a part of the dress of the other, the one who succeeds being considered as the ruler of the future menage.
They then proceed to the hall and before the family altar worship his ancestors. He says that in obedience to his parents' commands he has taken her (naming her) to wife, and beseeches them to bestow their choicest gifts on himself and his partner. Prostrations in honour of heaven and earth and in honour of the bridegroom's parents complete the rite. They then retire to their apartment for dinner, etiquette ordaining that the wife shall eat nothing. Through the open door the bride is subjected to the scrutiny of the guests The attendants now hand to each, in turn, a cup of wine, that each may exchange pledges, and the ceremonies are concluded.
A Manchu bride and groom of the wealthy classes in wedding costume
Underwood & Underwood