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"Chinese Marriage Procession" by Thomas Allom

Commentary by G.H. Wright

"That peculiar reserve of the sexes towards each other, common to most Eastern countries, prevails with as much strictness in China in the present century as in the earliest period of recorded history. When the ages of seventeen and fourteen have been respectively reached by the intended parties to a marriage-contract, the father of the suitor originates the matrimonial project, and makes overtures for an union on grounds purely commercial. This infelicitous custom arises from the still more illiberal act of prohibiting all association between the lovers before marriage - a custom which strongly marks the inferiority of Pagan to Christian communities. If the practice be strictly observed, it is a cruel and slavish one; if connived at, it mixes up falsehood in a rite that should be one of the purest amongst men.

Chinese Marriage Procession

In the higher, that is, richer classes, duplicity, artifice, and connivance are permitted, and "a match-maker," called usually "a go-between," is indispensable to the formation of every union. Once upon a time, " the man of the moon" was seen in a temple of worship, consulting the marriage-book of fate, by an enamoured suitor, and leaning over a green bag containing the red silken strings for binding the feet of man and wife. Addicted to fatalism like all his countrymen, the lover concluded that the stars should be consulted, and "a go-between" employed for the purpose of so doing, in his contemplated marriage. And this ceremony is religiously observed, and matchmakers are so engaged professionally. To them belongs the duty of carrying those fond and secret communications, which young hearts burn to interchange; and it is their peculiar province to have the omens consulted-the flight of birds observed-the sticks of 'fate thrown-and the stars appealed to. It is to this latter mode of ascertaining the sincere foundation of a mutual affection, that Chaucer alludes, when he makes one of his most interesting heroines say-

'I followed aye my inclination
By virtue of my constellation.'

"When the stars are propitious, the astrologer is remunerated, and the match-maker is not neglected, especially when she appears at the residence of the young lady, to announce the agreeable tidings, and demand a written promise of marriage from her parents. Upon the signing of the contract, rich gifts are presented by the bridegroom, consisting of gold, silver, silk, sheep, wine and fruits, according to the wealth of the parties. From this moment the lovers may be considered as united; the youth now puts on a scarlet scarf, a joyous emblem, after which his father places formally on his head, first, a bonnet of cloth, next a cap of leather, and lastly a mandarin's or nobleman's chaplet. The lady also changes her costume: she braids her hair as matrons do, fastening it with a pin presented by her lover-her companions now shave her face, and perform other friendly offices for her; after which they sit and weep with her, until the day she bids farewell to her parental home.

"On the day appointed by the astrologer, a procession, consisting of a variety of objects, and a vast multitude of performers, hired for the occasion, attends at the residence of the bride, to conduct her home with every demonstration of joy and congratulation: articles of household furniture, chairs of various forms, but all with straight backs, cushions, garments, lanterns, pavilions, and other valuables, are borne by the procession-men. These articles are supposed to be presents from the bridegroom to his bride, but being now a customary display, the whole may be hired from tradesmen whose chief business is to furnish forth all such pageants. Tall frames, resembling the laundress's horse, are borne aloft, from which depend sumptuous female dresses: these are followed by carved chests for containing them, then tables, stands for ornaments, jams and preserves, spirits and wine, fowl in cages, and hogs in penfolds. Geese, from their travelling in flocks together, at a particular season, guided by instinct, have long been considered in China as an emblem of fidelity and conjugal attachment. These animals, therefore, but generally of wood or tin, form a very principal symbol in a marriage procession. Noise being requisite to all entertainments, vociferation is not only tolerated, but invited; and while the bannermen, carrying flags inscribed with mottos, and decorated with the image of the four-footed dragon, exercise their lungs in swelling the joyous chorus, a number of performers on wind instruments and drums, completes the "concordant discord." The sedan-chair of the bride is always a piece of elaborate workmanship, covered with scarlet and gold, and calculated to impress the spectator with the idea that beauty and virtue in the softer sex are indeed much valued in the Chinese empire. Behind the bridal chair, or canopy, servants clad in scarlet liveries attend, followed by a number of sedans, in which the elderly ladies connected with the bridal family are conveyed.

"The procession having halted before the gates of the bridegroom, a purifying fire, whose flame points to heaven, is kindled in the entrance of the vestibule, and over it the bride is carried by the matrons who attended her from her home. After the performance of this ceremony, she is conducted into an inner chamber, called the " hall of songs," where she partakes of a repast with her husband, for the first and last time of their lives, and then assists him in worshipping the matrimonial goose: on the table is placed "the wine of the decorated candle," from which the bridegroom having made four bows, drinks three times; and the bride, covering her face with one hand, with the other raising the goblet to her lips as if pledging her husband, completes the " excellent ceremony," the marriage covenant, by tasting the "cup of alliance." The day after the ceremony, the husband and wife attend some place of worship, and visit their parents and relations; the second day, they receive their young friends and former associates; and on the third, the bride goes in state to her former home, where an entertainment is provided for a number of bidden guests."

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