What Are the Cultural Connotations of a Traditional Chinese Wedding? – Part 1

Tai Si.

Tai Si, a descendant of Yu the Great, the founder of the Xia Dynasty. (Image: via Public Domain)

Please go here for Part 2.

Marriage is one of the most important events in everyone’s life. However, today, many Chinese people have forgotten the customs of traditional weddings. For example, brides often wear white, as is the tradition in Western weddings as it symbolizes purity, but not entirely in traditional China culture, as white is also associated with death and is the color commonly worn at funerals.

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Traditional Chinese weddings were not about wealth

In addition, the current wedding format has many new arrangements primarily associated with showing off wealth. So what are the cultural connotations and forms of traditional Chinese weddings?

In traditional Chinese culture, people attach great importance to weddings. In the first chapter of the Book of Songs, Guan Ju relates a true love story about a man that falls in love with a woman, and they overcome tremendous odds to become husband and wife.

This poem has a strong romantic theme: On the opposite side of the river, an elegant and beautiful lady was picking water lilies. King Wen of the State of Zhou saw her only once, and from then on, he missed her every day, lying on his bed tossing and turning, unable to sleep; he just wanted to marry her.  

King Wen wanted to marry the beautiful lady across the river and have a proper wedding.
King Wen of the State of Zhou. (Image: Public Domain)

How to cross the Weishui River?

Who was this beautiful woman? She was Tai Si, a descendant of Yu the Great, the founder of the Xia Dynasty. She lived on the opposite bank of the Weishui River from King Wen and the State of Zhou.

There was no bridge over the river at that time. “What should I do?” he thought. Some say it’s easy; row a small wooden boat over to get her. But this woman is the daughter of the lord of a great country, and a proposal of marriage must reflect her status. 

King Wen finally thought of a way to cross the river — “building a boat as a beam” — connecting many boats to build a pontoon bridge over the river. With the people’s abilities at that time, it was no small project to create a “pontoon bridge” on the Weishui River. However, it was eventually completed, and King Wen ventured across. Tai Si was impressed, and they were married.

Tai Si proved to be a woman of benevolence, wisdom, and simple taste. She quickly gained favor with the other royal family women through her diligent work ethic and demeanor. She and her husband had ten sons, all men of good virtue and wisdom.

One son was King Wu of Zhou, who conquered the State of Shang around 1050 BCE and established the Zhou Dynasty, the longest dynasty in Chinese history (1050-221 BCE). His younger brother, the Duke of Zhou, found the culture of rituals and music in China that lasted for thousands of years.

Tai Si, Tai Jiang, and Tai Li of the Zhou Dynasty were called the “Three Tais of the Zhou Dynasty.” Later generations also called their wives “Tai Tai” and hoped their wives would be as virtuous as the “Three Tais” of the Zhou Dynasty.  

King Wu of Zhou was the first king of the Zhou Dynasty. (Image: Public Domain)

Choosing a future wife and the five constant relationships

The woman must be gentle and virtuous. An old saying goes: “In choosing a wife, you must choose a kind and virtuous woman, not by her wealth status. And marry her by a series of formal etiquette that is the wedding format in Chinese culture.”

There are five types of interpersonal relationships in Chinese culture, also known as the five constant relationships. The five constant relationships refer to the five fundamental relationships in Confucian philosophy and are those between; 1) husband and wife; 2) ruler and subject; 3) father and son; 4) elder brother and younger brother, and 5) friend and friend.

Confucius viewed almost all human relationships as hierarchical and reciprocal. Educational attainment was particularly valued.

Husband and wife is the most fundamental relationship among the five relationships; that is to say, all human relationships begin with the relationship between a husband and wife. The ancients believed marriage was the foundation of all human relationships.

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