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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/255

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CHINESE MARRIAGE CUSTOMS.

marriage procession is headed by a man carrying a branch of a banyan-tree, whose local name is identical in sound with another word which means completed or perfected. It signifies the fact that all that is necessary to legal matrimony has been done in this case. This leader is followed by two men, each bearing a lantern on a stalk of sugar-cane, the former being a part of the bride's outfit, and the latter rising stage by stage to a climax broad and flourishing, symbolizing the hope that the bride's life may likewise widen out. The next in the file is a man carrying over his shoulder a bamboo, the emblem of rapid increase, having a red bundle of footgear on one end of it, and a red coverlet on the other. After him come as many burden-bearers as are necessary to carry all the red boxes containing the trousseau.

On arriving at the door of the house, the bride sees her husband for the first time, and recognizes him, among those who await her, by his rich attire. By previous arrangement, she is first greeted by some woman reckoned lucky and prosperous, in the hope that she will be like the one who gives her earliest welcome in her new home. A mistress of ceremonies that has been engaged to see that during three days all is done according to established usage, throws upon the door-sill some burning straw, half extinguishes it, and leads the new-comer across it, saying:

"Now, fair young bride, the smoke bestride;
This year have joy, next year a boy."

This rite is supposed to disinfect the bride from any evil influence to which she may have been subjected by demons or white tigers along her route. She then immediately enters the room in which her red bedstead has been set up, and in which her possessions are all deposited. There she sits silent all the rest of the day, among her red boxes, no one speaking to her, or noticing her in any way except by bringing her food. A feast is spread in the evening for male friends, who have been invited by card, and its preparation occupies the whole household. After the supper, the guests are permitted to see the bride, who is brought forward by the duenna toward the door of the bedroom. In some cases only those who can offer a felicitous stanza are allowed to approach the bedroom door, and there is much rivalry in the composition of poetry to be recited. The stanzas usually contain allusions to posterity, as in the following translations from the vernacular:

"The bride is high-browed, fair and sweet;
Like awls her small and sharp-toed feet.
Brought home this year with honors meet,
Next year an infant son she'll greet."

 

"Fresh twigs upon the pine, new sprouts on the bamboo;
The groom brings home the bride to rule his house: his field
To her a thousand-fold its annual crop shall yield;
And she will be a mother-in-law at thirty-two."