Arranging marriages according to the old customs.

Written by Wang Ming-ji.


By way of introduction to a group of six songs about marriage which he had collected, Wang Ming-ji wrote a short explanatory note which he amplified by further observations inserted in the songs themselves. This material is here brought together. The writer was at pains to point out that things had changed during the years, and some old customs had fallen into disuse, but they did apply to the time when these songs were first sung .

The expression "zi-ghao" had two meanings. It was the name given to the middleman who conducted the marriage arrangements, and it was also the word for the visits for negotiations which the middleman undertook. "A zi-ghao" means "to make marriage arrangements" or "to make a match".

The Miao used the same sequence of twelve animals as did the Chinese for counting the passage of days or years, so that a "ba-zhu" was strictly a twelve day period. When Wang Ming-ji said "thirteen days", what he meant was "the thirteenth day". That is if the middlemen paid their first visit on, say, Dragon-day, their next visit would be on the thirteenth day, namely the next Dragon-day.

It is not quite clear at what point the middlemen would have to make the announcement if the bride was unwilling. Presumably she would refuse to go and meet the bridegroom, and it would then be for the middlemen to go out and break the news to him, and the whole party would have to return home.

The stipulation of an initial stay of two years after marriage did not, apparently, prevent the bride from going home, if that were necessary, to finish the "bridegroom’s gown". The restriction on her visits was to ensure that the first child would be born in her own new home. It was considered unlucky for a woman to give birth in her parents’ home, and should this happen, elaborate and costly rites of purification had to be performed to remove the pollution, and to carry the child’s spirit to the new home where it properly belonged. If this were not done, the child would not thrive.

The Miao made their own cloth from hemp, so that the "bridegroom’s" gown would be very largely of home grown yarn, spun and woven, dyed and made up by the bride herself. For the decoration and the embroidery work it was necessary to buy some finer red, blue or brown cotton material in the Chinese markets. The presentation of some red material by the bridegroom’s family was an earnest of their good faith and serious intentions.

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