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Wedding Customs and Tea Rite

The tea rite was most widely reflected in wedding customs. Compared with Westerners, the Chinese attached greater importance to genetic connections, and regarded marriage as the most important event of the lives. The tea rite was reflected in wedding customs, for tea represented purity, firmness, and the view that the more children one had, the happier one would be. The Chinese regarded tea as the purest thing, symbolizing pure and noble love between men and women. The ancients believed that transplanted tea could not survive (people have now mastered the skill), so tea was sometimes called buqian (unmovable) to express unswerving love. As tea had many seeds, it symbolized the Chinese view that the more children and grandchildren one had, the happier one would be. So, when combined with marriage systems, the tea rite became one of the most important rites of one's life.

In South China among Han people, on an engagement, the bridegrom-to-be offered betrothal gifts to the bride's family, an action which was called xiachali (offering tea). The wedding custom called sanchali (three tea rites) in regions south of the Yangtze River can be explained in two ways: It may refer to three courtesies on the engagement and wedding ceremony of a new couple: that is, xiachali on the engagement, dingchali on the wedding ceremony, and "hechaili" on the first wedding night It may, however, refer to the three tea courses of the wedding ceremony: the first course, ginkgos; the second, lotus seeds and dates; and the third, tea. In both explanations, tea symbolized pure and unswerving love.

Tea was first used in weddings as far back as the Song Dynasty. The bridegroom presented tea as a betrothal gift to the bride's family when he made an offer of marriage, which was called "knocking at the door." The matchmaker was also called person carrying tea caddies."On the day before the marriage, the bride's family went to the bridegroom's house to decorate the bridal curtain and chamber, and offer them tea and wine. In The Peony Pavilion written by Tang Xianzu, the father said, "My daughter died three years ago. No man had ever presented tea as a gift and made an offer of marriage, and she had never been engaged to anyone before she was born" As described in The Peach Blossom Fan written by Kong Shangren, "The bridal sedan chair was ready to carry the bride to the bridegroom's house, and the bridegroom's family has offered adequate tea as a betrothal gift" In A Dream of Red Mansions, Wang Xifeng said to Lin Daiyu, "Since you have drunk our family's tea, you should marry into our family." These quotations show that tea was a time-honored symbol of marriage. Tea was essential in the old wedding custom in Jiangsu Province. The matchmaker passed the card containing the hour, date, month and year of the bride's birth written in red golden paint,and the bridegroom's side offered tea,fruits, gold and silver as betrothal gifts. On the wedding day, the bridegroom went horse-riding to the bride's home with a sedan chair and waited at the gate. He had to make a bow with his hands folded in front of him whenever he entered a door until he reached the central room,and greeted his father-in-law and the honored guests. After he was solved three courses of tea,he went to his mother-in-law's room to wait for the bride to enter the sedan chair. It was called "tea served when opening the door."

Tea occupied an important place in wedding ceremonies in Hunan and Jiangxi provinces, known as famous tea production areas. As the saying goes in Liuyang City and other places, "young men and women would pledge to marry by drinking tea together." If the young man and woman agreed to meet each other, the matchmaker would lead the young man to the girl's home on a fixed day. If the girl agreed to associate with him, she would serve him a cup of tea. If the man was satisfied, he would leave payment for tea in the cup; otherwise he would also drink tea to show his respect to the young woman, then place the Chinese tea cup on the table upside down. The payment for tea should be even in number, ranging from two to 100 yuan. If the man drank the tea, the marriage would have hope of success. Young men and women in Hunan Province showed their reactions to each other by drinking tea and eating eggs. If the girl went to the man's home, and the man was satisfied with her, he would offer her three or more eggs; if he was not, he offered only two eggs. The girl would show her good faith by eating the three or more eggs happily. If the man went to the girl's home, and the girl was satisfied with him, she would offer him tea and eggs; if not, only tea.

The tea rite on the engagement in Hunan Province was unique in style. The bridegroom's side went to the bride's home to offer betrothal gifts including yanchapan - a plate on which displayed patterns such as "the luan (a mythical bird likes a phoenix) and the phoenix," and "the magpie carrying a plum branch in its bill." The patterns were made of dyed lampwicks, and the space between filled with tea and salt. The custom was called zhengcha. (formal tea). If the bride's family accepted it, the marriage would be settled, and both of them could never go back on their word.

In Hunan Province, the bridegroom and bride would meet their seniors and offer them scented tea when guests took their seats after the wedding ceremony. Each senior would put a red paper containing money on the tea tray after he or she drank tea. In some areas, the and bride drank tea together on the wedding night, just as newly married couples in North China drank "cross-cupped wine" from one another's glasses. When the bride entered the bridal chamber, the bridegroom offered the bride a cup of tea with both hands. The bride took a sip, then the bridegroom followed. Thus they completed the most solemn ceremony in their lives.

It was a popular Chinese custom to celebrate wedding in the bridal chamber. People in Hunan Province held merriments centred around tea, such as hehecha and chitaicha. Hehecha was recorded in the Records of Chinese Customs , and it is still popular in many places. The bridegroom and bride sat on the same bench, facing each other, and putting their left legs on the other's right legs. The bridegroom put his left hand on the bride's shoulder, and the bride put her right hand on the bridegroom's shoulder. Then they closed their thumbs and index fingers of their free hands to form a square. They held a gaiwan filled with tea in the "square," then people drank tea from it in turn. Taicha another custom The newly married couple carried a tea tray on which were placed gaiwans filled with tea, and asked guests to drink tea in turn. Every guest should speak words of praise before they drank tea; if he could not think of praise, he had to give up his turn to the next guest. In some areas, the newly married couples offered both tea and eggs to their seniors. The seniors then gave them red paper containing money as gift.

The tea rite of weddings in Huzhou Area, Zhejiang Province, was similar to that of Hunan and Jiangxi provinces. The acceptance of the betrothal presents offered by the bridegroom's side was called chicha (drinking tea) or shoucha (accepting tea); the newly married couple offered tea to show respect to their seniors. The gifts given by the seniors were called chabao. In North China, the bride returned to her mothers home on the third day of the wedding,, which was called huimen, while in some areas of Zhejiang Province, the bride's parents went to see their daughter on the third day, which was called wangzhao. The parents would bring 0.5 jin of dry beans, flavedo, sesame and tea gathered before Grain Rain (the 6th solar term) to the bridegroom's home to make tea. The two families talked while (drinking, which was called qingjiapocha. (tea offered by the bride's mother).

Once the couple had borne sons and daughters tea played a different role. In Huzhou Area, Zhejiang Province, a baby had its head Slaved on the completion of its first month of life, and its head was washed with tea to wish it intelligence, and to bring it a long life of abundance and respectability. The custom was called chayu kaishi.

The Bai ethnic group in Dali County, Yunnan Province, lived at the foot of Mount Cangshan by Erhai Lake, tea's birthplace. Tea's spirit was reflected in the area's wedding custom. Young girls were skillful in baking tea. They stewed water on an iron tripod mounted in the central room, and baked tea in a small sand jar by its side. Then they poured boiling water on the baked tea when it sent out an enchanting fragrance. Foams rose from the mouth of the jar like rounded pincushions. One of the standards by which the bride was appraised was whether she could offer such wonderful baked tea to her parents-in-law. The bridegroom's fellows and juniors celebrated the wedding in the bridal chamber, and the newly married couple offered them three courses of tea, which was different from that served at ordinary times. The first course was bitter tea instead of sugar tea; the second, sweet tea with brown sugar and nuts; and the third, milk tea made with cheese and brown sugar. "The first course was bitter; the second, sweet; and the third l would lead a person to endless aftertastes." There was much philosophy of life in the custom.

The king of tea in Menghai County, Yunnan Province, was well known both at home and abroad. It was a local custom that the bride climbed the tree to gather tea. The local people believed that the higher she climbed, and the more tea she gathered, the luckier the couple would be. The bridegroom might feel embarrassed to tell a stranger the reason for the custom, but if questioned closely over and over again, he would finally tell: "We gathered tea from the king of tea so that it would bless us to have a lasting affection towards each other, exuberant vitality, and many children just as itself does." If a guest happened to visit them, the newly married couple would knead and bake the tea, and offer him fragrant to show their respect.

The Lahu ethnic group living by the Lancangjiang River enjoyed freedom of marriage. Young couples had some experience before they got married, such as exploration, singing in antiphonal style, scrambling for turbans, secret meetings and stabilizing the passions. When a couple were attracted to each other, ,they would pledge to marry, and finally tell their parents. The bridegroom's side asked a matchmaker to go to the bride's home to make an offer of marriage. The matchmaker presented a pair of candles, cigarettes, tea and other things as betrothal gifts on behalf of the bridegroom, among which tea was an essential item. The Lahu people believed that if the bridegroom did not offer tea, the marriage would not count. After the formal wedding ceremony, the bridge and bridegroom carried water and offered it to their parents and the matchmaker. Such a marriage would be regarded as a happy marriage.

Tea had an important place in the wedding ceremony of the Maonan ethnic group in the northwest of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. On the wedding day, after the man sent by the bridegroom's side had lunch at the bride's home, ,the bride's family started to "fold the quilt." The bride's mother filled a large copper pen with red eggs, polished glutinous rice, icker, tangerines, melon seeds, copper cash, and tea-an essential item. The bride's sister(s)-in-law and aunt(s) folded the quilt into a square, and placed it on a yoke called gang ,with a copper pen on one end, and a iron teapot on the other, and draped with many cloth shoes made by the bride. The practice of "transforming marriage,,was popular in the Maonan ethnic group. When an elder brother died, the younger one would marry his wife, or vice versa. The ceremony was called "transforming tea."

In the Achang ethnic group, the matchmaker went to the bride's home to offer two bags of tea, tobacco and sugar. On the third day of the wedding, when the bride's family went to the bridegroom's home to send her dowry and "large lunch-box," the bridegroom's family proposed a toast, "Please ride the large white horse;" and another toast on departure, "Please ride the large red horse to return homer!"

The wedding custom of the Qiang ethnic group in the Aba area of Sichuan Province was very interesting. As a special local product, tea was an essential wedding gift. On the wedding day, three gun salute was fired whenever the contingents of people who go to the bride's home to escort her to the wedding passed a village. Villagers went out to see the fun. The relatives of the bridegroom and the bride entertained the contingents with tea and food made of com, highland barley, wheat and soya beans. They moved on after drinking and eating. In this way, they showed their blessings and friendship. Finally, the bride reached the bridegroom's home.

Besides showing faithfulness and respect, ethnic groups in the northwest of China showed their wealth through the tea rite at weddings. Tea was essential in their daily life, but was hard to come by. In the Sala ethnic group in Qinghai, the bridegroom's side asked the matchmaker to go to the bride's home on an auspicious day to offer a pair of earrings and a package of fucha tea as "engagement tea"; the custom was called xiding. In the Bonan ethnic group in Gansu Province, the bridegroom's father or uncle, and the matchmaker went to the bride's home to offer a pair of earrings, two packages of fucha tea and some clothes. The Yugu ethnic group valued tea highly. Before liberation, ,a lump of fucha tea had to be exchanged for two sheep. The bridegroom had to offer a horse, an ox, more than ten sheep, 20 pieces of cloth, and two lumps of fucha tea to the bride's family. Match-making was called shuocha in the Hui ethnic group. Parents of both sides took a look at their prospective daughter- or son-in-law on such a meeting- If the bridegroom's parents took a fancy to the bride, the matchmaker would go to her home to bring back words and offer fucha tea. If the bride's side agreed, they would accept the tea. Thus they were engaged to each other. The rite was called dingcha (betrothal tea) or xicha (wedding tea). The bride's family divided the tea into small pieces, and gave it to their relatives, friends and neighbors as presents.

Tea also had an important place in Tibetan wedding customs. Tibetans enjoyed freedom in love. Young men and women measured their future husband or wife by his or her appearance and moral standings instead of family financial situation and betrothal gifts. They sang songs when they pledged to marry, ,using tea as a metaphor for love:

Could we eat zanba in our bags together?
Could we brew tea in our pots together?
Could we exchange our golden bracelets and silver rings?
Could we exchange our long and short belts?

From this pledge, we can see that Tibetans regarded tea as important as golden bracelets and silver belts. Buttered tea was also essential for a wedding.

The Man ethnic group developed from the Nuzhen ethnic group in Heilongjiang Province, Tea was used in their wedding ceremonies as far back as the Jin Dynasty. At that time, they still preserved the remnants of a matriarchal system, and a man's proposal was called xiachali (offering tea). On the wedding day, the bride's family sat on a kang (a raised heated platform used for sleeping) to receive the kowtows of the bridegroom's family. Then they drank tea and ate candied fruits together. In the Qing Dynasty, the Man ethnic group continued this old custom. They also called an engagement xiachali,,although it was a simplified form of the earlier custom.

Tea was widely used in weddings of many Chinese ethnic groups. It had an important place in wedding customs in the Central Plains and border areas, southwest, northwest and northeast China. It showed that people everywhere believed that tea was the symbol of firmness, purity, love and luck.