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Marriage in Shanghai – A history of Shanghai marriage customs

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Marriage customs in Shanghai vary in different periods. In the old days, the marriage of young men was arranged by their parents, through go-betweens. If the two families were well matched in social and economic status, the marriage would be settled. Since the opening of Shanghai as a trading port, family background, economic income, physical appearance and features became the criteria for young people to choose their spouses.

Those who worked in banks, post offices, railway departments and large companies were much favoured. In the 1950s, young soldiers and cadres from the families of workers or farmers were popular among girls.

During the 1960s and 1970s, more attention was paid to political background of the family. In the 1980s young people ran ofter those who were well educated and had overseas relatives and houses for marriage.

At that time, choosing foreign spouses came in vogue, and many young women married foreigners. In addition, women’s choice of their future spouses was still affected by factors such as living surroundings, occupation, hometown, spiritual belief, etc.

In the 1990s, young women tended to marry those who had stable jobs with a high income. The males’ criteria remained essentially the same as before: the ability to keep house, raise children, loyalty, obedience and tolerance.

In the late Qing Dynasty and the early period of the Republic of China, freedom to choose ones spouse gradually prevailed in China.

However, the formal proposal was still restricted after giving love tokens, since both sides had to invite a go-between to the ready-matchmaker. Since the 1950s, young people in the city were married either by way of the freedom of love or though the help of go-betweens. In the 1980s, young people had more choices in their marriage. They could put up a notice for spouses in newspaper, or TV or radio programs.

The marriage of the majority of young men and women in rural areas was still arranged by go-betweens. From then on, the custom of engagement was on the decline. Both sides attached importance to the spouse’s first visit to his or her home.

If their love relationship was uncertain, they would not visit each other’s family. If the girl invited the boy to have a dinner in her family, it meant that they wanted a stable love relationship. The buy then must take excellent gifts such as wine, cigarettes, tonics to the girls family.

At the dinner, both sides should greet each other’s parents and get some money though such greetings. Since then, the young man and the young girl were allowed to contact each other freely. There was an old custom in Shanghai, which requires the male side to go to the girl’s family to welcome the dowry on or two days prior to the wedding. The number and the value of dowry were dependent on the family financial conditions.

Before the 1960s, as the daughter grew up, the parents would begin preparing for her dowry items such as clothing, bedding, a night stool, a foot basin, furniture, etc.

In rural areas and some suburban districts, the man prepared the house for marriage while the woman prepared the bed and all the furniture within the room. In the city, the man should prepare the house and the furniture while the woman should provide a night stool, a foot basin together with bedding.

In the 1970s, the male side should prepare such things as a watch, a bicycle, a radio set, and a sewing machine plus the lodging. People in Shanghai described the style and the number of the furniture by legs.

The whole wedding furniture consisted of a large wardrobe, a big bed, a square dining table, and several chairs, which had altogether 48 legs. Since the 1980s, TV sets, cassette tape recorders, refrigerators, washing machines and microwave ovens were taken as part of the dowry.

Before the 1980s, people mostly used tricycles to carry the dowry. Later they began to use trucks or cars to do the job. However, in the rural areas, people had to carry the dowry on their shoulders themselves. In areas crisscrossed with lakes and ponds, people often utilised boats to carry the dowry.

In the 1980s, trucks were often used to carry the dowry. The brides family would display the dowry in the hall.

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