How did ancient Chinese people find their lovers?
Today is another Single's Day, if you have found your sweetheart or Mr Right, congratulations! If you are still single, please also enjoy the day. Since every coin has two sides, being single can have many advantages. And as we say, life is short, be happy and never waste your time wallowing in misery, believe that only happiness lies before you.
Compared to ancient people, we should feel grateful for having more freedom to find the person we want to be with. In ancient China, marriage was often decided by parents or even the government. And during some periods, like the Jin Dynasty (265-420), marriage policies could go to extremes. Single women must get married by a certain age. If a female was still single at 17, there would be a forced marriage with local administrators' involvement.
Extreme policies to force people to get married were rare. Ancient Chinese had milder ways to encourage people to find a spouse.
As early as the Zhou Dynasty (c.11th century-256BC), officials in charge of people's marriages appeared.The Rites of Zhou(Zhou Li), a Chinese book on organizational and bureaucracy theory that came out in the middle of the 2nd century BC, recorded the creation of this kind of officer, who served to manage people's marriages.
During the Three Kingdoms (220-280), Southern frontiers in China that were still behind in civilization had official matchmakers as well.
The traditional complicated engagement processes before marriage were also simplified by the policies of the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279) governments, to encourage more people to get married quickly.
Official match makers became more professional, especially appointed by the government even with certifications later in the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368).
And in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), there were many such matchmakers in Xinjiang where large numbers of male criminals and farmers were sent for land reclamation. And to let them settle down, official match makers would help the singles to find spouses.
Yet not all of them were lucky enough to marry someone, due to the small number of women in the area.
Statue of Princess Yuzhen
Opportunities during festivals
Ancient Chinese still had certain freedoms to get married with people they liked, rather than being completely manipulated by their parents or government.
In the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476BC), there was an annual "Mid-Spring Meeting" on the third day of lunar March that provided unmarried people a chance to get to know each other.
InThe Rites of Zhou, it is recorded that men and women who fell in love during this meeting can get married freely without their parents interfering. On this day, unmarried females who often stayed at home would come out and had fun near the river bank. Each single man would let his cup of wine run down from the upper reaches of the river. And the woman needed to take the wine if a cup stopped before her. Once she and the cup's owner were satisfied with each other, they would have more free communication later.
Lantern Festival was another opportunity for single people to meet. On the night of that day, unmarried men and women would meet at the flower fair and lantern-decorated street.
Romance often happened, although not all of them ended in happiness.
Ouyang Xiu, a famous poet from the Song Dynasty, depicted a woman's longing for the man she met during Lantern Festival in his poem Yuan Xi.
It goes like this: "last lantern festival, the flowers fair decorated with lights were daylight bright. We met after dusk when the moon rose behind willow trees. This year the moon and lanterns are still the same, yet you are not here anymore. I am sad, with tears shed on the sleeves of my spring coat."
However, there were still some people who enjoyed being single and willingly chose to lead their own lifestyle.
According to an epitaph in the Forest of Stone Steles Museum in Xi'an, Shaanxi province, a hermit whose surname was Liu from the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234) chose to remain single.
Liu spent most of his time collecting and appreciating calligraphy and paintings. He said he would like to marry someone, but if he could not find the one he really loved, he would rather be single.
Some ancient Chinese women chose to look after her parents instead of getting married. InZhan Guo Ce, an important text of the Warring States Period (475-221BC), recorded Beigong Yingerzi who willingly spent her life taking care of elder parents. Yingerzi later became the synonym for filial women.
And a certain number of men and women preferred a silent single life in monasteries as monks, nuns or Taoist priests. Not only common people but also royals made this choice.
Princess Jinxian and her little sister Princess Yuzhen from the Tang Dynasty chose to be Taoist priests. Their father, Emperor Li Dan, supportively spent a large sum of money to build Taoist temples for his beloved daughters.