Throughout history, various cultures have had strange requirements of their women. But none perhaps as strange as the custom of crying before marriage, as followed in Southwest China’s Sichuan Province. According to the custom, it is mandatory for a bride to cry at her own wedding, whether she likes it or not.
The crying marriage ritual was at its peak during the early 17th century and remained so until the end of the Qing dynasty in 1911. It is said to have originated during the Warring States Period (475 to 221 BC), when historical records reveal that the princess of the Zhao State was to be married into the Yan State. At the moment of the princess’ departure, her mother is said to have cried at her feet, asking her to return home as soon as possible. This is said to be the first crying marriage ever. Although the custom is not as popular now as it used to be, there are still a large number of families that practice it with gusto. In fact, it is a necessary procedure for marriage among the Tujia people, in China’s Sichuan Province. The ritual itself is pretty simple – the bride has got to shed tears. If she doesn’t or is unable to, her neighbors will look down upon her as one of poor breeding. Worse still, she could even become the laughing stock of her village. In one extreme case, the bride was beaten by her mother for not crying at the wedding. Perhaps the girl was too happy to be free from her mother?
Photo: Explore Zhangjiajie
The ritual is practiced differently in various regions of the Sichuan Province. In the west, for example, the custom is called ‘Zuo Tang’ (sitting in the hall). Literally, this means that the bride is required to sit in a hall and cry. For a whole month before the big day, the girl walks into a large hall each night and weeps for about an hour. After about 10 days, her mother joins her and the two cry together. Another 10 days later, the grandmother joins the party. A few days later, the bride’s sisters and aunts join in too, in what can only be called a cry-fest. But then the crying isn’t just a random shedding of tears. There’s a song involved as well. Aptly named the ‘Crying Marriage Song’, the exaggerated singing of the verses is said to set the wedding atmosphere quite nicely. Some of the other songs are centered on themes of diligence, etiquette and filial piety.
If you think this is bizarre, well there’s more. Some enthusiastic brides do not limit themselves to just crying. They even swear at the matchmaker. Since women of the olden days had no say in their marriage and were at the mercy of matchmakers, they had full liberty to give the matchmakers a sound piece of their mind. But this isn’t practiced as often as it used to be. The whole point behind the crying marriage ritual is to set off a mood of happiness by using sorrowful words that are false. However, so many brides are unhappy with their lives and choice of husband that they are said to cry for real.
A bunch of women crying at a wedding, the bride included, does sound a tad melodramatic. However, when you come to think of it, it does let all the boohoos out, so the bride can probably let go of the pains of her life up until that point. Perhaps it helps in making a fresh start in life. But then I do feel sorry for all those brides who are unable to cry. I can sympathize with them. If asked to cry, I would probably only laugh harder.