Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/253

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241
CHINESE MARRIAGE CUSTOMS.


CHINESE MARRIAGE CUSTOMS.

By ADELE M. FIELDE.

SEXUAL selection, which has doubtless greatly influenced the development and advancement of certain races, has been inoperative in China during many centuries, because, under the prevailing usages, the contracting parties have, before espousal, no opportunity to judge of the strength, beauty, or intelligence of their consorts. Romantic love has no part in marriage or its issue. This may be one of the causes of China's arrested civilization, and of the astonishing fact that her astute people have invented nothing and discovered nothing during hundreds of years.

Although polygamy is legal, it is practically so expensive and inconvenient as to be uncommon among the masses. Under the law, no man may have more than one wife, though he may add to his household any number of helpmeets. The wife, brought home with unique ceremony, may under no circumstances be superseded in her well-defined sphere, the penalty of an attempt to put an inferior in her place being a hundred blows. In all cases the marriage engagement is made by the senior members of the families concerned, and is usually made without the knowledge of the future husband or wife.

Marriage being essential to the continuance of the line of worshipers before the lares and penates, a man who will not marry is reckoned guilty of filial impiety. Spinsters are unknown and bachelors are few. The universal and intense desire for posterity in the male line of descent leads to much self-sacrifice on the part of parents, in order to secure wives for sons, and causes them to make provident arrangements for their marriage at an early age. Betrothals of expected infants, conditional upon their being of different sexes, are not rare. Among the poor it is not uncommon for a newly-born daughter to be given away, that a girl of another clan may be taken by the mother, reared at her breast, and bestowed upon her son in after-years. In many families there is at least one little daughter-in-law that is being brought up in the house of her future husband.

Parents of moderate means endeavor to provide wives for their sons by the time they are twenty years old, while but few keep a daughter after she is sixteen. Those who have a marriageable son, and the means of meeting the expense of taking a daughter-in-law, place their case in the hands of an old female friend or of a matrimonial agent, called a go-between, who finds among her acquaintances that which is required by her client. The parents of the two young people do not meet for conference, and are not usually known to each other even by name. The negotiation is