1. The Chinese New Year Festival
The New Year Festival is the most important holiday
period of the Chinese year. The principal ceremony is making offerings
to the gods
Traditionally, all debts are supposed to be paid before the year ends
and business is suspended for fourteen days while “the
world is given over to the pleasure and merriment”. Paper door gods are
pasted on the front doors and strips of red paper with characters implying
happiness, wealth, good fortune, longevity are placed on the lintels.” Like
Westerners many families stay up all night to ‘see the old year
out and greet the new.’ It may begin as early as four or five
o’clock in the morning on the first day of the year with the ‘presentation
of rice to heaven and earth’. Tables in the home are covered
with red cloth adorned with cedar or flowers with offerings of rice,
tea, wine, incense and candles. Decorations are displayed everywhere
and once the arrangements have been made firecrackers are set off
in front of the house.
on the third and fourth days ‘boatwomen’ and
children visit the wealthy, knock on the doors singing songs
and receive cakes and food. The fourth day observes the ceremony
the gods’. This refers to the ‘Kitchen God’,
the God of Wealth’, the ‘God of Happiness’,
who come down from heaven and begin their duties on earth for
the coming year. The ‘Kitchen
God’ is of particular importance as a picture of this
individual hangs near the stove and “on the twenty-fourth
of the twelfth month this god feasts on sweets and a paper chariot
is burned to provide
him with a carriage to ascend to heaven where he will make a
report on the conduct of the household for the past year. On
Eve, the picture is removed from its place on the wall and burned,
firecrackers are set off and a hilarious indulgent feast of
eating and drinking begins. “When
the fourth day of the New Year arrives, the head of the family
pays homage to the returned gods and places a new picture on
the wall, after
which many Chinese return to work”.
the first half of the first month bands of musicians and groups
of actors perform the ‘Dragon Play’ constantly. On the tenth
and eleventh day the people begin to display paper lanterns and by the
nights of the fourteenth the lanterns are strung from every possible
vantage point. The Feast of Lanterns dates back to the Hans dynasty
and it is observed on the night of the fifteenth where the lanterns
are all shapes, sizes, patterns and colours. The festival ends with
the parade of the dragon. This mystical creature may be more than one
hundred feet in length and may require as many men to carry it. As it
winds its way through the lantern decorated streets people surround
it on all sides carrying their own lanterns while setting off firecrackers.
This is the climax and official ending of the New Year’s
The Ch’ing Ming is observed about the third
day of the third moon, or to be exact, one hundred and six days after
solstice. The day is always specified in the Imperial Calendar and
is a time
when the Chinese visit the graves of their ancestors and present
offerings before the tablets of these departed spirits.
It is generally agreed that, the hanging of willow is an omen of good
and it is thought to ward off evil influences and wicked spirits. Houses
are decorated with foliage, willow branches hang from the tiling above
the front door along with those placed throughout the house. To honour
the dearly departed, no fire is kindled for three days prior to the
first day. Fires are rekindled after the graves have been put in order
and offerings made. General festivities are indulged and include family
picnics and excursions to the country.
3. Dragon Boat Festival
The Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated during the first five days of
the fifth moon. On the morning of the first day it is the custom to
hang from the doorposts and windows a few leaves of Artemisia and the
sweet-flag tied together. The children are dressed in their best and
they flock to the lake or river to watch the racing of the Dragon boats.
boats used are about one hundred and twenty-five feet long, two
and one-half feet deep, and five and one half feet
wide. The bow of
the boat is generally a carved Dragon’s head, the stern represents
the Dragon’s tail. Besides the rowers there are men who
wave the flags and beat the gongs to encourage the rowers.
origin of The Dragon Boat Festival goes back to 295 B.C. when a
statesman named Ch’u
Yuan of Ying, is said to have drowned himself in the river Mi-lo
after being falsely accused by one of the petty princes
of the state and as a protest against the corrupt condition
of the government. Ch’u Yuan was loved by the people for his
virtue and fidelity. Search parties were sent out in boats in an
endeavor to find the body.
Not being successful they prepared a rice-cake called ‘tsung’,
made of glutinous rice and wrapped in leaves. The Dragon Boat
Festival is a re-enactment of that story in the form of a race.
boats are decorated and gongs are beaten as they race to the
occurred and celebrate the spirit of a loyal statesman by making
Some writers say the festival originated at a much earlier date, probably
with the object to curry favour of the beneficent dragon in the hope
that he would send down plenty of rain for the crops.
4. The Mid Autumn Festival
The Moon Festival has several
names. It is sometimes called the Mid-Autumn Festival, Rewarding
the Moon, or the Festival of Re-union. This last
name originated during the Yuan dynasty when the Chinese rose
against their Mongolian oppressors, went into Mongolia, rescued
Emperor and placed Mongolia once more under Chinese rule. This
has become one of the greatest of Chinese Festivals. For several
nights prior to
the sixteenth two pagodas are illuminated. The highest hills are
visited and incense is burned to heaven and earth. The evening of
the last day
is given to general worship of ancestral tablets and household
gods by each individual family. The moon shines brighter on the
fifteenth of the eighth month than at any other time during the
year and the birthday of the moon shape
is in the form of a horse and rider, a pagoda or a fish. It is
decorated with red, yellow, green, brown, white and sometimes gold
cakes with fruit are placed upon a table on a veranda and are
eaten with friends and relatives in sight of the moon. These are
made to departed spirits; afterwards, the time is given to enjoyment
and holiday-making by way of rewarding the moon.
Many female deities are worshipped
at this time, the most prominent one being the Mother of the Measure
or the Seven-star Mother, who is
said to live in the Great Bear constellation. The Moon is worshipped
as a benign goddess and presents and congratulations are exchanged
between fiends and relatives during the Moon Festival.
here to see a Children performing an Umbrella
Dance from the Dragon
5. Kung Fu Tea Ceremony
was in the south-west part of China where Chinese tea was found
and originated. This area is
covered by a large
primeval forest where
the warm and moist sub tropical climate has been the perfect cradle
for tea trees. In fact, huge 2,700 year old wild tea trees and
800 year old planted tea trees can still be found there. It was
in the 5th century
that tea went beyond the Chinese border. The phonetic pronunciation
of “tea” in Mandarin is Cha, and in XiaMenese in the
Fujian province it is called Tay. Cha and Tay defined two classes
of tea and
followed different timelines and routes of being introduced to
the rest of the world. Cha found its way to Persia, Arabia, Turkey,
Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Tay was introduced much later
than Cha but reached much farther. Near the end of the Ming Dynasty
AD, British merchants had established trading posts in XiaMen
discovered Chinese tea as a potential trade product. It was called
British spelled as “tea”. It became widely accepted
in Western cultures and is a descendent of Tay. There
are eight classes of Chinese tea: Green tea; Oolong tea; Black
tea; Red tea; White tea; Yellow
tea; Flower Scented tea; and, compressed
tea. When it comes to brewing, different classes of tea have optimal
water temperatures. Brewing time and the number of infusions varies
depending on the kind of Chinese tea being used. A good cup of
tea has the following attributes: Gan or bitterness, flavour, smoothness,
casual settings, there is tea and on serious occasions there again
is tea. The tea custom honours
a storied past in marriage, showing respect,
apologizing, and saying thank you. In a traditional Chinese marriage
ceremony, the bride and groom kneel in front of their parents
and serve them tea. That is a gesture of gratefulness. For parents
son to be married they speak of wanting to drink the daughter-in-laws
tea. When served tea the recipient
may thank the pourer by knocking with bent index and middle fingers
on the table. This
custom began in the
Ching dynasty some 300-400 years ago, the story goes like this;
the Emperor liked to dress casually when visiting his kingdom.
were instructed to maintain a low profile during his visit and
thus prevent the identity of their master being revealed. One
day at a restaurant,
after pouring himself a cup of tea, the emperor filled the servant’s
cup. The servant saw this as a great honour and out of reflex
wanted to kneel before the emperor and was stopped. So instead
kneed with his fingers. This “thanks” knock is still
people have a storied past and have lived in separate regions
throughout the world. Each region has its own food, dialect
and customs. Similarly, the wedding customs of a particular
region are no different.
The customs presented have been taken from Hong Kong.
one time arranged marriages were a fact of life in Chinese
culture. There have
been circumstances where both
the bride and groom were very
young or not even born. It was an elaborate process for the groom’s
parents to look for the right kind of bride for their family.
This search embodies the Chinese saying bamboo door is to bamboo
door as wooden
door is to wooden door. So it was quite normal for the parents
to dominate the bride-seeking process. In olden days, girls from
rich families were
sought out by other rich families and poor girls would likely
marry into poor families. The former family was looking for someone
care of household finances and give birth to sons to inherit the
wealth, while the latter families were looking for someone to
work hard in the
fields and give birth to sons to help out on the farm. The Chinese
saying pointing to the bosom as a marriage promise, there are
folktales of arranged marriages.
Three Letters and Six Etiquettes
In ancient times formal letters played an important
role in communicating as well as events. The Three Letters saw the
delivery of the Request
Letter, Gift Letter, and Wedding Letter. The first two are sent together.
The former confirms the formal arrangement of a marriage and is sent
from the groom’s family to the bride’s family along with
gifts. It is accompanied by the latter the Gift Letter which is a record
of the description and quantity of the gifts. The Wedding Letter is
presented to the bride’s family on the day of the wedding. It
confirms the act of bringing the bride into the groom’s family.
The Chinese word for etiquette can mean both
customs and gifts. The following are the Six Etiquette: Request for
Marrying the Bride, Request
for Bride and Groom’s birth Dates, Initial Gifts for the Brides
Family, Select the Wedding Date, and the Wedding Day.
Request for Marrying the Bride
A spokeswoman is hired once the family has found
a young woman the groom wants to marry. The spokeswoman will then
communicate their wishes
and persuade the potential bride’s family to accept the offer.
Both sides will negotiate certain terms. Success is not guaranteed.
Bride and Groom’s Birth
groom’s family request the bride’s Eight Letters through
the spokeswoman. The Chinese calendar has 22 letters and they
are used to represent the date. Of those eight represent the bride’s
birth date. Along with the eight letters representing the groom’s
birth date a fortune teller is hired to determine whether the
two match each
other. Once the dates are confirmed to be suitable the groom’s
family will proceed to the next etiquette.
Initial Gifts for the Bride’s Family
The groom’s family will instruct the spokeswoman to send some
initial gifts accompanied by the gift letter to the bride’s family.
Gifts for the Bride’s Family
The groom’s family will
pick a good day and send the bride’s
family the following bridal gifts: clothing, ornaments, cash,
cakes, food and sacrifices for worshiping the ancestors. This
the marriageagreement between the two families.
Select the Wedding Date
The fortune teller will select a good day according to the birthdates
of the bride and groom and their respective families.
this day the bride’s and groom’s homes will be decorated
in red. The groom’s family will send out a procession of
servants, musicians and a carriage which is carried by four servants
to the bride’s
family to bring the bride back. The bride will then be brought
back to the groom’s house and the two will perform the marriage
ceremony witnessed by all the relatives and friends.
bride and groom will worship the heavens and the earth, the groom’s
ancestors and they will also serve tea to all of their superiors
in the family. After that, the superiors will give them red packages
with monetary gifts and wish them well. The groom’s family
will then throw a huge feast for the friends and relatives to
celebrate the wedding. All along, the spokeswoman has overseen
the whole process and toasts the couple.
After the meal, the newlywed couple will return
to the bridal room and some naughty friends may tag- along and play
tricks on the groom.
When all is done, the couple will drink and toast and the spokeswoman
will offer sweets and fruits to the couple to wish them long life and
lots of children. After which, the couple will finally be left to themselves
and the groom can take off the red cloth that covers the bride’s
for the Wedding
Setting up the Bridal Bed
the groom’s family has picked a good day as the wedding
day, a man who’s considered to have had good fortune all
through his life will be hired to move the bridal bed to the right
a lady who’s considered to have had good fortune will make
the bed and place certain good fortune food and fruits on the
the bed will
be left untouched until the day of the wedding.
Bride’s Gifts for the Groom
bride’s gift to the groom will arrive either a couple of
days before the wedding day, or if she has a long distance to
travel, the gifts will arrive with her maids on the wedding day.
consist of valuable jewelry and precious stones, kitchen utensils,
proper bridal linen such as sheets, pillow covers and clothes.
In some regions,
the bride’s family is expected to furnish the bridal room
with the exception of the bed.
Combing the Hair
On the eve of the wedding both the bride and groom need to find a good
fortune woman and man to comb their hair in her or his home respectively.
Incense is to be burnt prior to the event. The bride needs to sit next
to a window where the moon can be seen. Their hair needs to be combed
four times. The first combing symbolizes from the beginning to the end;
the second, symbolizes harmony from now till old age; the third, symbolizes
sons and grandsons all over the place; the fourth symbolizes good health
and a long-lasting marriage. The whole rite symbolizes the adulthood
of the couple.
Wedding Day Activities
Wedding Day: Picking up the Bride
The groom will have sent a carriage with four
servants to pick his betrothed and musicians will accompany the procession
music all the way. The carriage will have been adorned with red carrying
a lot of gifts for the bride’s family. The bride while at home
will put on her bright red wedding gown having jewelry from her parents
Bride Leaving Home
bride cannot touch the ground with her feet until she arrives
at the groom’s house. Upon the arrival of the groom’s
procession his spokeswoman
will enter her house and carry her on her back to the
carriage. Sometimes a red umbrella is used to shield the bride
as the opening of the umbrella symbolizes her bringing many
the groom’s family. As the bride leaves the house her
parents and relatives will bid her farewell as she rides in
and leaves home.
Bride Arriving at the Groom’s Home
Upon the arrival of the bride to the groom’s house, the couple
will worship the ancestors and worship the heavens and earth. They will
then serve tea to the groom’s family according to their seniority
and the relatives will be given red packets or bridal jewelry in return.
The Wedding Banquet
To celebrate the marriage, the groom’s
family will throw a wedding feast. In ancient times some would take
seven days to entertain the
relatives during a wedding.
The Bride Returning Home after 3 Days
Three days after the wedding, the bride is expected
to return to her family. The bride will bring along roasted pig and
gifts for the family.
Some regions require the groom to accompany her. This may be the last
time the bride will see her family and she brings many gifts for her
family. As a tradition, the bride’s family will also return part
of the gifts to the groom’s family as a courtesy.
Modern Chinese Wedding Customs
The traditional wedding customs added to the
festive nature of the ceremony. Today most of the customs are not
performed to their fullest
extent. Most elders prefer the ‘simplified customs’ performed
When to get married?
In Hong Kong the wedding plans are not driven
by the couple’s
relationship. It is often restrained by financial situations. An elaborate
Chinese wedding banquet, that most parents require, may take years for
the couple to save the necessary money for the wedding. The wedding
will not go forward without the agreement of the parents.
Preparation for the Wedding
Exchange Birth Dates and Family Tree
If the groom and the bride’s birthdates
are approved by the fortune teller, the two families will exchange
their family trees. However,
superstition may play a role between the two families and this custom
may not be followed.
to Bride’s Family
Today families usually send both the initial
gifts and the formal gifts to the bride’s home on one day instead
of separating the two events. Most families still consult the Chinese
calendar to pick a good day
which is normally one month before the wedding.
Instead of sending the whole list of gifts, some
couples simplify the gifts because traditional gifts of livestock
are impractical. The groom
will send dried seafood and a fruit basket to the bride’s family.
As for the monetary gift, the groom will either
pay a certain agreed amount to the bride’s family or will offer to pay for all of the
wedding costs. The negotiation will then focus on how many tables the
groom is able to offer to the bride’s family during the wedding
banquet. This can be a contentious issue depending on groom’s
financial ability and the size of his family.
Setting up the Bridal Bed
This custom has been vastly simplified, although some brides see to
observing as much of the custom as practical. So it can be as simple
as changing the linen to the traditional red linen as a symbolic act
for setting up the bridal bed.
The Bride’s Gifts for the Groom
Some brides contribute some of the gifts from
relatives to pay for the banquet as well and some say that it is considered
part of the bride’s
gift. The bride will also bring over jewelry her relatives give her
on her wedding day as a wedding gift, although this rule is not often
This relatively simple custom is often skipped today.
Wedding Day: Picking up the Bride
Today, the bridesmaid will have the most fun
during the pick-up of the bride. Early in the morning, the groom and
the groomsmen will decorate
the cars and drive them over to the bride’s home. At the door,
the bridesmaid will prepare a lot of tricky questions for the groom
to answer. The groom has to answer these questions and perform certain
acts, such as doing push-ups, to demonstrate he is capable of taking
care of the bride, or sing out his love for the bride in front of many
people. The groomsmen will help the groom pass all these tests. The
last test is financial. The groom will pay the bridesmaid with some
red packets or good fortune as gifts, then the groom and groomsmen can
enter the house and greet the bride.
The couple will then serve tea to the superior
in the bride’s
family. The bride’s parents will be the first to be served, followed
by other relatives. Each one will give the couple some present in return,
often red packets and jewelry.
Bride Leaving Home
Today, only the very traditional families will
use the red umbrella or throw rice as the bride leaves the house.
Most people do not perform
any special activities and the bride’s parents and relatives will
either go to the Marriage Registrar or the church to attend the wedding
Bride Arriving at the Groom’s Home
The couple will again serve tea to the superior
in the groom’s
family. The groom’s parents will be the first to be served followed
by other relatives. Each one will give the couple some present in return,
often red packets and jewelry for the bride. The whole family will then
leave for the Marriage Registrar or the church to attend the wedding
The Wedding Banquet
tradition is the one most observed and in Chinese culture one
of the most important
because the wedding feast
is a chance for them
to return their relative’s kindness and to announce the
marriage of their kids. A wonderful wedding feast allows for face
or the respect
of others. The observance of this tradition is especially important
to the families today.
wedding banquet is truly more of a parental event than that of
the young couple’s.
Traditionally, the groom will pay for everything but nowadays,
some young couples will pay
for every thing together.
Once the guest list has been decided the parents will then decide
on a menu. A traditional Chinese banquet will include 12 courses.
is of the utmost importance to the Chinese and in most cases only
delicacies are served.
The guests are seated at round tables and sometimes
seating plans are made. Each guest will normally bring along monetary
gifts. The events
in a Chinese wedding banquet have been modified. Some couples hire a
master of ceremonies and because of Western influences the best man
and the maid of honour often toast the couple. Before the banquet begins
most of the guests will participate in one of the national board games,
mahjong. When the food is ready the waiters will play modified xylophone
wedding music in the background. During the serving of the shark soup
the couple will go from table to table and toast the guests thanking
them. In return the guests will toast the bride and groom. Once completed
the groomsmen and the bridesmaids and friends of the young couple will
play certain tricks on them. The goal is to get the groom to show his
love for his bride in public. This is similar to the clinking of glasses
done at Western weddings. Some of these pranks or tricks may be outrageous.
The bride may change into four or five different gowns over the course
of the wedding day. After the pranks have been completed the bride goes
and gets changed. As time draws near for the guests to leave, the parents,
the couple and the relatives will stand in a line at the door to thank
the guests and wish them well as they leave. The Chinese have a retreating
line as opposed to the receiving line in Western culture.
Post Wedding Activities
The Bride Returning Home after 3 Days
Today, in certain regions, this rule is still followed where the bride
returns to the family with gifts. However, the custom has been simplified
in other regions, where the bride will return home on the same day if
distance allows. Otherwise, some brides will leave the door, and then
return to the house again and count that as returning home.
Education has always been in important to the Chinese people. Traditionally
all Chinese, with rare exception, could read and write. At one time
China had no national system of education and although the course
of study was not prescribed by the government it was always the
same. In the south of China there were also numerous seminaries
for the board and education of young ladies, yet traditions upheld
the continuity of curriculum. This approach to education was reported
to the U.S. joint commission on Chinese Immigration in 1876.
In Chinese education it was essential to
study the literature of The Four Shoos: the first was the Lun-Yu,
which was a collection
of conversations between Confucius and his disciples; the second
was the Ta-Heo which was the great learning; the third was the Chung-Yung
or the doctrine of the mean; and the fourth piece of literature
consisted of the works of Mencius. The first three were recorded
sayings and doctrines of Confucius by his disciples. The object
was to teach men to be virtuous, so that they might successfully
carry out their political and social duties. Once mastered the student
may apply to write examinations for the first degree, which corresponds
to our Bachelor of Arts degree. This opportunity is offered twice
in each three year period.
The student then enters on a study of the
Five-Kings, which embraces cosmology, ancient history, poetry,
and etiquette. It was reported
Confucius attached great importance to the third of five, the She-King,
which was a collection of poems. Confucius thought these poems would
mold the national character. The fourth, the Le-Ke, or record of
rites dealt with national ceremonial knowledge and practices promoting
ethics and social order. The fifth, Ch’un Ts’ew or Spring
and Autumn, is a history of several reigns.
Throughout the Empire the second degree was
offered once in a three year period. This entailed writing examinations
which were equivalent
to our Master of Arts degree. The examination consisted of two written essays,
composing a twelve line poem, and memorized written or verbal
recitation of the Sacred Edict. There were another half dozen
of strength related to the essay and poem sections. Two or three
days after the names of the successful candidates were classified
according to merit and posted.
A president of a social club of Chinese ancestry
gave a speech in San Francisco and spoke of his experience in
earning the second
degree. He stated that of 12,000 applicants 11,940 returned home
with ‘sorrowful hearts.’ Critics were appalled by the
statistics. One explanation correlates the number of graduates with
the number of government positions available. Culturally, education
was the only avenue to all posts of honour and importance.