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Chinese Marriage since 1950s
Part 1: In 1950s
 More of this Feature
• Part 2: 1961 - 1976
• Part 3: After 1976
 
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"I have found that in different cities the chinese celebrate weddings in different ways."
STACECOASTER
 
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• Traditions & Culture
• Festivals & Holidays
• Legends and Gods
 
 

From 1950s, most Chinese people's marriages in a particular period were established according to a set of standards generally recognized by the public in that period. Standards for marriages tend to vary from time to time and place to place. While eating habits, fashions, hairstyles and furniture styles reflect the features of a society in a certain period of time, marital standards can do better in this respect. From the marital standards pursued in a certain period of time, we can learn what the government encourages, what the news media advocate and what the people seek in that period.

After the foundation of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the old marriage system set up on the basis of the old social system was pushed towards an end. But marriage as a folk custom could not have been replaced by a thoroughly new type overnight. In fact, the 1950s was a time when the traditional marriage was gradually translated into the modern one.

From mid 1950s to 1975 when the Anti-Rightists Movement was launched, marriages among intellectuals were mostly affectional instead of political or economical. Many couples had been good playmates since childhood. Unfortunately, they were later criticized for their "petty bourgeois sentiment."

In mid 1950s, male workers and technicians put in first place such qualities as industriousness, sincerity and honesty when they were seeking their mates. In town, though the idea was still popular that husbands acted as breadwinners and wives as housewives, young men did not care much about the fact that their future wives had their own jobs. Girls, however, had a very different standard when they chose their husbands. As many manufacturing and mining enterprises were set up throughout the country, and the movements of Bandit Abolishment, Anti Tyrannical Landlords, and Suppression of Counter-revolutionists were further deepened, excellent workers, miners and militiamen received extra attention from both the central and local governments. They therefore earned themselves a good name among the public. So, in those days, girls in town preferred excellent workers and miners while girls in the country preferred excellent militiamen as their husbands.

In the same period, a large number of middle-aged and old military officers were transferred to civilian work. They mostly took leading positions in different organizations. Soon they became objects pursued by girls. A popular satirical ballad then can reveal us the fact: I never mind his old age so long as I get his Roman watch on my wrist, and get his check in my pocket; I never mind his dying tomorrow, as I am young enough to remarry. It was also true that some married officials working in town tried to enjoy the new type of love by divorcing their rube wives in the country and hunting for young fine girls in town.

Girls working in government offices had a higher standard. Two ballads widely read in those days best reveal a trend. One ballad reads: high level official is the best; county level official is good; regional level official is not bad; lowest level official is impossible. The other reads: He is my future husband who is young and handsome and experienced, who wears an expensive waterproof watch and woolen coat, and who is gentle and soft and mild.

Military officers, technicians and workers in sectors of railway transportation and military factories were popular among girls in towns and cities. Military officers were admired by girls for their good treatment, political status and physical condition. In this period, China was building railways in a large scale. Workers in this sector received better pay and welfare than those in other sectors. Besides, wives or husbands and grown-up children could be offered jobs in towns and cities. Young children were entitled to free medical service and a free train journey once a year. All this was something that girls found irresistible. Similarly, technicians and workers in military factories became a temptation because they were even better paid than those in the railway sector.

For political reasons, marriages of two kinds of women were seriously affected. They were concubines of the wealthy men and wives of those politically suppressed men. After the liberation in 1949, monogamy was strictly implemented and all concubines were obliged to leave their husbands. Those divorced women and those wives whose husbands became no longer dependable all expected to find new mates so that they could survive the hardships. As coal miners were well treated both politically and economically, they became popular among those two kinds of women. So around some big and medium-sized coal mines in provinces of Henan, Hebei and Sichuan these women could often be seen. They were seeking chances to marry a dependable man.

Many of daughters of rich landlords, kulaks, capitalists and enemy's army commanders, who were regarded as anti-revolutionists, had to marry ordinary farmers and workers. As they were politically low and their property had all been confiscated by the government, what they could only do was to marry someone who could help them survive. But their brothers were often more miserable as few girls would risk becoming their husbands.

Many marriages were decided by the communist organizations. In the military farms, state-run farms and other organizations in such remote provinces and autonomous regions as Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Heilongjiang, Yunnan and Hainan, there were a great many military officers and government officials unmarried at considerable age. To solve the problems, departments concerned managed to attract more females by employing female workers and soldiers. It was not uncommon to give single men an occasional leave so that they could visit those nearby villages and towns. Many men got their ideal mates from there.

In 1950s, marriages of the young in towns and cities started to be decided themselves. Marriages arranged for by parents became rare. The old marriage customs also began to die away.

Next page > From 1961 to 1976 > Page 1, 2, 3

Written by Luo Kaiyu.
Translated by Ye Qinfa.

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