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Marriage in China Posted by on Aug 5, 2019 in Culture

For the Qixi festival, the Chinese Valentine’s Day that is celebrated this year on August 7th, I delved into some Chinese marriage vocabulary. Marriage in China has undergone changes during the last century. In this post we’ll take a closer look at different Chinese marriage practices.

Image via Pixabay

  • 爱是婚姻的基石。

Ài shì hūn yīn de jī shí.

Love is the cornerstone of marriage.


包办婚姻 bāo bàn hūn yīn

包办 (bāo bàn) is a verb meaning to take sole charge of, or to undertake to do by oneself. 婚姻 (hūn yīn) means marriage. Together it’s translated to arranged marriage, and refers to marriage that has been arranged not by the couple itself, but by a third party, usually the couple ’s parents.

Arranged marriage was common during ancient times. An old Chinese saying, originated from Mencius texts, sums up the Chinese traditional marriage system in eight words: 父母之命,媒妁之言 (fù mǔ zhī mìng, méi shuò zhī yán), meaning marriages were set by the parents order and the matchmaker words. When the parents thought that it’s time for their beloved son or daughter to marry, they summon the matchmaker to introduce them to suitable candidates without respect to the personal wishes of the young people.

Nowadays, arranged marriage is illegal in China. The first law enacted after the founding of the People’s Republic of China was the Chinese Marriage Law (婚姻法 hūn yīn fǎ) in 1980. The Marriage Law forbids any forced marriage, and other acts that interfere with the freedom of marriage, as the law stipulates: 禁止包办、买卖婚姻和其他干涉婚姻自由的行为 (jìn zhǐ bāobàn, mǎi mài hūn yīn hé qí tā gān shè hūn yīn zì yóu de xíng wéi).

  • 结婚必须男女双方完全自愿。

Jié hūn bì xū nán nǚ shuāng fāng wán quán zì yuàn.

Marriage must be completely voluntary for both men and women.

A question on the popular (a Chinese question-and-answer website) asks: 自由婚姻与父母包办婚姻哪个好? (zì yóu hūn yīn yǔ fù mǔ bāo bàn hūn yīn nǎ ge hǎo?, which marriage is better – free or arranged?). One of the replies was: reading this question made me feel like I went back to the 19th century.

  • 包办婚姻在当今社会可能比较少,但也不是不存在。

Bāo bàn hūn yīn zài dāng jīn shè huì kě néng bǐ jiào shǎo, dàn yě bù shì bù cún zài.

Arranged marriages in the Chinese society of today are rare, but still exists.


裸婚 luǒ hūn

婚 (hūn) means marriage, and 裸 (luǒ) is a short of the adjective 裸体 (luǒ tǐ) means naked. Together it is translated to naked marriage, and refers to a form of marriage in which loving partners get united without having a solid material foundation. This frugal (节俭jié jiǎn) type of tying the knot is a sharp contrast to the established Chinese marital customs. Betrothal gifts are a traditional part of marriage in China. In the past, small offerings were enough. These days, though, due to the skewed sex ratio, expensive dowry symbolizes a man’s capability of providing a prosperous life for his wife. Owning a house or a car became an economic precondition for prospective suitors.

Couples that choose naked marriage oppose mixing financial expectations with romantic feelings. They believe that requiring material possessions as a condition of marriage is wrong. In a search for pure love, they choose renunciation of material conditions over solid tradition. For others, naked marriage is the only option. Their economic situation leaves them no choice. They get married without owning a house or a car, without holding a big party, spending money on outfits, wedding photos, or even a ring.

  • 这种节俭的婚姻方式证明自己爱情的纯粹。

Zhè zhǒng jié jiǎn de hūn yīn fāng shì zhèng míng zì jǐ ài qíng de chún cuì.

This frugal type of marriage proves the purity of love.

There are different degrees of naked marriage. A full naked marriage (全裸婚 quán luǒ hūn) is a couple who gets married without owning a house, buying a car, or even celebrating their union: there is no diamond ring, no wedding party or honeymoon (不买钻戒、不办婚礼、不度蜜月 bú mǎi zuàn jiè, bù bàn hūn lǐ, bù dù mì yuè). Their only cost is 9 RMB paid at the registry office (登记处dēng jì chù) as a legal marriage registration fee.

  • 裸婚还包括全裸婚和半裸婚。

Luǒ hūn hái bāo kuò quán luǒ hūn hé bàn luǒ hūn.

Naked marriage includes full-naked and semi-naked marriages.

  • 全裸婚只花9块钱登记结婚的结婚形式。

Quán luǒ hūn zhǐ huā 9 kuài qián dēng jì jié hūn de jié hūn xíng shì.

Full-naked marriage is a type of marriage in which spending only 9 Yuan on marriage


Semi-naked marriage (半裸婚bàn luǒ hūn) is a marriage with consideration of the economic ability of the couple, both the groom and the bride. A semi-naked marriage is usually a couple who arranges a simple feast (酒席 jiǔ xí), celebrates his honeymoon (蜜月 mì yuè), but postpones the expensive procedures of buying a car and a house for a later period in life (不买房、不买车 bú mǎi fáng, bú mǎi chē).


Image via Pixabay

闪婚 shǎn hūn

婚 (hūn) means marriage, and 闪 (shǎn) is short of 闪电 (shǎn diàn), meaning lightning. It is translated to flash marriage, and refers to a marriage between partners who’ve known each other for a short time. There isn’t yet general consensus as to how short this period should be, but the feeling is that of a spontaneous marriage, of a couple who haven’t had the time to know each other properly.

  • 闪婚是从认识到结婚时间相当短的结婚形式。

Shǎn hūn shì cóng rèn shì dào jié hūn shí jiān xiàng dāng duǎn de jié hūn xíng shì.

In flash marriage the time from acquaintance until getting married is quite short.

There are several reasons for a flash marriage. One of them is impulsive emotion (感情冲动型gǎn qíng chōng dòng xíng) that leads the couple to a speedy relationship, when both the man and the woman quickly fall in love in each other, and instantly take the next step together. They feel they are meant to be, and nothing can stop them (挡也挡不住dǎng yě dǎng bù zhù).

Other couples choose to get married after a short period of acquaintance for the wrong reasons. Depression, confusion, or a past failure lead people to commit too quickly. Once they meet someone suitable, once they click with someone (一拍即合yī pāi jí hé) they believe it’s the right person, their one match that will heal them. Consciously or unconsciously, marriage becomes for them a painkiller (止疼药zhǐ téng yào).

  • 婚姻不能儿戏,是需要慎重考虑选择的。

Hūn yīn bù néng ér xì, shì xū yào shèn chóng kǎo lǜ xuǎn zé de.

Marriage is not a game; it needs to be carefully considered.

Many believe flash marriage is not stable. A short time period of partnership before tying the knot is not enough for the couple to love and to understand each other. In their opinion, a flash marriage has led to “短高快”– 认识时间短、激情高、离婚快 (“duǎn gāo kuài”– rèn shí shí jiān duǎn, jī qíng gāo, lí hūn kuài), which means “short, high, fast” – short time, high passion, fast divorce.


Text vocabulary

爱 ài = to love

结婚 jié hūn = to get married

婚姻 hūn yīn = marriage

媒妁 méi shuò = matchmaker

双方 shuāng fāng = both sides

钻戒 zuàn jiè = diamond ring

婚礼 hūn lǐ = wedding ceremony

酒席  jiǔ xí = feast

蜜月 mì yuè = honeymoon

节俭 jié jiǎn = frugal

纯粹 chún cuì = pure, purely

认识 rèn shi = to know

激情 jī qíng = passion

选择 xuǎn zé = to choose

离婚 lí hūn = to get a divorce




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