Marriage in Traditional Chinese Culture

Marriage is considered a high priority in all cultures around the world, however, different cultures practice marriage and genetic kinship in a variety of ways. Most cultures practice patrilineal lines of descent, where inheritance is passed down from father to son, and where the wife goes to live with her husband in his family home. Some cultures practice matrilineal lines of descent, where inheritance is passed down from mother to daughter, and husband move to live with the wife’s family after marriage. Some societies allow for more than one wife, polygyny, and even fewer societies enable the marriage of one wife too many husbands, also known as polyandry. Very few cultures are monogamous, and even fewer cultures allow marriage for love.  In this paper, I will discuss the marriage practice of the traditional Chinese people. I will show how marriage shaped a young woman’s life and required her to live in an environment where her needs were not entirely met.

Chinese Society

Traditional Chinese society was characterized by the worship of family ancestors, specifically, the male line of descent. Patrilineal descent played an enormous role in the lives of both women and men. Men were highly valued and often women had no familial power until she gave birth to a son. In fact, because Chinese culture was an agrarian society, in which men were responsible for the cultivated of food by the plow, women were often confined to the home, unless the family was poor, in which case women were sent to the field (Stockard, 2002). One sign of wealth, in traditional Chinese culture, was that one’s wife had wrapped feet, indicated that they did not have to work in the field.

Like many agrarian societies, traditional Chinese society was also characterized by male dominance. while being able to stay home and take care of children may sound like a dream to some American women, in traditional Chinese societies, women often lived with and had to contend with the maneuverings of her mother in law, and, sometimes, many sisters in-laws. Because women in traditional Chinese cultures had very little value, they were born outside of their father’s descent line, and therefore only gained secure access to the afterlife once they had been wed (Stockard, 2002). So even daughters who passed away due to sickness were likely to haunt their father’s home in the form of ghosts until a ghost wedding could be performed, in which a groom married a ghost, took her incense burner to his home, and then married a living girl (Pasternak, 1997).


“Patrilineal kinship in traditional Chinese society was a powerful influence on marriage practice and was one of the key factors shaping the meaning of marriage for husbands, their wives, and families” (Stockard, 2002, p. 44). Marriage in traditional Chinese’s culture had more to do with political and economic power than it did with love, in fact, love was never a consideration. Chinese societies, especially rural societies, were often exogamy in nature, and there were strict rules against marrying anyone with the same surname. In rural China, sometimes marrying someone from the same village would have been impossible, as everyone in the village had the same surname. Endogamy was highly frowned upon, and exogamy ensured that the bride would be moved away from her own family once she was married (Stockard, 2002).

Primary marriages began in traditional China when the parents employed a matchmaker, who knew the available sons and daughters within a market area of rural China, her job was to match who could marry whom based on ancestral lines and surnames (Stockard, 2002). “In Chinese society, marriage between a man and a woman with the same surname – the outward sign of kinship identity was forbidden by law and in custom and considered incestuous” (Stockard, 2002, p. 46). And, although a daughter inherited her father’s surname, lineage, and clan, she was technically not a part of either.

Once the matchmaker has identified two possible marriage partners, she suggests the name to the families and both families reputations are highly scrutinized by the other. The personal reputation of both individuals was also highly scrutinized, but only the reputation of the bride was considered relevant to the marriage (Stockard, 2002). Families of daughters often took great pains to limit contact between her and members of the opposite sex for her entire life (Pasternak, 1997), and any hint of a scandal on her part could make her unmarriageable by Chinese standards (Stockard, 2002).

Since marriage in traditional Chinese culture was mostly based on political or economic value, matchmakers were often charged with finding a partner from the same social class. Parents often strived to have a match that would bring them political or economic power. Once that all had been accomplished, the horoscopes of the two individuals would be compared to see if there were going to be any obstacles to the marriage (Stockard, 2002). If the horoscopes matched, the negotiations over the amount the families would exchange began.

“Bridewealth and dowry were fundamental features of the major form of marriage” (Stockard, 2002, p. 47). Father’s in both families, worked hard to negotiate the amount of wealth that was to be exchanged, creating the most advantageous position for his family. The groom’s family paid a large of amount of cash, the bride wealth, and in return, the bride’s family spent that money on a dowry and other individual items, usually household items, that were agreed upon by the fathers of both families (Stockard, 2002). After the agreement had been reached, the family of the bride would parade her, in a red sedan chair, through the streets, with much pomp and fanfare, displaying the items of the dowry from the bride’s village to the groom’s village.

The bride’s arrival at the groom’s home is the first time the marriage partners have met, and often it is a period of sadness or disappointment for both the bride and the groom. The groom, because his wishes for a young, lean, aesthetically pleasing woman has been dashed by his mother, and the bride because she has to leave her family, village, and friends behind, and embark on a new lonely existence, that will be emphasized in the days to come, until she can bear her new husband a son (Stockard, 2002). In fact, suicide is the leading cause of death in rural China among young people ages fifteen to thirty-four, with females committing suicide more often than males, in some places, as much as three times as higher (Zhang, 2010). While it hasn’t be proven that marriage has anything to do with these suicides, it has been proven that marriage is not a protective barrier against suicide for these young women, as it is in Western societies (Zhang, 2010).

The marriage ceremony started with the parade through the streets but is wrapped up once the groom lifts the bride’s veil and reveals her face. The bride and groom then kneel before the family altar, bowing their heads to the ground several times. Following that brief ceremony, there is a grand feast commencing the marriage (Stockard, 2002). Three days after the wedding festivities the bride would return home for a brief visit with her family. After the new bride leaves her family’s home, she may not see them again, except in celebration, such as a wedding or in mourning, such as at a funeral (Stockard, 2002).

Family Life

Life for the young bride changed dramatically at the time of her marriage. Since traditional Chinese societies practiced patrilocal residence, the wife moved to a new village, leaving her family, and friends behind, to marry a man she had never met, and to live in a home that may or may not have sisters-in-laws she had never met as well. From this moment on, her entire life was lived to serve her mother in law, she would be required, as the newest bride, to perform the worst of the household chores, and she would be subject to abuse from her mother in law, who chastise her or beat her if she did not do the jobs well enough or quick enough (Pasternak, 1997). Her nights were not much better, as her husband was likely to abuse her as well, not only physically if she displeased him, but often forcing his unwanted sexual attentions upon her as well (Pasternak, 1997).

Marriage was mainly designed to ensure the continuation of the groom’s male descent line, and the only way the new bride could gain a footing in her new household is to give birth to a son. All eyes in the family, and indeed, in some cases, the entire village, were on her as they waited for her to fulfill her obligation of producing a male heir. The sooner she gives birth to a son, the sooner she will be able to start convincing her husband to break off from the family and make a home of their own. Without a son to continue the family line, her husband may opt to marry another girl, which would only cause more problems in the extended family home.

Relationships between mother in laws and daughters in law in traditional Chinese culture has usually been one marked by strife and conflict. In fact, all the women in the family may fight, causing strife among the brothers as well (Stockard, 2002).  As each new wife set about trying to establish a place for herself in her new family, she often employed such tactics as gaining her husband’s ear and a place in his heart. The young bride would do this so that her husband would support her and look out for her best interests, in a place where she had no say or power over her own destiny. Once the new bride had children, she would use the children to vie for position in her new family, especially if that child was a son, by creating strong emotional ties between her new husband, his parents, and her children (Stockard, 2002). Wives often watch carefully to see which of the grandchildren was receiving better treatment and would cause problems with their husbands if their child was receiving worse treatment than another.

While it is best for the mother to keep all of her sons together, under the same roof, wives often pressed their husbands for the division of the family household. In a patrilineal society, property passed from father to son, with adult sons enjoying equal rights to the family land (Pasternak, 1997). A wife who is dissatisfied with the decisions of her father in law, in relations to how the grandchildren are educated, or treated, in general, will become, what the Chinese call a “ghost pillow” (Pasternak, 1997). In bed, at night, she will press her husband to the division of the household. If she succeeds, then she and her uterine family will move to another spot of the family land, and begin to fend for themselves. Curiously, extended families were found more often in wealthy families than in poor families, a fact that may reflect that sometimes men were required to practice matrilocal residence, where the groom moves in with the bride’s family, not very popular among the Chinese, but it did happen (Pasternak, 1997).

Modernization of Chinese Culture

Modernization of culture means for that culture to transition from one of traditional values and morals to one of more modern values and morals. Along with those values and morals comes a new way of living, most of the time causing an upheaval in widely held, superstitions, behavior, and beliefs.  Today, China is dealing with many changes, as the country attempts to become more westernized.

Today, young people of marriageable age meet at a marriage market, and views on marriage range from hoping to find a partner at the market to wishing for parents to arrange a marriage, to young females preferring to stay single (Looking for love; modern marriage, 2012). Arranged marriages were officially banned in the 1950’s; however, some parents still believe in that traditional belief, and so do their children. It is a belief that is still practiced by some to this day.

Young women have seen an increase in socio-economic freedoms, and with it has come the right to choose one’s husband. Since that freedom has been enjoyed, so has the option of remaining single, and of being extremely picky when choosing a husband (Looking for love; modern marriage, 2012). Online dating sites have become immensely popular in modern China, and often young women will marry a man from far away, leaving their families behind.


Young women in ancient China were often not afforded many privileges and were kept out of all political and social hierarchies; with the males of the society having dominance even in the after-life. As one can plainly see, young women were not offered much chance of advancement, they could not own land or property, and were in fact, considered the property of one male or another throughout their entire lives. Today, however, young women are afforded much more freedom, in not only their options for work outside the home but also for their choice in husbands. One can see that more and more Chinese women are becoming educated and moving out of their countries to pursue greener fields elsewhere.




Looking for love; modern marriage. (2012, June 09). The Economist, 50, 403. Retrieved from

Pasternak, E. E. (1997). Sex, Gender, and Kinship A Cross-Cultural Perspective. New Jersey, US: Prentice Hall.

Stockard, J. E. (2002). Marriage in Culture. Belmont: Earl McPeek.

Zhang, J. (2010). Marriage and Suicide among Chinese Rural Young Women. Social Forces, 89(1). Retrieved from



Islam is an ancient religion that developed around six hundred AD, in the central Arabian desert and eventually spread to Asia, Central Europe and Northern Africa. The religion started with the teachings of the prophet Muhammad. Muhammad was born in Mecca in 570 AD, at a time when Allah, or God, was seen as a supreme being that is disassociated with the world of people; all-powerful, and all-knowing, but absent from human life. Islam means to surrender or submit to God wholly and completely, and the words Muslim and Islam relate to many different sayings for peace (Molloy, 2013).

Common Characteristics among Religions

The Islamic religion has many similarities and differences with the other two major religions in the world; Christianity and Judaism. The most significant similarity is that Muslims, Christians, and Jews all believe that the Old Testament of the Christian Bible is the truth about creation and the origins of man. Both Islam and Judaism practitioners believe that Abraham is the father of their people. All three religions believe that God tested Abraham, by having him sacrifice his son, only to stop him at the last-minute. Only one difference is taught between the religions on the story of Abraham and God, and that is the son is a different son in Islam, then in Judaism, and Christianity (Molloy, 2013).

Islam, Christianity, and Judaism all believe in good deeds and charity towards the poor and destitute. Islam and Christianity believe in donating a percentage of their income, but Islam donates to the poor and Christianity gives a tithe to the church, who, in turn, helps the poor. Muslims, Christians and Jews believe in prayer, and humbling oneself before God. However, Muslims believe in praying five times a day, and will often prostrate themselves on the ground or floor in order to worship God, or Allah (Molloy, 2013).

The most obvious similarity between the three religions is a monotheistic viewpoint of the world. The general belief among the three religions is the belief that God is a kind and merciful God, who wants all of his children, or humanity, to seek the light. Christians and Muslims believe in Jesus Christ, however, Muslims believe that Jesus, like Muhammad, is a prophet of God, and Christians believe that the only way to God and salvation is Jesus. Christians believe that Jesus is the Messiah, and Jews do not believe in Jesus at all Muslims believe that Muhammad was the last and greatest prophet of God, and follow his doctrine to the letter (Molloy, 2013).

Islam and the Modern World

Modern life presents many challenges for Islam. In traditional Islam, women play minor, or no roles at all, in religion or business world. Education is hard for women, and so is working outside the home. Women were required to cover themselves from head to toe whenever they were out in public, and they were not allowed outside unless they were in the company of men. Women were severely repressed in ancient Arabia, where the killing of females babies was acceptable, and women were treated as property, to be bought and sold, as, first their fathers, and then their husbands, were given property rights over them. Women did not have a say in who they married, often being married to a man who has multiple wives, and women did not have the right to initiate divorce, or own land or have money. Today, however, what was once seen as protection towards women, is now viewed as repression of women (Molloy, 2013).

Women today have seen a great variance in their treatment depending on which Islamic country they live in. In some countries women still cover themselves from head to toe, including complete head coverings, with mesh over mouth and eyes, and gloves. Whereas in other countries, women are not required to wear any type of veil. Women today are permitted to have an education and to work outside of the home, in some countries. Women all over the Muslim nation have started to rebel, seeking reform in the way that they are treated, the clothing that they are required to wear, and for the rights to own their own bodies. In some countries great reform has taken place. In these countries women have begun to pray in the Mosque with the men, and some women have even been given the opportunity to pray formally for the Mosque; something that never would have happened in traditional Islam (Molloy, 2013). Reform is often a slow process, but as long as there are women fighting for their basic human rights, great reform will continue to blossom.

One of the major harbingers behind this push for reform from Islamic women is the western world, and the view that Muslim women see of the western world on TV, through the internet, and other mainstream media sources, to include the internet, and social media sites. Most Islamic countries also now allow their women to travel, with or without the company of a man, and women are seeing a different type of lifestyle they have been excluded from for centuries. These introductions to the modern female world has initiated great changes among Muslim women (Molloy, 2013).

One major issue Islam has with the modern world is the choice of most governments to practice secularism. Traditionally, Islam has had great influence on the local governments, where religion and government were intermingled to the point where one could not tell where one ended and the other begin. The current trend to practice law or governmental institutions without a moral or religious view is a great challenge to Muslims. Islamic viewpoint on secularism is that to create governmental institutions without God is to live without God, something that Islamic practitioners have a difficult time with (Molloy, 2013).


Although Islam is an ancient religion, that became and stayed a world super religion, it is currently facing some major changes with government, and women rights. Through the perseverance of reformers, Islam is currently working on ways to combine secularism and religious beliefs into one cohesive package. Interfaith dialogue, where Christian leaders, Jewish leaders, and Muslim leaders gather to discuss points of similarities between the three religions will probably increase in the future contributing to the reform of Islam and their inclusion into the modern world. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, being the three most popular religions in the modern world, all have roots steaming form the same God, and same belief system, if they can see past the details, they could have a great influence upon the world and world peace.




Molloy, M. (2013). Experiencing the world’s religions: Tradition, challenge, and change (6th

Ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.


Hinduism is an ancient religion that has spread throughout the Asian continent and influenced many other religions along its path. Hinduism has multiple gods and goddess, but has one main reality that is Brahman, in which all the gods and goddess are a part of. Hinduism basic beliefs are that people are trapped here in on Earth, through ignorance and illusion. However, people can overcome their current incarnation by being born higher in the reincarnation system. Thus, animals can be reincarnated into humans and vice versa. One may change their status by practices yoga, meditation, and by living according to ones dharma or purpose or role in life (Molloy, 2013).

Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism

There are similarities to be found in Hinduism that link many different religions together. For instance, Buddhism arose and evolved in India as well, and the similarities between the two religions are more numerous than not. For example, both religions believe in Karma, and reincarnation. However, Buddhist do not believe that the human body has a soul, whereas Hinduisms believe that every human has a soul that can be trapped in an animal body and be reborn into a human body based on one’s karma (Molloy, 2013).

In both Buddhism and Hinduism, there is not a “set in stone” ethical or moral code one must follow. Instead both religions believe that ethics are created by the individual or social class in which one grows up. The differences in the religions, however is what marks them as different. Hinduism is greatly concerned with ones caste or social position in this life, and how to bring greater wealth upon one’s soul so that one may rise to a higher caste system in their next life. Buddhists, on the other hand, do not concern themselves with the things of this world. Buddhism focuses on a release of suffering, and attaining Nirvana (Redmond, 2004).

Hinduism also has points of similarity with Confucianism. Both religions belief that humans play a large part in other humans lives, and they look to the social actions of individuals, their role in society and the societal hierarchy in general. Both religions look for the common good that will promote peace and brotherhood among its followers. Both religions also believe in a class system, where one may rise above their class if they have earned the right to do so. Both religious belief system have achieved a social hierarchy, but through different means. Hinduism has used the caste system, whereas Confucianism has used education and social pressure (Tu, & Daisaku, 2011).

Hinduism Today

One of the biggest problems facing Hinduism today is the practice of the caste system in Indian society. Some Hinduisms today believe that maintaining the caste system especially that of the untouchables is acceptable and keeping with traditional Hinduistic believes. However, the untouchables in modern India have made great strides towards equality or eliminating the caste system. Untouchables or Dalits are now able to enter Hindu temples, all of them, and they are gaining ground in the jobs and education department. That is what is happening in big cities, but in villages, the untouchables are still required to live away from the rest of the village, and to mostly tend for themselves (Molloy, 2013). The traditional caste system is rooted in traditional Hinduism, and although the Indian government is attempting to change tradition, all too often this can be a long and arduous journey, and many who have suffered in the past continue to suffer today (Javaid; Majid; & Zahid, 2014).

Women in Hinduism Today

Women have a debated place in Hinduism, as some scholars say that women at one time might have played a large part in Indian society due to the importance of female deities in Hinduism and that there have many female gurus or wise women, throughout the history of Hinduism (Molloy, 2013).

However, over the years, women have fell out of their role of importance and have been moved to a lower caste, regardless of the social caste they were born into. Just as other religions have canonized their religious doctrines to mostly favor the male, so too did Hinduism during the Vedic period. By the code of Manu, women were, in general, subservient to males, and a wife was supposed to be subservient to her husband. Women were expected to treat their husbands as gods, regardless of their treatment of her. Women were not taught to read or write because it would distract from their duties as a wife and mother (Molloy, 2013).

Today, while many Indian women are educated and may go on to hold high positions in their choice of career, have things really improved for women? Education is only half the battle, albeit a very important part of equality, but still only half. Today, Indian women are expected to take on dual roles of both bread winner and mother and wife, however, it would appear that her male counterparts will do anything to impede her progress (Position of women in India today, 2014).

Today’s modern Indian woman is plagued by rapes, sexual harassment, threats and violence by her husband, and honor killings. She can hardly go into the street to get to work without being harassed by a male individual on her way. Rural women have hardly made any progress, as she is usually confined to the four walls of her own home by her husband who holds the ties to everything she is allowed or not allowed to do. Young girls are still married and sold to older, sometimes much older, men quite commonly in rural India, even though the Indian government have outlawed child marriages (Position of women in India today, 2014).

The traditional view of women within the Hindu religion may be coming back around, as women are once again allowed to become gurus. One such example of a modern female guru is one woman by the name of         Amma the hugging saint (Dhruvarajan, 2010). Mata Amritanandamayi, also known as Amma, is a current guru in India, and she is known for her selfless love and compassion for all living beings. She has never asked anyone to change their religion, but has only shown love and compassion for all those she has an encounter with. Even though she is Hindu, she says her religion is love, and she has dedicated her life to helping the poor and elevating pain from all those who need elevation (, 2016).


Although Hinduism is one of the oldest religions in the world, it has also undergone multiple changes throughout the centuries being influenced by oppressors and lovers alike. Today, Hinduism is struggling to bring their traditional values into a more modern world. Deep rooted traditions, regardless of religion, however, take a long time to change, and Hinduism is just recently started its journey towards equality among the castes and the sexes.







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