Traditional Taiwanese Engagement and Wedding Customs – Folk Ritual

1. Text

Interview transcription:

When asked to share a traditional Taiwanese custom, the informant shared the following Taiwanese wedding tradition.

The interview was conducted in a mix of Mandarin and Taiwanese. It has been translated below into English and organized in the order performed into categories for ease of comprehension.

Pt 1. Engagement Customs

a) Intro:

“In Taiwanese culture, weddings happen like this. The parents of the bride and the groom meet, they usually have a meal together in a hotel. They then decide that the bride and groom shall get engaged. The engagement celebration, or *訂婚 (*phonetics “Ding Hun”; transliterated as “set marriage”), is hosted by the bride’s family. The bride’s family determines how many tables need to be set up, who to invite, which are usually the parents of the bride and groom, as well as the elders of both families such as the grandparents or other older relatives.”

b) Crackers:

“There is a saying that goes “*甲查某子 換大餅” (*a rhythmic phrase in Taiwanese which is translated to “marry off your daughter, get a big cracker”). This is because the groom’s family orders big round traditional Chinese/Taiwanese crackers called *喜餅 (*Mandarin word read as “Xi Bing”; transliterated as “Happiness Cake”) that is given to the bride’s family and relatives. There are also *小餅 (*small crackers that are usually Western cookies in a tin box).

c) Gifts:

“In the old days, there is a tradition of the bride’s family preparing *擺下 (*transliterating what I heard as a Taiwanese phrase to Mandarin, should mean a “gift set” in English) where 12 or 24 items are carefully selected and given to the groom’s family along with the bride. Some examples of things that can be in the set are pig feet meat tied with a red ribbon, cooked abalone, and a Western suit set for the groom, including pants, socks and shoes. Although people now simplified the suit giving tradition to giving the groom money to pick his own suit.”

“From the groom’s mother, called *婆婆 (*phonetics “po po”; translation “mother-in-law”), traditionally *品禮 (*Taiwanese word transliterated to Mandarin, means “proper gift”) is given to the bride. It is a box that contains a set of gold jewelry passed down from the mother-in-law to the bride.”

Pt 2. Wedding Customs

a) Intro

“Yes while the engagement is hosted by the bride’s family, the wedding is hosted by the groom’s family. The celebration is called a *喜宴 (*Mandarin word read as “Xi Yian”; transliterated as “Happiness Banquet”; translated as “wedding banquet”). It is usually held in hotels.”

“Recently because of Covid there has been very few wedding banquets. But after Covid restrictions are gone, people will hold their banquets like before.”

b) Traditional Wedding

When asked to recount the informant’s own wedding, the informant responded with the following:

“In the old days weddings were very traditional and over-the-top. When the bride is wed into the groom’s family, there would be a truck that carries all of the bride’s furniture, such as her dressing table, to the groom’s house.”

“There would be someone called the *媒人 (*Mandarin word read as “Mei Ren”), which is someone who holds the bride’s hand as she walks from her home to the groom’s home. There would also be another person who is usually someone that is higher aged, and is known to have a lot of *福氣(*Taiwanese word transliterated to Mandarin, read in Taiwanese as “Hou Ki”, means “luck/fortune”) to hold the bride’s hand and walk her to the groom’s house.”

c) Registering Marriage

When asked about how registering worked, the informant responded:

“Registering marriage is a separate thing from the engagement and wedding tradition. Couples can register whenever they want and it is very easy to do so at the local government building.”

2. Context

Informant relation to the piece:

The informant is a Taiwanese person of the more elderly generation who has lived in Taiwan their whole life. They recounted the piece from their memory having experienced many Taiwanese weddings in Taiwan.

Informant interpretation of the piece:

They interpret the rituals as a tradition that has been passed down through generations in Taiwan but is also changing due to modernization. They look back at old rituals with nostalgia and a sense of humor. They feel proud sharing Taiwanese traditional customs.

3. Analysis

In traditional Taiwanese culture, parents and the older generation members of the family play a huge role in the engagements and marriages of their sons and daughters. This tradition could have developed from ancient Chinese society where marriage decided whether a family prospered or not, therefore a great amount of care and control is exercised over the marriable children of the family. In addition, families also used marriage as a tool to gain status or riches, whereas royal families would use marriage to make peace with other nations as tools of warfare. Therefore, there is this longstanding tradition of the parents deciding spouses and planning marriage for the children. This is reflected in the Taiwanese engagement and wedding ritual collected above as the parents are present throughout the ritual and hold a great amount of power in the rituals, preparing gifts and hosting banquets. This ritual has a profound impact on how Taiwanese people view marriage. Young people may find themselves feeling suppressed by the marriage expectations of their parents or elders who hold such an important role in the marriage rituals, therefore when considering potential spouses the preference of the parents or elders in the family is often a huge factor that influences their decisions. If young people do choose to engage and marry someone without the blessing of the older generations, it would be difficult for them to perform the Taiwanese engagement and wedding ritual as they would be missing important people who are part of the ceremony. This is not to say that marriages are all traditional in Taiwan, in fact, Taiwan is the very first Asian country to legalize gay marriage. Therefore the ritual is able to be performed in non-traditional contexts. This suggests that it is not the ritual that is creating the rigid framework for marriage but rather the perspective of the parents and older generations, which if changed, can make this marriage ritual a celebratory one rather than controlling.