The procedures of an ancient Chinese marriage are captured in the phrase "Three (3) Letters and Six (6) Etiquettes".
What are the three letters?
The Three Letters are the engagement letter, the delivery of gifts letter and the taking of the bride letter.
In ancient times, if a man is interested in a woman, he will engage a middlemen (a middle-women actually) to explore the possibility and if appropriate to convey his intentions to the woman’s family. If the woman’s family finds him acceptable, they will notify him and he can make the official proposal by delivering the formal letter of engagement on an auspicious date.
At this stage the women’s family can still say no to the proposal. As you would expect there are still a lot of things to sort out and to negotiate over.
If the proposal is accepted, the next step is to deliver wedding gifts to the woman’s family. These wedding gifts which are normally expensive are accompanied by the ‘Delivery of Gift’ letter which is essentially a list of items and quantity much like a delivery order! By signing this letter and taking delivery of the gifts, it signifies the women’s family acceptance of the marriage.
The itemized ‘Delivery of Gift’ letter is also a safeguard against pilferage by the delivery team!
The third letter is known as the ‘Taking the Bride’ Letter as it is the letter that the groom produces when he arrives at the bride’s home on the wedding day. Upon acceptance of the letter, the bride is deemed to have joined the groom and become a member of the groom’s family.
It is no wonder why the bride mothers weep uncontrollably on wedding days. It is like losing a daughter!
What then are the Six Etiquettes?
It refers to the six main procedures in an ancient Chinese marriage. It includes the official proposal, the checking of Ba Zi (compatibility using a system of Chinese Astrology), selection of auspicious date for the wedding, delivery of gifts, confirmation of wedding dates and finally the wedding itself.
Once the man has set his eyes on the girl, he sends an official proposal to the woman’s family. Once the proposal is accepted, he will seek the services of an astrologer to determine if they are compatible. Research will also be done to ensure that there is no blood relationship between them. At this stage the engagement can be called off if they are not compatible or if their blood line are somewhat connected.
The next step is the selection of auspicious date for wedding followed by followed by the delivery of gifts.
After the gifts are accepted, the woman’s family will seek an astrologer to check the auspiciousness of the proposed wedding.
This followed by the six and final etiquette, the wedding itself!