The Classical Chinese Marriage: A Proposal
The process began with an elaborate marriage proposal and acceptance. This process was placed in the hands of a go-between, who acted as a buffer between the two parties – a role similar to that of a real estate agent today. The important parties in proposal and betrothal negotiations were the parents of the prospective bride and groom, rather than the bride and groom themselves.
“Marriage was for continuing the ancestral line and creating alliances between families –; too important a duty to be left in the rash hands of the young," Costa explains.”
When the boy’s parents identified a likely bride-to-be, they would send the go-between to present gifts to the girl’s parents and to sound out their feelings about the match. If the proposal was well-received, the go-between would obtain the date and hour of the girl’s birth recorded on a formal document.
The groom’s family would place this document on the ancestral altar for three days. If no inauspicious omens, e.g. quarrels between the parents or a loss of property, took place within that time, the parents would give the information to a astrological expert to confirm that the young woman and their son would make a good match. If the boy’s family found the horoscope to be favorable, they gave the boy’s birth date and hour to the go-between to bring to the girl’s family, who would go through the same process.
Only after both outcomes were favorable, would the two families arrange to meet. Finally face-to-face, each family evaluated the other in terms of appearance, education, character, and social position. If both were satisfied they would proceed to the betrothal.