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Proper Chinese weddings with an edge

By Raymond Zhou ( China Daily ) Updated: 2016-04-11 07:36:36

Proper Chinese weddings with an edge

[Photo by Wang Xiaoying/China Daily]

What is the proper etiquette at a Chinese wedding? It turns out there may not be a consensus. What's considered acceptable by some will be seen as outrageous by others. Part of the reason could be cultural.

On March 30, Bao Bei'er and Bao Wenjing tied the knot on Bali island. They are movie starlets and, as such, invited a phalanx of showbiz friends for the wedding. One of them was Liu Yan, a bombshell who has made a specialty out of looking sexy. She has known the Bao couple for a decade.

The ceremony contained many games, during one of which a bunch of guys almost threw Liu into a lake. Not knowing what was to happen, she screamed and another woman, a comedienne, intervened. A few minutes of this episode was uploaded online and went viral.

The condemnation came fast and furious. "How can you guys, bigwigs in the entertainment industry, treat a woman like this?" many asked in anger. "How come no male guest rushed to her aid in that situation? Where are the manners of a gentleman?"

After flying back home and realizing what a storm had whipped up, Liu issued a video statement, apologizing for "causing trouble" to the Baos. This further infuriated the online crowd as it was seen as evidence of continuous victimization of a woman. Then Bao Bei'er, the groom, tweeted an apology, saying there was no ill-intention on anyone's part.

But the public seemed not to be satisfied. The parsing of showbiz PR machination is ongoing.

I watched the two video clips and the two apologies.

For all I know, they could be telling the truth or they could be downplaying their own culpability and thus manipulating public opinion. But there's little cause for raising it to the level of sexual harassment. The participants are close friends, and a little horseplay on this occasion seemed within bounds.

I say this because I take into account the context of a Chinese wedding, which incorporates a strong element of a bachelor party. Unlike a typical Western wedding, which is marked by solemnity and grandeur, a Chinese wedding segues from one style to another without missing a beat.

The ritual part is now a mix of East and West, sometimes West tagged onto East, with the bride wearing white for the Western-style portion and then red for the traditional Chinese part, or vice versa.

However, for friends of most newlyweds, who tend to be young and raucous, the real fun part of a wedding is the "games" inside the bridal chamber. Many of these are designed to titillate or, as some would say, humiliate.

A classic example is the dangling of an apple and asking the couple to eat it at the same time. The purpose is to have their lips touch each other.

You may ask: "What's the big deal? They are in love and now formally married. They're supposed to kiss each other."

But you'll have to frame it in the context of Chinese custom. For thousands of years, public displays of affection were frowned upon in China. So, kissing in public is supposed to be awkward.

Of course, things are changing to the point that few would give another look when they stumble upon a pair of young lovers locked in embrace or kissing. So, I don't see any allure in the "dangling apple" game any more.

The apple game can have many variations, or rather, there are many games spun out of the same spirit, with some going in the direction of politeness, such as coercing the couple to recount their story of falling in love, and others in the direction of lewdness, forcing the couple to do things that border on performing the sex act.

Every region or ethnicity has its own specific rituals, and each village and even each household may have different levels of acceptability when it comes to "horseplay inside the bridal chamber".

In recent times, the target of the games is no longer limited to the bride and groom, but also includes the bridesmaid and the best man. There have been reports of bridesmaids being groped or otherwise sexually pestered. Such acts are rightfully denounced.

The problem with this custom is the hypocrisy that many are unaware they harbor. In a 2014 survey by China Youth Daily, some 80 percent of respondents said they had been exposed to this practice, and 61 percent said they did not like it at all. A full 70.7 percent of young people, according to the survey, expressed their willingness to boycott what they term "vulgarity" and "unethical behavior".

The irony is, when the same people go to a wedding, many would be more than happy to jump into the frolicking and may not think twice before engaging in some of the acts they denounce. Maybe some would stop at what they deem inappropriate, but peer pressure would drag them right in.

This is just like binge drinking, which most people would say they hate while filling out surveys and which they would happily go along with when the temptation arises. Nobody wants to be a wet blanket at a festive event.

What turned the private party into public outrage is Liu's persona as a sex symbol. When the men grabbed her arms and legs, the public read more than a prank into the act. It was almost a prelude to gang rape-at least in the minds of those familiar with her image.

The video was not shot from a vantage point to show any sexual malfeasance on the part of the male guests, so I cannot conclude if anyone roughed her up that way.

The bigger picture remains that some parts of a Chinese wedding play upon the tug-of-war between the urge to comply and the one to break the norm in terms of venting the primal forces of the libido.

For more coverage by Raymond Zhou, click here

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