○ Viral videos capturing lewd, vulgar wedding hazing parties have sparked outrage among younger, modern Chinese.
○ Some rural villages continue to practice ancient hazing rituals as part of traditional patriarchal rights.
○ Committee for spirit civilization building will attempt to guide good morals at local wedding ceremonies.
A father-in-law carries his son's bride during a wedding ceremony held in Wuhan, Hubei Province. Photo: VCG
Video footage capturing a bridegroom's father, drunk off his mind, embracing his new daughter-in-law passionately and locking his lips on hers on stage in front of guests during their wedding ceremony has sparked national outrage and fierce discussions recently.
The nine-second clip captures part of a local wedding tradition - nao gong gong - in Yancheng, Jiangsu Province, based on teasing and embarrassing the father of a bridegroom and pushing him to make sexual gestures to the bride.
Such a traditional custom is usually arranged by guests of the wedding with the aim of injecting a tone of revelry into the ceremony and appealing to the audience, even though it openly hints at incest between a bride and her father-in-law.
But this tradition, though still popular in many rural areas across China, has begun to lose its appeal among younger couples. The recent footage has been sharply criticized and has led to an uproar for insulting women and insinuating the behavior of incest.
"Is it tease or treat?" netizens asked on social media over the "offensive act" of the elderly man, who appeared to have kissed his daughter-in-law. While some condemned it as a "typical corrupted custom," a few defended the behavior as traditionally acceptable and a lighthearted wedding game.
Liu Ping, a Guangdong-based designer with more than 49,000 followers on Sina Weibo, defended the tradition, saying that netizens have overreacted to this deeply rooted custom.
"It's like giving the bride's virginity to the father first. It's a symbol of filial piety to allow the father the first bite of tasty things," Liu explained. He noted that the Yancheng region is largely influenced by Confucianism, which deeply values filial piety.
Liu's comments were later regarded as an "insult" to Confucianism. Many modern citizens disdain such "filial piety" as misogynistic, claiming that it traumatizes brides and should not be tolerated as it is merely an excuse to humiliate women.
"Some traditional culture has been ruined by the vulgar tastes of these people, which have turned wedding hazing from a relatively innocent folk custom to crude, offensive revelry," said He Linglong, an expert in folk culture in Yancheng.
Absurd wedding hazing
The father in the footage, surnamed Bian, is seen walking on stage with his new daughter-in-law dressed in a traditional wedding gown, then suddenly grabs her from behind and forcefully kisses her. Onlookers cheer and clap, but netizens later burst with anger.
The family later released a statement through their lawyer to clarify that the father did not really kiss her but only pretended to in order to satisfy the audience; the family also declared their legal rights to take legal measures against the rumormongers.
The bride in the video, who seems uncomfortable, was introduced by the host as "an elegant lady who liberally embraces local customs" to the crowd.
This "local custom" refers to a wedding hazing ritual in the historical "Pa Hui" tradition - a Chinese term used to allude to incest between the groom's father and his daughter-in-law.
Such age-old bridal hazing is quite common in Yancheng and surrounding regions.
Xiao Hong, a woman married in Yancheng in 2014, revealed to Chinese media outlet btime.com that she too was asked to participate in similar games.
"It's shocking when you see a scenario of hanging two feeding-bottles over the bride's chest then asking the groom to suck one side while his father sucks the other side," she said.
Xiao recalls how she firmly refused the hazing. "It is so horrible to hear their bad ideas asking me and my father-in-law to pose in such gestures for our wedding photos. I completely could not accept it and neither could my parents."
"It is a departure from its original intention," He explained. "Yancheng has a strong clan culture. The father usually has hegemony over everyone else. The wedding hazing is then regarded as a rare opportunity to crush his power and prestige, which is widely welcomed by brides' family."
"We traditionally believe that the more the father-in-law is hazed, the higher status the bride will be given in her husband's family," Tan, a 55-year-old man from Yancheng who was recently spoofed at his son's wedding, told the Global Times.
"Not only the young couples, we elderly do not really like it as well," Tan sighed. "You cannot imagine how embarrassed I would be when facing my daughter-in-law after that, but I could not say no at that time because it does not show due respect to our guests. They believe it should be equal for everyone to suffer."
"I persuaded myself to treat it only as an episode which you don't need to mind too much. That's the same for my son. If he refused, others may criticize him for failing to give due consideration to the overall situation," Tan explained.
Beyond Jiangsu Province, similar hazing customs are not unfamiliar for couples; only the actions are different.
In Yibin city, Sichuan Province, a groom's father is typically dressed up with extra accessories, indicating a potential incestuous relationship between him and the bride, whereas the groom's mother is given a pair of glass with one lens covered, indicating that she is "turning a blind eye."
It is also common to see the bride and the father-in-law drink wine with their arms intertwined, or asking the father-in-law to carry the bride on his back in some cities of Hunan and Hubei provinces.
In 2016, a father-in-law was shown in a video locking his lips with his son's bride to win a bet of 10,000 yuan ($1,576) offered by a wedding guest in central China's Henan Province.
Father-in-laws are not the only leading role of this farce. Netizens also brought up a 2015 video of a bridesmaid being molested in front of a jeering crowd at a wedding. In 2016, a newlywed couple was forced by wedding guests to strip their clothes and have sex in front of everyone. It is also normal to see grooms tied up and "tortured" by guests in their wedding ceremonies.
In recent years, bridal hazing in some places has gone too far, sometimes crossing the line from tradition to grossly inappropriate.
Increasingly, many modern Chinese feel that such archaic customs are disrespectful to women. They are now openly expressing their dissatisfaction of sexualized, grossly inappropriate wedding parties that have less to do with blessing the couple and are more for "vulgar voyeurism."
Hu Shenzhi, a Chinese psychologist, attributes such cases to sexuality repression among Chinese in their 50s. He sees bridal hazing as an outlet to release people's hidden sexual desires, disguised as an outpouring of joy, with no guilt attached.
"By knowing they are less likely to be refused, those who have vulgar spirits become more aggressive to release their inordinate psychological needs (at wedding parties)," said He.
A bridegroom is tied up and "tortured" by his guests at a wedding in Xi'an, Shaanxi Province. Photo: VCG
Disrespect for women
Among the younger generations raised in China's more developed cities, such old customs and rituals are interpreted as "a backlash of patriarchy culture" which "is dangerous in an egalitarian marriage relationship in the modern era," as commented by a 22-year-old Weibo user.
"Can we fight for our own equality and respect sexism and misogyny involved in these wedding games by saying no to sexual banter?" a female netizen who will serve as a bridesmaid next month questioned on Zhihu, a Chinese Q&A website.
"If my future husband is unable to protect me from the abuse in that occasion, I will consider leaving him quickly," another netizen wrote.
To many, wedding hazing is neither a custom nor a joke, but pure contempt against women.
"Similar old-fashioned conventions with gender discrimination should be cleaned up as early as possible," many modernists have echoed on their social networks.
Liu Guomin, a lawyer at Guohao Law Firm, told Chinese media outlet Outlook Weekly that hazing has resulted in hazardous incidents and even some crimes being committed.
A district court in Southwest China awarded 90,000 yuan ($14,221) to a groom who was left facially disfigured after a hazing incident at the hands of three friends, as reported Wednesday.
The groom, surnamed Xia, from Zunyi, Guizhou Province, suffered severe facial fractures as a result of a wedding day prank in December of 2016.
This incident drew renewed attention to China's tradition of nao hun, or hazing, of grooms and brides, which has attracted negative press for cases involving injuries or sexual harassment.
As a pilot district, Shandong Province in 2011 started up a "wedding and funeral council" at different levels across the province for fostering good morals and cleaning up vulgar practices.
The head of each council, taken up by a respected elder in a local village, is responsible for guiding decent practices on those occasions in order to respond to the call of The Central Steering Committee for the Building of Spiritual Civilization.
Newspaper headline: Wedding bell blues