Chinese culture not monolithic

By Hilton Yip Source:Global Times Published: 2014-1-27 19:08:02

Despite its long history, Chinese culture is not one giant monolith.

A good example of this is weddings. Some places have a custom where before the wedding, the groom has to come to the bride's home and playfully be barred by the bride's friends and relatives until the groom has given enough money or gifts. Other places might have a custom of the couple offering tea to their parents in a formal ceremony. But you can't expect all of China to have this.

I recently went to Hong Kong to attend a relative's wedding. This was my first Hong Kong wedding, and it was different from weddings I'd gone to in Taiwan.

In Hong Kong, the bride was dressed in a lovely red cheongsam, which she wore the whole night. In Taiwan weddings, the bride always changes into three outfits, if not more. This is supposedly based on Chinese customs. However, given that Taiwanese brides mostly wear Western wedding dresses and outfits, the Chinese traditional aspect seems to be dubious, giving way to a more Western or modern aesthetic.

On the other hand, if you want to be ultra-traditional, there are some Taiwan wedding banquets that take place right on the street (blocked off of course) of one's own neighborhood, like a huge lowbrow but festive outdoor party.

Even the well-known custom of giving out hongbao - red envelopes which usually contain money - as a gift is not the same everywhere. As a child growing up in a Cantonese household, getting a hongbao (laisee in Cantonese) was a regular occurrence with my uncles and aunts and my parents' friends. This continued when I was a teenager and even into university. According to Cantonese and Hong Kong customs, hongbao are given out by married people to younger unmarried relatives or friends' children. Single people, regardless of age, are not supposed to give hongbao.

When I went to Taiwan after university to work, I found out young people usually give hongbao after they start working. Young people give hongbao to their parents and grandparents as a sign of appreciation and respect. After a couple of years, I started to do this as well by giving a hongbao to my grandmother.

All these differences make Chinese culture much more interesting.

This article was published on the Global Times Metropolitan section Two Cents page, a space for reader submissions, including opinion, humor and satire. The ideas expressed are those of the author alone, and do not represent the position of the Global Times.

Posted in: Twocents-Opinion

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