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China’s ‘Naohun’ Tradition: Are Wedding Games Going Too Far?

Teasing games at a recent celebrity wedding triggered online conversations about the Chinese tradition of ‘naohun’: ‘making turbulence at a wedding’. Is this ancient wedding custom, that includes the teasing of the bridge and groom and their bridesmaids, going too far?

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Teasing games at a recent celebrity wedding triggered online conversations about the Chinese tradition of ‘naohun’ (闹婚): ‘making turbulence at a wedding’. Is this ancient wedding custom, that includes the teasing of the bridge and groom and their bridesmaids, going too far?

Teasing a wedding couple, especially the bride, has always been an activity to lighten up the marriage ceremony in China. Wedding guests generally derive great pleasure from letting the bride and groom kiss or from making them do slightly embarrassing tasks. In China’s modern western-style weddings, the teasing also applies to the bridesmaids. This tradition has recently become the focus of heated discussions triggered by various events, including the teasing games at a celebrity wedding.

In late March, Chinese actor Bao Beier (@包贝尔) and actress Bao Wenqian (@包文婧) attracted unwanted attention to their Bali wedding when a video clip of a wedding game leaked online, causing a heated debate amongst netizens that continued for weeks.

Throwing bridesmaids in the water

In the game, five best men were lifting bridesmaid Liu Yan (@柳岩) by her limbs and attempted to throw her into a small pool nearby. Liu Yan appears to be screaming and struggling, but the best men continued to carry her to the water. The game was only stopped when Jia Ling (@贾玲), another bridesmaid, came to Liu’s rescue.

The video soon attracted heated discussion on social media, making it to the top of Sina Weibo’s trending topics under the hashtag of “Liu Yan Bridesmaid Teased” (#柳岩当伴娘被捉弄). Wedding game or not, many think the teasing went too far, with a myriad of netizens deeming the game inappropriate.

teasing

tree

Earlier this year, the Chinese naohun tradition also sparked debates when a bride and groom were tied up to a tree to celebrate their wedding in Hubei.

The Chinese wedding teasing tradition

Why do wedding games attract so much controversy? An important reason is that these wedding customs reflect the experiences of many Chinese who think that these ancient traditions have no place in modern-day China.

Naohun (闹婚, literally ‘disturbing a marriage’) has been a long-standing practice since the Han dynasty (221–207 BC). It refers to a series of activities that the wedding couple has to do or undergo by the request of wedding attendants. During the wedding, relatives and friends are expected to “drink and laugh, speak and act without restraint” (杨树达,”汉代婚丧礼俗考”) to ensure a lively wedding atmosphere. It is also a sign of friendship.

There various activities to tease the newly-weds and particularly the bride. Usually after the official ceremony, the couple will be accompanied by all wedding attendants into their marriage-room (洞房). The group will remain in the room, urging the couple to kiss or hug.

naohun

During the wedding night, family members can stay outside the door and listen to their “bed activities” (听房). A Ming folk song in Sichuan district describes the teasing of brides: “First look at her hands, second look at her feet and third look at her waist; if she does not present these herself, our hands will reach out” (明代《新房曲》).

The usually strict family hierarchy will also break down during the wedding days (新婚三日无大小). Uncles or young brothers can all touch the bride under the pretense of ‘teasing’ her.

Naohun as form of sexual education

According to an article by iRead (@壹读), Naohun historically served two purposes. The first is sexual education. In old China, marrying in early teens (13-15) was common and pre-marital sex was taboo. Neither the boy nor the girl would have much knowledge about sex before getting married.

Group teasing on a wedding was supposed to break the initial awkwardness between the young bride and groom. They would ‘educate’ them by dropping hints on how they can be intimate together.

Another purpose of teasing is for the bridegroom’s family to declare ‘ownership’ of the bride. By teasing the bride, it was publicly conveyed that the woman now was a part of her husband’s family.

An embarrassing tradition

While in modern society, sexual education and declaration of ownership are no longer relevant for weddings, the tradition of teasing is still standing strong. There are very mild forms, such the cross-armed toasting (交杯酒) or having the couple bite an apple with their hands tied.

tradition

But what about rubbing a banana on the bride’s abdomen? Or what if teasing leads to physical injuries? According to CCTV, many people feel that China’s old traditions are no longer appropriate in today’s China; 70% of Chinese people feel embarrassed by China’s naohun tradition.

According to another recent survey hosted by Xinlang Entertainment (@新浪娱乐), 78.4% of Chinese netizens believe that teasing women on a wedding is a notorious tradition that is disrespectful to women. 16.4% say that whether teasing is acceptable or not depends on the bride’s or bridesmaid’s attitude. Only 5.2% think that teasing is an integral part of China’s wedding celebrations, and that it should not be taken too seriously.

No-teasing contract

It cannot be denied that mild, harmless teasing activities in the wedding can contribute to a livelier and more intimate atmosphere. After all, who doesn’t want some silly fun and laughter on such a joyous day? But when fun goes too far and becomes disrespectful, it might be time to question the importance of preserving the naohun tradition.

Some people now decide not to wait and see what the wedding will bring, but take matters in their own hands by making a “no wedding teasing contract”. Chinese media reported how one Mrs. Tian from Wuhan decided to make such a contract before participating in a friends’ wedding as a bridesmaid, after hearing about the notorious naohun traditions in the groom’s hometown.

The contract, that was signed by the groom and his family, included rules like no men could touch her, no forced drinking and no forms of humiliation.

As for the celebrity wedding issue, the involved celebrities Liu Yan, Bao Bei’er , Hang Geng and Du Haitao have all responded to the controversy – which they had wanted to avoid at all costs. According to them, “these things agreed amongst friends should remain clear of public judgement.” For their next big wedding, they might choose for a no-teasing contract, just to be sure.

– By Diandian Guo & Manya Koetse

More about the naohun tradition (in Chinese):
The Best 22 Naohun Tips
Notorious Naohun customs around China
Naohun can look like this in some parts of China
Why Chinese Men Likes Teasing the Bridesmaid

©2016 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Diandian Guo is a China-born Master student of transdisciplinary and global society, politics & culture at the University of Groningen with a special interest for new media in China. She has a BA in International Relations from Beijing Foreign Language University, and is specialized in China's cultural memory.

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China and Covid19

‘Hard Isolation’ is Shanghai’s New Word of the Day

In line with a new ‘hard isolation’ measure, the entrances of some Shanghai residential buildings were fenced up.

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While some Shanghai households have already endured weeks of isolation, a new word was added to their epidemic vocabulary today: ‘hard isolation’ or ‘strong quarantine’ (yìng gélí 硬隔离)

The word popped up on Chinese social media on April 23rd after some Shanghai netizens posted photos of fences being set up around their community building to keep residents from walking out.

“New word: hard isolation. Shanghai is rotten to the core,” one commenter wrote.

The word soon turned into a hashtag page where people started commenting on the issue of fences being placed around residential buildings, voicing concerns on what a fence around buildings would mean for fire safety, especially after online rumors suggested that there had been a fire at one community in Pudong on Saturday night.

An official document regarding the ‘hard isolation’ measure was also shared online on Saturday. It is dated April 23, 2022, and its source is the Pudong New Area Office for Epidemic Control.

The document states that in line with the guidelines for the city’s epidemic prevention and control, the division between areas or zones that are in certain risk categories should be ‘optimized,’ with those in the high-risk category requiring a ‘hard isolation.’ Security guards should also be on duty 24 hours a day at the entrance of the buildings.

Earlier this month, Shanghai adopted “3-level control measures” after its initial phased lockdown. It means that local areas will be classified as “locked-down,” “controlled” or “precautionary,” based on their Covid19 risk.

“Could we also put fences around the homes of Shanghai leaders?”, one person suggested, while others posted images from the Walking Dead to mock the situation.

In the hope of Shanghai soon tackling the Covid situation, not everybody disagreed with the decision to fence some buildings or communities in the Pudong area: “I don’t disagree with it, as long as there is always someone there to open the fence in case of fire,” one person stated.

Although having a fence around their building is currently not a reality for most in Shanghai, the online photos of some communities seeing their buildings being fenced up is a reason to worry for some: “It’s been 40 days, and now they start hard isolation? This actually scares me. Before we know it, it’s June.”

One Weibo user asked: “Why is it possible to implement this hard isolation now? Was this created by the same persons who also implemented the rule to separate children from parents at isolation sites?”

“I truly can’t imagine why some people thought this is a good idea,” others wrote.

For more articles on the Covid-19 topics on Chinese social media, check here.

By Manya Koetse

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China and Covid19

‘Voices of April’: The Day After

“The best way to make videos go viral is by censoring them.”

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On April 23, a day after the video ‘Voices of April’ briefly took over social media before it was censored, the trending topic of the day is a hashtag related to new Covid cases reported in Shanghai.

Shanghai reported higher Covid-19 cases and deaths on Friday than the five days prior, which showed a daily decline in new cases. Shanghai reported a total of 23,370 new cases (including 20,634 asymptomatic ones), the municipal health commission said Saturday. A related hashtag by Xinhua News received over 910 million views on Weibo on Saturday (#上海新增本土确诊2736例无症状20634例#).

Although the hashtag was initiated by state media to inform about the Shanghai Covid situation, netizens started using it to criticize Shanghai’s handling of the crisis, with more commenters questioning China’s zero-Covid strategy. Similarly, other state media-initiated hashtag places also became online spaces where Weibo users vented their frustrations earlier this month.

Besides the ongoing online criticism and vocal disagreement with China’s Covid handling and policies, there are also many who express shock at the recent crackdown of any form of protest or criticism regarding the situation in Shanghai.

“‘Voices of April’ has been shutdown all over the internet, I’m simply dumbfounded,” one person said about the popular video that contained real recordings of events that happened during the city’s lockdown.

“If you still can find the video anywhere, forward it,” another person writes.

Besides Voices of April (四月之声), there have also been other videos over the past week that are meant to expose the mishandling of the Covid situation in Shanghai.

One of them is titled Farewell, Language (再见语言), another one is Shanghai Late Spring (上海晚春).

Farewell, Language (再见语言) is a 42-second sound art video by artist Yang Xiao (杨潇), who used over 600 commonly used propaganda phrases from Chinese official channels and randomly broadcasted the audio in the community where he lives.

The anti-epidemic workers just continue their work and do not seem to notice anything out of the ordinary at all. The video shows how this kind of language has been so normalized that for most, it has just become background noise in their everyday life – without even noticing nor critically assessing its meaning or logic anymore.

The Shanghai Late Spring (上海晚春) video is a compilation of video footage from the Shanghai lockdown, showing people struggling to get food, violent altercations between anti-epidemic workers and residents, people living in deplorable conditions in quarantine centers, and more (link to video).

The video uses the song Cheer Up London by Slaves, its chorus being:

You’re dead, already, dead, dead, already-ready
Dead, already, dead, dead, already-ready
Dead, already, dead, dead, already-ready
Dead, already, dead
.”

One Weibo commenter responded to the video in English, using a text from Les Misérables: “Do you hear the people sing / Singing the song of angry men / It is the music of a people / Who will not be slaves again!” The phrase “do you hear the people sing” was also used by other social media users to address the situation in Shanghai and the censorship of related topics.

“The best way to make videos go viral is by censoring them,” one commenter replied.

Read our previous article about ‘Voices of April’ here.

For more articles on the Covid-19 topics on Chinese social media, check here.

By Manya Koetse, with contributions by Miranda Barnes

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our weekly newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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