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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 Insight

Why Russia Is Nicknamed the “Weak Goose” on Chinese Social Media

Multiple Chinese (military) bloggers started using ‘weak goose’ (菜鹅) term in light of Russia’s fading victory.

Manya Koetse

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While the latest developments in the Russia-Ukraine war are closely watched by millions of Chinese social media users, the ‘Weak Goose’ meme is becoming more popular among military bloggers and Weibo users, signaling a shift in online sentiments regarding Russia’s position and its military competence.

Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the latest developments regarding the war in Ukraine are a big topic on Chinese social media, where military bloggers, academics, political commentators, and ordinary netizens have been sharing their views on the conflict over the past seven months.

Back in February of 2022, many Weibo commenters expressed anti-war sentiments and worries about the situation of the Ukrainian people and Ukraine-based Chinese compatriots.

At the same time, there was also a growing group of Chinese netizens who said they supported Russia. One top commenter at the time wrote: “I resolutely support the Russian military action! This is the evil result of Ukraine following the Yankees (美国佬). We should seize the opportunity to liberate Taiwan and to recover the Diaoyu Islands.”

Those speaking out in favor of Putin and the Russian military mainly focused on anti-Western sentiments, and this online discourse was only strengthened by media narratives that also framed the Russia-Ukraine war – commonly referred to as Russia’s “special military operation” – within a Chinese context that stressed the humiliation and injustice suffered by China at the hands of the very same Western powers that were now condemning Russia and were trying to get China on their side (read more in this article).

Others also saw the Russian military invasion of Ukraine as a warning to Taiwan, semi-jokingly writing that Chinese troops could arrive in the morning, that unification would be completed by noon, and that they would all be raising the flag and singing the national anthem together the next day.

But now, seven months and nine days later, it is clear that Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine is anything but a quick ‘victory.’

 
“We’re Witnessing History”
 

This week, after Russia proclaimed the annexation of four territories in Ukraine, the Russia-Ukraine war has reached a pivotal phase and this is receiving a lot of attention on Chinese social media.

After a series of so-called “referendums” which supposedly showed it was the “will of the millions of people,” Putin claimed that Luhansk, areas of Donetsk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia were now part of the Russian Federation. Using increasingly threatening rhetoric, Putin said in his September 30 speech that Russia would defend these areas with “all the means at our disposal.” On Weibo, the topic received over 220 million views (#普京签署顿涅茨克等四地入俄条约#).

That very same day, Ukraine applied for fast-track NATO accession, and Ukrainian President Zelensky said that they are ready for peace talks with Russia, but only with a different Russian president. The topic of Ukraine’s application to join NATO became a trending topic on Weibo, receiving over 190 million views on Saturday (#泽连斯基签署乌克兰加入北约申请#).

When Jake Sullivan, the U.S. President’s National Security Advisor, stated that it was “not the right time” for Ukraine’s admission to the alliance, China Daily initiated the hashtag “Ukraine’s Application to Join NATO Is Met with a Cold Shoulder by the U.S.” (#乌克兰申请加入北约遭美国冷遇#).

On Sunday, news of President Zelensky declaring the key eastern Ukrainian town of Lyman “fully cleared of Russian forces” also became trending. A Weibo hashtag dedicated to the topic of Russian forces retreating from Lyman (#俄军从红利曼撤退#) received over 150 million views.

“We’re witnessing history,” some Chinese netizens commented, with others replying: “We’ve been witnessing history for the past two years already.”

 
Shifting Online Sentiments
 

But the online sentiments regarding the war in Ukraine have shifted over the past months, and there is now more emphasis on the weakness of the Russian military strategy. There are also more voices criticizing those who cheer for Putin.

Qu Weiguo (@曲卫国), a professor at Shanghai’s Fudan College of Foreign Languages and Literatures, denounced fellow Chinese who seemed “happy and excited” about Putin signing the decree annexing four regions of eastern Ukraine and who called it a “checkmate move” that put the West in a difficult position.

According to Qu Weiguo, these “patriotic” fellow Chinese – “I am not sure whether they actually love China or Russia,” he wrote – were overseeing the fact that it is not just the West that is being affected by the annexation, of which the legality is more than questionable. Qu mentioned the 2013 PRC-Ukraine Treaty of Friendship & Cooperation, which conveys Chinese support for Ukraine’s “sovereignty, security, and territorial integrity.” Qu suggests that in this context, China could not possibly recognize the four annexed territories as being part of Russia; and Beijng would also be obliged to support Ukraine in case it would be attacked by Russian nuclear weapons.

Author Du Zijian (@杜子建) also spoke out on Weibo, saying the referendum regarding the four regions claimed by Russia cannot be recognized: “It’s Ukrainian territory, it can’t be stolen by anyone.”

Image posted by Littlepigpig

Military blogger ‘Littlepigpig’ (@用户littlepigpig1), who focuses on the war in Ukraine, provided another perspective on the recent developments, suggesting that Putin’s nuclear rhetoric is just bluff and likely stems from despair over Russia’s inability to defeat Ukraine: “What would be the point of sending hundreds of thousands of Russians to Ukraine to be brutally slaughtered before launching a nuclear strike!?”

 
The ‘Weak Goose’ Meme
 

There are more people who now express that they see little chance of Russia winning this war. One regular Weibo user wrote: “The soldiers have no morale, the country has no money, and their equipment technology lags behind NATO.” “They’re so disappointing,” others wrote.

One term that recurringly comes up in these discussions, from Weibo to Zhihu, is that of ‘Weak Goose’ (菜鹅 cài’é).

The term, that has been surfacing for a few months, is a wordplay on 菜俄 (also cài’é), which means ‘Weak Russia’ and is short for “the weak Russian army” (“俄军很菜”).

Although ‘菜’ (cài) actually means ‘vegetable,’ it is also slang for ‘poor’ or ‘weak’ when used as an adjective (see this video for explanation.)

This image is another word play on ‘weak goose’, turning it into a ‘vegetable swan’ instead.

According to Jikipedia, ‘Weak Goose’ started to be used by Chinese political and military bloggers after they found that the Russian army advanced much slower than they had expected. They came up with the word to make fun of Russia struggling with basic military mistakes and low military capabilities.

Recently, instead of ‘weak goose,’ the term ‘weak Russia’ has also been used more often (so 菜俄 rather than 菜鹅; just for clarity, we’ll translate them both as ‘Weak Goose’ here). Russia is usually also nicknamed ‘big goose’ in China (大鹅) since the words for ‘goose’ and ‘Russia’ sound the same.

The past week, multiple Chinese (military) bloggers have started using this term again in light of Putin’s fading victory and the retreat from Lyman. Reports about Russian recruits allegedly being instructed to use tampons and pads on war wounds in light of a shortage of military supplies further strengthen the Weak Goose meme: “Who thought the ‘Weak Goose’ was so weak?”

Those using the ‘Weak Goose’ term are definitely not necessarily anti-Russian and also not pro-Ukrainian – they are just using the word as a joke and comic relief in a military conflict that has been dragging on for much longer than Chinese netizens had anticipated.

 
“The Russia-Ukraine conflict is not entertainment”
 

But not everyone on Weibo appreciates these kinds of jokes. “The Russia-Ukraine conflict is not some entertainment variety show,” one blogger (@Aglaia柒y) with over 220,000 fans wrote, criticizing those who are using the war as a source of drama and entertainment with Putin starring as the main “idol.”

Others also reminded people that the ‘Weak Goose’ is actually very resilient. Well-known finance blogger Liu Zhongling (刘忠岭), known under the alias of @笑看红绿, noted that there were many Chinese people cheering for the latest victory of the Ukrainian army recently. But according to Liu, it is not necessarily something to cheer about: “All the progress that the Ukrainian army is making now, comes at the cost of many injuries and military casualties. Considering that this war is going to take a long time, soldiers are far more important than weaponry.”

He added: “The ‘weak goose’ army is getting worn out (..) but by pulling back they are also preserving strength and that is not a bad choice. People who know their history already anticipated the Russians would get pulled down, but they also know the ‘Weak Goose’ is actually tough.”

Although the ‘Weak Goose’ meme is one that is just alive within particular online circles, it is telling of a shift in sentiments on Chinese social media regarding a conflict in which many initially believed Russia was like a strong brown bear fiercely attacking Ukraine, rather than a worn out goose nibbling on its neighboring country (reference post).

Chinese well-known political commentator Hu Xijin stirred away from any jokes. In his recent post on Weibo, he warned that “the world must be prepared for a further escalation of the war in Ukraine, even beyond Ukraine.”

By Manya Koetse 

With contributions by Miranda Barnes.

 

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China Brands & Marketing

About Lipstick King’s Comeback and His ‘Mysterious’ Disappearance

After Li Jiaqi’s return to livestreaming, the ‘tank cake incident’ has become the elephant in the room on social media.

Manya Koetse

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Earlier this week, the return of China’s famous livestreamer Li Jiaqi, also known as the ‘Lipstick King’, became a hot topic on Chinese social media where his three-month ‘disappearance’ from the social commerce scene triggered online discussions.

He is known as Austin Li, Lipstick King, or Lipstick Brother, but most of all he is known as one of China’s most successful e-commerce livestreaming hosts.

After being offline for over 100 days, Li Jiaqi (李佳琦) finally came back and did a livestreaming session on September 20th, attracting over 60 million viewers and selling over $17 million in products.

The 30-year-old beauty influencer, a former L’Oreal beauty consultant, rose to fame in 2017 after he became a successful livestreamer focusing on lipstick and other beauty products.

Li broke several records during his live streaming career. In 2018, he broke the Guinness World Record for “the most lipstick applications in 30 seconds.” He once sold 15000 lipsticks in 5 minutes, and also managed to apply 380 different lipsticks in another seven-hour live stream session. Li made international headlines in 2021 when he sold $1.9 billion in goods during a 12-hour-long promotion livestream for Alibaba’s shopping festival.

But during a Taobao livestream on June 3rd of this year, something peculiar happened. After Li Jiaqi and his co-host introduced an interestingly shaped chocolate cake – which seemed to resemble a tank, – a male assistant in the back mentioned something about the sound of shooting coming from a tank (“坦克突突”).

Although Li Jiaqi and the others laughed about the comment, Li also seemed a bit unsure and the woman next to him then said: “Stay tuned for 23:00 to see if Li Jiaqi and I will still be in this position.”

The session then suddenly stopped, and at 23:38 that night Li wrote on Weibo that the channel was experiencing some “technical problems.”

But those “technical problems” lasted, and Li did not come back. His June 3rd post about the technical problems would be the last one on his Weibo account for the months to come.

The ‘cake tank incident’ (坦克蛋糕事件) occurred on the night before June 4, the 33rd anniversary of the violent crackdown of the Tiananmen student demonstrations. The iconic image of the so-called ‘tank man‘ blocking the tanks at Tiananmen has become world famous and is censored on China’s internet. The control of information flows is especially strict before and on June 4, making Li’s ‘tank cake incident’ all the more controversial.

But no official media nor the official Li Jiaqi accounts acknowledged the tank cake incident, and his absence remained unexplained. Meanwhile, there was a silent acknowledgment among netizens that the reason Li was not coming online anymore was related to the ‘tank cake incident.’

During Li’s long hiatus, fans flocked to his Weibo page where they left thousands of messages.

“I’m afraid people have been plotting against you,” many commenters wrote, suggesting that the cake was deliberately introduced by someone else during the livestream as a way to commemorate June 4.

Many fans also expressed their appreciation of Li, saying how watching his streams helped them cope with depression or cheered them up during hard times. “What would we do without you?” some wrote. Even after 80 days without Li Jiaqi’s livestreams, people still commented: “I am waiting for you every day.”

On September 21st, Li Jiaqi finally – and somewhat quietly – returned and some people said they were moved to see their lipstick hero return to the livestream scene.

Although many were overjoyed with Li’s return, it also triggered more conversations on why he had disappeared and what happened to him during the 3+ months of absence. “He talked about a sensitive topic,” one commenter said when a Weibo user asked about Li’s disappearance.

One self-media accountpublished a video titled “Li Jiaqi has returned.” The voiceover repeatedly asks why Li would have disappeared and even speculates about what might have caused it, without once mentioning the tank cake.

“This cracks me up,” one commenter wrote: “On the outside we all know what’s going on, on the inside there’s no information whatsoever.”

“It’s tacit mutual understanding,” some wrote. “It’s the elephant in the room,” others said.

Some people, however, did not care about discussing Li’s disappearance at all anymore and just expressed joy about seeing him again: “It’s like seeing a good friend after being apart for a long time.”

By Manya Koetse 

Elements in the featured image by @karishea and @kaffeebart.

 

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