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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

“Chinese Spy Balloon” Versus “Chinese Civilian Airship” – The Chinese Words That Matter in the Balloon Incident

On Chinese social media, the Chinese balloon is seen as a weather device that ended up measuring the temperature of China-US relations.

Manya Koetse

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A day after the U.S. military shot down a Chinese balloon off the Carolina coast, the ‘balloon incident’ is a hot topic on Chinese social media, as official media are publishing about the incident and social media users are discussing it.

At 8:17 in the morning on Feb. 5, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs published its response to the shooting down of the Chinese balloon on Weibo.

They expressed “strong discontent and protest” over the American use of force to attack the “civilian unmanned airship” (民用无人飞艇) after Chinese officials recurringly informed the U.S. side that the balloon – described as a weather device, – had accidentally entered the U.S. and did not pose any threat to the U.S. whatsoever (#外交部就美方宣称击落中国无人飞艇发表声明#).

On Chinese social media, as also described in our earlier article on the incident, the balloon has come to be referred to as the “Wandering Balloon” (流浪气球) in the context of the box-office hit The Wandering Earth II.

At the same time, China celebrated the Lantern Festival (元宵节) which marks the first full moon of the Chinese New Year. It is tradition to eat glutinous rice balls and enjoy lanterns floating in the sky.

The balloon incident set the Chinese social media meme machine in motion, in which the balloon, The Wandering Earth II, and the Lantern Festival all came together in various images that circulated on Weibo and beyond.

The balloon, featured in ‘The Wandering Balloon’ movie produced by ‘US Government’, wishes everyone a happy Lanern Festival.

Another meme titled “Wandering Balloon” drawing comparisons between the ballloon and rice balls traditionally eaten during Lantern Festival.

The Weibo hashtags used to discuss the incident were mainly initiated by Chinese (state) media outlets, such as “The U.S. Side Claims to Have Shot Down Chinese Unmanned Airship” (#美方宣称击落中国无人飞艇#); “America Uses Military Force to Attack Civilian Unmanned Airship” (#美方宣称击落中国无人飞艇#); “The U.S. Side’s Insistence on Using Force Is Clearly an Overreaction” (#美方执意动用武力明显反应过度#).

“Is it a balloon or an airship? The American official and media side all claim it is a spying balloon; the Chinese side claims it is an civilian unmanned airship,” one blogger wrote, showing the different media contexts in which the incident is being discussed and emphasizing the importance of the vocabulary used.

Words matter, and at a time when there is a lot of speculation about the incident, the seemingly humorous way in which Chinese netizens have responded to the international dispute also relates to the language that is being used to describe the event.

On Chinese social media, the majority of commenters see the balloon as a weather device that went wandering and, unexpectedly, ended up measuring the temperature of Sino-American relations – which turned out to be icy cold.

Some examples of the kind of phrasing that matters in the Chinese media context:

Civilian Unmanned Airship
民用无人飞艇 Mínyòng Wúrén Fēitǐng

The balloon in question is described as a “civilian unmanned airship” in Chinese official and state media texts. The word ‘civilian’ (民用) is included in the clarification about the balloon being a civilian meteorological balloon, and thus not serving any military purposes (民用 ‘civilian’ versus 军用 ‘military’).

Attack [on] Civilian Unmanned Airship
袭击民用无人飞艇 Xíjí Mínyòng Wúrén Fēitǐng

The U.S. military shooting down the Chinese balloon is also phrased as an “attack” (袭击) in many Chinese media reports as well as in the official Foreign Ministry post.

Completely by Accident
完全是意外 Wánquán Shì Yìwài

The expressions “completely by accident” (完全是意外), “unexpected circumstances” (意外情况), and “force majeure” (不可抗力) are used in official Chinese media texts describing the balloon incident to underline that the circumstances in which the device floated into American skies was not only unrelated to military / government purposes, but that it was also unintentional.

Stay tuned for more updates.

By Manya Koetse 

 

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China Insight

Hot Air: Chinese Social Media Reactions to the Chinese Balloon Incident

The Chinese balloon incident is also referred to as the “Wandering Balloon” on social media at a time when ‘Wandering Earth II’ is trending.

Manya Koetse

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The 2023 “China balloon incident” has gotten so big over the past few days that it already has its very own Wikipedia page now.

On Feb. 2, 2023, it was announced that a Chinese “surveillance balloon” was traveling over the northern United States. Later, it was reported that a second Chinese balloon floated over Latin America.

As a consequence, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called off a scheduled visit to Beijing, calling the presence of the Chinese balloon “an irresponsible act.” The balloon has also been dubbed the “Chinese spy balloon.”

On Sunday morning after 4 AM China local time, news came out that the U.S. military had shot down the Chinese balloon off the Carolina coast after the coastal area of North and South Carolina had been closed for the national security operation.

In an earlier statement on Friday, Chinese officials referred to the balloon as a civilian “airship” (“飞艇”) used for weather monitoring and meteorological research that deviated from its original route due to the wind. The incident, therefore, is also described as the “Chinese Airship Incident” (“中国飞艇事件”) by Chinese media outlets.

On Chinese social media, the issue is referred to as “the balloon incident” (“气球事件”) or the “balloon problem” (“气球问题”), and many netizens think it is all about “making a big issue over nothing” (“小题大做”).

The balloon is also nicknamed “the wandering balloon” (流浪气球) in light of the current Chinese box office hit The Wandering Earth II. One of the hashtags used to discuss the events was “The Wandering Balloon II” (#流浪气球2#).

Chinese political commentator Hu Xijin, who frequently posts on social media, suggested earlier that the U.S. side allegedly is very well aware that the Chinese balloon – which accidentally went “wandering” – actually “poses no threat” and that ongoing reports about the balloon were purposely being used to create an anti-Chinese narrative.

Hu’s reasoning is similar to that of Chinese International Relations Professor Li Haidong (李海东), who claims that the balloon story is framed as a threat in order for the U.S. to gain an advantage in bilateral negotiations (#专家称美炒作气球事件对华施压#).

Following news reports about the Chinese balloon getting shot down, some Weibo commenters jokingly lamented that the “poor baby balloon” had been ruthlessly shot down without even getting the time to float around.

“Such a pity,” some wrote, with others suggesting it’s “just a stray balloon.”

One of the hastags used for online discussions of the balloon getting shot down was “The Wandering Balloon Is Shot Down” (#流浪气球被击落#) and “The ‘Wandering Balloon’ Gets Shot Down by American Military” (#流浪气球被击落#).

There are many online jokes about the incident, such as those saying that the Chinese people thought the sci-fi blockbuster Wandering Earth II was the current film hit and that they had not expected the ‘Wandering Balloon’ to be the actual hit of the moment.

The fact that the current Chinese balloon developments trigger so many online comparisons and memes related to the sci-fi film Wandering Earth II perhaps doesn’t come as a surprise, since the movie has been among the hottest trending topics of the past week, and considering its narrative is all about catastrophic events and the future of international society.

Others comment that since this is the time of the Chinese Lantern Festival (元宵节), celebrated on the fifteenth day of the first month of the Chinese New Year, the incident is just another way of wishing everyone a happy new year.

All jokes aside, there are also bloggers who see the incident as a more serious occurrence at a time of worsening Sino-American relations, suggesting the significance of this matter “can’t be underestimated.”

For more updates on this story, see this article.

By Manya Koetse 

 

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©2023 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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