December 2017
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The Social Context of Folk Arts – Wedding Ceremonies

Traditional wedding is meant for the union of a male and a female, yin and title=”A large-scale “Happy baby” ball flower papercut yang, which lead to human propagation and perpetual life. The folk art works on custom wedding ceremony bear distinctive features on the theme. Fish, being a proliferous legendary animal, is often used to symbolize having multiple children.  A yin-yang paired fish became a cultural code in Chinese folk art works.

At wedding ceremony, paper-cut “Fish playing around lotus,” “Fish biting lotus,” “Lotus bearing seeds” and “Happy dolls” (baby with coiled hair holding a pair of fish) are pasted on the ceiling of the bridal chamber.  In northern Shaanxi, red or green paper-cutting of “Baby with coiled hair holding a pair of fish” in a big ball flower design is pasted on the center of the cave window. They are called “revolving flower,” as the revolving sky. The lower and middle part of the cave window is usually a lattice window in 36 counts. A large totem animal paper-cut (a tiger, a sheep or a deer) is over the middle four lattice; each corner lattice has a corner flower; the rest space are filled with colorful paper-cuts like “Buckled bowls,” “Paired fish,” “Fish playing around lotus,” “Lotus bearing babies,” “Rat eating pumpkins,” “Squirrel eating grape,” “Monkey eating peach,” “Rabbit eating cabbage,” “Golden pheasant visiting lotus flower” etc., making up a diamond square shaped “36 lattice window of clouds.” The colorful paper-cuttings against the white window paper liner definitely add a delightful atmosphere. In here, rat, squirrel, rabbit and golden pheasant are male; and lotus flower, pumpkin, grape, cabbage, peach are female. Putting animals and plants implies combining male and female for multiplication.

In the upper and middle reaches of the Yellow River, gift bread for wedding ceremony from the maternal family is a round bread made of two connecting fish, or a tiger head on a dragon body with a fish tail, with a world of living things plugged on the back. In Hua County, Shaanxi Province, the wedding bread is a “High rise bread platter” with a reed cylinder in the center as if connecting to the sky; and paired fish stuck on very layer from bottom up, such as a paired fish sharing one tiger head or a sheep head; a paired dragons with a tiger head; or a fish tail with a phoenix head. The top layer is a treasure bottle and a happy baby, a symbol of wealth and more children.  At the wedding, two “High rise bread platters” are placed on each side of the table where the bride and the groom bow to the sky, to earth and to each other. It is quite a scene.

In Shaanxi, Shanxi and east of Gansu, a custom wedding embroidery is a hand made red undergarment, showing a fish (the bride) with an open cut on her body (a female uterus). It is part of the dowry as a gift from the bride to her groom. Other embroideries include male and female animals of proliferous nature; hanging ornaments of flowers and fruits; or a “Needle holder”, a “Needle toad”, as gifts for the female in-laws to show off bride’s craftsmanship. A custom in the monkey totem tribal culture in Henan is for the bride to embroider a male monkey, symbolic of her husband, and hide it at the bottom of the suitcase to take with her to the husband’s family on the wedding day. A secret porcelain “Happy baby,” with female coiled hair but a male body, is placed under the bed sheet on the wedding night. It is meant to be crushed during intercourse, a prayer for more children. Traditional porcelain “Happy baby” is still being made today at a porcelain cellar known for manufacturing the Song Dynasty porcelain in Yu county of Henan Province.

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