From Bows to Vows: Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs Issue Recommended Wedding Vows
(If this one by General Song Zuying Mr. Sha Baoliang gives you goose bumps, visit here for an earlier version of the same song)
In America, I haven’t seen anybody getting married without an exchange of vows that goes something like this: “I, (Bride / Groom), take you (Groom / Bride), to be my (wife / husband), to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part. “
Traditionally Chinese wedding does not have such formal vows. The newly-weds just have three bows during a wedding, usually announced by a wedding host: “First, bow to the heaven and earth; second, bow to the parents; third, bow to each other!” But unofficial vows are common as shown in the Youtube song ( “Wedding vows”) I have included. This artistic version of vows, as I suggested in my post about Chinese thinking and Chinese food, is rather fluid in the shift of images and ideas. Images in the song include running rivers, swallows darting in the sky, plantain leaves and buds, swings, bows and arrows, flowers and bees. Go figure out what all these mean, without using psychoanalysis if you can. There is much lyricism to it, but it says nothing about how to run a marriage. So I suspect that such vows would expire in a month.
I don’t know what is the motivation behind it, but the Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs has recently developed four versions of wedding vows, and I have provided a translation below. I constantly reject translation contracts from publishers, but I translated these out of my own will, and free of charge, just to show what you are getting into if you are an English speaker marrying a Chinese.
You are welcome.
As you can see from the following four versions, such vows represent certain changes in thinking in Chinese approach to weddings. In American weddings, you constantly hear ministers quote from 1 Corinthians: “Love is patient.” Traditionally Chinese people would think of it as a bad omen, as you don’t start a marriage by expecting it to be tricky, thorny, something that you have to face with patience, though such warnings are healthy. In China the newly-weds are usually showered with more “auspicious” wishes on the day of their marriage, wishes about marriage being happy, long-lasting, etc, as you can see from such phrases as “good union for a hundred years” and “together till you are both gray-haired”. Now, I found from the wedding vows an acknowledgement of responsibilities and obligations, difficulties and troubles. Traditionally few people mention these on a wedding day. It is not that anybody deny the existence of these issues. These issues were simply expected to be handled as they come, later on. Minor details, if you will. Not on a wedding day. But some must have discovered that such ceremonial acknowledgement of marital responsibilities is necessary, at least to those who went to the certifying clerk on an impulse.
I’ll let you read these vows for yourself. The vows led to quite a bit of discussions in the Chinese blogosphere, but I personally think it is a good thing to have these vows. Taking a vow before the national flag and emblem may seem rather strange to a westerner, but China is, in theory, a secular country. However, I also see references of “holy”, “temple”, etc. in the recommended texts. I am not sure if it is entirely linguistic.
Some of my translation below is rather literal in an attempt to communicate what the text reads like originally in Chinese. Original version in Chinese can be found here.
Recommended Version 1:
Certification clerk: I am a staff member of the Ministry of Civil Affairs. My name is so-and-so. I am pleased to issue a marriage certificate for the two of you.
Certification clerk: Are you Mr. so-and-so (Male answers)
Are you Miss so-and-so? (Female answers)
Mr. so-and-so and Miss so and so, are you getting married out of your own will? (Both answer.)
Certification clerk: In our country, we practice an institution of marriage that values freedom of marriage, monogamy, and gender equality. A husband and a wife shall be faithful and respectful to each other. As family members you pledge to respect and care for the old and the young. You pledge to help each other and jointly maintain an equal, harmonious and civilized marriage and family relations. Can you do that? (Both answer)
Certification clerk: After our review, you meet the conditions for marriage registration. Please come forward here to receive a marriage certificate. (The two sides step forward to sign and receive the certificate.)
Certification clerk: The Marriage Law of the People’s Republic of China stipulates that the issuing of a marriage certificate signifies the start of a relationship between husband and wife. Your marriage has been established at this moment. I sincerely wish you a happy marriage and a happy family!
Recommended Version 2
Certification clerk: I am a staff member of the Ministry of Civil Affairs. My name is xxx. I am pleased to be able to issue a marriage certificate for the two of you. I ask you to come forward, hand in hand, to this certification desk to experience the best moment of your life.
Certification clerk: Mr. so-and-so, are you willing to marry Miss so-and-so for your wife? (Male answers)
Certification clerk: Miss.so-and-so, are you willing to marry Mr. so-and-so for your husband? (Male answers)
Certification clerk: Miss so-and-so and Mr. so-and-so, after a review, you meet the conditions for marriage registration, please come forward to receive a marriage certificate. (The two sides step forward to sign and receive the certificate.)
Today’s date is ______, a date to be memorized throughout your life. Your love comes into blossom on this day. Your marriage is embarked on a journey of happiness because of this day. Today you become lawful husband and wife. In the days to come, you should cherish, love and support each other for a long lifetime relationship!
Recommended Version 3
Certification clerk: I am a staff member of the Ministry of Civil Affairs. My name is so-and-so. I am pleased to be able to issue a marriage certificate for the two of you.
Certification clerk: Today’s date is ____, a day of the establishment of your happy union. You have found each other in the vast sea of humans. You hold each other’s hand and together you step into the holy temple of marriage. I sincerely give you blessings.
Certification clerk: As the saying goes: It takes a hundred years of cultivation to be able to share a boat. It takes a thousand of years of cultivation to be able to share the same pillow. (Note: do not be intimated by this, as a hundred years of cultivation or a thousand years of cultivation refer to one’s former life in a Buddhist sense.) Getting married is an agreement to live together for an entire life, symbolizing the start of a new stage of life. Life has told us: A happy marriage has times of tenderness, romance and sweetness, but it is also built upon obligations, responsibilities and sacrifices. I hope that you should use an accommodating attitude in treating each other, to forgive each other and to understand each other no matter what difficulties you might encounter. You will share the warmth of family, but also the storms of life. Can you do that?
Certification clerk: Please come forward to receive a marriage certificate. (The two sides step forward to sign and receive the marriage certificate.)
Certification clerk: A marriage certificate is a legal proof of marital relationship between the two of you. Please treasure it all your life. I wish that the two of you will love each other forever!
Recommended Version 4
Certification clerk: I am a staff member of the Ministry of Civil Affairs. My name is so-and-so. I am pleased to be able to issue a marriage certificate for the two of you. Today is a holy day. Would you solumnly answer my question: are you getting married out of your own will? (Both answer)
Certification clerk: Please turn to the solemn national flag and national emblem, as you read the wedding vows.
(Both read the wedding vows:)
We are getting married out of our own will. From today, we will jointly assume the responsibilities and obligations entrusted to us by this marriage: filial piety to our parents, nurturing of the young, mutual respect, mutual love, mutual trust, mutual understanding and mutual forgiveness. We pledge to support and love each other throughout our lifetime.
From today on, in good times or bad, for richer or for poorer, in health or sickness, in youth or old age, we will be committed to each other like passengers on the same boat on a storm day. We will share difficulties and successes and become lifelong companions. We should and we will abide by the vows we are making today.
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