Like some other places in China, the brides of the Tujia ethnic group in Zhangjiajie still keep the crying marriage custom. Every bride has to cry at her wedding ceremony. Otherwise, the bride's neighbors will look down upon her as a poorly cultivated girl and she will become the laughingstock in the village.
A historical record has it that during the Warring States Period (475-221BC), the princess of the Zhao State was married to the Yan State to be a queen. Her mother, on the point of her daughter's departure, cried at her feet and asked her to return home as soon as possible. Later, the story was alluded to as the origin of the "crying marriage" custom.
Usually, the bride will learn how to cry under guidance of her mother or some other her kinswomen a month before her wedding day. As the night falls, the bride walks inside the hall and weeps for about an hour. 10 days later, her mother joins her, crying together with her. Another 10 days later, the grandmother joins the daughter and mother, to cry together with them. The sisters and aunts of the bride, if she has any, also have to join the crying.
The bride may cry in different ways with diversified words, which was also called "Crying Marriage Song". The somewhat exaggerated singing helps to enhance the wedding atmosphere. In a word, crying at wedding is a way by custom to set off the happiness of the wedding via falsely sorrowful words. However, in the arranged marriages of the old days of China, there were indeed quite a lot of brides who cried over their unsatisfactory marriage and even their miserable life.
In fact, swearing at the matchmaker used to be an important part of crying marriage, as well as the most rebellious part. In the old society, women were bound by the so-called "the three obediences and four virtues "*, thus having no say in their marriage, which was all arranged by the matchmaker and the parents. Therefore, the brides often swore at the matchmaker before stepping inside the sedans, which was also seen as a pent-up of their dissatisfaction with and hatred of the old matrimonial system. This is also reflected in local operas and other folk art forms.
In the countryside areas of Zhangjiajie, where the matchmakers still play an important part in marriage, brides continue to swear at them in crying marriage. However, it is said that the matchmakers never fear being scolded, but not being scolded, which means they will never get rid of the bad luck (the Chinese character for matchmaker is a homonym of that for bad luck).
The three obediences and four virtues are the Confucian ethics which were imposed on women in the old days.