City museum devoted to marriage

Shanghai Marriage Culture Museum in Putuo District is China's first to be devoted to provincial level marriage culture.
Wang Rongjiang / SHINE

Marriage certificates from different eras are on show at Shanghai’s Marriage Culture Museum that opens on May 1. It tracks old rituals to the modern era of simpler weddings. 

A marriage is made in heaven and a marriage museum is made in Shanghai.

From May 1, the city will showcase the historical evolution of Shanghai’s marriage culture from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) onwards.

Shanghai Marriage Culture Museum will feature 137 exhibits, including dowries and photographs. Entry is free.

The museum in Putuo District is China’s first to be devoted to provincial level marriage culture. It describes wedding customs and rituals and records the development of the city’s marriage registration system.

“Shanghai’s marriage culture is unique and its development experiences three periods, which are ancient marriage, marriage influenced by the integration of Chinese and Western cultures, and marriage in modern times that centers on the legalization of marriage registration management,” said Zhou Jingbo, an official with the Shanghai Civil Affairs Bureau.

A variety of items, once commonly seen in Shanghainese families, are displayed, such as porcelain teapots, silver commemoration plates, copper hand warmers, washbasins and tooth glasses, and glass fruit plates with dragon or phoenix patterns that have auspicious meaning in Chinese mythology.

A signing roll of a wedding in the 1960s, bearing all the names of the guests who participated, is on show as are bridal hairpins from the 1912-1949 Republic of China period, a bronze lock from the Qing Dynasty, embroidered sachets, silver bracelets, bronze mirrors, oil lamps and bridal porcelain make-up jars.

Visitors will also find items reflecting the lighter side of marriage, such as an embroidered love token showing a pair of mandarin ducks symbolizing lifetime marriage, 555 brand clocks — widely used in Shanghai in the 1980s — a 1963 script of the Huju marital opera “Luo Han Qian,” and even a picture-story book from the 1980s about the Marriage Law.

Marriage certificates over the past six decades and different versions of marriage laws and regulations dating from the 1950s are also showcased.

And of course those ubiquitous wedding photos are on display — from the 1950s to the present day.

“It is very interesting to see all these items as they remind me of a bygone era,” said Wang Shirong, a 59-year-old Shanghai resident, who attended a preview. Visitors will also learn about wedding rituals in different periods.

Gifts to the bride in Shanghai during the Qing dynasty would usually involve jewelry, clothing and tea leaves, while the bride’s gifts to her husband would often comprise shoes, hats or spectacles. Quilts, clothing, cases, perhaps a bath too would form the bride’s dowry — and a bridal sedan chair was a must for some.

During the Republic of China period, some young students were daring enough to propose marriage without any intervention from their parents, and during this period bridegrooms began wearing tailcoats, and brides a white wedding dress.

After the implementation of the Marriage Law in 1950, arranged marriages fell out of favour and some long-held traditions disappeared.

The wedding process became much simpler and certificates from civil affairs authorities became the norm.

In the 1980s and 1990s — and with the improvement of financial conditions for many — televisions, refrigerators and washing machines were the order of the day on the gift front. Visitors to the museum can watch a video on the changes in Shanghai’s wedding customs and rituals.

The museum is located at 510 Caoyang Rd. inside the Putuo District Resident Service Center. It is open from 9am-11:30am, and 1:30pm-4:30pm on Mondays and Fridays, and from 9am to 3pm on Saturdays.

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