Monday, December 7, 2009


The day started very early. She bathed with fruits and herbs soaked in hot water to rid any evil spirits. She then put on brand new undershirt and skirt, and waited for her aunt to come and comb her hair. She would comb her hair with the jade comb four times, each stroke with a different symbol and blessing for her future.

First combing: From beginning until end
Second combing: Harmony to old age
Third combing: Sons and grandsons all over the place
Forth combing: Good wealth and long-lasting marriage

After that, her maid would style her hair to a fashion that would accommodate the headdress later.

She was marrying down to a family with a lower status. She never met her future husband. Parents of both families arranged everything with the help of a matchmaker. She had spent the past six months preparing her dowry once the proposal was accepted by her father. She made all the bedroom linens with embroidered dragon and phoenix on them. She made all the clothes she and her future husband could possibly wear for the next ten years. It was a lot of work, but it wasn’t hard. She knew needlework since a very young age. She also had to learn how to cook. Not that she needed to – her two maids were going with her. But she learned it as a basic skill any brides should know.

And everyday, her mother would give her advice and lessons on how to be a good wife, and an obdient daughter-in-law. She could sense the sadness in her mother grew stronger as the wedding day drew closer.

It was time to leave. She had the red gown and the red headdress on a while ago. Now the maid put a red veil over her headdress to cover her face. It would be removed by her husband when they were alone in their “new room” later. The procession of the dowry started a while ago. It was required by the custom, and it was copious because of her lineage. Her father was the descendant of Confucius, the most respected scholar in history. Her husband’s family was related to the Mencius clan, the second most respected scholar in history, by marriage. In a way it was a perfect match, and she should feel grateful that she was being married off. After all, she was considered a girl with a serious flaw.

Her mother whispered some last minute advice before she boarded the red sedan. She cried silently under the veil, for the future was foggy and scary. She wouldn’t be able to see her parents often. She would be alone in a stranger’s house. Her mother was crying as well. How was the husband going to treat her? Were her in-laws going to like her? She was out of her protective arms now.

It seemed that the whole village came out to see the procession. This was not a common marriage between two ordinary families. Both families, especially the bride’s side, held high esteem and were well regarded in the village. They were educated people who used to hold government official positions. The wealth might have been declining in the past hundred years or so, but the status was still there.

The dowry carriers formed a line as long as a mile following the musicians. Men on horses guarded the procession on both sides. The linens she made occupied about ten trunks, each carried by two hired hands. Silk cloths occupied another ten, some were brocade and some were plain. There were clothing materials for the whole future family for the next ten years or more. Jade and marble vases, bowls, and ornaments for the house stored in several trunks. There was a trunk full of coins in gold, silver and copper for her to use, so she didn’t have to ask her husband or her in-laws for money. Everything she needed for her future married life was provided by her family; including the satin pieces used to clean herself after daily bath chamber routine.

All these were unheard of and unseen by the villagers before. They watched in awe and appreciation. It was a rare glimpse into a prominent family. The bride sat silently in the sedan. Occasionally a word or two would escape the music and the crowd, and reach her ears. She wondered if the villagers knew about her, and if they had guessed the real meaning behind the bountiful dowry that came with her.

What would they think if they knew? What would her husband think when he saw her? She wished many times that she could forfeit beauty in exchange of flawlessness – she was otherwise a pretty girl. She knew she was different, and she knew she was damaged in the worst sense for a girl.

Her parents knew it as well, so they did not bind her feet. They anticipated that she would have to marry into a lesser family – if she could be married off - and would probably have to do physical work. Girls from rich families all had their feet bound since tender age. They never had to work, and would always be married to other wealthy families. In fact, they couldn’t even walk without being helped.

The abundance of the dowry had a secondary, not so obvious meaning. They were apologizing for her parents. They were saying to her in-laws: “Thank you for taking our daughter. She is flawed and unworthy, and is lucky that you accepted her to your family.” Her future husband’s family had some land, but also was some kind of merchant. It was considered a lower profession than a scholastic pursuit. It probably took the matchmaker some time to find a family that would accept her.

It really wasn’t anybody’s fault, and there was nothing could be done. She was born with a mild form of cleft lip.

She crossed the threshold, helped by her maids, and walked into a smaller, simpler courtyard than the one of her parents, and began her unknown future as a wife.

(My grandmother’s wedding)


  1. I'm worried about her. Should I be?

  2. no. turned out she was a very strong girl. well, she had to be one. more stories to come...

  3. :( I just want to make her feel better. It's just a cleft lip!
    How medical advances have helped us. :) Can't wait for more.

  4. Sarah I love how you've captured your family history in such detail! very interesting, I wish that I had that much information about my family...

    Very captivating read :D ty for sharing once again!

  5. What wonderful histories you capture with your stories.

  6. That was an awesome read. It was well written. I could feel all the expression and intensity of the moment. You are a very talented writer.

  7. bren - i know. anything to a girl's face was devastating!

    aion - i was told by my mom on the story. my grandma was a very strong woman.

    hunter - thanks. i tried to be accurate. :)

    rae - thank you for the kind words. i'm honored!

  8. Fantastic. You have to publish these stories all together sometime.

    I'm fascinated - where was this? And when? Can you tell us more?

  9. ug - this was in china, around early 1900s, and i'm going to dig more from my mom. stay tuned...

  10. I can not wait to hear more. Great story!

  11. christie, thanks. glad you liked it.

  12. Glad there will be more to come...and glad it all worked out!

  13. sandra, it all worked out before a few wrinkles her and there. tbc...

  14. Your stories are the best. Can't wait for more ...

  15. Sarah, so you are related to Confucius, as well.
    That explains a lot, and the strength of your relatives as well.
    ps... more to follow...can't wait

  16. marla - thanks. it's a lot of fun to write it.

    bob - yes, but too bad i wasn't from the son's side, so i didn't get the famous last name... :( but my grandma's stories were inspirational.

  17. You have such a gift my dear! You tell it in such a way so that i want to run out and buy the book NOW. :-)

  18. SARAH: so beautiful once again; you have the gift to make the reader fly back into times and history. My daughter has read it too and loved it!


  19. charlene - thank you! i'm writing my imaginary book... lol

    lorenza - welcome back from your trip. i'm so glad your daughter liked it!

  20. Yes, it's most definitely official. You are most CERTAINLY a well-deserving Superior Scribbler!

  21. melissa - it's an honor to have your official seal of approval!

  22. I know it was devastating to have a cleft lip back then, but it kept them from binding her feet! I'd rather have the cleft lip...

  23. jen - thanks for stopping by. it is a tough choice isn't it?

  24. What a beautifully compelling story...I felt like I was with her journeying toward the unknown. Thank you.
    Thank you for leaving such lovely comments on my blog; you are a dear.

  25. hi victoria - thanks for stopping by. i wish one day i can write as soulfully as you do.



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