May 13, 2011 § 3 Comments
In China, at least well into the twentieth century, it wasn’t chemistry that brought boy and girl together in marriage. It was the local matchmaker. Shrewd and deliberate, she would take great care in engineering favorable partnerships. The compatibility of boy and girl (soon to be husband and wife) was of little account to her; neither was the potential for mutual affection between them. For she knew that marriage wasn’t principally for the purpose of bringing these two individuals together–it was an alliance between their two families.
Li Haoren of Fujian province was an especially good matchmaker, responsible for most of the matrimonial unions that took place in Dan’ning village during the 1550s, including the one between Lingbo of the landowning Fu family and Xiaomei, the daughter of the Wang family from neighboring Jinling village. Lingbo had never laid eyes on Wang Xiaomei; likewise, Xiaomei had never before caught sight of Lingbo. But that didn’t matter. It wasn’t their wishes that were at issue
A matchmaker, to be successful in her trade, had to have her ear to the ground. And Li Haoren was very successful. She had heard that a certain Wang family in the neighboring village of Jinling had a daughter, approaching her thirteenth year; perhaps she’d be a good match for the Fu family’s Lingbo. Lingbo had just turned sixteen and Matchmaker Li imagined that his parents were becoming somewhat anxious about finding him a wife. The task Li now set herself was to get the Wang and Fu families to see eye to eye. Her livelihood depended on it. Further, a successful match here would be good for her reputation, which in turn would be good for business.
The Fus were people of means, with an estate of a few hundred acres; and Lingbo, having been tutored since the age of six in the Confucian Classics, had earned a reputation as a bright scholar with a bright future, certain someday to earn the prestigious civil service degree. With this degree he could look forward to winning an official appointment in government, and great fame for himself and his family. Yes, a handsome dowry is something the Fus surely expected: a nice sum of silver, a few rolls of silk, and perhaps a cow or two. Fortunately, the Wangs, a merchant family with ties to the salt trade, certainly had the means. No problem there. But there was still more Matchmaker Li needed to offer the Fus.
Lingbo was the Fus’ only son, their only hope to continue the family line. The choice of a wife for Lingbo was surely the most important one they’d ever make. For it was Lingbo’s wife on whom the survival of the Fu family would finally depend. And this is where Matchmaker Li had some especially auspicious news for Lingbo’s parents. Not only were the Wangs a family of means, but the Wang women were notoriously fertile. Xiaomei herself was but one of seven children. And her two older sisters, married off a while ago, had together already produced five children of their own. This, Li would tell the Wangs, boded real well for the likelihood that the Wangs would soon have grandchildren. But there was better news still: Wang women had produced an abundance of sons–Xiaomei herself had four brothers, while her two older sisters had together produced four sons. They were real adept at conceiving boys. The Fus now were beginning to warm to the prospects of making Wang Xiaomei their daughter-in-law. If she could produce a son for them, and the odds were looking pretty good–never mind the role of the Y chromosome–the Fu biological line would be assured, as would the well-being of generations of Fu ancestors. « Read the rest of this entry »