Teaching in rural schools gives Fellows the rare opportunity to participate in local customs as members in the community. In rural Fengqing County 凤庆县, Yunnan, a teacher at Luodang Middle School 洛党中学 who is of the Muslim Hui 回 ethnic minority recently got married. When the wedding took place, Kristen Faiferlick (Fellow ’10, Middlebury College), Laura Zulliger (Fellow ’10, Davidson College), and Xu Qiuwen 徐秋雯 (Fellow ’10, Peking University) were all on hand to support their friend and colleague. For Kristen, the occasion was “one of the most moving things I’ve experienced since coming to China”
This past week, Laura, Qiuwen and I had the pleasure and honor of attending our coworker and friend’s wedding in Yingpan, several hours from Luodang. The bride, Ma Ruxia, has been a close friend, mentor, and guide ever since the three of us arrived at Luodang over a year ago. Watching her take this momentous step in her life was perhaps one of the most moving things I’ve experienced since coming to China.
Fellows Kristen Faiferlick and Laura Zulliger with the bride
Ma Ruxia’s wedding took place over the course of a week. To celebrate a wedding, most Chinese couples usually host a giant dinner for their friends and family at a local restaurant, wherein everyone comes to eat, drink, and toast the bride and groom. To be frank, most foreigners are rather unimpressed with this sort of wedding ceremony, considering the fact that we’re accustomed to both eating and actually seeing the ceremony performed. Additionally, we tend to associate weddings with music and dancing, both of which are unfortunately absent in Chinese weddings.
However, Ma Ruxia and her husband are both Muslim, which meant that the dinner was slightly different from a typical Chinese wedding. First, nearly all the dinner guests were
The wedding feast
also Muslim, so the food served at the dinner was all halal. Second, the the dinner was served in the courtyard of Yingpan’s beautiful mosque, situated just next door to Ma Ruxia’s home. As the “dinner” stretched from afternoon until sunset, we all ate far too much! As the dinner slowly wrapped, up, the evening sun setting over the hill cast a warm glow over the children playing in the courtyard and sparkled against the star and crescent above the mosque. The children running and singing, the laughter of guests, and the cool breeze blowing through the trees reminded me how thankful I am to be in such a beautiful place sharing such a special day.
After the guests slowly meandered out of the mosque courtyard, Ma Ruxia invited us into
her home, where we spent the rest of the night chatting, cooing over her wedding photos, and playing ma jiang with our local teachers. It was a wonderful night, and I think I’ll look back on it for years as one of the best times I’ve had with the friends and teachers from Luodang Middle School.
The next morning, we all rose early for what was, to me, the most interesting and touching part of the wedding. Around 7:30, a group of elderly men entered the home to perform the religious ceremony that would bind Ma Ruxia and her soon-to-be husband, Zhang Lei, in eternal partnership. Usually, the room this ritual is performed in is closed to everyone but the religious leaders and the couple, but Ma Ruxia invited Laura and me in to film and take pictures. I felt incredibly blessed and lucky to be close enough to see and hear the entire ceremony.
The ceremony began with the leader explaining the significance of being Hui Zu (Muslim)
Flower petals, seeds, and money play an important part in a Hui minority wedding ceremony
in China. He explained the importance of being proud of their culture and heritage, and the importance of observing halal and raising their children to observe the same Muslim codes of behavior. He spoke about social and spiritual significance of marriage, and how the couple would be expected live their lives from that point onwards. As the end of the ceremony drew near, he sang a song in Arabic, which filled the tiny room with a deep, resonating energy. Finally, a second leader lifted a basket from the table, which was filled with flower petals, coins, and seeds. He tossed them lightly onto the head of the newly marriage couple, then sprinkled the items all over them to ensure they were covered in luck and prosperity. It is said that anyone who receives these coins will also find luck, so several other guests reached into the room to grab the fallen coins from the floor. After the couple was showered with luck and prosperity, they left the room for the most bittersweet part of the entire wedding.
In Chinese culture, a woman belongs to her family and serves her parents only as long as she lives under their roof. Although marriage ceremonies and attitudes have evolved into many different forms in recent years, Ma Ruxia was very much affected by the idea that she would be leaving her mother for a new one. As she prepared her things, the cars waited outside to bring Ma Ruxia to her new home and new mother. Suddenly, without warning, she burst into tears. They were brief, but told of the great internal battle she must have been experiencing internally. Marriage is a time for happiness, but it also represents the final step from adolescence into adulthood. Watching her as she left made me wonder about all the emotions she was feeling as she left home, and how she would feel in the weeks and months to come. She quickly recovered, smiled, and led the parade of guests down the road to the waiting cars, which would take the couple and their close friends to Genma, where another dinner party would be held, this time for Zhang Lei’s friends and family.
The entire ceremony was both emotionally stirring and mentally challenging for me. Unlike the marriage I may someday enter into, Ma Ruxia and Zhang Lei’s marriage was arranged by a matchmaker. As a member of one of China’s ethnic and religious minorities, Ma Ruxia had struggled to find a suitable boyfriend for years. She could only date other local Muslims, of which there are few in this area. A matchmaker arranged a meeting between her and Zhang Lei, and although it wasn’t love at first sight, they learned to appreciate and care for each other. Zhang Lei knows that he has found a precious gift in Ma Ruxia, and I trust that they will value and love each other.
For many Americans, December has always been a time for Christmas carols and tinsel on trees. This December, however, I feel blessed to have witnessed something even more important than Christmas: a lifelong union which will bring a close friend a lifetime of happiness.
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