In the primitive society, the ancestors of the Chinese people lived in groups and had no fixed spouses, and they had sexual relationships indiscriminately with one another.
As the second marriage taboo in Chinese history, exogamous marriage emerged in the middle and late Neolithic Age, which strictly banned the marriage between blood brothers and sisters, and it only allowed marriage among different social groups.
In the exogamous marriage stage, it was very common for the brothers of the same family to marry a wife from the other group, and she would be the wife of all the brothers in the family, and vice versa.
The legend went that Shun (one of the Three August Ones and the Five Lords) married Yao's daughters, Ehuang and Nvying, at the same time.
As a transitional stage from the exogamous marriage stage to the monogamous marriage stage, the antithetic marriage (or paired marriage) was an unstable marriage between men and women during the late Neolithic Age, which was very different from modern monogamy and easily dissolved; and it retained some vestiges of group marriage with tolerance toward a husband's or wife's extramarital relationships.
According to Confucianism, a marriage is the beginning of ethics and a wedding ceremony is the essence of etiquettes, which has a substantial influence on social stability, and only those marriages with formal wedding ceremonies are recognized by society.
The basic principles of an ancient marriage mainly involved the matched social status, the dictates of the parents and the advice of the matchmaker, the ban of the marriage for a couple with the same surname and the tolerance toward polygamy.
As an integral part of the traditional Chinese culture, the ancient marriage customs have a long history of over 5,000 years, which have changed over time due to different social ethics and aesthetic standards from one dynasty to another, however, they also have their own unique characteristics and rituals which have been carried forward to the present and still exert a far-reaching influence on later generations.
Development of Ancient Chinese Marriage Customs The ancient Chinese marriage customs have gone through five stages over 5,000 years: primitive group marriage stage, consanguineous marriage stage, exogamous marriage stage, antithetic marriage stage and the monogamy marriage stage.
As the patriarchal social system took place of the matriarchal social system, the private ownership of property came into being, on which the ancient monogamous marriage was based.