Life of the Emperors and Empresses in the Forbidden City (1644-1911)-II.
In the Qing Dynasty, the emperor’s wedding was called the grand wedding. It was a major event in the life of the emperor and the empress. On the occasion of the grand wedding the empress was coronated.
There were ten Qing emperors who reigned the country for a total of 268 years after the Manchus overran China. It was impossible for Pu Yi, the last emperor (note: of Qing Dynasty. The last emperor of China was, by the way, Yuan Shikai!), to have a wedding, because he was only a boy of six when he was forced to abdicate. There was also no need to hold the grand wedding for the five emperors, Yong Zheng, Qian Long, Jia Qing, Dao Guan and Xian Feng, for they were already married when they came to the throne and had only to confer the title of empress on their Fu Jin (wife of a prince). Grand weddings were held only for the four Qing emperors-Shun Zhi, Kang Xi, Tong Zhi and Guang Xu-who came to the throne when they were juniors. But emperor Shun Zhi married twice. He found his first empress Berjijit uncongenial, jealous and extravagant and so degraded her to the position of concubine in 1653. Next year he remarried and a coronation for the new empress was held. Emperors Kang Xi, Tong Zhi and Guang Xu married respectively in 1665, 1872 and 1889.
A royal wedding involved many ceremonies: selection of the bride, preparation of the betrothal document and gifts, presentation of the gifts to the bride’s family by an imperial emissary. The emperor would authorize an official to make sacrifices for him to the gods and to his ancestors. Then wedding gifts were sent to the bride’s family.
On the occasion of bringing the bride to the palace, Taihedian would be embellished with festive decorations, and three tables were laid out to display separately the Jie or the imperial symbol, the golden scroll and the imperial seal. Outside the hall were placed the protocols in imperial procession. The empress mother’s insignias were displayed in Cininggong (Palace of Kindliness and Tranquility), and those of the empress-to-be at the foot of the steps of Taihe Gate and Wu Gate (Taihemen and Wumen). The emperor in his wedding robe would go to give a salute to the empress mother and then hold the grand ceremony in Taihedian. An envoy holding the imperial symbol would have been dispatched to the bride’s home to coronate her empress and escort her to the imperial palace.
The empress in her phoenix sedan chair, accompanied by the guard of honour carrying her insignias, would enter Daqingmen (Gate of Great Purity), cross the Jinshui Bridge, pass through Wu Gate to the music of the bells and drums on its top, and enter Taihemen by the central gate. In early Qing days the empress would alight from her sedan chair at the foot of Taihedian; later she would not alight till the chair reached Qianqinggong. She would walk through Jiaotaidian and enter the nuptial chamber in Kunninggong (Palace of Earthly Tranquility) where she would wait for pledging the wedding cup with the emperor.
In the Ming Dynasty, the whole Kunninggong was the empress’ residence. In the Qing Dynasty, it was rebuilt in accordance with Manchu custom, and a larger part of it in the west end was used for the worshipping the gods, with only the eastern warmed room reserved as the temporary nuptial chamber. The four walls of the chamber were papered or draped in red to highlight the auspicious occasion. On the northern side of the room were the bridal bed and a set of simple thrones; on the southern side was a great Kang (brick bed warmed with fire underneath) on which the emperor and the empress would sit face to face to drink the nuptial cup and partake of the wedding feast.
Some days later, the emperor and the empress would go separately to pay respects to the empress mother. The emperor would receive the congratulations from civil and military officials and foreign envoys in Taihedian, and issue an edict to make the wedding known to the public. At the same time, the emperor in Taihedian and the empress mother in Cinninggong would host a banquet in honour of the empress’ parents and other relatives and give them presents. This would conclude the imperial wedding ceremonies.
(Next: BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION)