One of the customs for which China is renowned for is that majority of marriages were arranged. This was so up to the 1950s. Since then, and particularly so in recent times, young persons and the not-so-young, in increasing numbers, are making their own arrangements, literally putting the so-called 'matchmakers' out of business.
It was a business for which good money was paid, but even in the days when matchmaking was the preferred custom, many young persons were choosing their mates.
There are many love stories in Chinese lore that would put their western counterparts in the shade, as many of the vast array of love poems written to lovers over the ages attest.
The reasons given by the Chinese for choosing mates for their children are interesting, to say the least, and they offer some very practical and far-reaching benefits.
They know that sometimes young people are so smitten and are sometimes driven by biological urges they can't think sensibly. And with the urges satisfied, they lose interest.
Then there is the consideration of children. They think the best time to procreate is early adulthood, when both parents are young and strong, so they will produce healthy and strong children.
They, therefore, need help to choose someone who can contribute to this concept of offspring.
Another reason given for choosing your child's spouse was the consideration of family. They must be from a strong background, of respectable lineage and people of independent means. You marry into a family and it is important that they be the kind of people with whom you would want to associate closely. The girl is scrutinised for the shape of her hips, as broad, strong hips mean strong children.
Young children are often pledged to each other, sometimes from infancy. But some young people fall in love and will hear nothing of an arranged marriage. They have to court in secret as this could incur the wrath of parents, and stories are told that the matchmakers, mindful of their fees, will expose these love affairs.
Here are a few examples of love poems:
My heart skips many beats
when I hear your name
and stops for several moments
when I see you.
With all my heart
I love you
with my whole body I want you."
Recalling the latest tryst with his love, a young man wrote:
"Light, light sighs
low, low murmurs
playing pull and tug, pinch and press
unused to such games
the maiden is confused and uncertain
through the sheer gauze
her breasts loom like white ivory
my hand in her bosom
My hand still tingles."
If you think that's erotic, check this other verse from a poem titled 'Memory':
"She sheds her clothes coyly
a peony cringing in the autumn wind
crimson dampness seeps through and through
peach blossoms scattered on the stream
red leaves floating in the jewelled gulch.
Who can endure this moment of wild passion."
These are just a couple of examples of love poetry from China which are obvious in their meaning, but there are others much more explicit, not for public print. These are outside of the way most are written to disguise the meaning, referring to the private parts by names such as jade, flower or stamen.
In the eyes of much of the world, the Chinese are seen as puritanical folk. They are also thought of as people who do not kiss mouth to mouth. Nothing could be further from the truth.
They do not kiss in public since their belief is that all matters of physical sexual expression should be private between two people.
In fact, lip kissing has been described and praised in sexology classics and in Chinese fiction and poetry for thousands of years.
One of these writings which, incidentally, is gifted to a young couple on marriage by older cousins or siblings, is something that could be described as the art of the bedchamber.
This, as you can imagine, is all about the birds and the bees, to help them in their quest for fulfilment, and in their quest for immortality via their offspring.