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Coal ignites at over 400 degrees Celsius. No one would want to walk barefoot over something that hot. However, a Chinese pregnancy ritual makes men give their expectant wives a piggyback ride over burning coal. The strange custom practiced in China involves a barefoot husband carrying his wife into their house. A tour of the port city of Yantai on the south of Bohai Sea led to an easy encounter with one of these ceremonies. These people still preserve much of their culture and many of them value their traditional family structure even though most of their modern families have adopted Western-type family values (Shek, 2009). That is why the custom was mainly filled with guests who knew each other because they are relatives. The parents of the male and those of the female participated in this event.
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Reason behind the practice
The Chinese culture valued marriage, family, and children. Therefore, if a man decided to get married and raise children, he would have to work hard to create and maintain his homestead. The institution involved a lot of sacrifices for a partner. While musicians can only sing about going through hell for their women, the Chinese custom of carrying their wives over burning coal gives them the opportunity to prove their word. The custom should never be seen as just a stunt but as a serious act that bonds families together.
The tradition was critical for family bonding. Family members and friends settle around the burning coal and wait for the man to lift his wife. Barefoot, the man walks over the burning coal as the rest cheer him up. Cheering up shows how families are still important. The family then drinks xijiu – a happy wine (Cabáková, 2015). Even though a man could be married, some support from family members is always valuable for the marriage. Older women are also involved in the tradition. They are experienced in life and give advice to the pregnant young woman. The advice offered by the grandparents is not only for the baby but also for the benefit of the mother. For thousands of years, the Chinese people believe in the wisdom of the old people.
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In overall, the tradition of letting the man walk over burning coal while carrying his wife fulfilled two intentions.
- It would ensure that while the wife is delivering her baby, the process will be easy and occur safely.
- The tradition is intended to give men a taste of what it feels like to be in labor during childbirth. Knowing the truth is always said to boost consciousness and will create respect among partners.
- The good does not come easy – Although the tradition is not a practice specific to China, the age of the tradition is not known. Many of the Chinese friends that could be reached could not give any mythical stories about the origin of the custom. The man walks over the fire until he crosses the threshold of their house. Crossing this threshold is comparable to meeting particular standard values in the marriage despite the intensity of the problems the marriage may encounter.
Burning coal – A representation of challenges in marriage
The life of marriage is never easy. Once marriage is sealed, people go through thick and thin to make things right. The tradition warns Chinese men not to expect marriage life to be a smooth ride. Sometimes, a partner will have to endure more pain to make the relationship work. Life is about sacrifices.
There is always a load over each individual. Despite the rough path, there are things we cannot put aside. We cannot kick out the family just because we are having a rough time. We go through it together. The family values remain unchanged.
The Pregnancy – There is more in life to care about
Initially, the custom appeared stranger and this may apply to any new man in the coastal city. However, this culture has its own traditions. It is based on the way of life of the Chinese people. As soon as a newlywed couple enters their new house for the first time, the pregnancy ceremony often begins.
The custom reflects a deeper understanding of the fragility of pregnancy. That is why the Chinese people treat pregnant women with care. Similar observations relate to modern Western Integrated Pregnancy Management and Childbirth where the health of the expecting mother is very critical to the success of the pregnancy (Bhutta et al., 2008).
According to the Chinese tradition, everything a pregnant woman does or sees greatly influence her unborn baby. They believed that what is in the mind of a pregnant woman affects her heart. If it does affect the heart, then it connects with the growing baby. Modern scientific studies such as that reported by Ricci, Kyle, and Carman (2017) confirm that pregnant women should watch their food and overall lifestyle.
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Integration of core values
Despite the recent rise in divorce cases in China, the rate is still below ten percent. This is much lower compared to other countries such as Spain, Portugal, Luxembourg, the Czech Republic and the United State that report over 50 percent rates (Wang & Zhou, 2010).
In Chinese families, the core value is harmony where things are rationally coordinated and balanced (Centanni, 2017). Filial Piety is a highly regarded Chinese family value. Respect for parents and grandparents never ends. Respect for parents is almost like a universal norm cutting across many cultures. It is the foundation of all harmony in the community.
The tradition of walking over burning coal also emphasizes family interdependence. The Chinese naturally raise their children to be integrated into the community. The ceremony is an opportunity to build integration while letting the man exercise his independence. Similarly, the custom brings out the development of gender roles in traditional Chine family structure. The ceremony indicates how much a man is expected to deliver in life.
Through the traditional ceremony, we may also understand that values have no season. The custom can sometimes be done when the woman is not pregnant. It confirms that being good in marriage and life, in general, should not be dependent on season. Being great in marriage should involve sacrifice at any moment. Therefore, the following two major values of marriage can be obtained.
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- Love and commitment – The ability for these men and women to resolve family conflicts, and overcome marriage problems is tested by the fire. This ensures good growth and maturity among partners. Deep and enduring commitment is proven and the involved families get to understand the seriousness of the man’s obligation.
- Selflessness – Both partners have something to do to make the marriage work. At one moment, a partner may be incapable but the other should be available to offer support because working together remains incredibly important.
In summary, marriage has been an important ritual in many cultures. Cox (2008) agrees that marriage is the basis for humanity. Fire has long been important for mankind. Fire burns the old vegetation and allows fresh growth. Therefore, by the husband walking over burning coal and wounding his feet, the people believed that he is being refined. The man would be expected not to immediately start walking, but after his wounds are healed, the community would start to see him as a new thriving man filled with new strength to grow again. When two people decide to stay in a permanent bond after tying the knot, the only option they would have is to keep each other happy and make the marriage last. These are some of the nuggets of wisdom the world can borrow from the Chinese marriage tradition.
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- Bhutta, Z. A., Ali, S., Cousens, S., Ali, T. M., Haider, B. A., Rizvi, A., … Black, R. E. (2008). Interventions to address maternal, newborn, and child survival: what difference can integrated primary health care strategies make? The Lancet, 372(9642), 972-989.
- Cabáková, B. (2015). Visualising Contemporary Chinese Wedding: a Qualitative Analysis on Filial Relationship Among Chinese Community in London (Doctoral dissertation, Masarykova univerzita, Filozofická fakulta).
- Centanni, E. (2017). List of Chinese Family Values | Our Everyday Life.
- Cox, F. D. (2008). Human Intimacy: Marriage, the Family, and Its Meaning, Research Update. Cengage Learning.
- Leung, K. (2010). Beliefs in Chinese culture. The Oxford handbook of Chinese psychology, 221-240.
- Ricci, S. S., Kyle, T., & Carman, S. (2017). Maternity and pediatric nursing.
- Shek, D. T. (2009). Introduction: Quality of Life of Chinese People in a Changing World. Social Indicators Research, 95(3), 357-361.
- Wang, Q., & Zhou, Q. (2010). China’s Divorce and Remarriage Rates: Trends and Regional Disparities. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 51(4), 257-267.