Weddings in Jinmen: Compromise and Cooperation between Children and their Parents

Jinmen is a group of several islands lying only a few miles away from the coast of Southeast China. Jinmen’s role as Taiwan’s frontline against communist China in the Cold War has had a significant impact on local marriage. The most evident change is that today, most young adults marry out of their own choice rather than by the arrangement of their parents. In the past, the Chinese family system prioritised the junior’s submission to the senior and the continuation of the father’s line. Traditional marriage was about preserving families rather than considering individual feelings.

After the Chinese Civil War, Jinmen was under military rule between 1949 and 1992. The remarkable number of soldiers posted in Jinmen during this period boosted small businesses providing food, goods and services to the troops, in which women were the primary operators. While many women had to start working from a young age, they gained autonomy in their marriage choices through their new-found economic independence. These businesses improved the livelihoods of many households and encouraged many young men and women to leave Jinmen to seek higher education and professional jobs in Taiwan. This outward migration has persisted following the country’s democratisation, and today, the older generations hardly intervene in young

people’s life decisions, particularly regarding whom they choose to marry.

Nevertheless, young people still plan their weddings together with their parents, with a clear division of labour between generations. During my research, I observed parents invest substantial effort and money in arranging old customs (e.g. ancestor worship) and a large feast that demonstrate traditional values. In contrast, the young couple themselves focused more on creating individualised memories through new practices

(e.g. bridal photography). As illustrated by the objects displayed here, this mixture of old and new elements in today’s weddings not only indicates conflicting values but also the extraordinary, overriding dominance of compromise, mutual care and love between generations.

This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 695285.

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University of Edinburgh