Education About Asia: Online Archives

Marriages and Families in East Asia: Something Old, Something New

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In 1984, I began a research project that, in the fullness of time, would become a book. Getting Married in Korea is an exploration of courtship, matchmaking, weddings, and related practices and how they had all changed over the course of the twentieth century.1 In the beginning, I spent a great deal of time in the four commercial wedding halls of a Korean town where brides marched down the aisle in white lace dresses and veils to a pianist’s rendering of “The Wedding March.” At the end of the ceremony, the couple posed with family and friends for a series of portraits that were part of the wedding hall’s services. Then the couple was whisked away and dressed in traditional Korean wedding costumes in order to kowtow to members of the groom’s family to whom they offered cups of wine and by whom they were pelted with dates and chestnuts as a wish for fertility. Then, as now, most South Koreans held weddings in the rented space of commercial wedding halls. When I explained what I was up to—an anthropologist studying contemporary Korean weddings, everyone— the wedding hall staff, the brides and grooms, members of the wedding parties—inevitably scratched their heads in bemusement. Shouldn’t I be in the villages seeking the rare traditional Confucian wedding rite? Isn’t this what anthropologists were supposed to do? Weren’t the weddings I was so diligently recording “Western?” Weren’t they exactly what I was used to at home?

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