Naodongfang: an examination of meanings in Chinese wedding games and pranks

Wang, Xuan (2022) Naodongfang: an examination of meanings in Chinese wedding games and pranks. Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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This doctoral dissertation in Folklore explores a traditional, widespread wedding custom in China known as Naodongfang. When used generally, the term “Naodongfang” refers to the scope of all jokes, pranks and games played by grooms, brides, groomsmen, bridesmaids, parents, parents’ siblings and relatives during Chinese weddings. Although the custom has a long history, stretching back 2000 years, today many Chinese citizens consider its elements, such as beating grooms, humiliating brides and bridesmaids, and encouraging fathers-in-law and brides to hug and kiss each other, as bizarre, inappropriate, and even malicious. In this study I attempt to answer the questions: “Why is Naodongfang active in China today?” and “What are Naodongfang’s meanings?” I draw on published descriptions and analyses as well as my own ethnographic materials to explore economic meanings; discuss connections to Chinese concepts such as the Golden Mean, Propriety, and female reservedness; and examine Nao culture in the context of the carnivalesque. A significant focus of the thesis is the exploration of gender issues and violence associated with Naodongfang. Reports of injuries, sexual harassment, and sexual assault experienced by both female and male participants have made the custom controversial. Thus, the last three chapters explore connections of Naodongfang with Chinese feminism, patriarchy and constructions of masculinities. My intention is not to argue whether Naodongfang is good or bad. Rather, I hope this thesis provides new ethnographic materials and analyses on Naodongfang in a way that contributes to a larger conversation of wedding games and pranks and their deeper meanings. I argue that although this custom is criticized and stigmatized by many, it still holds value for some individuals and their communities. These meanings are multifaceted. Naodongfang allows participants to laugh and joke and to step out their everyday lives. This liminal time, with its freedom from usual decorum, can bring participants together or it can pit them against each other as guests compete for red packets or exert pressure on, or exact revenge against, the bridal couple or bridal party. Although Naodongfang can feel like an act of resistance towards authorities, it also reinforces existing family and clan power structures, as well as gender stereotypes, and promotes heteronormativity.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral (PhD))
Item ID: 15383
Additional Information: Includes bibliographical references (pages 308-335).
Keywords: wedding games, pranks, humour, feminist folklore, Chinese wedding customs
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > Folklore
Date: May 2022
Date Type: Submission
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Chinese--Marriage customs and rites; Women--Folklore; Feminist theory--China; Practical jokes--China.

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