Young Tujia women attend the Blind Date of Tujia Girls in their traditional costumes. [China Women's News]
Over the past over 300 years, young people from the Tujia ethnic group have celebrated the twelfth day of the seventh month on the Chinese lunar calendar as a red-letter day in the city of Enshi, central China's Hubei Province.
The day, known as "Blind Date of Tujia Girls", maintains the customs of the ancient Ba people and witnesses the advancement of the indigenous marriage system. It is a living fossil of free-will love and marriage for ethnic minorities in China.
Staging markets and singing folk songs have been the two indispensable factors of the festival each year. Young people look for their potential lovers by disguising themselves as trade dealers.
After targeting someone, they communicate with each other by singing and then promise each other marriage. The basic pattern of the blind date has close connections with the unique geographic and social environment in Enshi.
The festival can be traced back as early as to the Emperor Kangxi (1654-1722) period in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) in Shihuiyao, a remote area near Enshi.
Since the start, there were some special rules for people to abide by. Before leaving home, young Tujia girls dressed up and wore their best accessories. After reaching the local market, they sat alongside the road and waited for their potential lovers to come and pick up goods.
At the same time, young men would go to the girls' stalls and try to flirt with them.
In this process, if the girls raised the price on purpose, then the fellows would understand it as a refusal and have to give up. If the girls felt satisfied, they would say the price could be bargained. Then the girl and her lover would have a date in the bamboo forest or by the riverside.
They communicated with each other by singing folk songs about the stars and the moon, mountains and lakes, from ancient legends to modern stories. If they felt a connection, the pair would propose a marriage to the girl's family.
After Emperor Yongzheng (1678-1735) succeeded to the throne, new policies were imposed among arranged marriages to Tujia people. Besides, women must follow the norms of wifely submission and virtues.
Entertainment activities by men and women together were forbidden. However, some areas were less affected than others because of the remote location. The festival was preserved and used by young Tujia people to fight against feudalism.
During the period of the Republic of China (1912-1949), more travelling merchants from other places went to Shihuiyao for trade. After falling in love at the dating, they chose to stay, getting married and thus promoting local prosperity.
The festival entered a new time when the People's Republic of China was founded in 1949. The marriage law promulgated in 1950 enabled young Tujia people to enjoy complete free choice on marriage. The girls' event becomes a platform for art performances, sports contests as well as trading markets.
More and more people including young intellectuals from other places joined the activity.
During the 80s, the event was injected with new content. The local government started to hold the activity as a festival to promote exchange and cultural life.
The 21st century opened a new chapter for the festival in Enshi. In 2016, the festival was held in the scenic area of Suobuya and attracted about 20,000 people. Hundreds of young men and women found their beloved ones, and six couples held the traditional Tujia wedding ceremony.
A young woman attends the matchmaking event. [China Women's News]
(Source: China Women's News/Translated and edited by Women of China)
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