In a continuation from yesterday on my post about Hong Kong weddings, I wanted to shed some light on the interesting history behind a prominent symbol that can be found decorating virtually every wedding in China. Double Happiness.
Sometimes translated as “double joy”, or “double happy”, the character itself is a ligature of two Chinese characters that mean “joy”, pressed together. It’s usually cut out of red paper – occasionally black, and can be found everywhere in a wedding. Walls, windows, doors and gifts that are given to the couple all bear the design.
The legend behind the design states that in the ancient Tang Dynasty, there was a student traveling to the capital for a national examination. The examination was to select ministers in the emperor’s court. Halfway through his journey to the city of the emperor, the student fell ill and was taken in to a small village by a herbalist doctor and his daughter.
The student and the doctor’s daughter fell in love with each other over the course of the stay, and both found it very hard to say goodbye when the time came. The girl said goodbye by writing down half of a couplet, for the student to contemplate and complete after his exam.
It read : “Green trees against the sky in the spring rain while the sky set off the spring trees in the obscuration.” After the student reached his destination, he took top honors in the examination. As a further test of the highest achievers, the emperor requested that he interview each one of them face to face. When it came time for the student to be interviewed, the emperor asked the student to finish a couplet that he had written. Luck was on the student’s side.
The emperor wrote: “Red flowers dot the land in the breeze’s chase while the land colored up in red after the kiss.” The student immediately realized that the girl’s half of the couplet was a perfect match. He answered without hesitation.
The emperor was delighted to see the wit and talent of the young man, and authorized him to be a minister in the high court.
As a special gift, the emperor allowed the student to return home before becoming a minister. The young man was overjoyed and rushed back to the village of the doctor, to meet the doctor’s daughter at her home. He shared what had happened and asked if she would marry him. They became married right away.
To celebrate the wedding, the couple showed their pleasure by doubling the chinese character for Joy on a red piece of paper, and put it on the wall.
From then on, Double Happiness has become a prevalent social custom and a symbol used in weddings throughout China.