Chinese brides: The Cinderella’s of China’s past

You are probably very familiar with the fairytale Cinderella, but did you know there was a custom in ancient China much like this story? The bridegroom in China would actually use a shoe to tell if it’s his bride! Much like in the children’s story, the bridegroom would place the shoe upon the bride’s foot, and if it fits he knew she was the one! So why would the “新郎 (xīnláng) bridegroom” need to use a shoe to find his bride?

foot binding

First, let’s start with some customs during that time. In ancient China, women would bind their feet since women with small feet were considered beautiful, even to the point that foot size itself became a measure of a woman’s beauty. Now, keep this in mind while you consider how a bride was chosen.
During this time, the parents of a future bride or groom would go through a “媒人  (méirén) matchmaker,” who would introduce these parents to other parents also looking for a partner for their child. Then, the parents would decide on a coupling they found most suitable—which meant the bride and groom’s first time meeting was on the day of the wedding itself. After the decision on the coupling was made, the bridegroom’s family would measure the girl’s shoes and made a new pair of shoes that were the same size. At the wedding, the bridegroom would take the “新鞋 (xīn xié) new shoes” and place them on the “新娘 (xīnniáng) bride’s feet.” If they fit, he knew it was the bride chosen for him!

bride's shoes

Putting these two customs together, the matchmaker and foot binding, it seems that the “新鞋 (xīn xié) new shoes ” was a way of ensuring that his bride had the small, “beautiful” feet his family had agreed to and that he wasn’t being hoodwinked with another bride. Nowadays, foot binding has long since left China and a tiny foot no longer declares a woman’s beauty. Yet, the custom still lives on and so the “新郎 (xīnláng) bridegroom” will still buy a new pair of shoes for his “新娘 (xīnniáng) bride” and place them on her feet at the wedding, making all Chinese brides a sort of modern Cinderella!


Zhè gè xīnniáng tài měi le!
这   个   新娘      太 美  了!
This bride is so beautiful!

Xīnláng shì wǒ de hǎo péngyou.
新郎      是  我 的  好   朋友。
The groom is my good friend.

Nǐ de xīn xié zhēn piàoliang!
你 的  新 鞋  真    漂亮!
Your new shoes are so pretty!

HSK 3 quiz

1. Who will place the new shoes on the bride’s new feet?
A. 新郎 (xīnláng)
B. 新娘 (xīnniáng)
C. 媒人 (méirén)
2. In ancient China, women would bind their _______.
A. 手 (shǒu) hands
B. 脚 (jiǎo) feet
C. 腰 (yāo) waist

Be Prepared for Chinese Weddings:

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How a Chinese wedding is different from a western One

4 thoughts on “Chinese brides: The Cinderella’s of China’s past”

    1. jennifer.zhu


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