Two shots from the 2000 TV series Da Ming Gong Ci, featuring Princess Taiping's first accidental meeting with her future husband Xue Shao on the night of Lantern Festival in the Tang Dynasty. [Photo/Sina Weibo]
Lantern Festival, which was celebrated on Saturday this year, marked the final day of the Chinese Lunar New Year. It has been an important festival since the Western Han Dynasty (206BC-AD 24).
In ancient China, marriage was often decided by parents or even the government. During some periods, like the Jin Dynasty (265-420), marriage policies went to extremes. Single women had to get married by a certain age. If a female was still single at 17, there would be a forced marriage with local administrators' involvement.
However extreme policies to force people to get married were rare, and young people still had certain freedoms to get married with people they liked, rather than being completely manipulated by their parents or government. Ancient Chinese had milder ways to encourage people to find a spouse, such as fairs and meetings during festivals.
Lantern Festival is one of the festivals that provided ancient Chinese single young men and women a chance to meet and get to know each other. On the night of that day, unmarried men and women would meet at the flower fair and lantern-decorated street.
Romance often happened, although not all of these stories ended happily.
Ouyang Xiu, a famous poet from the Song Dynasty, depicted a woman's longing for the man she met during Lantern Festival in his poem Yuan Xi.
It goes like this: "Last lantern festival, the flowers fair, decorated with lights were daylight bright. We met after dusk when the moon rose behind willow trees. This year the moon and lanterns are still the same, yet you are not here anymore. I am sad, with tears shed on the sleeves of my spring coat."