Rowdy and risque wedding pranks turn ugly in China

Extreme antics spark criticism online but newlyweds feel compelled to play along

At their wedding 10 years ago, businessman Shi Jun and his wife had to eat an apple strung up by their friends, without using their hands. Their friends would lift the apple so that the couple had to "kiss" each other.

It was one of many games the couple from Anhui found themselves having to play after their wedding dinner, even though they were exhausted from days of preparation.

"The games went on for more than three hours till midnight," Mr Shi, 39, told The Straits Times. "At some point we really thought it was enough and wished they would stop, but it wouldn't be nice to throw a temper on our big day."

The Chinese traditionally "nao dong fang", or prank the groom and bride on their wedding day, sometimes with risque games. The ones many Singaporeans are subjected to on their wedding day, or during stag or hen nights, pale in comparison to some that have made headlines in China recently.

Last month, for example, a bridegroom in Chongqing stopped traffic when he was tied at the wrists and paraded down a busy street in women's underwear, in the latest of at least three cases reported in recent weeks.

In another case, a groom in Shaanxi was tied to a tree, splashed with animal blood until he became a gooey red mess, and then sprayed with a fire extinguisher.


A couple in China being subjected to public embarrassment as part of a tradition called "nao dong fang", or prank the groom and bride on their wedding day. PHOTO: WEIBO

A survey of 21,000 people by China Youth Daily in 2014 found that 80 per cent of the respondents were pranked at their weddings, although more than half of them did not like this practice.

Another in Shandong was taped to a lamp post and had firecrackers lit under his buttocks.

The Chongqing incident prompted police reports by people who feared that the man was being kidnapped or shamed by loan sharks.

Not surprisingly, such extreme antics have sparked criticism, especially on social media where people said in jest that they "don't want to get married any more".

Folk custom experts trace the practice of "nao dong fang" as far back as the Han Dynasty more than 2,000 years ago. The pranks were intended to loosen up the newlyweds at a time when many marriages were arranged and couples may not even have seen each other beforehand.

But whatever purpose it served clearly no longer exists. Observers say many seem to just use it as an excuse to behave rowdily in public. There have even been reports of brides and bridesmaids being groped during naughty games.

"What year is this? Why do we still practise such bad customs?" one person wrote in an online news forum. "The government should step in to stop this. It's an insult to personal integrity."

The public disdain, however, does not prevent the tradition from being practised widely.

A survey of 21,000 people by China Youth Daily in 2014 found that 80 per cent of the respondents had been pranked at their weddings, although more than half of them did not like this practice.

Last year, while hiding from friends who were trying to prank him, one bridegroom in Shaanxi fell six floors to his death.

Courier Wang Zheng, 32, feels that newlyweds are compelled to play along because a wedding without pranks - which are usually carried out by friends - might make the couple seem unpopular.

"The wedding could come across as a bit dull," said Mr Wang, whose wife was tossed in the air by friends during their wedding in 2008.

Beijing-based folk customs expert Ai Jun said the pranksters are increasingly focusing on the "nao" (creating a ruckus) part in "nao dong fang". Coupled with the speed with which news and pictures spread on social media, this has led to greater attention paid to the practice in recent years.

"It seems there is less restraint now than before and more people are taking it as an excuse to behave badly," she told The Straits Times. "Cultural practices evolve over time, but this seems to have taken an ugly turn, losing the essence of the original practice."

Despite calls for the authorities to step in, Ms Ai feels it is impossible to introduce laws against this and that the government can only try to educate the public.

The practice, however, is unlikely to fade any time soon. Some people, like property agent Wang Qi, look back on their wedding pranks fondly, even though the Guangxi native had been made to squat and remove more than 20 toothpicks from an apple dangled near her husband's nether regions. That was just one of the many games the couple were made to play when they got hitched in January.

"After this day, I'm someone's wife and he's someone's husband. It's really our one final chance to go wild," Ms Wang, 28, said. "A wedding is such an important occasion, we should create lasting memories of this day."

• Additional reporting by Carol Feng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 04, 2016, with the headline 'Rowdy and risque wedding pranks turn ugly in China'. Print Edition | Subscribe