MARRIAGE IN VIETNAM
Marriage is regarded as being permanent and brides are expected to be virgins when they get married. Couples have traditionally been expected to marry within their village and class with marriage to cousins or within the extended families being frowned upon. Couples have traditionally been expected to live with the husband’s parents until they could afford a place of their own. In the old days the bride was usually several years older than the groom. The reasoning went that an older woman was stronger and more able to perform farming chores. An ugly woman who could work was often considered a better catch than a beautiful one who couldn't work.
Men have traditionally married between 20 and 30 years of age, and women between 18 and 25 years. When Vietnamese marry, the woman doesn’t change her family names. So, within a family you will see different last names. But the children will carry the father's last name. Monogamy is expected to be observed during marriage—at least among the wife anyway. The family of the groom approves the marriage and organizes the wedding for him. After the wedding party, the bride goes to live with her husband's family. The Kinh attach much importance to fidelity and the virtues of the bride.
In the past Vietnamese marriages were arranged through matrimonial agents (mai-dongs) who brought the two families together and arranged the question of the wedding portion (bride price). Interestingly, the woman did not bring any marriage portion, and it was the groom who paid for the wedding presents, brought to the common lot his fortune of rice fields and cattle, and often had to pay money to the wife’s family. In return, his compensation was comparatively small: a tobacco jar, for example, a box for betel nuts, or a cigarette case. The wedding ceremony was quite simple: The future husband and wife met, mutually offered themselves to each other, and chewed betel nut together. Though Confucian tradition permits the husband to take lesser wives (theoretically to be chosen for him by the first wife), economic realities (and relatively innocuous modern laws) would force him to be content with one at a time. O’Harrow (1995) reports also that to give a woman a piece of fine jewelry in Vietnamese tradition is to help confirm her independence as a human being, and for a mother to hand over a piece of her jewelry to her daughter is a universally understood gesture, for which the subtext is "may this protect you from misery." Nowadays, divorce is increasingly easy to obtain. [Source: Encyclopedia of Sexuality, 2.hu-berlin.de/sexology \*/ ]
Factors to be seriously considered when choosing a marital partner in Vietnam are the social status of the families and the astrological-mystical affinities of the marriage partners. The uniformity of the mixture of various religious concepts in Vietnam—except among tribal peoples—tends to give a uniformity to marriage arrangements, ceremonies, feasts, dowry, etc. Because the individual is less important than the family, it is expected that the family will have a major voice in the selection of wives and husbands of their children. This is often done through a "go-between" (male or female) to save "face" in case it is deemed best to break off bargaining. Another major factor in the choosing of marriage partners is consulting of horoscopes. This is often done by a Buddhist monk who practices the art. [Source: The Religions of South Vietnam in Faith and Fact, US Navy, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Chaplains Division ,1967 ++]
Pamela LaBorde, MD of Ethnomed wrote: "Marriage in Vietnam in the 1950s and earlier was very different than today and in the U.S. Previously marriage was influenced by Buddhist theology and Confucian philosophy. Vietnamese believed that fate in marriage, as well as wealth and position, were preordained, though choice could play some role in activating a positive or negative fate. Traditionally, children lived with their parents until marriage, and then the couple moved to the husband's father's household. The extended family arranged marriage, but individuals were usually consulted on the choice of their mate. The typical engagement lasted six months, with little contact between the bride and groom prior to the marriage. Traditionally the marriage was at one of the couples' homes. Women kept their maiden names legally but used their husband's name formally. [Source: Pamela LaBorde, MD, Ethnomed ethnomed.org/culture/vietnamese ]
Confucianism promotes marriage over celibacy, and defined women's happiness in terms of her ability of having many children. Women are generally expected to be married at a relatively young age and to have children frequently thereafter. Out-of-wedlock children are not generally approved; their birth is severely censored: in a family-centered society as Vietnam is, the place of such children is quite difficult. ++
Polygamy and Marriage Reform
Polygamy is illegal but some men have a second, unofficial wife. In the past polygynous marriages were common and aristocratic men kept concubines but monogamy is now the norm. Polygyny was widespread in both northern and central Vietnam, as was the taking of concubines. Besides the so-called wife of the first rank, a household sometimes included a second and third wife and their children. The consent of the first wife was required before this arrangement could be made, but, more often than not, additional wives either were established by the husband in separate households or were permitted to continue living as they had before marriage, in their own homes or with parents. *
Major family reform was initiated under a new law enacted in 1959 and put into effect in 1960. The law's intent was to protect the rights of women and children by prohibiting polygyny forced marriage, concubinage, and abuse. It was designed to equalize the rights and obligations of women and men within the family and to enable women to enjoy equal status with men in social and work-related activities. In conjunction with the law, a mass campaign was launched to discourage, as wasteful, the dowries and lavish wedding feasts of an earlier era. Young people were advised not to marry before the age of twenty for males and eighteen for females and to have no more than two children per household. [Source: Library of Congress]
In March 2002, Associated Press: "Vietnam's government has forbidden some marriage customs by local ethnic groups, including wife robbery and the wedding of close relatives, state-controlled media said. The government directive says authorities will respect some marriage traditions of ethnic groups, but "backward'' customs will be strictly prohibited or discouraged, the Thanh Nien newspaper reported. Banned customs include wife robbery, in which women are forced to wed, and marriages of men and women of the same bloodline within three generations. The directive also forbids the practice of forcing widows or widowers to marry a family member of their dead spouse, and the practice of demanding large gifts for marriages.. Members of ethnic minorities held protests in Vietnam's Central Highlands a year ago over government restrictions on religion, and the coercive policies of local officials. [Source: Associated Press, March 30, 2002]
Sixteen Wives, Eighty-Six Kids— a Vietnamese Record
In October 2002, AFP reported: "A retired bricklayer in Vietnam, has set an unofficial national record by siring 86 children from 16 "wives". Tran Viet Chu, a 75-year-old from the central province of Quang Tri, who spent 60 years travelling the country while working in the building trade, married at 17 but his first wife died 10 years later. Chu soon tied the knot again but nevertheless brought another 14 "wives" into his household over the next half-century. [Source: Agence France Presse, October 07, 2002 \\\\]
"Chu, who currently lives with his second wife and 10 girlfriends, admits that his behaviour has been far from exemplary but says he has never been able to control his emotional and sexual desires. "Poor me, every time I see a voluptuously shaped woman I cannot control my lust. I seem to have been born with this flirtatious tendency," he told the Cong An Nhan Dan (People's Police) newspaper last week. "A million times I tried to give up my habits, but a million times I failed." \\\\
"As for the total number of women he has had sex with, Chu said there were too many to count. "I cannot remember how many women I slept with because over the past 60 years during my time as a builder I travelled to many villages and there would always be at least one woman who fell under my spell." \\\\
Vietnamese Arranged Marriages
Marriages are regarded primarily as a social contract and traditionally they were arranged by the parents through intermediaries. The parents' choice was influenced more by considerations affecting the welfare of the lineage than by the preferences of the participants. Today, although arranged marriages are technically against the law many marriages are still arranged by parents, often with the help of matchmakers and sometimes before their children have reached puberty. Children are expected to go along with their parent’s wishes to repay them for the gift of life. To go against their wishes is considered dishonorable.
Marriages have traditionally been arranged by parents with the help of go-betweens and the strong influence of elders. Partners were selected on the basis of family connections, wealth, social status, religion and village. Under these terms, the process started when a go-between was sent by the boy’s family to the girl’s family. If that went well, the girl’s mother sent an intermediary to the boy’s family to check them out with the understanding the boy’s family should have higher social standing and be wealthier than the girl’s family.
The mother of the girl has traditionally been very sensitive to the possibility of being dishonored and went out of her way to make sure everything checked out before agreeing to the marriage. The final decision was made after consulting a fortuneteller who made sure the horoscopes of the boy and girl were compatible and auspicious. If that went well, the boy asked the girl’s family to host an engagement party in which a member of the groom’s family asked for the girl’s hand on behalf of the boy and the girl’s family responded by listing the virtues of their daughter. The arrangement was formally sealed with the payment of bride price to a fund controlled by the village or community where the girl lived.
Pamela LaBorde, MD of Ethnomed wrote: "As Western influence increased in Vietnam during this century, parents began to take more of an advisory role in the choice of their child's mate, and arranged marriages are heavily declining. Parents are interested in securing a good mate for their child out of concern for their future. It is not unusual for parents to desire a mate of high status with a career that will be lucrative, such as doctor or lawyer. Currently, parents are more open to the choices of their child, and while they are consulted on the choice of partner, ultimately it is the child’s choice. If the parents agree to the child’s choice they will meet the parents of the mate and arrangements for marriage will continue. However if the parents disagree with the child’s choice they are likely to attempt to convince them otherwise, but will cease if the child is insistent. Though rarely given absolute choice, family still bears heavy influence over the decision to marry. When married, the new couple will likely establish their own household, rather than remain with the husband’s family. [Source: Pamela LaBorde, MD, Ethnomed ethnomed.org/culture/vietnamese ]
Use of Astrology in Vietnam in Choosing Marriage Partners
Astrology is an important consideration in choosing a marriage partner among ethnic Vietnamese. Compatible mystical affinities among bride and groom will allow them to marry in keeping with the harmony of the universe; incompatible readings indicate discord which will result in serious martial difficulty. This question of mystical affinities is based on the Chinese concept that three essential factors must be considered: 1) the influence of the earth, 2) the influence of nature, and 3) the actions of the planets. [Source: The Religions of South Vietnam in Faith and Fact, US Navy, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Chaplains Division,1967 ++]
The five major planets with a significant influence on human lives and the items that represent them on earth are: a) Venus, metal; b) Jupiter, wood; c) Mars, fire; d) Mercury, water; e) Saturn, soil. Each of these elements can build up or destroy one another according to this theory. That is to say: Fire helps soil but destroys metal while soil helps metal. Wood destroys soil while water helps wood. Water destroys fire while metal helps water. Metal destroys wood while wood helps fire. ++
Since individuals at birth come under the auspices of at least one of the above planets, it is imperative to make sure that two which oppose each other are not united. A man born under Venus marrying a girl of Mars would find arguments, unhappiness, etc., whereas the same man marrying a girl under Mercury's influence would be happy. Similarly, if the man is of fire influence and the wife of water, countless arguments, poverty and perhaps divorce is their predetermined fate; but if man is under influence of fire and the girl of wood, they will have many children and prosperity. ++
If both are born under the influence of the same planet or its earth representation, things begin to get complicated. Many books and "authorities" have to be consulted in order to determine the exact situation. However, astrology is only one of the three major factors which must be pondered in considering marriage. Strange to the western ear, the thought of romance is not a major factor, if considered at all. In fact, several lovely Buddhist young ladies informed the interviewer that the question of love would not be discussed inasmuch as marriage is a family affair and not the personal affairs of two people. One of them speaking for the group said that she would marry whomever her mother chose for her regardless of what she might think of the groom. She added that it would be better to be married to a poor man, an ugly man, or a bad man than to bring unhappiness to her mother. How different are the ideas of many young women in other parts of the earth with which we are acquainted! ++
Choosing a Marriage Partner in Accordance with Chinese Zodiac Sign in Vietnam
The cyclical calendar of the Vietnamese is used in choosing marriage partners. Now while some of the animals can live on good terms together, others cannot: but it is generally accepted that the tiger and the pig, the cat and dog, the serpent and the monkey, the horse and the goat, the mouse and the buffalo and the dragon and the cock can do so. Yet most of these cyclical animals cannot stand one another, and according to the matchmakers guidebooks, this animosity is expressible in four degrees of difference. These degrees are luc sung (disagreement), luc hinh (argument), luc hai (violence or harm), and juc tuyat (kills). [Source: The Religions of South Vietnam in Faith and Fact, US Navy, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Chaplains Division,1967 ++]
The first of these degrees of continuous disagreement is between: a) The mouse and the horse; d) The tiger and the monkey; b) The cat and the cock; e) The serpent and the pig; c) The dragon and the dog; f) The buffalo and the goat; The second degree is that of struggles between: a) The goat and the dragon; d) The pig and the monkey; b) The horse and the cock; e) The buffalo and the dog; c) The serpent and the tiger; f) The cat and the mouse. ++
The third degree of inflicting physical harm of the first to the second is: a) The mouse to the goat; d) The dragon to the dog; b) The buffalo to the horse; e) The serpent to the pig; c) The tiger to the monkey; f) The cock to the cat. The fourth and most permanent degree is that of killing of the second by the first: a) The mouse kills the serpent; d) The dragon the dog; b) The buffalo the goat; e) The horse the pig; c) The tiger the cock; f) The monkey the cat. ++
Analysis of these tables makes it apparent that a man born under the auspices of the tiger might find happiness with a girl born in the year of the pig. He should avoid marriage, however, with a girl born in the year of the serpent, the monkey or the cock. The tiger-serpent alliance would be quarrelsome; the tiger-monkey would result in fisticuffs; and the tiger-cock union might result in death for the girl. While Communism might well have begun to make changes in the thinking of the Chinese in Red China, the consultation of a "learned man" or fortune teller is sought in much of rural Vietnam, and perhaps even in the cities more than generally admitted. ++
Vietnamese Women Want More from Marriage
In 2000, Ritu Bhatia wrote in the Bangladeshi newspaper The Independent: "Thirty-one year old Minh Huong, the team leader of the sales department in a pharmaceutical company in Ho Chi Minh City, is eagerly waiting for her boyfriend to return from America where he has been for the last seven years. She says he is the only man who would accept her "just the way she is."While Minh Huong is committed to this relationship, she is also relieved that divorce is a feasible option. "At least people can end relationships in which they are unhappy," she says.Huong, however, is not the only one who has started thinking this way. Like other traditional societies, Vietnamese society too is in the throes of socio-economic and cultural changes. The shift to a market economy in the early 1990s improved material life of the people in general. [Source: By Ritu Bhatia, The Independent (Bangladesh), October 27, 2000 ==]
"Financial independence, only a dream a decade ago, is now becoming a reality for many Vietnamese women.More and more women in urban Vietnam are also discovering the value of freedom in their relationships. Some feel that the new generation of Vietnamese men, especially those who spend time in the West, are better equipped for equal relationships. Others seek different options. Hong Anh, for instance, married an Indian man, Hari Chathrattil, because as she says there is no way she would have put up with the "ridiculous petty minded demands" that a Vietnamese man makes on his wife or girlfriend. ==
"Twenty year-old Thu Ba, who married Sulma Warne, an Australian man, enjoys the fact that she can express herself freely in the relationship. "I can share many things with Sulma that I would not be able to with a Vietnamese man," she says. Ba's work as a freelancer for WWF takes her away tom home, which she says would be a big problem for a Vietnamese man.Open-mindedness is important in the list of qualities that women, in Vietnam are seeking in men. Thu Ba's husband Chathrattil, who teaches in a local college, was even asked by male students in his English class to explain why some Vietnamese women preferred to marry foreigners. "When I suggested that it could be because Vietnamese men were not trying to relate to changes in their women who are increasingly becoming more confident, standing on their feet and refusing to be taken for granted, the women in the class applauded and said 'tell them (the men) more,"' he says. ==
"An independent living arrangement is another requirement of many young Vietnamese women. While men traditionally live with their parents even after they marry, this custom is also gradually changing. In the past, economic constraints prevented couples from setting up an independent establishment. But more and more Vietnamese women are a part of the work force, and continue to hold their jobs even after they marry and have children. The number of day-care centers, referred to as 'semi-boarding' schools, that are springing up in the cities is evidence of this new phenomenon.At the end of the day, if they do not get what they want from a man, more Vietnamese women say they would rather stay single. And being over thirty and single is becoming more and more acceptable. Most single women are comfortable with their status and living arrangements. "Since we live with our families, we are not lonely," says Minh Hong, who lives with her parents and enjoys the arrangement.Twenty nine-year old Bao An, who works as a leading salesperson in a pharmaceutical company too is happy being single. She and her two siblings moved from Vietnam's central province to Ho Chi Minh City in 1996 to have access to better education and good jobs. ==
"Like many other women in the city, Bao An rides a motorbike and Is undaunted by the fact that she has to function in a male-dominated medical world.While she would like to have a boyfriend, Bao An is against living together outside a marital situation.'The humiliation and social stigma I would have to face if we didn't marry would be too painful to bear," she says.Keeping this clanged position - and thinking - of women in mind, the National Assembly agreed last month that the Marriage and Family law, passed in 1986, needed to be made more specific and progressive, even while it continued to preserve the traditional and moral values of Vietnamese society.After five days of deliberations, many fundamental principles on marriage and family were adopted. These included "voluntary and progressive" marriages, monogamy, spousal equality, lack of discrimination in the treatment of sons and daughters and the right of a single woman to tear a child. ==
Officials in Dong Nai province are reportedly turning a blind eye to the indelicate scenario. "The authorities are not going to challenge their current situation," said Nguyen Van Hung, chairman of Suoi Tre commune, where the couples live. Mr Hung recommended they divorce and remarry their new spouses, however.
Dating Vietnamese Girls
In the U.S., most young Vietnamese date in the same way as other American youth, with two main exceptions: premarital sex and cohabitation before marriage are uncommon. In Vietnam girls are often carefully chaperoned. It is important for women to be virgins on their wedding night. By contrast many men have had sex with prostitutes before marriage.
One blogger wrote on xuvn.com:"Vietnamese dating customs have historically been centered around class and tradition. In Vietnam, dating is considered an adolescent issue. Traditionally, Vietnamese males and females are not allowed to date. Women of Vietnam are ordinarily non-assertive and are raised to be quiet and dainty. They simply grew up in their family until age 18 to 20. Youths who have affections for one another may carry their relationship in secrecy, but eventually, and dutifully, yield to their parents' wills. Dating is believed to undermine traditions, encouraging sons and daughters to defy their parents' wishes and thus bringing shame to their family. Public displays of affection by couples, including holding hands, touching, kissing, are still considered impolite and must be done privately. [Source: XUVN.com xuvn.com/vietnam +++]
" When going out to dinner, movies, and other social events, the man usually pays all the expenses, in addition to buying gifts and flowers. His date does not. By accepting his gifts and flowers, she is officially accepting his love. But however deep her love, she is expected to remain a virgin until they are married. Females in Vietnam are more withdrawn and shy and usually do not make the first move in starting a relationship. If a young man finds someone he likes, he must formally introduce himself to her family and seek their approval before he can date her. This usually requires him to meet with her parents and family members in their house several times. After several regular visits, when he has gotten to know her family, he may finally ask her parents for permission to date her. As of 2009, many of these traditions of dating etiquette are still practiced but expectations vary from family to family due to changes in the country. Expressing proper etiquette when trying to date in Vietnam is necessary to avoid offending the family of the person you are courting. +++
"Making a positive first impression on a Vietnamese woman is important, and expressing a lasting interest in her is necessary because Vietnamese women do not ordinarily date without the goal of marriage. Let your intentions be known by asking her for the chance to meet her parents. Gaining their permission to date their daughter is a traditional and respectful way of getting a Vietnamese girl to date you. Take your time, and bring gifts of wine or flowers to the girl's family to further gain their acceptance, as it is customary for a man to participate in activities with the parents multiple times before asking the woman out on an official date. Dating a Vietnamese man requires patience, virtue and class. Initiating a date as a woman is often frowned upon in Vietnamese culture, and therefore the proper etiquette would be to wait for the man to approach you. Coming on to a man is a sign of an "easy" woman in this Asian tradition and speaking loudly is also looked down upon. +++
Vietnamese Courting Customs
The blogger on xuvn.com wrote: "Making the first date is an important step in Vietnamese courting tradition, and proper etiquette denotes that the man is supposed to initiate and plan the date. Taking a Vietnamese woman to a movie on a first date is traditionally unacceptable and is a cultural sign of an immoral woman. A traditional first date of a walk in a park or cup of coffee is a low-key and respectful way of initiating a relationship in Vietnam. Keep the first date at a platonic level, because the first date in Vietnamese culture is often a date accompanied by mutual friends. Avoid initiating physical contact whether you are a man or a woman, because Vietnamese culture looks down on premarital affection and public displays of affection. Playing hard-to-get is a tradition of Vietnamese women, and it is expected they do not show immediate interest in the man they are dating, to assure that his feelings are moral. [Source: XUVN.com xuvn.com/vietnam +++]
"Courting a Vietnamese girl is much like courting her entire family, according to an ages-old tacit rule, and it is important to date discreetly for several weeks or even months before coming public with your intentions to marry. Asking permission in addition to presenting a gift to her parents is necessary to continue the relationship in Asian culture. Avoiding the girl's parents is considered a great act of disrespect and can result in losing a relationship. Arranged marriage is rarely practiced in modern Vietnam as of 2009, but it is still a tradition in some families. Waiting too long to express your intentions, as a man, can result in missing out in this type of situation. Vietnamese women are expected to remain silent when it comes to arranging a marriage between her suitor and herself, whether it is a prearranged marriage or a result of a mutual courtship. +++
"Courting is far more indirect in Vietnamese culture than in most Western societies. Vietnamese relationships pass in several stages, usually lasting for a long period of time. An engagement, for example, often lasts for several years and as far as marriage is concerned, it is viewed as a lifetime commitment. Often the starting point of a relationship is a friendly date. The couple will go out together in public places as friends only and will be accompanied by other friends. During this stage of courting there will be no public displays of affection, the man has to be discreet and friendly or he will be accused of being too arrogant. It is too early for kissing or holding hands at this point. That is the second stage of Vietnamese courtship and now couples may go out together without the company of their friends. Again, the keyword here is "discreetly". +++
"Vietnamese women cannot afford to be fast, they are expected to be pakipot (hard to get) because it is seen as an appropriate behavior when they are courted. A Vietnamese girl never shows her admirer that she is also in love with him immediately. Playing hard to get is one way by which the Asian can measure the sincerity of the man interested in her. It also lets her show the man that he has to work hard to win her love. Some courtships may last for years before the woman accepts her admirer’s love and they become magkasintahan, a term for boyfriend-girlfriend. +++
"After some time the couple may decide to come out in the open about their romance. At this time they will inform their family and friends about their relationship. Every man who wants to be taken seriously by a Asian is obliged to visit her family and introduce himself formally to her parents. It is rather inappropriate to court a Vietnamese girl and formalize the relationship without informing the girl’s parents. There is a tacit rule here that says: "When courting the Asian you are not courting just her, you are courting the entire family". Following this rule will help you earn her respect by entrusting her family with high regard. There are certain traditions that have to be observed when visiting the asian’s family. For example, if the man wants to be acceptable to the girl’s family, he has to give small gifts (pasalubong) every time he drops by her family's house. If you have any questions regarding which traditions you should observe, you may discuss them with the older siblings. +++
Vietnamese Engagement and Family Ties
The blogger on xuvn.com wrote: After being a couple with your Asian for quite a time and decide to get married, the first thing you should do is pamanhikan (ask the girl’s parents for her hand). More about this tradition and those following it you can find in our article "Vietnamese Wedding Customs". When courting a Vietnamese woman you will find that she is shy and reserved even when holding great feelings for you. This is a part of her culture and even for a Western man there is no way around that. You should treat your Asian with respect, lead the courtship with your heart and you may find a lifetime partner that will enrich your life as you have never imagined. [Source: XUVN.com xuvn.com/vietnam +++]
"A romantic relationship with a Asian has a better chance of success if you understand her culture. Asian women live in a culture focused on the community, with the family as the core social unit. Here faithfulness to the family is a tradition. In Vietnam, it is important to meet a woman’s family because the family is so important to her. If a man wants to be taken seriously by a woman, he has to visit the latter's family and introduce himself formally to the parents of the girl. It is rather inappropriate to court a woman and formalize the relationship without informing the parents of the girl. +++
"Vietnamese children are committed to their parents who usually went through a lot to raise them. Their desire is to make their parents' life easier. If you are capable and refuse to help support her family who may need help, she may not say anything, but she will neither respect you nor understand. Sometimes the family is more important than you. There is an Asia saying, that is accepted in Vietnam, "You can get another wife or husband but not another mother or father" . This family loyalty is also apparent in the fact that Vietnamese families keep elderly (such as grandparents) instead of sending them to any institution. +++
"Vietnamese and Asians are communal, interdependent people, not dependent, like in western cultures. They are so by choice and because of their cultural needs. When you marry one you marry the family at least the mother and the father, the siblings too usually. That is trite, indeed, but true. If you can't deal with that let it be known from the start of your relationship with your Asian. If she is a "true Asian", the relationship may not develop. If it does she may not be happy in it, but you will never know. +++
Love, Romance, Sex and Marriage
The blogger on xuvn.com wrote: Sexuality in Vietnam is distinguished by a double standard that expects women to remain virgins until marriage while men are allowed to enjoy sexual freedom. Young women who lose their virginity before marriage, whether through rape or in a relationship, diminish their chances for a "good" marriage, while young men can "sow wild oats" with abandon and be even admired for being so "manly". [Source: XUVN.com xuvn.com/vietnam +++]
"In Vietnam virginity is sacred. The culture and the family lets the girl know it is her responsibility to keep her virginity as soon as they are old enough to understand what virginity is. Vietnamese men are reluctant to marry a non-virgin even if they are the one who took the virginity! Vietnamese woman may not even be forgiven if she is raped. Yes, this is extremely unfair but that is the way it is and the Asian girls know it. As far as courting is concerned, Asians are expected to be pakipot (playing hard to get) because it is seen as an appropriate behavior in a courtship dance. It is also one way by which the Asian will be able to measure the sincerity of her admirer. +++
"In order to legalize sexual relations or to avoid the stigma of becoming "old maids" young Vietnamese women feel pressured into early marriages. Unlike women, young men, on the other hand, are allowed to express their sexuality freely, and are sometimes initiated by fathers who take their sons to brothels for sexual intercourse with women. Traditionally, in Asian families the husband is expected to be the main breadwinner, chiefly responsible for the financial sustenance of the family, and the wife is "queen of the home". Vietnamese ladies equate domestic responsibility with being a good wife. They put their family first and they are more willing to sacrifice their career than their family." +++
Premarital Sex, Living Together and Dating in Vietnam
According to Encyclopedia of Sexuality: The information one can gather about the beliefs and practices of young people regarding premarital relations and the role of sexuality are quite contradictory and are evidence that sex research is still underdeveloped in Vietnam. For example, the Departments of Psychology and Sociology of Hanoi University conducted research in 1992 on the sexual relations of university and high school students in Hanoi (Hoang Ba Thinh 1992). About 72.4 percent of female students in their fourth year of university had sexual relations, with only 17.6 percent having had one (usually their first) partner, whereas the others had between two and four partners. Yet, after graduating, only 8.2 percent of respondents had married one of these partners. Among those female students who had boyfriends, it was quite common for them to live together in the dormitories. An early 1990s’ survey by CARE (Cooperative for American Relief Everywhere) found that just over half of Vietnamese men had had two or more sexual partners in the previous two weeks (Franklin 1993). [Source: Encyclopedia of Sexuality, 2.hu-berlin.de/sexology \*/ ]
In a recent survey, only 34 percent of students in Ho Chi Minh City responded that they found premarital sex "acceptable." Although not considered high by international standards, the statistic was shocking to most Vietnamese. A socially more acceptable figure was that only 10.3 percent of men and 1.4 percent of women had had sexual intercourse before their marriage, and 57.5 percent said they did not plan to have sex before marriage, whereas only 14.7 percent replied that they did plan to have sex before marriage (Chittick 1997).\*/
O’Harrow (1995) reports that premarital intercourse is quite common in Vietnamese villages, but also that there is still an obligation on the man’s part to marry the girl he has deflowered, and she reminds him of this fact in the strongest possible terms. Young couples in Hanoi, even married couples, face great difficulty in finding a place for private encounters. The evening stroller through the city’s lakeside public parks must step carefully to avoid interrupting lovers hard at work. \*/
Thai Thanh Van and Liu Xiangxiao of Xinhua wrote: "Nguyen Khanh Linh, a 22-year-old freelancer, lived together with her tour guide boyfriend in a rented poky house in Vietnam`s Hanoi capital for several months. Everyday, the man goes to work early, while his partner spends most of her time on housework. The couple from northern Thai Binh province is trying to save money to buy a small flat. "Living together is more convenient. I can take care of him better, while he can spend more time on work. Moreover, we will get married sooner or later," said Linh who has fine features and brown complexion of a traditional eastern woman. "We used to be embarrassed when living together. We were afraid of being teased by neighbors and friends. But, now I think there is nothing wrong with it," she said. The cohabitant of unmarried couples like Link`s has been no longer rare in the country where premarital sex used to be a taboo. They often rent cramped houses or deteriorated flats near universities and factories in Hanoi for life. [Source: Thai Thanh Van and Liu Xiangxiao, Xinhua, December 16, 2005 ><]
General Concepts of Sexuality and Love in Vietnam
According to the Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Grammar makes clear how important marriage is in Vietnamese society. Proschan (1998) provides this example: "When Vietnamese ask one another about their marital status they do not ask ’Are you married?’ but ’Have you married yet?’ A proper response is not a yes-or-no answer but the answer ’Already’ or ’Not yet’." Although the minimum legal age at marriage is 18 years for women, postponing marriage until age 22 is strongly recommended. Up to and through the French Colonial period, Vietnamese women were not regarded as nubile until about their 16th or 17th year. However, according to the Ly-Ky ("The Book of Rites"), girls might marry after 14 years and men at 16. Any marriages prior to those ages were not accepted. [Source: Encyclopedia of Sexuality, 2.hu-berlin.de/sexology \*/ ]
According to Proschan (1998), if men feared that marriage might complicate their lives, they tried to find a girl who did not see in them as the focus of her desires and demands. In fact, many Vietnamese men believed that women were perfectly satisfied with something like a companionate marriage, which involved sufficient ardor to produce offspring, but was not complicated by passionate desire. A hundred years earlier, Jacobus X. (1898) confirmed this rather unromantic view of marriage: Marriage is for the Annamite a question of business and the procreation of descendants, rather than of sentimental love. On her side, the woman has not generally a very great affection for her husband, but concentrates all her love on her children. /*\
Proschan (1998) writes that before colonial and revolutionary legal reforms made monogamy the only acceptable form of marriage, polygamy (specifically, polygyny) had been equally legitimate. When polygyny lost its legal sanction, it nevertheless continued outside the law, and women in polygynous relationships lost the protections and rights that the older legal codes had afforded their predecessors - i.e., those of second wives or concubines. Indications are that extramarital heterosexual relations were frequent enough among married men that most people - male or female - assumed that they were the norm. There were numerous available partners - female or male - for men whose wives "fail[ed] to provide proper attention and stimulation" (Khuat Thu Hong 1998), as one researcher characterized the common rationale. /*\
Internet Love in Vietnam Ends in Double Suicide
In 2003, Sapa-DPA reported: "A young couple who met online a year ago have committed suicide in southern Vietnam after the man's family objected to the relationship, an official said on Wednesday. Nguyen Thi Lua, 19, from the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City and Ho Thinh Minh, a 25-year-old Vietnamese- American man, met a year ago in an Internet chatroom, said a police officer from Thu Duc district. Minh came to Vietnam with his family for the Tet lunar new year holiday and spent a number of days visiting Lua, said the police officer, who declined to be named. His family stayed in their province of origin, 50 kilometers north of Ho Chi Minh city, but went to the city in the last week of January to tell their son to end the relationship. [Source: Sapa-DPA, February 12, 2003 >=<]
"Minh was instructed to return with his parents to Tra Vinh province," said the official. The man disobeyed his parents, and the two lovers drank a fatal dose of herbicide on Saturday afternoon and died two hours later in hospital. "They must have loved each other which led them to commit suicide together," said the police officer. "It is not a crime, so we will not make further investigations." >=<
The procedure of the ancient wedding ceremony was very complicated. Current wedding ceremony procedures are simpler, consisting primary of the marriage registration, pre-ceremony events, the wedding and the wedding party. Even though most Vietnamese are Buddhist to varying degrees they often don Western-style wedding clothes for their marriage ceremony, which itself is not religious. Local Communist officials often wish the couple congratulations after the ceremony is over. The groom’s family has traditionally paid for the bride’s wedding clothes and the wedding reception. The wedding is usually held on a day deemed auspicious for the couple by a fortuneteller.
The wedding ceremony can take place in either the home of the bride or the groom or of relatives. It consists mainly of pledges by the couple. Often the go-between acts as the officiating personality. Sometimes, scripture reading by a monk is included. During the ceremony elder married relatives may pour holy water over the hands of the couple, signifying that part of the virtue of Buddha is granted them. [Source: The Religions of South Vietnam in Faith and Fact, US Navy, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Chaplains Division ,1967]
For Vietnamese there are two main ceremonies: 1) the Le an hoi (betrothal ceremony) and 2) the Le cuoi (wedding ceremony). The Le an hoi is held some time before the wedding: the groom and his family visit the bride and her family with round lacquered boxes known as betrothal presents composed of gifts of areca nuts and betel leaves, tea, cake, fruits, wines and other delicacies covered with red cloth and carried by unmarried girls or boys. Both families agree to pick a good day for wedding. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism]
The wedding day often begins with the mother of the groom delivering a piece of chalk, representing a bright future, to the bride at her house. The groom and his entourage show up at the bride’s house with gifts such as jewelry, furniture, money, and lacquered leather trunks with bedding inside. The head of the entourage gives the bride’s family a red envelope and makes a formal speech upon presenting the gifts. The bride’s family welcomes them. The gifts, plus some more from the bride’s family, are placed before the family altar. The couples kneels before the altar while candles are lit. They also kneel before parents and grandparents who give them red envelopes filled with cash.
The wedding feast often takes place several hours after the ceremony, or even the next day. It is proper to give gifts to the young couple, but they should not be given in odd numbers, To do so would be, according to popular belief, to bring "bad luck" on the marriage. It is thus better to present two less expensive gifts rather than one expensive gift. Gifts for brides and grooms are usually given in pairs, including blankets. A single item indicates the marriage is not expected to last long. Two less expensive items are more desired than one nicer one. ++
Weddings are sometimes lavish affairs lasting several days with lunches and dinners hosted for work colleagues, friends and relatives. October through December are popular months for weddings, and expensive convention halls such as the glitzy Hanoi Tower in the capital city are often fully booked. [Source: Reuters, December 5, 2002]
Vietnamese Wedding Ceremony
At the Le cuoi (wedding ceremony) guests are invited to come to join a party and celebrate the couple’s happiness. The couple pray before the altar asking their ancestors for permission for their marriage, then to express their gratitude to both groom’s and bride’s parents for raising and protecting them. Guests share their joy at a party later. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]
On the wedding day, after a formal farewell to the bride’s parents, the groom’s entourage escorts the bride to the groom’s house, where the wedding ceremony is often held. As the bride enter the home she steps over a small stove with burning coals to purify herself and get rid of evil spirits. After some tea, the bride is introduced the ancestors of the groom and the groom says some prayers while a Buddhist monk or some other person invokes heaven and calls on the two god of marriage to bless the couple.
The couple are bound together with a thread of cotton that extends from the altar to the shoulders of the kneeling bride and groom. Afterwards tea, rice wine and sweet cakes are placed in traditional red lacquer boxes and shared by the families of the groom and bride. Then rice and a chicken are taken to the room where the bride and groom will enjoy their first meal together as husband and wife.
The couple’s wedding night is often spent at the house of the groom’s parents. This can be a problem with poorer families who live in government housing which every Vietnamese is guaranteed. The housing consists of a room for a family of four that is 11 by 15 feet. Those that can afford it have a lavish wedding party at a restaurant. During the feast the friends of the groom try to get the groom so drunk that he will not have sex with wife that night.
Vietnam Tries to Curtail Lavish Weddings
In December 2002, Reuters reported: "Vietnam is cracking down on traditionally lavish wedding parties thrown by government employees, ordering that no state money be used to fund them. "Weddings should be held in a civilised and economical way for family members, relatives and friends. They should not be organized luxuriously and wastefully," Deputy Prime Minister Pham Gia Khiem was quoted as saying in the Vietnam News daily.
Khiem, one of three deputy prime ministers, also warned state employees not to host weddings during work hours. The interior ministry had been ordered to produce a set of rules on how to hold "proper, economical and civilised weddings", the report said. Even the media have been roped into the campaign. The newspaper said they had been asked to produce stories that depict modest weddings between state workers. [Source: Reuters - December 5, 2002]
In 2003, the BBC reported: "Vietnam's prime minister has asked the relevant authorities to ensure that weddings are not too flamboyant, according to the country's state media. The Cong An Nhan Dan newspaper reported Prime Minister Phan Van Khai as saying that any violations would be dealt with severely and immediately. Weddings among Vietnam's wealthy are frequently used by families to flaunt their money, and the government has been trying to curtail excesses for several years. In 2002, Mr Khai told state employees to set an example to the rest of the population by toning down their family weddings and funerals. Correspondents say the warnings have not been heeded, prompting this new threat of punishment from Mr Khai. According to Cong An Nhan Dan, Mr Khai wrote to all ministries, state agencies and local governments last week asking them to increase their efforts to ensure family events are kept simple affairs. "It is necessary to criticise and severely deal with violations right away and determinedly," the paper added. However, flamboyant as many of the ceremonies may be, Vietnam is nevertheless encouraging more of its citizens to get married. [Source: BBC News, October 7, 2003 <>]
Also in 2003 "the National Assembly discussed legal changes which would push more people into marriage. According to figures from provincial authorities, almost a million unmarried couples began living together in the three years up to 2000. Provincial authorities have complained that the lack of legal marriages makes it hard for them to resolve property claims and protect other rights when one partner leaves or dies." <>
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated May 2014