Since very ancient times, three of the most important events in the life of a Chinese were (1) success in the imperial examination resulting in a government position and the prestige and wealth that accompanies it, (2) marriage and (3) having numerous sons to carry out the proper duties of filial piety and ancestor worship proscribed by the Confucian system.
The choice of a marriage partner was the responsibility of the parents and social status and wealth were the primary determinants. In fact, child betrothals (engagements) were common and many young people, upon reaching a marriageable age, may have never met their future spouse until the day of the wedding.
Just as in the other facets of ancient Chinese life, many of the customs and rituals concerning the marriage proposal, presenting the betrothal and wedding gifts to the bride's parents, sending the bride's dowry to the future groom's family, and the wedding ceremony itself, involved the use of traditional wedding and marriage symbols.
For example, the traditional dowry would include scissors shaped like two butterflies which symbolize joy and warmth and being inseparable, vases which symbolize peace, and rulers which symbolize large fields for farming.
The dowry would have included a chamber pot filled with various fruits (symbolizing fertility) and coins (symbolizing wealth and prosperity).
The bridal bed was installed on the day before the wedding by a person with "good luck" (i.e. Auspicious symbols such as dates (meaning "soon"), peanuts (meaning "give birth"), chestnuts ("establish sons"), pomegranates (fertility), lotus seeds ("continuous births"), bran ("rich son"), and other fruits were scattered on the bridal bed.
Children were then allowed to play on the bed and grab the treats.
(Please see Hidden Meaning of Chinese Charms for specifics on the above symbols.) The bride's hair was styled in the glow of "dragon and phoenix" candles representing the union of a man and a woman, and she would wear a red silk veil under a phoenix bridal crown.
The groom would wear a cap decorated with cypress leaves symbolizing the wish for "many" such as children, money, etc.
The procession from the groom's home to obtain the bride was accompanied by a dancing lion or Chinese unicorn (good luck, prosperity, goodwill and benevolence.
At the bride's home the groom would receive a pair of chopsticks which had the hidden meaning of "having sons quickly".
On the bride's journey to the groom's home, fertility symbols of rice and grain were scattered before the procession.