China: Going Through the ‘Coming-of-Age’ Door

On April 7th, we had our coming-of-age ceremony, which seems to be a long-time tradition of our school. Dressed in our formal school uniform, we gathered at the front door together with our parents. Teachers were already there, standing in two lines waiting for us. We were supposed to go through the lines in turn and receive the smiles and greetings from them. But teachers could be really hard to approach sometimes, eh? It was such a surprise to see their expression of kindness and love. At the end of the lines was a door called ‘coming-of-age door’. Ever since ancient times, people all around the world uses the ‘door’ as a symbol. France has its own Arc de Triomphe, while Chinese even believe that carps which jump over a ‘dragon door’ can finally become a true dragon. Now it was time for we 18-year-olds to pass a kind of ‘door’ and somehow, become an adult.

Then came the ceremony. At first, a singing performance didn’t attract our attention. But then, we found out that in the background were pictures of all everyday-life scenes of our campus. And the best part was, the lyrics have been rewritten by our students, as a revelation of our deep love towards our school.

Eventually, how could a ceremony go without gifts? Parents gave us their well-wrapped gifts. The present teachers brought to us was a poem-reciting performance. The poem they wrote was full of memories and expectations. Every sentence they recited was followed by cheers and tears. But those were not the best ones. The  organizers prepared a special gift for us——a video. A video recording all our school life during the past three years (high school length in China). It could be so silly but touching to see ourselves running and laughing on the screen. Our childhood pictures were provided by parents, from the old yellow albums at the bottom of drawers. Our teachers were laughing and touched as well; time is always powerful and, well, amazing! We could easily recognize marks on those faces where each little change can tell a glorious story.

In our traditional opinion, to become an adult firstly means responsibility and therefore, gratitude. We expressed sincere thanks to parents and teachers, then sworn to the flag. The whole ceremony ended in the waves of class slogan. It seems that Chinese people are often fond of slogans, using them as an effective way of inspiration. Our class chose the one ‘少年十八,青春芳华,文一砺剑,决战盛夏’, which merely means ‘We are now 18 years old and exactly in our best period of time during the whole life journey. We are determined to improve ourselves to be a better person and firstly get a good result in June’s college-entrance examination.’ ——the exactly thing our teachers and parents wanted.

Great importance attached to coming-of-age ceremony dates back to thousands of years ago. At that time it was divided by sex. Men growing to 20 years old and women in 15 years old were considered as adults. Then a grand coming-of-age ceremony was held for them, ‘冠礼Guan Li’ for men and ‘笄礼Ji Li’ for women. GUAN is a special kind of hat while JI is a decoradion of hair. The change of hat and hairstyle was at that time a symbol of adult. Take one verse, written in Tang Dynasty, as an example: ‘暗合双鬟逐君去’——before the young girl eloped with her lover(they fell in love at first sight!), she secretly braided her double buns worn at two sides into a bun at the back of head using JI, declaring she had transformed from a maid into an adult, or even a married woman. JI and GUAN mean the same in this regard. During the ceremony, with the grave music (grave is the main character of traditional Chinese music, which I will talk about afterwards), all of the elder members of the family would congratulate and exhort the young-age, because after the ceremony, the marriage would come, alongside family responsibilities. Coming-of-age is really an essential event in one’s life. Believe it or not, it could even be regarded as as significant as one’s birth and death.


Nowadays there are still many schools or even other social organizations enthusiastic about holding these kind of coming-of-age ceremonies. However, they have been simplified a lot and are more contemporary. Some schools today are encouraging their students to wear traditional customs and follow the ancient manners of the ceremony, in order to inherit traditional Chinese culture perhaps. For instance, a high school in Guangxi Province chose to give their students traditional JI and GUAN as presents. (But I have to say, compared with some renaissance of the traditional custom organizations’ ceremony, this ‘modelled-after-an-antique’ one is a little bit awkward and formal. For example, what these girls wear in the attached picture is actually not hanfu——the traditional custom they want. So how to match the form and content better should be addressed.)

Guangxi students in their ‘modelled-after-an-antique’ ceremony.

A much more better one. She is wearing Ji to the girl.

Though they have their apparent advantages, most of them are more like ours this time, videos and lectures and the most important, gratitude. Parents and teachers won’t let the great chance to be thanked go that easily, will they? They surely want to make it an educational opportunity to teach us responsibility and then inspire us to work harder in college-entrance examination. Like what the slogan said, ‘决战盛夏(fight for the exam in summer)’. Whether we are already 18 or not -as I know, many of us are just 17 or 16-, being an adult is always more about psychological growth. We can jump into adulthood simply by sleeping over our birthday night, but the needed mental development is a long progress. And coming-of-age ceremony, whatever form it is, just puts emphasis on the true meaning of being 18.

Yihan Liu, Keeper of China, and Yuxin Shao

Image: chinadaily

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