2017-05-04 09:29:52

A centuries-old dispute over irrigation water has finally come to a peaceful resolution.

For some 300 years, the inhabitants of two villages in eastern China’s Fujian province strictly abided by their feuding ancestors’ decree not to intermarry — that is, until they held a ceremony on Monday to mark the historic reconciliation.

On a street that divides the two hamlets, Wushan and Yuepu, and on an auspicious date, village representatives buried the hatched in front of burning incense and sacrificial offerings, reported local Party-affiliated news website Quanzhou Web.

The two villages, administered by Quanzhou City, are separated by fields, just a few minutes’ walk apart. In rural China, it was traditionally common for women to marry into surrounding villages. These marriages underpinned the fabric of rural society in times when villages operated independently, almost as miniature kingdoms.

According to Quanzhou Web, the villagers say the dispute between Wushan and Yuepu erupted over a stream running from a nearby mountain, which both villages used to irrigate their crops. When both sides tried to divert the stream’s water onto their own lands during the dry season, it led to an armed standoff, after which both villages swore never to marry each other again.

The conflict lasted for many generations. The last big clash happened in 1967, when all villagers above 16 years old confronted each other over a graveyard dispute. Some people even had muskets and homemade cannons, according to the 69-year-old chairman of Wushan’s association for the elderly, Wang Qiaobi. The standoff finally ended when the government intervened.

Over the years, the marriage ban broke up star-crossed lovers on several occasions. “As far as I know, five or six young couples were forced to separate,” said Fu Zifang, the former village committee head of Yuepu. Succumbing to family pressure to give up their “cursed” relationships, some women even had abortions.

The ban loomed large in the minds of villagers who feared defying their ancestor’s wishes. “Even if you can ‘break the ice’ and get married, you can’t always have a smooth life,” Fu Sunyi, an expert on the folk customs of Quanzhou, told a local newspaper. “And if you get in trouble, the villagers will say that you’re being punished because you didn’t comply with the ban.”

But in recent decades, the two villages had grown closer, building shoe factories, flood barricades, and schools together.

A couple who fell in love at one of those schools inspired the lifting of the ban. The boy came from Wushan, the girl from Yuepu. Foregoing a big wedding ceremony, they married without much fanfare, for fear that their unconventional union would attract opposition. But in March, when villagers from both sides were discussing the couple over drinks, they discovered that nobody present opposed the idea of abolishing the centuries-old ban.

Similar longstanding commandments are seen in other villages in the area as well, with most originating during the Ming and Qing dynasties, when rapid population growth in the Quanzhou region sparked fights over water and land resources.

But the old rural customs of family cohesion that once pressured villagers to strictly adhere to such bans have been fading. “Though some villages say that they don’t accept intermarriage, they’re actually restoring them secretly,” an official surnamed Chen told a local news outlet. In 2014, eight villages in the Quanzhou area ended a marriage ban that had been in force for 400 years.

Editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.

(Header image: The shadows of two young people are cast on a red curtain during a wedding ceremony in Ruicheng County, Shanxi province, Feb. 5, 2016. Li Zhicheng/VCG)