Coming of Age Ceremony (成年禮)
In the majority of cultures there is some kind of rite whereby a boy or girl would make the transition to adulthood and there are various kinds of ceremonies to celebrate this occasion. The same holds true in Chinese culture.
Since the Zhou Dynasty (周朝) (1046-256 BC) the Chinese have performed this ceremony which is called the Coming of Age Ceremony (Chengnianli [成年禮]). The age when it occurs varies from 18 years to 20 years for boys and 15 years for girls.
The ceremonies are performed by the individuals wearing full traditional Chinese costumes. For males the ritual consists of arranging the hair into a bun or coil and then crowning it with a cap, hence the term the Capping Ceremony (Jiaguanli [加冠禮]). As well, he is given an Adult Name (also called a Style or Courtesy Name, Zi [字]) which would contain a Generation Name (Beizi [輩字]) to identify his generation ranking in the clan. The ceremony is performed before his elders who later welcomes him into the family as an adult and thereafter deemed of marriageable age. In essence, notice is thereby given that he is an available candidate for the match making phase for a wife. Thereafter, his birth name is considered as a Tabu Name (Hui [諱]) which may not be used by people outside of the family.
For a female the ritual is more elaborate as it consists of two segments. The first ritual is somewhat similar to that for a male and involves the combing of her hair four times which is called the Hair Dressing Ceremony (Shutouli [梳頭禮] or Shangtouyishi [上頭儀式]) after which the hair is coiled into a bun and held in place with an ornate hairpin and this part of the ritual is called (Jili [笄禮]). Here again, the ceremony is performed before one’s elders after which she is welcomed into the family as an adult and therefore deemed of marriageable age and may be sought by match makers for a prospective husband.
In the past these ceremonies were performed separately at the appropriate age for the male or female according to Confucian practices. However, over time customs have changed slightly and these two ceremonies are normally no longer performed in isolation but have been incorporated into the wedding ceremony as a package deal. Hence the individual Coming of Age Ceremony for the male and female are conducted first so they may be recognized as adults and would then proceed on to the actual Wedding Ceremony (Hunli [婚禮]).