TRADITIONAL CHINESE WEDDINGS
Studio wedding photos In the old days, traditional Chinese weddings were performed at ancestral shrines. In upper class families the groom and bride wore red and green silk garments and were transported to the shrine in wedding sedans decorated with birds and flowers. The red worn by the bride and groom symbolized good fortune. If they had them, families exchanged genealogical records. In a traditional wedding ceremony today, the bride often has a veil over her head and wears a red gown and jewelry given to here by her parents. She carries a red umbrella. When opened, it is said, the umbrella delivers her descendants to the home of the groom.
Sometimes a special tea ceremony is conducted in which the couple is formally introduced as husband and wife to their families and ancestors. The bride serves tea to each guest and is a given a red envelope containing money in return. The new husband offers tea (sometimes dragon's eye fruit tea) and bows to each parent. While their parents sip their tea they give red envelopes with money or jewelry to the husband.
In 1899, Arthur Henderson Smith wrote in “Village Life in China”:“Marriage customs in China certainly vary widely, but of such a thing as being present at “the ceremony,” but not at “the wedding breakfast,” we have never heard. Indeed, it can scarcely be said that, in our sense of the word, there is any “ceremony.” Whatever may be added or subtracted from the performances, the essence of a Chinese wedding seems to consist in the arrival of the bride at her future home. The “feast” is the main feature of the occasion. Sometimes the relatives are not invited at all upon the wedding day, but at a subsequent one; yet it is not the less true that when the guests do come, the “feast” is the centre and soul of the occasion. [Source: “Village Life in China” by Arthur Henderson Smith, Fleming H. Revell Company, 1899, The Project Gutenberg; Smith (1845 -1932) was an American missionary who spent 54 years in China. In the 1920s, “Chinese Characteristics” was still the most widely read book on China among foreign residents there. He spent much of his time in Pangzhuang,a village in Shandong.]
“Owing to the extent and the intricate ramifications of Chinese relationships, the number of persons who must be invited to a wedding is very large. In some regions it is customary for women only to contribute a “share” (fên-tsŭ) to a wedding, while the men give a present at that part of the ceremony when the bridegroom salutes the guests in turn with a prostration. As the name of each guest is called to be thus honoured, he hands over the amount of his offering. But in other places men and women contribute in the same way. Of two things, however, one may be confident; that nearly all those invited will be present either in person or by a representative; and that nearly every woman will be accompanied by children, who contribute nothing to the revenues, but add enormously to the expenses.
"There are wide variations of usage in almost all particulars, though the general plan is doubtless much the same. The variations appertain, not to the ceremonies of the wedding alone, but to all the proceedings from beginning to end. It is supposed that the explanation of the singular and sometimes apparently unaccountable variation in these and other usages, found all over China, may be due to the persistent survival of customs which have been handed down from the time of the Divided Kingdoms. But very considerable differences in usage are to be met with in regions not far apart, and which were never a part of different kingdoms. The saying runs, “Customs vary every ten li,” which seems at times to be a literal truth."
Websites and Sources: Marriage: Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Chinatown ConnectionChinatown Connection ; Travel China Guide travelchinaguide.com ; Agate Travel warriortours.com : Dating Chinatown Connection Chinatown Connection ; Wedding Wedding Customs chinese-poems.com
Meetings, Traditional Chinese Go-Betweens and the Eight Letters
In the old days, before a marriage took place the families of the bride and groom had a couple of meetings. The first one determined if the families were compatible. The second one set the terms for the wedding ceremony and decided who paid for what. In ancient times, engagements were sanctified by making offerings of things like candles, incense, wine, fruit at an altar as way of seeking approval of ancestors. Some offerings had special symbolic meanings: Pomegranate flowers represented prosperity and the birth of many sons; deer horn was regarded a aphrodisiacs. The groom's family often presented valuable teas to the bride's family. Marriage contracts were written in characters and verse and considered binding, even if the nuptials were engaged as children. Broken engagements were punished with 60 strokes from a cane or whip.
In the Mao and Deng eras, couples needed permission from a local board to get married and a letter from an employer stating that they were single. A new set of laws that went into effect in October 2003, ended the need for the letter from an employer. Today things a little more romantic, sort of. One young woman told the China Daily that she hoped her boyfriend would get on his knees and pull out a diamond ring as he asked her to marry him but said the reality was much different. When the time came he said: “My mother has asked us to register for the marriage certificate as soon as possible.”
George P. Monger wrote in “Marriage Customs of the World From Henna to Honeymoons”: “ Traditionally, when a young man’s parents identified a prospective bride, a spokeswoman was hired to act as a go-between to approach the young woman’s family with the offer of marriage. It was the job of this spokeswoman to persuade the prospective bride’s family to accept the marriage offer; upon acceptance, the families began to make the marriage plans. [Source: “Marriage Customs of the World From Henna to Honeymoons” by George P. Monger, 2004 ^]
“The first step, after an agreement was made, was for the young man’s parents to send a formal letter to the young woman’s family to confirm the agreement, together with a request for the young woman’s “eight letters.” In the Chinese calendar, twenty-two letters are used to represent dates; two letters from these twenty-two are used to represent each of the time, day, month, and year of the birth date. The eight letters of both the bride-to-be and the groom-to-be were then sent to a fortunetelling master to determine whether or not the two sets of numbers presented a match. If they did not match up, contact between the families would cease and the young man’s family would begin again the search for a prospective bride. [Source: “Marriage Customs of the World From Henna to Honeymoons” by George P. Monger, 2004 ^]
“If the birth dates matched up, the groom’s family commissioned the spokeswoman to send gifts to the woman’s family, along with a “gift letter,” a list giving the quantity and description of the gifts. To further confirm the marriage agreement, the formal gifts to the bride’s family were sent by the groom’s family on a propitious day. The gifts included money, cakes, other food, and sacrifices for worshipping ancestors.
“The fortune-telling master was further employed to suggest a good day for the wedding, determined from the couple’s birth dates, as well as those of their families. After the day had been chosen, a man considered to have had good fortune throughout his life would be hired to move the bridal bed into the correct place; a woman, also of good fortune (measured by having a healthy, living husband and sons), would make the bed and leave fruit and foods denoting good fortune on the bed. The bed was then left until the day of the wedding.
19th Century Chinese Engagement
In 1899, Arthur Henderson Smith wrote in “Village Life in China”:“A Chinese marriage engagement begins when the red cards have been interchanged, ratifying the agreement. These are in some districts formidable documents, almost as large as a crib-blanket, and are very important as evidence in case of future trouble. It is very rare to hear of the breaking of a marriage engagement in China, though such instances do doubtless occur. [Source: “Village Life in China” by Arthur Henderson Smith, Fleming H. Revell Company, 1899]
In a case of this sort the card of the boy’s family had been delivered to the other family, at which point the transaction is considered to be definitely closed. But an uncle of the betrothed girl, although younger than the father of the girl, created a disturbance and refused to allow the engagement to stand. This made the matter very serious, but as the younger brother was inflexible, there was no help for it but to send the red acceptance card back by the middleman who brought it. This also was a delicate matter, but a Chinese is seldom at a loss for expedients when a disagreeable thing must be done. He selected a time when all the male members of the boy’s family were in the wheatfield, and then threw the card declining the match into the yard of the family of the boy, and went his way. None of the women of the family could read, and it was not until the men returned that it was discovered what the document was. The result was a lawsuit of portentous proportions, in which an accusation was brought against both the father of the girl and against the middleman. This case was finally adjusted by a money payment.
“The delivery of the red cards is, as we have remarked, the beginning of the engagement, the culmination being the arrival of the bride in her chair at the home of her husband. The date of this event is generally dependent upon the pleasure of the boy’s family. Whatever accessories the wedding may have, the arrival of the bride is the de facto completion of the contract. This becomes evident in the case of second marriages, where there is often, and even proverbially, no ceremony of any sort which must be observed. The Chinese imperial calendar designates the days which are the most felicitous for weddings, and it constantly happens that on these particular days there will be what the Chinese term “red festivities” in almost every village. This is one of the many instances in which Chinese superstitions are financially expensive. On “lucky days” the hire of sedan-chairs rises with the great demand, while those who disregard luck are able to get better service at a lower price. There is a tradition of a winter in the early part of this century when on a “fortunate day” many brides were being carried to their new homes during the progress of a tremendous snowstorm which blinded the bearers and obliterated the roads. Some of the brides were frozen to death, and many were taken to the wrong places. On the other hand in a blistering summer, cases have been known where the bride was found to be dead when the chair was deposited at the husband’s home. The same bridal sedan-chair may be used many times. In regions where it is the custom to have all weddings in the forenoon, second marriages are put off until the afternoon, or even postponed until the evening, marking their minor importance.
Formal Chinese Engagement Ceremony
Once the future bride has accepted the marriage proposal of the future groom, the couple consults a Feng Shui expert to assist them in choosing the date of their Kiu Tsin or Kiu Hun (asking of hand in marriage), engagement, and or wedding ceremony. The Feng Shui expert determines the most auspicious date and time for these three important occasions based on the Chinese Zodiac sign of the marrying couple, their parents, and grandparents. [Source: Jonathan Dionisio, July 13, 2009 //; kasal.com *^]
On the day of the Formal Engagement Ceremony, sometimes called Ting Hun, no formal invitations will be printed or distributed for this occasion. However, the groom parents shall have it announced in a local Chinese newspaper ad on the day itself. During the Ting Hun, the groom’s engagement party arrives at the ceremonial place an hour before the said time and the bride serves tea to the groom's family in order of seniority. The bride is escorted by a female relative, chosen for her good qualities and standing. She should be a married woman with children and has a birth sign that is compatible with the bride. [Source: Jonathan Dionisio, July 13, 2009 /*/]
The ceremony begins with the bride’s parents welcoming and receiving the groom’s party. First, the groom enters with the box of corsage in his hand. He is followed by his relatives who will enter the ceremony venue in two’s, with each pair carrying a Sin Na. They are followed by the parents of the groom, and last, the other representatives of the family carrying the other gifts. As the gifts are being carried into the ceremonial room, the elder representatives of the groom fix the ceremonial table, cover it with the red bridal satin cloth and place the gifts on top. After the groom's family has entered, their chosen representatives are asked to proceed to their ceremonial seats together with the bride's chosen representatives. The representatives of the groom's family fixes the ceremonial table. /*/
The bride enters the ceremonial room walking backward. This is to avoid negative energy and to avoid her from seeing the groom. The bride is turned three times clockwise by her escort. After which, he allowed to look at the groom. Welcome drink such as red or orange juice, which denotes good luck and happiness, is served as soon as the bride is seated. The bride's female family member serves the drink to both entourages, from eldest to youngest, before it is served to the marrying couple. Once the marrying couple is served, the families can now proceed to exchanging of gifts or Gift-Giving Ceremony. /*/
After the exchange of gifts, the Wedding Tea Ceremony comes next. For Chinese, tea plays a significant part on both engagement and wedding as tea symbolizes respect. During the tea ceremony, the bride serves the tea to the groom's family in order of seniority. She is followed by the groom who, in turn, serves the bride's family in the same order. Through this ceremony, the bride is formally introduced to the family of the groom. /*/
Once all the guests have been served with tea, formal pictorial follows. It may be followed in this sequence:; 1) Newly engaged couple; 2) Couple with bride's parents; 3) Couple with bride's immediate family; 4) Couple with both parents; 5) Couple with groom's parents; 6) Couple with groom's immediate family; 7) Couple with groom's engagement party; 8) Couple with bride's engagement party; 9) Couple with bride's relative; 10) Couple with bride's friends. Just before the wedding reception the newlyweds are served with misua (thin noodles made from wheat flour, originating in Fujian), a symbol of long lasting relationship. /*/
The family members of the bride prepare the dining table where the engagement party will take sweet tea soup and misua, a symbol of long lasting relationship. The bride's mother invites the engagement party for sweet tea soup and misua eating as part of the ceremony. Each guest at the table is served with a bowl of sweet tea soup, containing two pieces of eggs, two pieces of red dates and two pieces of sliced condoles. The sweet taste of the tea soup is a wish for sweet relations among the bride and her new family. One doesn’t need to finish two eggs. If unable to finish, he or she may cut the remaining egg in half. However, should anyone choose not to eat them, he or she may opt to leave them in pair. Pair signifies a couple's togetherness. /*/
After the sweet tea soup, bowls of misua are served. The same procedure in serving is followed, with the elders served first and the marrying couple served last. After the misua is eaten, the Ang Paos (red envelopes) are returned to the groom, who in turn, returns the money to his parents. The bride's female family members distribute flowers to the single ladies while other female members prepare goodie bags for giveaway. /*/
The groom places back the cakes displayed earlier at the table in their respective boxes. He carries the cake with bride's name, while the cake bearing his name is carried by one of his representative. Riding a car, they will drive around the block of the ceremonial venue twice. Driving around is like forming a circle, a shape which signifies unending union or lasting relationship of the couple. The groom comes back carrying the cake with his name and leaves the other cake in his car. The numbers of Sin Na's content and other goodies is divided into half and are returned to the groom's family before or after the reception. After this ceremony, the bride and groom, together with their family and those who were not allowed to witness the ceremony, eat at the prepared reception. /*/
Asking for Permission to Marry the Chinese Way
The future groom and his family visit the future bride and her parents to formally ask for her hand in marriage. The groom’s family brings basket of fruits and sweets to the bride’s family. These gifts represent fertility and prosperity in Chinese culture. During this time, both families discuss about the wedding date, wedding preparation, and other details. Once the dates have been identified, both families prepare their traditional gifts for each other. [Source: Jonathan Dionisio, July 13, 2009 /*/]
The female's family picks an auspicious date from the suggested dates of the male's family. Auspicious days are subject to interpretation by fortunetellers that perform the analysis based on one's birth date (day and hour) after consultation with the Chinese almanac. The 15 day period from the middle to the end of the seventh lunar month is considered inauspicious because that is time of the Hungry Ghost Festival when the gates of Hell are opened and the lost spirits are allowed to wonder the earth. Usually the whole seventh lunar month is considered inauspicious. The 15 day period from the middle to the end of the seventh lunar month is considered inauspicious because that is time of the Hungry Ghost Festival when the gates of Hell are opened and the lost spirits are allowed to wonder the earth. The male's family will present the betrothal gifts which includes tea, dragon and phoenix bridal cakes, wine, pairs of male and female poultry, sweetmeats and sugar. In extremely rich families, they even send out jewelry. Tea is a primary part of these gifts. [Source: Karen Grace Pascual, Tsinoy.com \=]
For the Formal Engagement, the bride and her family have to prepare the following gifts; each one should have Sang Hee or double happiness sticker on top. Sang Hee stands for Marital Happiness. A) Jewelry: Men’s watch; Men’s necklace with medallion pendant; Men’s bracelet/ring (optional); B) Cake (should be round or heart shape): Bigger size of cake with groom’s name (in Chinese characters); Smaller size of cake with bride’s name (in Chinese characters); C) Others: 4 pieces Pomelo; 2 kilos of uncooked rice; 120 pieces of raw egg; 3 kinds of Chinese hopia (special bean-filled pastry) set; Assorted candies and/or cookies; Red table cloth (bridal satin) to be used to cover display table; Suit/barong material for the groom. /*/
Below are the gifts the groom and his family have to prepare, with Sang Hee sticker on top: A) Jewelry; Wedding rings; Lady’s watch; Lady’s necklace with medallion pendant; A pair of Chinese bangles with red thread; Sets of jewelries placed in a red box; B) Ang Paos: 2 pairs of Ang Paos, one pair of small amount and one pair of big amount; C) Fabric (Quantity of clothes/fabric should be in even numbers); D) Flowers: One box of corsage; One box of boutonnière; Six (6) or eight (8) varieties of flowers (all colors are allowed except white); E) Fruits: Boxes of fruits (in even numbers); 4 pieces of Pomelo; F) Canned Goods: Canned porklegs (in even numbers); Canned fruit cocktails (in even numbers); G) Chinese Hopia: Each set has four (4) kinds of Chinese delicacies) (minimum of 12 sets); H) Candies and cookies (preferably chocolate coins); I) Chinese misua (placed in red boxes); J) Gifts: for the bride’s parents and senior members of the family (usually a suit/barong fabric for men and lace fabric for women) and Sin Na (a 4-layered basket made out of bamboo). /*/
After preparing the gifts, the participants of the formal engagement party are chosen based on the compatibility of their Chinese zodiac signs to the marrying couple and both parents. This is to avoid the presence of bad luck or negative energy during the ceremony. Family members and guests who are incompatible are not allowed to witness the ceremony but they are welcome to join the reception. Engaged couples and pregnant women are not allowed as well because the Chinese believe that they may pull out the luck intended for the marrying couple. In Chinese weddings, pomelos are given because of the Chinese Proverb, "Yiu Lai, Yiu Khi", which means smooth relationship). /*/
Pre-Wedding Chinese Traditions
George P. Monger wrote in “Marriage Customs of the World From Henna to Honeymoons”: “ A few days before the wedding, the bride sent gifts to the bridegroom, including jewelry, kitchen utensils, linen, and clothes. The night before the wedding, both of the couple showered or bathed, changed to new underwear, and burned incense as they had their hair combed. This combing was carried out by a “good fortune” woman or man and was symbolic of the adulthood of the couple. The hair was combed four times: The first symbolized “from beginning to end,” the second, harmony until old age, the third, many sons and grandsons, and the fourth, wealth and a long-lasting marriage. If one of the couple had been married before, this event was skipped. Today, many couples choose to omit this from the marriage preparations. [Source: “Marriage Customs of the World From Henna to Honeymoons” by George P. Monger, 2004 ^]
Giving out invitations is a must for every wedding. But the Chinese really does it with style. They send out Double Happiness cakes to the close friends and relatives to announce their wedding. Along with these cakes comes an invitation printed on red paper. Those who received it must give them a congratulatory gift on the wedding day. Another pre-wedding ritual is installing the bridal bed probably for the couples first tonight together. A respected relative considered a good luck man or good luck woman, one man or women with many children and living mates will install the bed. Installing the bed means moving the bed slightly or putting the bed cover and the pillows. Once the bed is installed, children (as many as you want) are asked to play on the bed. Later on they will scatter red dates, pomegranates and other fruits. The female has to bathe in water infused with pomelo skin or peelings or leaves, to clense her of the bad things. [Source: Karen Grace Pascual, Tsinoy.com \=]
After the formal engagement ceremony, the couple arranges a visit to chosen individuals to formally ask them to serve as principal sponsors. The couple brings a basket of goods containing canned pork leg, misua, canned fruit cocktail and sweets during their visit. Once the prospect sponsors agree, the couple visits again to bring fabric for his or her attire for the wedding. Other couples may only pay one visit to their future sponsor who is really close to them. They bring along the fabric together with the basket of goods on the day of their visit. [Source: Jonathan Dionisio, July 13, 2009 /*/]
Both bride and groom have their own pre-wedding preparations. For the groom, he delivers the bridal gown and other accessories at the bride’s house. He gives this to the sister or mother of the bride. This is because the Chinese, believe that the couple must not see each other before the wedding day. The marrying couple must consult their parents regarding the sequence of ceremony. Sometimes Chinese beliefs differ between families and not talking about it beforehand may cause conflict along the way. For example, others would have the pinning of the corsage at the start of the ceremony while others would have it at the end. /*/
The groom is in charge of installing the matrimonial bed at the couple’s new room. This is a new bed complete with cases, comforters, pillows, and sheets sprinkled with red dates, oranges, lotus seeds, peanuts, pomegranates and other fruits. The installation date is chosen by a Feng Shui expert. Once the bed has been installed, a baby boy born under the Year of the Dragon is made to roll around and sleep on the bed to ensure the couple’s future in bearing a son. Some families require the groom to sleep on the bed as well. For others, a respected relative considered as a ‘good luck man’ or ‘good luck woman’, a man or woman with many children and living mates, will install the bed. They are the ones asked to play on the bed to pass their good luck and fertility to the soon-to-wed couple. /*/
For the bride, she prepares her personal belongings, sometimes called Ke Tseng to be brought to her new home. These are neatly wrapped and are all labeled with Sang Hee. The bride's dowry is mainly interior ornaments or daily necessities. Wealthy parents have the options of giving complete home appliances, car, and real estate property. Ke Tseng items include: 1) A pair of red lantern; 2) A mirror covered in red cloth to dispel bad energy; 23 A pair of floral arrangement in a vase; 4) A pair of Mini Sin Na filled with sweet and Chinese herbs; 5) Small urinal/toilet kettle; 6) New sets of clothing; 7) New sets of jewelry; 8) New sets of suit case; and 9) a baby bath tub with toiletries. These items are then brought to the new house on a given date and time by the Feng Shui expert. The bride’s siblings bring all the items to the new house. Once everything has been brought to the new house, the family of the bride is served with misua, hard boiled egg and drinks. They will also receive Ang Paos as a token of gratitude. /*/
Chinese Wedding Day
On the wedding day, the houses of both the bride and groom were decorated with red — the Chinese wedding color. The bride put on a red wedding gown and jewelry given to her by her parents and then was ready for the sedan chair sent by the groom to collect her. This was decorated in red and carried by four servants. [Source: “Marriage Customs of the World From Henna to Honeymoons” by George P. Monger, 2004 ^]
On her wedding day the bride has to bath in water infused with pomelo skin or peelings or leaves, to cleanse her of the bad things. Then a good luck woman comes to help dress up the bride's hair. This woman should speak auspicious words while tying up the bride’s hair in a bun, the style of married woman. The bride’s face is covered with either a red silk veil or a 'curtain' of tassels or beads that hang from the bridal Phoenix crown. For the groom a capping ritual is done. The groom kneels at the family altar while his father places a cap decorated with cypress leaves on his head. They then set up the bridal sedan chair to pick up the bride along with the relatives and friends. [Source: Karen Grace Pascual, Tsinoy.com \=]
In some cases, the groom has dinner with the bride's family, and receives a pair of chopsticks and two wine goblets wrapped in red paper, symbolic of his receiving the joy of the family in the person of their daughter. In some regions, the groom is offered sweet longan tea, two hard-boiled eggs in syrup and transparent noodles. Another variation is for the groom to partake in a soup with a soft-boiled egg, the yolk of which is broken to symbolize the breaking the bride's ties with her family.\=\
The festive procession of picking up the bride includes firecrackers and loud gongs. The groom leads the procession accompanied by a child as an omen of his future sons, and attendants with lanterns and banners, musicians, and a 'dancing' lion or unicorn follows the bridal sedan chair. The 'good luck woman' carries the bride on her back to the sedan chair. Another attendant sometimes shields the bride with a parasol while a third tosses rice at the sedan chair. It is written that the bride cannot touch the bare earth. Great care is taken to ensure that no inauspicious influence affects the marriage. The female attendants are chosen with particular care so that the horoscope animals of their birth years are compatible with that of the bridegroom. The sedan chair is heavily curtained so that the bride may avoid seeing unlucky things. \=\
The wedding ceremony depends on the religion of the couple.Typically the wedding ceremony only takes a few minutes. In a traditional Chinese style wedding the bride and the groom go to the family altar and pay homage to the Heaven and Earth, the family ancestors and then to their parents. The groom's parents are offered tea with two lotus seeds or dates in the cup. After they bow, the ceremony is over. In some other rituals, the couple drinks wine from the same goblet, eat sugar molded in the form of a rooster, and partake in a the wedding dinner together. \=\ /*/
Chinese Wedding Day Traditions
On the wedding day, many traditions are followed. For the wedding itself, formal invitations are printed and distributed to relatives and friends. The groom’s parents will again announce the wedding in a local Chinese newspaper. [Source: Jonathan Dionisio, July 13, 2009 /*/]
During the preparation of the bride, she wears a red robe with a dragon emblem while having her hair and make up done. After changing into her bridal outfit, her father is tasked to comb her hair 2 to 4 strokes downward to remove bad luck. A pair of Sang Hee coin is sewn in her entire outfit: bridal gown, long veil, stockings and shoes. Same thing goes with her future mother in law's stockings and shoes that were given by the bride. /*/
When the bride is prepared to leave for the church, she throws a fan bearing Sang Hee sign to family member sending her off. The bride's mother would pick it up and keep it. This gesture shows that her leaving will not take away all the good fortune from her. The door game originated from ancient times and shows that the bride's family and friends do not want to marry her away. /*/
Another tea ceremony takes place after the wedding ceremony and before they head to the reception. This is held in their new home or a small room at the reception venue. It is done by the newlywed couple and the groom's family. The bride serves tea to the groom's family in order of seniority which is similar to their engagement. After the drinking of tea, she receives a gift or Ang Pao from each member of the groom’s family. Gifts are usually in form of red envelopes or Ang Pao and contain money or jewelry. Some relatives prefer that the bride uses the jewelry immediately. After which, the bride gives her gift to the elders of the family. Misua is served to the couple after. family. In Chinese weddings, white-colored items are never given as gifts because the Chinese associate the color white as a sign of mourning. /*/
The ritual of gift-giving is a bit more complicated in Chinese marriages. Betrothal gifts from the groom may include money, tea, Dragon and Phoenix cakes, poultry, sugar, wine, tobacco andand other items. These gifts are countered with gifts of food and clothing. Some versions goes as far as the offering of furniture and appliances to the groom, as though to say that the bride's family isn't marrying their daughter because it is unable to provide for her. [Source: kasal.com ^]
At Chinese wedding parties the newlywed couple doesn't do a first dance, rather they often sing a karaoke duet followed by other guests coming up to the microphone and singing songs. Fireworks are often set off at weddings. In Hong Kong and some other places, for good luck the bride has her hair brushed four times while sitting in front of a moonlit window. The first brush represents lasting good qualities; the second, harmonious relationship through old age; the third; children and grandchildren; and forth, prosperity and a lengthy marriage.
De Beers has very successfully implemented a marketing strategy in China dubbed “Creating a Diamond Wedding Cultural Imperative” that links diamonds with romance and security. When De Beers first entered China in 1993 the Chinese cared little for diamonds and generally did not link them with romance and marriage. By 2000, between 40 percent of all brides in Beijing and Shanghai received a diamond wedding. By 2005 the figure was between 70 and 80 percent.
As part of a traditional wedding, the groom sends a red carriage or sedan chair to the bride’s house to pick up the bride and take her to the home of the groom’s family. If the bride’s family is rich she is carried to the home of the groom’s family accompanied by servants and a band with flutes and gongs. The bride is forbidden from touching the ground with her feet until she arrives at the groom’s house. In modern variation of this ritual the groom hires a taxi and goes to the bride's house to pick her up and take her to his family's house or a local shrine for the wedding. When the couple arrives firecrackers are lit.
George P. Monger wrote in “Marriage Customs of the World From Henna to Honeymoons”: In the old days, “ The procession to the groom’s house was accompanied by musicians; gifts were also brought for the bride’s family. The groom’s spokesman entered the bride’s house and carried her on his back to the sedan chair The bride’s relatives threw rice into the air to distract any chickens that were around to keep them from pecking the bride, and also to distract bad spirits, and a red umbrella was put up to shield her from evil spirits and also to be a symbol of producing many descendants for the groom’s family. At this stage, her relatives bade her farewell as she was now leaving home for good. In some places she was carried in a locked sedan chair, accompanied by male relatives and others carrying lanterns decorated with the ancestral names of the bride and groom cut from red paper. The sedan chair was followed by a bearer carrying a large red umbrella, torch bearers, and musicians. The procession was met halfway to the groom’s house by his representatives and relatives. The bride was handed over to them to accompany her the rest of the way. [Source: “Marriage Customs of the World From Henna to Honeymoons” by George P. Monger, 2004 ^]
Many weddings feature a caravan of cars trailing pink ribbons and paper flowers. The groom and his friends usually drive in these cars to the bride’s house. When the groom arrives, the bridesmaids ask the groom tricky questions and make outrageous requests. The groom’s friends help him pass the test and are finally led into the bride’s house after presetting the bridesmaid’s gifts wrapped in red paper. Inside the house the bride and groom serve tea to the bride’s parents and relatives, who turn give red packages, often with jewelry, to the bride.
At the groom’s house the bride and groom worship the ancestors and the heaven and earth and serve tea to the groom’s parents and relatives who in turn give the bride and groom red packages with money or jewelry. It is customary for groom’s mother to give a gold band or jade to welcome the bride into the family. An hour or so after the bride arrives, around noon, guests arrive for a banquet at the family house of the groom or at a wedding hall. Everyone drinks wine and eats food prepared by the groom's family until about eleven at night.
19th Century Chinese Wedding Procession
In 1899, Arthur Henderson Smith wrote in “Village Life in China”:“That the only essential feature of a Chinese wedding is the delivery of the bride at her husband’s home, is strikingly shown in those not very uncommon instances in which a Chinese is married without himself being present at all. It is usually considered a very ill omen to change the date set for a wedding, especially to postpone it. Yet it sometimes happens that the young man is at a distance from home, and fails to return in time. Or the bridegroom may be a scholar, and find that the date of an important examination coincides with the day set for his wedding. In such a case he will probably choose “business before pleasure” and the bride will be “taken delivery of” by older members of his family, without disturbing his own literary ambitions. [Source: “Village Life in China” by Arthur Henderson Smith, Fleming H. Revell Company, 1899, The Project Gutenberg]
“The bridal chair is often itself a fit emblem of a Chinese wedding. Looked at from a distance, it appears to be of the most gorgeous description, but on a nearer view it is frequently perceived to be a most unattractive framework covered with a gaudy set of trappings sometimes much worn and evidently the worse for wear. In some cases there is a double framework, the outer of which can be lifted entirely off, being too clumsy to be got into a courtyard. The inner chair can be carried through the narrow doors of any Chinese yard, or, if required, into the house itself.
“The bride is no sooner out of the chair than the process of dismantling the bridal chair begins, in the immediate sight of all the guests, and as a matter of course. The Chinese is not a victim of sentiment, and he fails to see anything incongruous in these proceedings. It not infrequently happens that the resplendent garment worn by the bride is hired for the occasion, a fact of which the guests present are not likely to be ignorant. We once saw a garment of this sort which the bride had just taken off, delivered to the headman in charge of the bridal chair and of the accompanying paraphernalia. Upon examining it to make sure that it was in as good condition as when it was hired, this man found, or professed to find, a grease-spot upon it, which not only attracted his attention but excited his wrath. He began to talk in loud and excited tones, waxing more and more furious until the guests were all called away from their other occupations to listen to the dispute. Yet the foreign spectator was probably the only person present to whom it occurred that this was an untimely and unseemly proceeding, out of harmony with the time and the circumstances.”
Chinese Wedding Banquet
Wedding in the 1890s The wedding reception is usually in the form of a Chinese banquet. The Chinese wedding banquet usually consists of fish, roast suckling pig, pigeon, chicken cooked in red oil, lobster and desert bun with lotus seeds stuffed inside. Each dish represents a significant wish for the young couple. The fish sounds like 'yu' which means abundance. The roast suckling pig symbolizes bride's purity. Pigeon implies peaceful future while the chicken which also means 'phoenix' cooked in red oil symbolizes a wish for a good life. The lobster is literally called 'dragon shrimp ' in Chinese. The lobster and chicken is a yin yang and represents a balance that must be met like the marriage of man and woman. [Source: Karen Grace Pascual,Tsinoy.com \=]
The banquet has traditionally been as large as the couple’s families could afford. In some villages it could last up to seven days. The purpose of a banquet is for parents of the bride and groom to thank their guests for honoring their children’s marriage. The meal often has 12 courses, including lobster, roast pig, fried rice, noodles and shark fin soup, plus dessert and fresh fruit. While the food is served music is played and a master of ceremonies leads everyone in a series of toasts. Guests often try to trick the groom into publicly displaying his affection for the bride. A scene from an Ang Lee movie set in Taiwan showed a wedding game in which the bride is kissed on the cheek by a series of men kiss and she has to pick the one who is her husband.
Getting married was never easy in every culture. All preparations and cooperation from both sides are needed. There is chaos, miscommunication, panic, almost everything can happen between the preparations and the wedding day itself. But amidst of this all, a wedding, whether Chinese or Filipino, American or African, is a symbol of unity and harmony that man and a woman is bound to. It is, as cliché as it may sound, a celebration of love that will last forever. \=\
Common must-have food for Chinese wedding banquet consists of fish, roast suckling pig, pigeon, chicken cooked in red oil, lobster and desert bun with lotus seeds stuffed inside. Each of these dishes represents a significant wish for the young couple. But nowadays, many Chinese are more open to serving other cuisines. During the reception, members of the entourage are given Ang Paos by the groom’s family. At times, the bride’s family gives Ang Paos to the entourage members as well. /*/
Village Wedding Feast in 19th Century China
In 1899, Arthur Henderson Smith wrote in “Village Life in China”:“If there is anything which the Chinese have reduced to an exact science, it is the business of eating. The sign of real friendship is to invite a man to a meal, and it is a proverbial saying that he who comes bearing a vessel of wine on his shoulder and leading a sheep, is the truly hospitable man, for he shows by his acts that his invitation is a real one. The great mass of the Chinese spend their days in a condition which is very remote from affluence, but the expenses of weddings and funerals in the mere matter of eating, are such as must, from the extent of such expenses and the frequency of the occasions upon which they are required, reduce any but a very affluent family to utter poverty. [Source: “Village Life in China” by Arthur Henderson Smith, Fleming H. Revell Company, 1899]
“In cities and large towns, the business of managing a wedding or a funeral feast, is conducted much as it would be in any country of the West. A food shop contracts to deliver so many bowls of food of a definite quality and at a fixed price. Provision is also made for additional supplies should the number of guests be unexpectedly great. But if the feast is to be on a large scale, it is not unlikely that the cooking will be done on the premises by the professional caterers. It is usual to speak of an affair of this sort as embracing so many “feasts,” a “feast” denoting not a single individual, as might be supposed, but the number who can sit at one table. This number, like everything Chinese, varies in different places. Sometimes it is eight, and the phrase, “eight fairy table” is the common designation of the articles of furniture required for the purpose.In other regions, while all the tables are of the same size and shape as these, one side is left open for convenience in passing the food, and a “feast” signifies six persons only. When the feasts are provided by contract, the establishment also furnishes waiters, who convey the food to the guests, and to these waiters a small gratuity is given at the close.
“In the northern part of China, the two items which prove the most expensive are wheaten bread-cakes (man-t‘ou) and wine. If the accommodation of the dwelling admit of it, the articles which have been bought for the feast are placed in a separate apartment, under the exclusive charge of one of the stewards, by whose order alone can anything be paid out to the kitchen, on demand of the head cook. But in practice it is found that at this point there is always a serious leak, for many of the relatives and neighbours of the family which is to have the feast, will send over their children to the storeroom to “borrow” a few bread-cakes, or a few cups of wine. For a steward to refuse (as a foreigner would be likely to do), is to incur the ill-will of the family which wishes to “borrow,” and the only advantage to the steward would be that he would be reviled, which no Chinese relishes. As a matter of practice therefore, it is customary to “give to him that asketh,” and from him that would “borrow” not to turn away, even though, as the old English saying runs, “Broad thongs are cut out of other people’s leather.”
“The number of families who are within reach of facilities such as these, is but a small proportion of those who are obliged to arrange for feasts at weddings and funerals. For those to whom no such resource is open, there is no other way but to put the matter into the hands of certain experts, of great experience in such matters — a class of persons to be found everywhere. Every village or group of villages can furnish a professional cook, who devotes much of his time to the conduct of affairs of this sort. If he is a man of wide reputation, and employed by rich families, he will have a number of assistants who work under his direction, all of whom at the close of the feast will be rewarded with suitable gratuities.
“The staff of persons into whose hands the business of arranging for a feast is committed, is divided into three departments or committees, the Stewards (chih fang), the Culinary Department (ch‘u-fang), and Finance Department (chang-fang). Each of them is a check upon the other two, although in the smaller and less expensive affairs all three will naturally run together and be merged in a single head. The Stewards purchase such supplies as are supposed to be necessary, embracing the best which the local market affords.
“It not infrequently happens that the stewards who are in charge of the entertainment are smokers of opium, in which case the expenses are sure to be much heavier than otherwise. It has also come to be a custom in some regions, to furnish opium to the guests at weddings, and this may become an item of a very elastic nature. Besides this, a man who smokes opium is naturally incapacitated from taking even ordinary care of the stores under his charge. If he is himself a smoker, and if opium is one of the articles provided for the occasion, it will not be strange if all his opium-smoking comrades embrace the opportunity to visit him, when they must be invited to take a pipe — of course at the expense of the master of ceremonies. The disappearance of wine and bread-cakes, on occasions of this sort, even before a single bowl of food has been set before a guest, suggests the evaporation of water on a hot summer day. It was reported to the writer, that on the occasion of a funeral in a neighbour’s family, about sixty catties of wine vanished, without leaving behind any trace of its devious course.
The real seat of the difficulty is, that every family sufficiently well-to-do to have a large feast is surrounded with a swarm of poor relatives, who have no other opportunities than these to make their connection of any service to themselves, and who on such occasions are determined not to be ignored. A poor family of the same surname as the host will stand at the door of the mansion where a great feast is in preparation, with bowls in hand, demanding that a share of the good things in course of being served shall be apportioned to them. Even if the master of the house should absolutely refuse his consent, and if the stewards should follow his directions and give nothing, it would be of no avail, for the poor family would raise such an uproar as practically to prevent further proceedings, and all the guests would take the part of the poor relatives, exhorting the host to give them what they asked.
Paying for a Village Wedding in 19th Century China
In 1899, Arthur Henderson Smith wrote in “Village Life in China”:“Under the pressure of these inexorable circumstances, the Chinese have long ago hit upon an application of the share principle, by means of which wedding and funeral feasts become quite practicable, which would otherwise remain an utter impossibility. It can seldom be known with certainty how many guests will attend a wedding, or funeral, but the provision must be made upon the basis of the largest number likely to appear. Each guest, or rather each family, is not only expected, but by a rigid code of social etiquette required, as already mentioned, to contribute to the expenses of the occasion by a “share.” This will sometimes be in food, but the general practice is to bring money, according to a scale which is perfectly understood by every one. The amount varies greatly in different places, from a trifling sum of the value of about five or six cents up to a quarter of a dollar or more, according to the degree of intimacy between the persons, and the ability of the guests to contribute. In some parts of China, the ordinary amount taken to such a feast seems to be twice as8 great as in others. Sometimes the standard is so well understood, that the phrase “a share” has a local meaning as definite as if, for example, the sum of 250 cash were expressly named. [Source: “Village Life in China” by Arthur Henderson Smith, Fleming H. Revell Company, 1899]
“In some places while the rate of “a share” for a funeral is 250 cash, that for a wedding is just double. This is because the food at a funeral is “plain” (su), while that for the wedding is of meat (hun) and much more expensive. It is not uncommon to find that “a share” for a person who comes from another city or district is two or three times that of a native of the place where the feast is given. To give only the same as a native would do would be considered for the person from a distance as a loss of “face”!
“It is a characteristic example of Chinese procedure that the sums contributed upon occasions of this sort are in reality seldom what they profess to be. If local custom considers ninety-eight or ninety-six cash as a hundred, the temptation to put in a less number as a contribution is generally too strong to be resisted; the more so as in the confusion of receiving the numerous amounts, it is generally difficult to tell which particular string of cash was sent in by which persons, although the amounts are all entered in an “account,” to be presently noticed.
“Those householders who are very anxious to keep exact track of the relative honesty of the respective contributors, sometimes do so by having ready a long cord to which each successive sum of cash is tied by its string, after the sum is entered on the account. When the proceedings are ended, it will then be possible for the master of the house to go over the multitudinous strings of cash, ascertaining how much each one is short, and tracing it to its donor by its place on the cord, corresponding to the order of entry in the account-book. But this plan is not regarded with favor by the guests, and is not generally adopted, because it makes so much trouble. The advantage of it is that it enables the householder to pay off the debt to8 the family which gave short cash, at exactly the same rate, whenever they invite him to a wedding or a funeral. In some places it is well understood that though each guest contributes “a share” of 250 cash, it will take five “shares” to make 1,000, since every “hundred cash” is in reality only eighty.
“It is the duty of the committee which looks after the finances, to take charge of all sums which may be brought by the guests, and to keep a record of the amount paid by each. This is a matter of great importance, as every such contribution occupies the double position of a repayment of some similar gift to the family of the giver, by the family which now receives the gift, and also of a precursor of similar return gifts in time to come. The amount which is sent by each person will depend upon the relations existing between the families, and especially upon the amount received by them on some former similar occasion. To disregard the unwritten code which demands from guests proportional contributions, is regarded as a grave offence against decorum, because of its serious consequences to the family concerned, in diminishing their receipts.
“To attend a feast, but not to bring any contribution, either in money or in kind, seems to be practically unknown, though it constantly happens that the quantity of food which on certain occasions may be substituted for money, is less than half of what is eaten by the donor. This is especially the case when the giver is a woman, who, as already mentioned, is likely to bring one or more voracious children, who must be pacified by food at every stage of the performances, their capacities being apparently absolutely unlimited.
Chinese Post Wedding Rituals
At the end of the evening, a group of friends accompanies the bride and groom to their hotel room or house and carries out several mildly naughty pranks to tease the newlyweds. When the couple finally retires to their bedroom on their wedding night they often find red sheets on the bed and a young boy laying on the covers. The boy, usually around six- or seven-years-old, often stays with the couple all night in an attempt to help the couple produce a son. After the wedding reception in Fujian, the couple proceeds to their new home and removes the red satin cloth covering the mirror. Then, two single brothers or male relatives of the bride gives the couple Wa Hue set. This is a bouquet of flowers with umbrella and sewing kit. The bride receives the gifts and gives Ang Pao in return. [Source: Jonathan Dionisio, July 13, 2009 /*/]
In 1899, Arthur Henderson Smith wrote in “Village Life in China”:“By a strange exception to the otherwise almost uniform prudishness of Chinese practice, on the occasion of a wedding it is common — although by no means universal — for guests to take the liberty of going into the apartment set apart for the married pair, inspecting the bride as if she were an animal just purchased at a market, openly expressing whatever criticisms may occur. In this as in everything else customs differ greatly, but the phrase “playing pranks in the bridal room” (nao tung-fang) testifies to the frequency of the occurrence. In the year 1893, a native newspaper of Canton reported a case in which the bride was actually killed in this way, by having cold water poured on her, the perpetrators being fined $200 for “consolation money,” and all the costs of remarrying.” [Source: “Village Life in China” by Arthur Henderson Smith, Fleming H. Revell Company, 1899, The Project Gutenberg]
George P. Monger wrote in “Marriage Customs of the World From Henna to Honeymoons”: Three days after the marriage, the bride was expected to return home to her parents, taking presents and a roasted pig for her family. In some regions she would be accompanied by her new husband. This would be the last time she would see her birth family and she would sometimes stay for a couple of days. Tradition demanded that the bride’s family return some of the gifts to the groom’s family as a courtesy, and in some regions they returned the head and tail of the roasted pig to symbolize a good beginning and end of the wedding. [Source: “Marriage Customs of the World From Henna to Honeymoons” by George P. Monger, 2004]
In Fujian the couple visits the house of the bride’s parents three days after the wedding. The day of the wedding is counted as day one, so if the wedding falls on a Sunday, Tuesday will be the third day. The couple will have lunch with the bride’s parents. After the meal, the couple is sent home with a pair of sugar cane branch or a bottle of sugar cane juice and a live rooster and hen placed in a cage. The sugar cane represents sweet and harmonious life. Once the couple gets back home from their visit, they proceed to their bedroom and release the chickens. It is believed that if the rooster comes out first, the first born will be a boy; if it is the hen, then their first born will be a girl. /*/
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Chinese government, 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, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.
Last updated September 2021