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Traditional clothes

China is a big a place and weddings vary quite a bit depending on the region, local laws, ethnic and religious concerns and Western cultures and political ideology. With that in mind weddings are often large, expensive events paid for by the groom's family. The Spartan weddings of the Mao era have been replaced with lavish banquets and expensive presents. For those who can afford it, Western-style weddings, with the bride in a white gown and the groom in a suit and tie, are popular. It is important to Chinese to get married on a lucky day is chosen by a fortuneteller. Sometimes individual clans have their own special traditions, superstitions and customs. [Source: Eleanor Stanford, “Countries and Their Cultures”, Gale Group Inc., 2001]

There are usually three stages involved in getting married in China: 1) legal registration, 2) photo-taking and 3) the wedding banquet. The legal registration is an administrative process that is done without recognition or celebration. It is basically receiving the Chinese government’s approval to be married. Restraints that can delay a wedding, or even lead to the cancellation of marriage plans are the cost and availability of housing and sometimes the cost of the wedding itself if the parents insist on too lavish of a wedding or too large a guest list. [Source: “Marriage Customs of the World From Henna to Honeymoons” by George P. Monger, 2004; “CultureShock! China: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette” by Angie Eagan and Rebecca Weiner, Marshall Cavendish 2011]

Important elements of a Chinese wedding include ancestor worship, elder reverence, vigilance against omens, the use of professional matchmakers and fortunetellers, the ornate gift-giving rituals and patrilineal kinship. The primary objectives are to enhance families and to perpetuate lineage. The element of time likewise plays a major part in Chinese weddings. Compatibility between bride and groom, for one, is more often than not determined by their respective star signs and horoscopes, which are in turn determined by the date and time of their births. The time of the ceremony is carefully picked, again for purposes of adherence to what their horoscopes dictate. [Source: Jonathan Dionisio, July 13, 2009 //] *^]

Good Websites and Sources: Chinese Wedding Traditions ; Wedding Customs ; Wedding Customs ; Wedding Traditions Chinese historical and cultural project ; Wedding Photos ; Wedding Customs ; Northern Shaanxi Wedding Customs China Vista ; Links in this Website: MARRIAGE, LOVE AND DATING IN CHINA ; CONCUBINES AND DIVORCE IN CHINA

Wedding Customs in China

Unlike their Western counterparts, Chinese weddings make extensive use of the color red, for it is believed that the color symbolizes joy and luck. On the other hand, the practice of showering the newlyweds with rice is remarkably present in both cultures. In a marriage, the dragon symbolizes the male role while the phoenix symbolizes the female role. Dragon and Phoenix designs symbolize male and female harmony and a balanced relationship. The motif is rooted in mythology where the dragon symbolizes the Emperor and at his side stands the magically powerful phoenix with her life-giving song. [Source: Jonathan Dionisio, July 13, 2009 //] *^]

Malicious influences are thought to easily repelled by things such veils and red umbrellas. George P. Monger wrote in “Marriage Customs of the World From Henna to Honeymoons”: “ A Chinese practice was to hold a sacred umbrella over the bride’s head to prevent evil influences from harming that sensitive part of the body (she would also be conveyed to the groom’s house in an enclosed sedan chair). [Source: “Marriage Customs of the World From Henna to Honeymoons” by George P. Monger, 2004 ^]

“A Chinese tradition was that if a betrothed girl died before her wedding her betrothed would go to her parents’ house and ask for her shoes. These he would take to his home, stopping at street corners to call upon her to follow. On arriving at his home, her spirit was informed of the fact, and the shoes were placed either on or under a chair at a table. Incense was burned on the table, and a tablet placed in her memory among the family ancestral tablets. Everything was done as if she were present and wearing the shoes. It is considered by some that the idea that a life ^

Arthur Henderson Smith wrote in “Chinese Characteristics” in 1899: ““One of the most characteristic methods in which the Chinese lack of sympathy is manifested is in the treatment which brides receive on their wedding day. They are often very young, are always timid and are naturally terror-stricken at being suddenly thrust among strangers. Customs vary widely, but there seems to be a general indifference to the feelings of the poor child thus exposed to the public gaze. In some places it is allowable for anyone who chooses to turn back the curtains of the chair and stare at her. In other regions, the unmarried girls find it a source of keen enjoyment to post themselves at a convenient position, as the bride passes, to throw upon her handfuls of hay seed or chaff, which will obstinately adhere to her carefully oiled hair for a long time. Upon her emergence from the chair, at the house of her new parents, she is subjected to the same kind of criticism as a newly bought hdrse, with what feelings, on her part, it is not difficult to imagine. [Source:“Chinese Characteristics” by Arthur Henderson Smith, 1894]

Family, Religion and Chinese Weddings

Chinese elders usually play a major role in the Chinese wedding. This role traditionally starts even before the child to be wed is born, when parents arrange for the weddings of their children. Sometimes, couples seek the help of a professional matchmaker, usually an elderly local woman of reputable character. Children, for their part, customarily follow their parents, as dictated by the analects of Confucius. [Source: Jonathan Dionisio, July 13, 2009 //] *^]

Weddings in Buddhist areas have traditionally been secular affairs not endorsed by the Buddhist clergy. But in some places people feel that their marriage needs a religious endorsement. In many cases this involves monks and nuns chanting sutras after the civil ceremony is completed. Marriages are not religious events in Buddhism. Sometimes monks are invited so the couple and their relatives can obtain religious merit. The event is sanctioned by the community and relatives and often oriented as much to show respect for parents as sanction the union between a man and woman.

During a Buddhist wedding, the couple promises to love, respect and be faithful to one another. Often the groom promises to provide gifts and take care of his wife while the bride promises to be hospitable to the family and friends of the groom. When the ceremony is presided over by a monk the couple promises to uphold the teachings of the Buddha. The ceremonies are often held in gardens because they are regarded as pure and uncorrupted by the sufferings of humans.

Dowries, Bride Prices and Wedding Expenses in China

Most traditional marriages involve the paying of a bride price (money paid by the groom’s family to the bride’s family or to the bride). These days a bride price is paid in cash or presents and can total several thousand dollars. In many places the bride's family provides a dowry or pitches in significantly on a house or wedding costs. In many cases the groom's family is expected to provide newlyweds with a new house and bridal purse filled with gold jewelry. This custom began in the 1980s, ironically, not long after the government passed laws prohibiting the giving of gifts in connection with marriage. With the increased prosperity. bride-price and dowry costs have risen dramatically since the 1970s.

These days a man is expected to have a house or apartment before he can get married. Before a man from the countryside can get married he needs at least $10,000 for a house, furniture, and tractor. Many young rural men migrate to the cities to find jobs so they can make enough money to get married.

Wedding expenses are usually shared by the groom and the bride's family or are paid by the groom's family. The groom and bride are expected to save their wages for their future. In Hong Kong the groom's family sends presents to the family of the bride and the groom provides a monetary gift to the bride’s family that may cover the cost of the wedding and pay for a certain number of tables at the wedding reception. Sometimes the bride's family provides a monetary gift for the cost of the banquet.

Auspicious Times for Chinese Weddings

Weddings are usually held in the spring and autumn. May and October are often the busiest months. Certain dates are regarded as inauspicious. The whole month of January, for example, is considered an unlucky month to get married in much of China because it falls before the Spring Festival, a time when the preparations are made to toss out the evil spirits associated with the previous year. The 5th, 14th and 23rd days of the lunar month are considered inauspicious days because of their links to unlucky numbers. Dates with eights are viewed as especially auspicious for weddings because eights, like knots, represent a successful union.

An auspicious date for a wedding is made after conferring with a fortuneteller who makes a decision based on “shengcheng bazi” — the year, month, day and time the bride and groom were born. Shengcheng bazi is also important in determining whether couples are compatible to begin with. Many engagements have been broken off because something is amiss with the couple’s shengcheng bazi.

In Beijing, weddings have been traditionally held before the Spring Festival because people there believe the Kitchen God, who oversees domestic matters, leaves the earth and nothing is forbidden. In 2006 there were a number of wedding at that time of the year because of an unusual quirk in which the lunar calendar included two days that marked the beginning of lunar spring.

AFP reported in November 2011, Chinese couples flocked to registry offices to marry on Friday in the belief that the '11/11/11' date is the most auspicious in a century.Nov 11 has been celebrated as an unofficial 'singles' day' in China since the 1990s - as the date is composed of the number one - and it is seen as a good day to marry and leave the single life behind. But this year is viewed as particularly special because the year also ends in the number 11. More than 200 couples packed into a marriage registration office in downtown Shanghai on Friday morning, some having queued for hours before its doors opened to ensure they were among the first to marry." [Source: AFP, November 12, 2011]

Marriage Compatibility According to the Chinese Zodiac

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wedding cards
The Chinese zodiac sign is based on a 12-year cycle, each year represented by an animal, associated with a specific type of personality. As such, those born under a certain Chinese zodiac also bear the same characteristics of their sign. As ritual to ensuring marital bliss, soon-to-wed couples, consult their Chinese zodiac sign to see if they are compatible with their soon-to-be partner for life. [Source: Jonathan Dionisio, July 13, 2009 /*/]

It is easier to identify incompatible signs of the Chinese zodiac. The main reason why certain zodiac signs are incompatible with one another is because of the clash of their personalities. For example those born under the year of the Dragon (1964, 1976, 1988) are said to have “quick, sometimes vengeful tempers”. They are also known to be aggressive and dominant. With this, they become incompatible with people born in the Year of the Dog (1958, 1970, 1982) since they have “a sharp tongue and a tendency to be a faultfinder”. /*/

Here is the complete list of incompatible signs: 1) Rat (1960, 1972, 1984, 1996) and Horse (1954, 1966, 1978, 1990); 2) Ox (961, 1973, 1985, 1997) and Sheep (1955, 1967, 1979, 1991); 3) Tiger (1962, 1974, 1986, 1998) and Monkey (1956, 1968, 1980, 1992); 4) Rabbit (1963, 1975, 1987, 1999) and Rooster (1957, 1969, 1981, 1993); 5) Dragon (1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000) and Dog (958, 1970, 1982, 1994); 6) Snake (1965, 1977, 1989, 2001) and 7) Pig (1959, 1971, 1983, 1995). /*/

On the other end, there are Chinese zodiac signs that are perfect for each other. They complement the personal traits of their partner’s signs. To establish compatibility, astrologers have grouped each of the twelve signs into four trines. By definition, a trine is a Ptolemaic aspect with an angle of 120̊ (1/3 of the 360̊ ecliptic), represented by the triangle. The trine indicates harmony, and ease of expression, with the two elements reinforcing each other. In Chinese astrology, each trine is evenly spaced at four years apart. People born under similar trines are said to have the same traits, mindset, and personality. This makes the couple with the same group of trine very compatible. /*/

1) First Trine: Rat, Dragon, and Monkey: These three signs are said to be the most powerful signs in the Chinese zodiac. People born under these signs are said to be capable of great good or great evil. When it comes to relationships, they are highly intelligent, charming, yet authoritative. Their relationships are usually intense and would like it to remain that way. 2) Second Trine: Ox, Snake, and Rooster: Members of the second trine are known to conquer life through endurance, application, and slow accumulation of energy. They are meticulous planners, and are very good at it. Also, they are loyal, philosophical, patient, good-hearted, and has high moral values. /*/

3) Third Trine: Tiger, Horse, and Dog: People born in the year of the Tiger, Horse, and Dog can simply be described as the 'true romantics'. They set relationships and personal contacts as their highest priorities. The third trine signs are also productive, engaging, independent, and loyal. They have the tendency be very protective. The three signs do not enjoy being told what to do, but will listen when comes from a person they love or trust whole-heartedly. 4) Fourth Trine: Rabbit, Sheep and Pig: The last trine is a seeker of beauty in life. They are capable of great sacrifices for the sake of their loved one. These three signs are compassionate, caring, sensible, emphatic, prudent, and are very affectionate. Off all the four, members of the fourth trine possess a calmer nature than the rest of the zodiacs. Incidentally, they are fine artists in their lovemaking. /*/

For couples who are neither in the compatible or incompatible group (example, Tiger and Rabbit), the degree of their compatibility may vary. This depends upon their personalities and the nature of their relationship. Whether compatible or not, the married life of a couple depends on themselves. Their love, respect, and understanding for each other should serve as the foundation of their relationship. Their ideals and characteristics may cause conflict at times, but surely, by the end of the day, their love for one another should transcend their differences. Best wishes! /*/

Marriage Ceremony and Lack Thereof in China

Marriages officially take place at the Bureau of Civil Affairs office or some such place in a city hall or local government office. During the procedure the couple present their identification cards and some other documents, fill out some forms and answer a few routine questions. The whole process takes about 15 minutes. Article 7 of the Marriage Law of the People's Republic of China (1986) states: "Both the man and the woman desiring to contract a marriage shall register in person with the marriage registration office." The Chinese equivalent to "Will you marry me?" is "Shall we register?"

The climax of the civil ceremony is often when the couple signs the registry and has their wedding pictures taken, holding up their identification cards, in front of a wall of velvet roses with an emblem for the Chinese government positioned prominently at the top. Many couples get married in their street clothes. Others don a wedding dress and tuxedo or traditional Chinese wedding clothes. Some offices even have wedding clothes that the couple can rent. The Dongchang office in Beijing has an in-house stylist. Wigs, wine, silly string, confetti and candy are available if needed.

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. [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.]

Communist Wedding Ceremonies


Mao era weddings were generally spartan and bureaucratic. The bride and groom did not exchange vows or rings; they performed the civil ceremony in a government office, where they were given a lecture and declared married, and that was often it. Perhaps at a reception afterwards the wedding the bride served tea to some guests and received gifts of money in return.

In the Maoist era, elaborate weddings with frilly wedding gowns, tuxedos and lavish banquets were condemned as selfish and bourgeois. Wedding photos looked more like high school photographs or even mug shots than reminders of the happiest day of one’s life.

One man who was married during the Cultural Revolution in 1973 told the Los Angeles Times he was discouraged from even telling his closest relatives and friends about his marriage. "The neighborhood committee would come to ask us what kind of marriage we would have. If they thought it was too luxurious, they would educate us to make it simple. One of my best friends gave me 40 renminbi [about $5]. That was all her salary for one month."

After the Deng reforms, wedding became happier occasions. Families that could afford it dressed the bride in a Western-style white wedding dress with a long train.

Mao and Deng-Era Marriage Physical

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In the Mao and Deng eras, couples were not allowed to get married until they had a a physical. Among other things the examination made sure that the couple was capable of fulfilling the physical duties required of newly married people. Those that passed were given a health certificate which which they submitted when they got married. The new October 2003 marriage laws also ended the need for the physical.

The doctors who performed the physicals were supposed to be on the look out for “unmarriageable illnesses,” which were not defined but were thought to have including schizophrenia, cancer, mental retardation, muteness and genital deformity. The intent of the examination was to prevent marriages that could cause trouble between the couple or be a burden to the state. Although most Westerners find the idea of such an examination to be an egregious invasion of privacy, many Chinese viewed it as routine inconvenience.

One woman sued the doctor who conducted her physical after her fiancé broke off their engagement because the doctor determined that lines on her abdomen were stretch marks caused by a pregnancy. The woman insisted the lines were caused by weight loss and won a $900 judgment from the doctor but was unable to reconcile with her fiancé. In another case, a construction worker received a “too small” diagnosis from the doctor who conducted his physical. He got the opinion of six other doctors who rated him as “normal” and was able to get married but his wife left him three months later.

Modern Weddings in China

Economic prosperity and the decline of Communist asceticism has brought about an increase in lavish weddings. Businesses cashing in on the profitable marriage industry include photo studios, limousine services, banquet halls and furniture stores. Some party officials have even cashed in by renting their fancy imported cars to wedding parties. In a typical modern wedding, a couple rents pink and green Western-style wedding gowns and suits from a photographic studio and goes to the government office to sign the papers and listen to the lecture. The bride often carries a red umbrella and a bouquet of red roses.

Newlyweds sometimes have several weddings. Ross Terrill wrote in National Geographic that he met a couple that had four different marriages celebrations. The first was a party with university friends (the guest of honor was the classmate who introduced the couple). The groom's parents were divorced and this meant that the couple had to get married in front of each parent separately. The bride's parents, who had not been invited to any of the other three events, insisted the couple couldn't have sex until they were married in the bride's hometown, with her family present.

Gardenside weddings and weddings beside rivers, lakes and the sea have become become popular in recent years. Wacky wedding also occur. After one couple got married in scuba gear in fish tank filled with sharks the aquarium that hosted the wedding received so many inquiries it now offers fixed wedding packages. Poor families have small wedding ceremonies and offer sweets, cigarettes and cheap locally-made liquor to their guests.

Hotel Weddings in China

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Wedding toasts

Wealthy families have their wedding banquets at Western-style hotels with free flowing champagne. It is not unusual for the bride to go through four or five dress changes, beginning with a Western-style wedding dress and then chaning into a Chinese qipao and then a Western-style evening gown.

A wedding at a nice hotel, including lunch for 150, costs around $4,000. The Purple House Wedding Celebration Co. in Beijing markets wedding packages for $5000 with music, decorations and a videotape of the ceremony. A lavish weddings featuring an escort by S-class Mercedes, flowers, gifts, a multi-course banquet for 300 in the best seafood restaurant in town and a photo shoot in front of a replica of the Eiffel Tower costs around $12,000.

Japanese wedding companies have set up shop in Shanghai and other places. They offer package deals for Japanese hotel-style weddings with a decorated aisle for the bride to walk down, dress changes during the reception, an exchange of rings, the lighting of candles at guests’s tables during the meal and a presentation of flowers by the newlywed couple to their parents.

Weddings Photos in China

Most weddings feature a photo shoot in which the couple, dressed in their wedding clothes, pose at well-known monuments or in a local park. In large cities during the peak wedding season it is not unusual for couples to be lined up at particular landmarks waiting their turn to have their photograph taken. The sessions often take all day. In the morning, the couple is dressed up and made up and their hair is styled. In the afternoon they are driven around, often in a fancy car, to where the photographs are taken.

Angie Eagan and Rebecca Weiner wrote in “CultureShock! China”: The real festivities start with an elaborate series of photos that the couple commissions to be taken. Wedding photography has become a huge money-making industry in China. Couples spend entire days dressing up in various rented costumes, having their hair and makeup done, and posing in front of natural and artificial backdrops. On any given auspicious date, parks will be full of couples lined up to have their photo taken. There is a park in Hangzhou, a popular wedding photo destination, that has an entire section of props for wedding photos, from traditional fake-flower covered archways to Gone With the Wind-style porch swings. The most popular wedding photo pose has the bride beautifully coiffed and looking demurely into the camera, while the groom is staring up at her with eyes full of adoration and longing. After hours of this, the couple ends up with a professional album, long before the actual day of the wedding celebration. [Source: “CultureShock! China: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette” by Angie Eagan and Rebecca Weiner, Marshall Cavendish 2011]

Many photography studios have sets and a variety of costumes. The Paris Marriage Plaza in Beijing makes huge profits photographing young grooms in tuxedos and young brides in Gone with Wind outfits, sexy evening gowns or traditional silk brocade dresses in front of "library" or "Garden of Eden" sets. Many of the wedding studios are owned by Taiwanese. The owner of the Paris Marriage Plaza, a former fighter pilot from Taiwan, told the Los Angeles Times that an average of 1,000 couples, paying between $200 and $800 for each photo session, come to his studio every month.

Some elderly couples that were married in cold Communist ceremonies and had their wedding pictures taken wearing drab Mao jackets are turning up at the wedding studios in large numbers to have their pictures taken in cheerful Western-style wedding outfits.

Wedding Shoot for One Chinese Couple

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A wedding shoot by the Miracle Love Marriage photography studio in Beijing cost between $375 and $750 and last nine hours, with five costume changes and pictures in front of the Roman Catholic church, several well known landmarks and parks, plus studio pictures with the couple in angel wings in front of a French salon, a jungle or a Roman monument. For an extra fee teeth can be digitally brightened. [Source: Washington Post]

Brook Larmer, New York Times, “In the poster-size wedding photographs that cover the walls of their home in rural Sichuan Province, the couple frolic in a field of green clover. They nuzzle against a backdrop of autumn leaves. They cuddle on a beach under an azure sky. In each soft-focus image, the bride — a 25-year-old former clothing vendor named Xue Ying — appears in a strapless white gown and a glittering tiara. The groom — Yang Chun, a 37-year-old shuttle-bus driver — wears a white tux and a bow tie; his crooked, nicotine-stained teeth appear straight and white.” [Source: Brook Larmer, New York Times, May 3, 2010]

“The image set against the fall foliage is captioned Romandic Story, in garbled English. On the tropical beach, Xue leans back into Yang’s arms, her veil blowing in a breeze; a smile sparkles on Yang’s face. The caption, again in English, a language neither understands: I Make a Wish With U.” Yang and Xue invited me into their home one afternoon last fall. They married in July and were pleased to show off the trappings of connubial bliss. The dreamscapes were an artifice, a confection of false memories manufactured by a local photo studio. Digital enhancement brightened their smiles, erased their blemishes and slathered their marriage in a gooey layer of romanticism. It hardly seemed to matter that Yang and Xue lived in the mountains of landlocked Sichuan Province in southwestern China and had never been to a beach.” [Ibid]

Collecting of Bride for a Chinese Wedding

George P. Monger wrote in “Marriage Customs of the World From Henna to Honeymoons”: Typically, before the registry, “the bride is collected from her house by the groom and the groomsmen, but today, if possible, they will go in decorated cars, with the bridesmaids trying to prevent them from collecting the bride by making them answer questions and perform tasks to prove the groom’s love and ability to look after the woman. The groom is aided in these tests by his groomsmen. After he has passed all the tests and has given the bridesmaids some red packets, the groom and his party are allowed into the house to greet and collect the bride. [Source: “Marriage Customs of the World From Henna to Honeymoons” by George P. Monger, 2004 ^]

“At this point, the couple serves tea to the bride’s family, beginning with her parents and followed by her other relatives. The relatives give the couple a present in return, usually red packets or jewelry. Sometimes families follow tradition in throwing rice or using a red umbrella as the bride leaves home, and sometimes her parents and relatives will go with the couple to the marriage registrar or church for the wedding ceremony.

“Before going to the registrar, the couple first go to the groom’s family home, where they serve tea to the groom’s family, again with the parents served first, followed by his other relatives, each giving the bride a present of red packets or jewelry. All then go to the government marriage registrar for the signing of the marriage license.

Wedding Banquets in China

Typically after the marriage registry there is lavish banquet with friends, guests and family at a fancy restaurant with 12 courses, often including appetizer, shark fin soup, spicy chicken, seafood, suckling pig, dessert, fresh fruit and long noodles symbolizing long life. The walls are decorated with cardboard cutouts of the Chinese symbols for “double happiness.” Everyone eats and drinks and has a good time. Toasts and speeches are made. There is usually little in the way of formal entertainment other than karaoke singing. Middle class couples typically spend between $250 and $2,500 for the wedding and banquet.

Angie Eagan and Rebecca Weiner wrote in “CultureShock! China”: "Chinese wedding banquets have become a blend of Western customs like saying vows, exchanging rings and pouring champagne, with truly Chinese customs like changing clothes four to five times, rounds of gombei toasts at individual tables, and a game where the bride attempts to light cigarettes for the guests while people playfully blow out the flame before she can accomplish her task. The wedding banquet is an elaborate multi-course dinner theatre that lasts for hours. [Source: “CultureShock! China: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette” by Angie Eagan and Rebecca Weiner, Marshall Cavendish 2011]

George P. Monger wrote in “Marriage Customs of the World From Henna to Honeymoons”: “ The wedding feast is probably considered the most important part of the celebrations. This is more of a parental event than any other part of the wedding. Although the groom, or the couple, usually pays for the feast, each set of parents seeks to impress relatives and command respect for the size and lavishness of the feast. This is sometimes a source of tension between the families. The groom’s family does not want the bride’s family to outnumber them, and at the same time the bride’s parents will want to put on a good show for their own relatives. [Source: “Marriage Customs of the World From Henna to Honeymoons” by George P. Monger, 2004 ^]

Before the food is served, the guests may play mahjong, the Chinese national game, and have their photographs taken with the bride and groom. The best man and maid of honor will toast the bride and groom. When the food is ready to be served, it is announced by the waiters playing a form of xylophone. As the soup is served, the bridal couple go from table to table toasting the guests; during the meal the couple’s friends, groomsmen, and bridesmaids play tricks on the couple, trying to get the groom to publicly show his love for his bride. Some of the games are very outrageous.

During her wedding day the bride will change her clothes four or five times, and after the meal she changes again. When the guests leave, the couple, along with their parents and other relatives, form a line at the door to thank the departing guests for coming. The bridal party then go home; if the couple are staying in a hotel for the night, some of their more persistent friends will track them down and play more tricks on them.

Wedding Presents in China

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wedding hat

The happiest moment of one’s wedding day it is said is not when the couple make their vow or share their first kiss as husband and wife or even have sex but rather is when they finally retire to their wedding chambers and count all the money they receive as gifts. Each of the guests at the feast presents a monetary gift, but often it barely cover the costs of the food. The guests usually give “hongbao” (red packets of money) as gifts not presents as is the custom in the West, with the amounts of money given ranging from 200 yuan ($26) to several thousand yuan depending the closeness of the guest to the bride or groom. A cousin to the bride or groom typically gives 2,880 yuan (about $400), which is a month’s salary for a middle class resident of Beijing. Some Chinese dread getting wedding invitations because of the amount of money involved. The wedding dinner is often not what the guests expect because the bride and groom try to invite as many guests as possible to get as much gift money as possible but then don’t provide enough food for all the guests.

Present are given before, during and after the wedding. The biggest presents are provided by the bride's and groom's family. George P. Monger wrote in “Marriage Customs of the World From Henna to Honeymoons”: “ In the traditional Chinese wedding, the groom’s family sends gifts to the bride’s family, which include cash, food, and sacrifices for the ancestors, and, since the young woman leaves her birth family and becomes part of the groom’s family on marriage, the bride herself takes gifts for the groom, either just before the wedding day or, if she lives far away, on the wedding day. These gifts include jewelry, kitchen utensils, bridal linens, such as sheets and pillow covers, and clothes. Consequently, there is an exchange of gifts between the two families rather than what could be viewed as a buyer/seller exchange. [Source: “Marriage Customs of the World From Henna to Honeymoons” by George P. Monger, 2004 ^]

Newlywed couples are often given a house full of furniture for a wedding gift. A modest gift with "36 legs" includes a bed, sofa, armories, chairs while one with "72 legs" also contains a television, washing machine, refrigerator and microwave oven. Some lucky couples even get a house or an apartment. Friends and relatives that can not provide furniture or appliances are expected to give envelopes containing the equivalent of $30 or $40. Traditionally the groom and his family was expected to provide a place to live while the woman’s family provided furniture and kitchenware.

In the Mao era, newlyweds received presents like thermoses and towels. A woman married in 1982 told the Los Angles Times she received pillows, a dress and a spittoon as wedding gifts. "But what I wanted to get was quilts," she said, "because in 1982, the more quilts you had, the more limelight you got." Silk quilts are traditional gifts given to the bride. These days couples often expect more. Describing her wedding plans, one young single woman told the Los Angles Times, "I will make a list of everything I need, such as cosmetics and a hair dryer, and ask my close friends to buy them for me. I hope other people will give me money. I like to travel abroad. A honeymoon in Hong Kong or even Australia would be nice."

Wedding Night and Honeymoons in China

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Wedding night bed

After the banquet some newlyweds in Shanghai cruise around in new car with life-size Micky and Minnie Mouse sitting in the backseat. At the end of the evening, a group of friends accompanies the bride and groom to their hotel room 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.

Angie Eagan and Rebecca Weiner wrote in “CultureShock! China”: The good times don't "last for long though, most young couples end up living with their parents until they can afford to purchase a house of their own. It is not unusual for multiple generations of family to live together in China. Oftentimes, should a couple afford to buy a house of their own and live independently, it is only a short time until they have a child and need their parents close by to care for the child while they work.”[Source: “CultureShock! China: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette” by Angie Eagan and Rebecca Weiner, Marshall Cavendish 2011]

In the old days most couples couldn't afford a honeymoon. Usually the groom got a few days off from work and the newlyweds stayed at the home of the groom's parents. The couple usually got the best room in the house, which unfortunately also happened to be the television room. This meant that the couple had to share their love nest with other members of the family when their favorite program was on. Couples that did get the opportunity to go on a honeymoon often made love for the first time on their way to their destination in a train compartment shared with three or four strangers. These days many couples can enjoy a honeymoon similar to ones enjoyed in the West.

George P. Monger wrote in “Marriage Customs of the World From Henna to Honeymoons”: “ The custom of the bride returning to her parental home with gifts after three days" — the tradition in the past — is still sometimes observed. In some regions this is simplified to the bride returning home on the same day as the wedding (depending on the distances involved), but she may also leave the house and immediately return and then go to the groom’s house and count that as the “returning home.” Contemporary population laws that have limited families to one child have not only led to a great imbalance of the sexes but have promoted divorce, so that a woman who has a female child is likely to be divorced so that her husband can remarry and try for a male child. There is an imperative within Chinese society to ensure that there are offspring to carry on the name and to worship ancestors.A girl will leave her family on marriage and become part of her husband’s family and consequently have to pay respects to his ancestors. [Source: “Marriage Customs of the World From Henna to Honeymoons” by George P. Monger, 2004 ^]

Money and Weddings in 19th Century China

Arthur Henderson Smith wrote in “Chinese Characteristics” in 1894: ““One of the most characteristic, and for that reason most worthy of notice, is the method in which ordinary weddings and funerals are conducted. In China, each of these occasions involves the expenditure of a great deal of money and the consumption of a great deal of food. In each case, the family which has to provide for the feasts is regarded by all persons concerned as a goose which is to be stripped of as much of its down as possible. All friends of the family are supposed to send in their contributions in the shape of money or food, and each one who sends in either money or food, makes it his business to see that what he takes out in eating is as much more than what he put in as possible. In the case of women this is easy, for each of them attends with one or more small children, which, as in other parts of the world, are the terror and the despair of the hosts. [Source:“Chinese Characteristics” by Arthur Henderson Smith, 1894]

“The ' kitchen is at some distance from the hall in which the feast is served, and on these occasions it is well understood, that all that any one can succeed in carrying off for himself is in a manner lawful plunder. We are assured on the best authority, that in the case of rich families, it is often the case that there is as much stolen as there is eaten, the very dishes themselves often disappearing in the, confusion. But why, asks the innocent foreigner, does not the master of the house surround himself with his own people, so that he can be sure of fair treatment? The answer is, that this is exactly the root of the trouble. No family is so rich as not to have a cloud of poor relatives, and these occasions are the ones in which these poor relatives reap,the only benefits which they derive from their kinship with these who are better off than themselves. If the master of the house were to exclude them altogether, they would not only steal in some other way, but they would take care to do so in such a manner that he would be disgraced by the insufficiency of his provision, a disgrace which, it need hardly be said, he dreads more even than the loss of his goods. Well aware of this state of things, he considers it cheaper to let the pilferers have their way, which they always do.

“But this is by no means all. The gifts of each guest are sent to a particular place, and an exact entry of them is made at the time, so that the master of the house may know how much he is out of pocket when the affair is over. The most skillful writer of accounts in the village is asked to superintend the registration of the gifts, which he is generally willing enough to do. But he does not do it for nothing. Much of the money is sent in brass cash, and it is easy to make a mistake of a few hundred in the counting, and to transfer the balance to the leg of his trousers, where it will never be seen. Some of the money will be in cash notes, and if so the concealment of them is all the easier, and the accounts will be so arranged as to cover the deficit, or a name may be omitted altogether, for the guests do not go to the host with matters of this sort. If a guest is on good terms with, the keeper of accounts, it is easy to make an entry of a thousand cash, which has no corresponding funds to represent it and then to “cover it in" with the rest, by which means a guest gets credit for a handsome contribution which has never made.. It is easy to see how everyone of these evils could be wholly prevented. If each guest, for example, were to bring a card, which he left with the host, and then send the money with a similar card to the accountant, ' the latter would have no opportunity to commit petty frauds, but in that case the guest would find the temptation to write a fictitious amount too strong for him, as the keeper of accounts would then certainly be suspected. Besides, the master of the house will himself be the keeper of accounts for some one else at some other time, ' and he perhaps doubts whether it is altogether for his own highest interest to hedge up the way too closely. In all departments of their life, family, political, and national, the Chinese act upon the assumption that too strong apressure is sure to result in an explosion. For this reason, . every prudent Chinese is by the proverbs of everyday life, as well as by his own instincts, prevented from pressing things to extremities.

Image Sources: except 1890s phot0, University of Washington, wedding procession, Xinhua, and studio and park photos, Nolls China website

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2021

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