Chinese weddings can be vastly different from traditional weddings. If you have the privilege of being invited to one OR you’d just love to learn more about the super interesting aspects of Chinese weddings that makes them so special, there are some things you should read up on:
No.1: [Like in most cultures] There’s a set order things are done in. And it’s slightly different to the West.
First of all, both sets of parents have to consent to the match before an engagement can happen.
Before the marriage can happen, generally the groom’s family has to provide the house or apartment for the couple so start their new married life in.
On the other side, the bride’s family will often provide a car and a ‘dowry’. The amount has a lot of regional variations but will often be an auspicious sounding number like 88,888. However, as China as modernised and ‘love matches’ are more common, many families will say these material considerations are less important.
Once the marriage has been agreed by both families, the official marriage certificate will be obtained from government offices — often months before the actual wedding. Also done before the actual wedding day are the wedding photo! The photos are then ready soon enough to be used on the invitations and to decorate the venue.
The order things are done in on the wedding day also differs to many western weddings. Before they leave for the wedding venue, the groom collect the bride from her parents home and carry her to the new home. In urban China, apartment buildings with 7 stories or less don’t require elevators, so the stairs can be a challenge!
When the bride and groom arrive at the venue, they’ll change outfits at least once over the course of the wedding. Typically, Chinese weddings have 2 outfits for the bride and groom; a traditional Chinese style outfit [usually a red dress for the bride] and the more western white bridal gown and suit and tie.
In China, a ‘wedding’ is mostly the wedding reception; food is very much at the centre [literally and figuratively] and lots of speeches are given. Talking over the speeches has been common at most of the weddings we’ve attended. Later in the meal, the bride and groom will go around to each table and toast their guests, usually with strong baijiu [Chinese alcohol]. Chinese women don’t typically drink, so this can be SUPER challenging for the bride!
Finally, the wedding finishes with ‘disturbing the bridal room’. All the friends will gather in the bridal chamber and play games together. This brings us to the second big thing you should know about Chinese weddings…
No. 2: Wedding teasing is a long standing tradition in China. It’s rooted in the ancient Chinese tradition of the bride and groom not meeting until the wedding day, which caused a lot of tension and suspense when they finally saw one another for the first time. To relieve this tension, ‘wedding teasing’ began and still continues today.
No matter what happens, the bride and groom are supposed to be ‘good sports’ about going along with the tasks and not get angry about the teasing! A lot of the ‘teasing games’ involve activities that make the bride and groom get uncomfortably close to one another, or close to other members of the same gender (i.e. the groom with his groomsmen, the bride with her bridesmaids).
The goal of teasing is to help the couple feel more comfortable with one another in their new roles of husband and wife and to create a fun, light hearted atmosphere for the wedding to happen in. More recently, the teasing has occasionally gone too far and some have even resulted in lawsuits…so much for not getting angry about it!
No. 3: The third and – for those of you invited to a Chinese wedding – most important thing to know is what’s expected of guests at weddings.
If you’ve been invited to a wedding, you’ll notice that the invitation is much more elaborate than what we’re used to in the West. Often they come with a bag of candies or other small gift and they invitations themselves are usually BEAUTIFUL.
Again, unlike in the West, guests aren’t expected to get dressed up. Jeans and t-shirts are completely acceptable! Importantly, in China, gifts aren’t given but red envelopes containing cash for the happy couple are expected. The amount you gift is usually based on; how close you are in relationship to the couple (i.e. you should gift more to close friends or close family members), how expensive the venue is as you should at a minimum cover the cost of your place at the table and how many children you’re taking to the wedding with you.
Like the dowry, amounts with numbers that have special meanings are appreciated. Some older generation Chinese keep a note of how much each person has gifted in their red envelope and will gift the same in return when the guest’s children eventually get married! That’s some dedication to gifting appropriately!
Finally – enjoy the food! Food is the main part of wedding celebrations, so take your time and savour the dishes. Typically, rice is brought out at the end as a ‘filler’, so if you request rice or help yourself to it too early on, it can look like you’re suggesting the hosts haven’t provided enough food. And in every culture, it’s bad form to insult the bridal party at a wedding!