Chinese wedding is rooted in tradition, but is also an evolving system. From dress to food and to flowers, it is a busy event, says a writer in China.
So, a lot influences a Chinese wedding, as traditional beliefs and practices are rooted in diverse ideologies.
Likewise, the modern world has also influenced Chinese weddings.
As a result, you will see some Chinese families who will have a traditional wedding.
However, you will also find some families that are having a modern wedding.
So, this article is really focused on the traditional Chinese wedding.
Therefore, everything you read here will be more “mainstream” than anything else.
A Chinese wedding is a celebration that incorporates elements from various aspects of our culture.
For example, folk religion and influential belief systems such as Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism are all part of it.
In our culture, marriage signifies the union of two families rather than individuals and embodies the virtues valued throughout Chinese history.
Matchmaking is a big part of it, although it can be challenging due to gender restrictions in rural areas and the rising bride prices in urban areas.
In modern times, marriage markets and online platforms are used to find suitable partners.
And, of course, when it comes to the actual wedding, planning revolves around selecting auspicious dates with the guidance of fortunetellers or matchmakers.
The groom’s family traditionally takes on financial responsibilities, including the bride price.
Inviting guests involves both extended family and close friends, and red invitations are used to symbolize joy and vitality.
Naturally, there’s a party, like everywhere else. Chinese wedding parties can seem like a “conference” to people in modern times, but traditional ones are held at home.
Dowry Gifts are exchanged between both families before the wedding, including bride price, cakes, alcohol, and symbolic items.
Some of the interesting things about Chinese weddings include something we call a “bedding ceremony.”
The Bedding Ceremony involves blessing the marriage bed with red bedsheets and lamps by an older woman, symbolizing luck and the hope for a happy family.
Finally, a Civil Registration at the local Civil Affairs Bureau is necessary to legally register the marriage and obtain the red marriage certificates, which resemble passports.
Chinese Wedding Traditions
So, the folk religion (shén jiào), which is the most widespread religion in China, influences a wedding the most.
Of course, there are also other religious ideas, including some born out of the folk religion.
For example, Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism have contributed to the beliefs about marriage.
So, while Taoism and Confucianism are Chinese, Buddhism is a foreign religion rooted in India.
Likewise, there are foreign religions like Islam and Christianity, as well.
Nevertheless, they all somehow contributed to our beliefs.
However, we will focus on the central beliefs of the folk religion (and its daughter religions).
So, marriage is one of the virtues a Chinese person hopes to cultivate in life.
Because marriage is the base of filial piety, it is also a marriage between the two families.
Meanwhile, as Chinese society is patriarchal, the married couple is part of the patriarchal family.
As a result, a wedding is the initiation of the families.
Therefore, as we go through the steps of a wedding, you will learn more about these beliefs.
Meeting someone is not as easy as you expect in China.
For example, in rural areas, the mixing of sexes is frowned upon.
“I’m not allowed to talk to boys,” is what many girls will tell you.
On the other hand, big cities are home to some financial difficulties.
For example, big cities see rising bride prices, which makes it almost impossible for some men.
That is why there are marriage markets in most big cities.
For example, in Beijing, we have a marriage market at Zhongshan Park.
It takes place on Sundays.
Families go there and advertise for their single children.
“My son is working too much,” says Wei, whose son works in a large company. “Of course, he doesn’t want to marry those career girls,” she adds. “I want to find him a good wife.”
But, like many parents in this market, she is very picky!
For instance, she wants a woman who finished university but is a traditional-minded.
Likewise, this mother hopes the future daughter-in-law’s family will help her son with a home!
Similarly, she wants to negotiate that the daughter-in-law will have a child within 2 years.
“Too many restrictions,” says Zizhen, whose daughter is working. “Maybe she can go to rural areas,” she says, behind Wei’s back.
Of course, there is the old fashion system of matchmaking, too.
However, there are also popular matrimonial websites, the top one being Jiayuan.
Likewise, there are dating websites that are not as focused on marriage as Jiayuan.
However, the general purpose of meeting in China is for marriage, not just “kiss” many frogs.
So, a wedding is entirely guided by auspicious dates, which is controlled by the Chinese calendar.
For example, dates for proposal, announcement, and wedding are all according to auspicious dates.
It is a complicated process.
For example, let’s say a boy meets a girl and they decide they like each other.
Great, but now the family must know if it works.
Because it can lead to headaches, a family will hire a fortuneteller or matchmaker to smooth the process.
So, the professional will look at several details.
For instance, they will look at the birth dates of the couple.
This is to see if it is an excellent match, to begin with.
After that, an auspicious day will be picked to meet the other family and propose.
Meanwhile, we also need auspicious days for the actual wedding.
Because everyone marries on auspicious dates, some wedding venues may not be available for up to a year!
So, unlike in the West, the groom’s family pays for the Chinese wedding.
Of course, this includes the bride price!
As a result of the one-child policy, the bride price has become so expensive that the government had to step in.
However, no one cares about the fixed price by the government, and families demand their worth.
In other words, expect to pay a lot if you are a Chinese groom.
So, once the proposal and auspicious dates are settled, the next step is to start the invitation process.
The families will gather and decide whom to invite.
Because this is a family affair, both sides’ families are first counted before friends are counted.
For example, Chinese families don’t just invite “immediate” family but extended family!
So, as a family can be all over the country and world, invited guests must be given proper time.
For instance, it is not uncommon to issues invitations months in advance.
Meanwhile, invitations are traditionally printed on red paper, as red represents celebration, fertility, and vitality in traditional color symbolism.
Finally, invitations can be open or limited.
Because this is a family affair, both families give each other gifts.
So, from days and up to a month before the wedding, the bride in-laws gifts (guo dàlǐ) are delivered.
This is delivered from the groom’s side to the bride’s side.
Because it includes the bride price, some people just translate the phrase to bride price when it is so much more!
For instance, gifts delivered to the in-laws include cakes, alcohol, oranges, candles, and more.
Likewise, gifts have special meaning.
For instance, the candles are a dragon (representing the groom) and phoenix (representing the bride).
Meanwhile, the in-laws will also gift the other family.
So, the groom in-laws gifts (jiàzhuāng) are delivered as well.
For example, they may return some of the bride prices back to the groom’s family.
This is a way to show they are united in effort.
Meanwhile, there are specific gifts, as well, from the bride’s family.
For instance, it is traditional to present the groom’s family with towels.
Likewise, such gifts include a tea set, which symbolizes something very important.
So, in Chinese filial customs, the daughter-in-law is expected to present tea to her parent-in-laws every morning.
Therefore, by including the tea set, the bride’s family encourages their daughter in her duties.
And, of course, this is all done on auspicious dates that were already planned!
Yes, China also has a bedding ceremony (ān chuáng).
So, the bed on which the couple will sleep is blessed before the actual wedding.
Because the culture focuses on luck, the person blessing the bed has to be a lucky woman.
First of all, the bed represents a woman, as it is “laid on,” so to speak.
So, that is why it is a woman blessing it and not a man.
Then, the question becomes, how do we decide what makes a woman lucky?
For instance, a woman whose husband, children and grandchildren are alive is such a woman!
After all, that is precisely who we are all hoping the bride will become.
Therefore, the person blessing the bed tends to be an older woman.
Meanwhile, the bed has specific things.
For instance, the bed has to have red bedsheets and side lamps, which, as previously noted, is a color that represents good things.
Likewise, this older woman will place a plate full of things on the bed.
So, the plate has items like even-numbered oranges, dates, lotus seeds, and more!
Meanwhile, the bed items have special meaning.
For example, the two red lamps symbolize sons, as the word for “lamp” sounds like the word for “son.”
In other words, the lucky woman is placing sons on their bed!
Afterward, when the lucky lady is done, an actual boy is asked to jump on the bed!
Again, of course, the bridal bed is made on an auspicious date.
Before the wedding day, many Chinese couples will register their marriage legally.
So, this is handled at the Civil Affairs Bureau (mínzhèngjù), which has local offices throughout all the provinces.
Of course, some couples choose to go there afterward.
No matter when you go, the wedding is not really legal until you get the certificate.
Meanwhile, in China, the certificate is not just one but two.
They are red and look like passports.
Another essential part of the wedding is the wedding photos (hūnshā zhào).
So, unlike the West, people in China will hire a professional photography studio for more than photos.
For example, these photo studios will allow you to rent wedding outfits.
That is, you can choose to be photographed in whatever style you like!
So, of course, due to the popularity of historical dramas, many people choose ancient clothing.
Likewise, a photo studio can allow you to be photographed in exotic background or location.
As a result, the cost varies from one studio to studio and from one package to the next.
Meanwhile, some couples choose to have their official photos done long before the wedding.
Of course, there are also those others who do it on the day of.
However, most will have it done before the actual wedding.
On the other hand, there are also wedding photos taken during the day of the wedding.
Because many families and friend comes to the wedding day, the couple, of course, wants to remember.
So, yes, wedding photos everywhere.
So, a couple of things happen the night before the wedding.
For example, the family of the bride will set up and light two dragon candles.
Likewise, the family of the groom will light two phoenix candles.
Therefore, this is a double representation of good luck, as each family wishes double luck for the other.
Meanwhile, there is a hair combing custom (shàng tou), which applies to both the bride and groom.
In other words, it needs to be done respectively in their homes.
For this, you will need a lucky woman, once again!
So, the groom’s ceremony starts first, and the bride’s follows.
So, the wedding day will start with the bride eating a meal at her home.
Because she is joining a new family, this is her last meal as an unmarried woman.
As a result, the meal is called the sibling’s feast and is enjoyed with the maiden family.
However, it is really not a feast.
Instead, they enjoy a simple meal together.
Different regions of China will enjoy different types of meals.
For example, some areas will have rice and fish, but other regions will have soup.
So, the traditional Chinese wedding dress is a red dress with a phoenix crown (fèngguān), as phoenix represents the bride.
Because the dress can be long and tunic (qún guà), it can be worn in a two-piece or one piece.
“Mine was very heavy,” says Jie. “It had a lot of embroidery on it.”
Meanwhile, sometimes brides will choose a simple red dress without fuss.
However, some modern brides are wearing a modern version of the red dress.
Similarly, a lot of modern brides are choosing to wear Western-style dresses these days, too.
So, it depends.
Then there is bride fetching (jiē xīnniáng), which is a big part of the wedding!
So, the groom and his groomsmen will approach the home of the bride, bearing gifts.
For instance, they will bring meat for the mother and auspicious items like tangerines for all.
However, he does not get to take the bride so quickly, as the bridesmaid will have him pass the door games.
The door games (jiēqīn yóuxì) are set up as part of the reluctance to give the daughter away.
For example, the groom might be asked to drink disgusting things.
“My husband had to eat a wasabi sandwich,” says Xiao, who admits it was a trend at some point. “I felt so bad for him,” she adds.
So, the groom has to prove himself.
Once he does, the bride is taken to his home.
So, the wedding ceremony (hūnlǐ) is probably the most crucial aspect of the wedding day.
After all, it is what makes the wedding a “wedding.”
Meanwhile, the following is for a typical wedding in Han Chinese.
Because it is a public matter, the wedding ceremony must occur during the banquet.
As a result, the couple will get on stage with the efficient.
They will bow three times, the groom leading the bride.
One bow is for God, one for family, and one for their marriage.
Likewise, they will kneel in front of one another and share wedding wine.
Then small parts of their hair are cut and tied together in a knot, which symbolizes their union.
Because marriage is a commitment, the couple then stands up and says their vows.
Afterward, the couple is pronounced married.
The reception is really wild in Chinese cultures and totally depends on the family and area.
For example, traditional families might have an afternoon banquet, and that is it.
Afternoon banquets are more typical with families in rural areas where traditions run deep.
However, many modern families choose to also have a reception in the evening.
I would say most of the people in big cities do an evening reception.
So, what takes place at a wedding reception?
Collection of Gifts
Some people bring gifts and money to weddings, depending on the culture.
For example, in most areas, people bring money to the reception, and usually in red envelopes.
Money is given because banquets can cost a lot.
For instance, a middle-range banquet in Shanghai or Beijing can cost around $20,000.
So, there is usually someone collecting them at a table.
Because Chinese people give a lot of importance to numbers, there are several numbers associated with a reception.
For example, in big cities, it is common to start a reception at 18:18.
That is, 18 minutes after 6pm.
So, the double 1 is representing the groom and bride.
However, the double 8 represents double luck, because the number 8 is the luckiest in China.
Chinese wedding receptions feature flowers and a lot of them.
There is a long tradition of floral association with happy occasions.
As a result, a wedding will feature flowers such as orchids, peonies, and daffodils.
In Chinese traditions, each flower has a special meaning.
For example, orchids, which are probably most famous, represent fertility and harmony.
Likewise, peonies and daffodils, which are spring flowers, represent a new beginning.
So, a Chinese wedding reception will use flowers to create floral corridors, which couples will walk under.
Similarly, floral arrangements are used on the tables.
There is usually a platform or some sort of a stage at city weddings.
On the stage, there is typically an emcee, who will present most of the reception events.
Entertainment might include the emcee offering funny jokes, which is why many people invest in comedian emcees.
Another element of the entertainment is that sometimes family members tell crazy stories, and usually about the groom.
Finally, a significant entertainment portion is a drunken karaoke, which is really funny.
Food and Toasts
There is plenty of food at Chinese wedding receptions.
Generally speaking, food is served towards the end.
Then toasting begins, which can take a while.
For example, the couple is toasted by their family members, and sometimes even close friends will offer a toast.
Meanwhile, the couple has to go up to each table and toast!
So, depending on the family, a couple could change clothes as much as five times in one reception!
A couple might start out with traditional Chinese wedding attire.
Then, sometime later, they will change into western style wedding attire.
Afterward, they might change into modern clothing.
And, of course, they might change one more time as they leave the reception.
What to Wear to Chinese Wedding
A popular question asked by non-Chinese friends and family is about to wear to a Chinese wedding.
The answer is that it depends on the couple, their families, and the location.
For example, if it is a mixed-ethnic wedding, it is important to wear something that works for both sides.
Likewise, if it is a modern and traditional couple, then you can dress whichever way you want.
Similarly, a Chinese wedding in a big city will generally be open to diverse dressing.
Meanwhile, sometimes all of the above can take place.
For instance, I went to a very interesting wedding in Beijing last year.
It was between a Cantonese man and British woman.
So, I dressed in a western style clothes.
Chinese Marriage Laws
China is a society that formed over thousands of years, through many different states and empires.
It is a society that was cultivated over time, and the culture of marriage was its heart.
One Chinese proverb compares a husband and wife to clothing (fūfù rú yīfú).
Meanwhile, modern China has had marriage laws that dramatically affected these ideas.
First Marriage Law of 1950
The first marriage law in modern China was in 1950 and was called First Marriage Law or xīn hūnyīnfǎ.
Of course, this was just a year after the People’s Republic of China was established.
So, you could say it was a top priority for officials because marriage in China was holding together families and traditions.
What did this law undo?
Well, men could no longer take as many wives as they pleased because the law limited wives to just one.
Another significant change was that forced marriages were outlawed, which legally prevented families from selling their daughters.
Likewise, women could ask for a divorce, which was unheard of before.
By the mid-1950s, around 90% of new marriages were able to meet these requirements.
Second Marriage Law of 1980
By the mid-1970s, the authorities realized that the marriage laws had to be revisited.
For instance, the legal marriage age was raised to 20 for women and 22 for men.
That is, this new law wanted full adults to get married.
Likewise, the law asked new couples to agree to birth control and have only one child.
What was also new about this law was its preference for women and children.
For instance, if a divorce isn’t amicable, the wife and children would have state support.
Third Marriage of 2000
By the 1990s, big cities in China began to resume what resembled the old concubine system.
It became popular in cities like Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou that a husband could have several women.
Unlike the traditional system, they were not living together, as these richer men were able to home the women separately.
So, in 2000 an effort was made to outlaw this, leading to the 2001 amendments to the marriage law.
A wedding is a significant life event for the Chinese people.
So, in this article, several major aspects of Chinese weddings are tackled.
For example, cultural elements, such as religious beliefs about marriage, are discussed.
Likewise, modern marriage laws are discussed.
Meanwhile, the actual wedding sections are detailed.
For instance, there is a section about what to wear.
Likewise, there is another section on how to propose.
Similarly, there is even a section on when to decide on a wedding.
Li Xiu Ying is a travel writer and is the author of Beijing Travel. She writes about China for Caravanzers.