Chinese Culture: To Get Hitched is Glorious
A Beijing Wedding Album
Modern weddings are the latest rage in China, but traditionalists needn't worry that the past is being buried. Today, Chinese weddings tend to mix the latest fashions with affectionate nods to the rituals of yesteryear.
With the Chinese currently spending an average of US$15,000 on weddings, China's wedding industry is now worth an estimated US$200 billion a year, and catering to the needs of brides and grooms-to-be has become big business.
In the past, the prospective bridegroom's side would send letters to the family of the bride. There were a total of three letters (known as san shu). Firstly, gifts were presented together with a letter requesting the marriage. If the bride's family agreed to the wedding then more gifts were given to them, together with a letter detailing which gifts had been given to whom. On the day of the wedding, a third and final letter was presented to the bride's family to show that the bride had become a member of the groom's family.
Nowadays most Chinese families have stopped using the three-letter wedding procedure, although much of the ritualized modern wedding ceremony has its roots in the past. Below is a photographic record of one Beijing couple's big day.
Chinese Wedding Photos
(1)-(6): After waking at 5.30am the bride prepares for the big day, helped by friends and a hired make-up artist.
(7): The blushing bride.
(8)-(11): The wedding saloon, typically decorated with floral bouquets.
(12) All those attending the wedding sign the qianmingbu ("guest book"), kept by the bride and groom as a special memento of the big day.
(13) The happy couple enter the banquet room, greeted with rose petals and applause from their guests. In Chinese society, the wedding banquet is known as xi jiu (喜酒, or "joyful wine"), and is far more important than the wedding itself. Tea and wine are presented to parents and guests in a show of respect, love and friendship.
(14) The bride and groom express vows of loyalty and love, as the bridesmaid and best man look on.
(15) & (16) The couple exchange rings. Rings have been exchanged at Chinese weddings since the 11th century.
(17) The bride and groom drink each other's health.
(18) & (19) The bride and groom take their bows. It is traditional for couples to bow three times- once to thank god, once to thank their parents and once to thank each other.
(20) The groom's uncle shows guests the couple's marriage book. It contains the marriage certificate with date, official stamp and picture.
(21) The bride tosses her bouquet toward a crowd of eager (and single) female guests.
(22) The groom offers a cup of tea to the bride's mother. Both bride and groom offer tea to their parents-in-law in this way, and then say "baba" or "mama" to their new parent. The parents-in-law reply with a loud confirmation.
(23) Bride and groom receive a hongbao ("red parcel") from their parents-in-law, containing money. At this wedding, the bride's parents gave the couple 999 RMB, a number which signifies a long and happy life together (tian chang di jiu). The groom's parents gave 1001 RMB, which signifies that each has picked a special partner from a thousand others (qian li tiao yi).
(24) The groom attempts a wedding lift.
(25) The bride changes into a tangzhuang. This traditional piece of Chinese clothing, which originated at the end of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), is still very popular at Chinese weddings.
(26) Fun and games. The bride and groom re-enact part of a Chinese play called zhubajie bei xifu (literally "pig carries his wife").
(27) Cigarettes, Chinese wine (baijiu) and wedding candy to toast the wedding guests.
(28) Bridesmaid carries the toasting tray. She will help the couple toast every wedding participant. Usually the baijiu is watered down otherwise the bride and groom would become swiftly inebriated.
(29) Bride lights a cigarette for a wedding guest.
(30) Wedding cakes. In the centre are two Chinese xi characters placed together, representing ultimate joy. This "double happiness" symbol is mainly used at weddings.
(31) Wedding candy (with the "double happiness" symbol).
(32) Wedding candy, given to the bridesmaid to say thank you for her services.
(33)-(35) Professional marriage albums, with photos taken in various settings before the wedding ceremony. This style of album is extremely popular now in China and can cost a small fortune.
text + images by Daniel Allen