Chinese Wedings: Getting Hitched the Chinese Way
A Chinese Wedding Snapshot
The other day I was lucky enough to attend my first Chinese wedding (not my own I hasten to add, although that fateful day my fast be approaching).
From start to finish I found the whole event fascinating, inspiring me to do a little nuptial research.
With the awkward speeches, third rate bands, and incessant family portraits, I'm not a huge fan of Western weddings, but I certainly recommend that every Beijing expat attend at least one Chinese wedding if they get the chance.
Across the world, the wedding day is considered to be a high point in every couple's life (the bride and groom's views may change in retrospect, of course).
How the ceremony unfolds, however, depends as much on culture and geography as it does on personal taste and budget.
For the Chinese, a wedding is a chance for families and communities to draw upon more than 2,000 years of rich tradition, and to ensure that married life gets off to an auspicious start.
Although modern weddings are the latest rage in China, traditionalists need notworry 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 $15,000 on weddings, China's wedding industry is now worth an estimated $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.
From the bride's communal hair dressing (shang tou) in the early hours of the morning, through to the lighting of a "drain and phoenix" candle to ward off evil spirits at night, the wedding day routine is steeped in history.
If you're invited to witness the big event, it's certainly worth doing a little background reading to understand exactly what's happening and why.
text + images by Daniel Allen