It took me a while to attend my first Chinese wedding. I’ve seen the traditional processions on the streets, the photo displays in hotels, and the marketing power that is the 80 billion dollar wedding industry in China. It wasn’t until September 2013 that I experienced it as a friend, and this month gave me my 2nd and 3rd opportunities.
Weddings in China are one of the ultimate cultural experiences. Many times, marriages still rely on arrangements, contracts, dowries, and family pressure. Families determine the lucky day and time for a couple to be married. One friend signed her marriage license at the Civil Affairs Bureau in November, but didn’t have her reception until this month because the families were worried about a marriage in the Year of the Horse. The license meant they were actually married 6 months before the bride donned the white dress. From what I’ve read, this giant industry is one of the many ways capitalism has entered this communist country. Thirty years ago, they say it was license, then a family dinner, move into the new apartment, done. Now, families save so much money for the photos, apartment, decorating, dresses, meal, gifts, etc.
Rather than having photos taken after the ceremony, as is the tradition in other parts of the world, brides and grooms have wedding packages assembled to be shown at the reception. Today, that slide show included video of the gorgeous couple around Shenyang, at their church, etc. It looked like they’d jumped off the pages of a fashion magazine!
When you arrive at the wedding feast, there are usually a few things on the tables – small snacks, some type of seed or nut, cigarettes, bai jiu (Chinese liquor), and beer. Welcome to our wedding – snack and smoke while you wait for us to make our entrance. Guests prepare their little red envelopes (hong bao 红包) in order to present the bride and groom with a monetary gift. Brides and grooms make the rounds to each table, pouring drinks, lighting cigarettes and talking. Friends will make the couple “do tricks” in order to receive their hong bao. In our group of school colleagues, these games are fun, albeit a little cruel. Of the 3 weddings I’ve been to, the bride wears a white dress at the beginning and changes clothes once or twice. There has always been a red dress among them, and my friends chose not to dress in a traditional qipao, but rather in fashionable and gorgeous full length gowns (complete with bling!).
At the weddings I have had the pleasure to attend, the brides were all work colleagues and friends. All three couples are in love. I’ve seen them together and have no doubt. None seem to want to have children right away, though the family pressure is probably high. All were ready to move in together by the time of the reception. As is tradition in China, the husband provides an apartment, and depending on the family’s wealth, other gifts.
One of the parties was a dinner. They had done the official reception in their hometown outside of Shenyang, so they hosted a local dinner for friends. It was in a simple and very good local restaurant.
The second was a big event. The restaurant provided a handsome master of ceremonies for introductions, speeches, jokes, etc. One friend was surprised he was so handsome because “he shouldn’t be more handsome than the groom”. The bride is a Christian so they did a church blessing on the stage at the restaurant and had prayers with family as well. At one point in the presentation, they went to light what I thought was a unity candle, but it was actually a unity firecracker… with a bubble machine in the background. She had three dresses, including a gorgeous modern take on a qipao.
The third event was very special. They attend a local church and held the ceremony there. Church members and friends sang to them. The pastor performed what we saw as a traditional ceremony, though there were a whole lot of words we didn’t know. After, guests walked or drove the few blocks to a friend’s restaurant for the reception. She was an absolutely beautiful bride, never more so than when she wiped a tear from her husband’s cheek during the vows. Being there today, we all shared in their love and happiness.
So, you are cordially invited to take a look at a few pictures from these three weddings. I’m sure Songjia, Elim and Xiao Bing would have welcomed you too.