Chinese Weddings in modern China combine both traditional elements and elements influenced by the West. The actual civil Chinese ceremony consists of registering the marriage with the local registrar is brief and done without much ceremony. The Chinese wedding reception, however, is elaborate and complex. The one prominent element of modern Chinese weddings is the Chinese wedding album.
Chinese Wedding Customs and Traditions
Traditional Chinese customs include the so-called” three letters and six etiquette”. The “three letters” involve a series of three written letters (”request letter”, “gift letter” and “wedding letter”) being hand-delivered in sequence by the groom’s family to that of the bride through an elderly female envoy/liaison from the groom’s family. The “six etiquette” consists of six steps that are carried out prior to and during the wedding day. In the first step, the groom’s family’s envoy communicates the offer of marriage to the bride’s family and attempts to persuade the bride’s family to accept. If the offer is accepted by the bride’s family, the two families negotiate the terms of the marriage. In the second step, the groom’s family, via its envoy, requests the bride’s family to disclose the eight Chinese characters that mark the date and hour of the bride’s birth. A fortune teller is then hired to analyze the date and hour of the bride’s birth with the date and hour of the groom’s birth to see if the bride’s date and hour of birth are compatible with those of the groom. The third step consists of the groom’s family sending some initial gifts to the bride’s family. The fourth step is where the groom’s family will pick a “good day” to send their formal Chinese wedding gifts to the bride’s family and to send gifts, cash, cakes and food for use in ancestral worship. The fifth step is the selection, by the hired fortune teller, of a “good day” for the actual date of the Chinese wedding ceremony.
The sixth and final step in the Chinese tradition is the wedding day ceremony itself. The interior of both families’ homes are decorated in red, while the bride and groom are dressed in red with the bride’s face being veiled in a red cloth. A procession of servants and musicians from the groom’s family picks up the bride from her family’s home and delivers her, in a carriage, to the groom’s family’s home. The bride’s gifts to the groom would be delivered to the groom at this time only if the bride is a “long distance” bride who does not live in the same area as the groom. Otherwise, her gifts should have been sent a few days prior. With relatives and friends witnessing, the bride and groom then proceed to worship the heavens, the earth, and the groom’s dead ancestors before the couple serve tea to the elders of their families. After being served tea by the bride and groom, the family elders will give them red envelopes ( lai see ) containing money and offer their blessings. This so-called “tea ceremony” is the ritual climax of the wedding day. The aforesaid “wedding letter” is presented during the wedding day and confirms that the bride will become part of the groom’s family’s household. If financially possible, the groom’s family will then throw a huge feast for all relatives and friends with the groom’s family’s said liaison making repeated toasts to the newly wedded persons. When the married couple are finally alone in the bridal room where the wedding bed is located, the groom may lift the red veil that had hidden his bride’s face.
Three days after the Chinese wedding, it is the Chinese tradition that the bride returns to her family’s home bringing a roasted pig and gifts. She may or may not, depending on which region in China, be required to be accompanied by her new husband, and she may or may not stay in her old home for a few days. The bride’s family, as a courtesy, would return some of the wedding gifts that they had received from the groom’s family.
Although Chinese wedding customs and traditons vary from province to province, and from region to region, there are some basic and common themes in the Chinese wedding tradition. One common Chinese wedding custom is that both the bride and groom are usually dressed in red, as red is the color of celebration and good fortune. The bride, with a red veil or large embroidered hankerchief over her head (much like the Western custom of a white wedding veil), and is lead by the groom to where the parents are seated.
Once there, the couple then kneels and kow-tows to their parents, and to their ancestors - taking note to bow and kow-tow to all four directions (north, south, east and west). They will also pour tea and serve it to their parents, which then the parents accept and gives the couple a red envelope (or hong-bao ) filled with cash. Usually, the mothers will take this opportunity to also give the bride many pieces of gold jewelry or heirlooms.
After this wedding ceremony, it is considered that the couple is married, and the family and guests spend the evening feasting and drinking all night long. During this meal, the bride will change her outfit several times; generally a new outfit for each course. This shows her new family, and her guests her wealth and status. Oftentimes, many games will be played during this banquet. Guests give the bride and groom gifts of cash, stuffed in red packets or envelopes.
In more recent years, a new Chinese wedding custom has emerged where the wedding guests will escort or sneak into the new couple’s room, to play games and pranks. Chinese custom also requires that hosts (in this case, the newlyweds) can not be rude to their guests, and can not ask them to leave - this celebration can last for several hours. Another more modern Chinese wedding tradition occurs before the tea ceremony. The bride is hidden in a room and her attendants (called “sisters,” even if the women are not biologically the bride’s siblings) try to prevent the groom and his attendants (”brothers”) from coming in to pick up the bride. Then they try to get the groom to bid for the bride, asking for money in 8s or 9s. They also ask the men (especially the groom) trivial questions, such as “where did you meet the bride?” Sometimes, the women would ask the groom and his attendants to write a poem about the bride or do silly tricks. At the end, the women are given money by the men.