This weekend, Tian and I had the honor of attending her cousin’s wedding in Beijing. Tian’s relationship to Mao Mao is actually a little bit more complicated than cousin, as Mao Mao is Tian’s grandmother’s older sister’s granddaughter, but cousin works just fine for simplicity’s sake. It was a pleasure to help them celebrate and take part in a modern Chinese wedding. This post should give you a sense of the event, which is a pretty good representation of modern weddings here.
First of all, some comparative background info. In the west, weddings usually consist of a separate ceremony and a reception, and they usually take place in different spaces. In China, however, the entire wedding event takes place in the reception hall with the tables all set for dinner before guests arrive. The ceremony is more like a pre-meal show, complete with an emcee, slideshow, and music. After the ceremony, the food is served. They do not hold a dance after dinner. Mao Mao’s wedding hall was at a nice hotel on the east side of Beijing about an hour bus ride from our apartment.
Another major difference between western and Chinese weddings is timing. Unlike the west, where weddings often take place on a Saturday in the early evening with a late-night party afterwards, in China, they almost always happen over lunch. Mao Mao’s wedding started at 10:30 a.m. and went until about 1:30 p.m., and it also was on a Sunday.
The ceremony began with the emcee welcoming everyone. Then the groom came in, welcomed everyone, and called out to Mao Mao (who was standing in the back of the room with her father under an arch) and asked her to marry him “你愿意嫁给我吗?” After a humorous exchange, she finally agreed and her father gave him her hand. The two then walked down the aisle toward the stage together to confetti, music, and cheering.
The ceremony part of the event was about 35 minutes long. There were some really beautiful and symbolic moments. One of my favorite was a slideshow of the couple’s history, but instead of photos they had a sand artist do it, and the groom narrated. It was very romantic and tastefully done. The couple also exchanged rings, lit a unity candle, and together filled a glowing “I Love You” sign. In a rare display of public affection, the couple shared a LONG kiss at the end under a shower of bubbles.
There were also some beautiful traditional elements. For example, the couple served tea to each other’s parents as a sign of joining the family. The parents also gave “Hong Bao” with a symbolic amount of money inside…likely 9999 yuan (approx $1,500) because the nines signify forever, and there is also a Chinese idiom that states “Out of 10,000, I picked you.” And in a nod to the formal marriage process, they had an official read their state issued marriage certificates to the audience, even including their marriage id numbers.
After the ceremonial part, lunch was served, and we ate some really good food. The couple and the parents made the rounds to toast everyone who came. After lunch, folks just said their goodbyes and excused themselves. The close family planned to do another big dinner that night.
In China, everyone brings the same wedding present to the couple, money in a red envelope. Basically the custom is that families need to track the amount of money they receive from each guest as a gift, and then when someone from that guest’s family gets married later, the expectation is that the couple will return the same amount plus a little extra. As Mao Mao and Zhang Xian Sheng came to our wedding last summer, we knew exactly what we would be giving them. For us there was no problem. However, I’m guessing that this is a Chinese tradition that may change with time, as it can cause some tension and a lot of pressure for people when making invitation lists and/or deciding to attend ceremonies.
Looking back, it was interesting to see the amount of cross pollination that has happened with western wedding traditions in China. First of all the ceremony part has become more important than it used to be. Plus there are classing western pieces like the white dress, rings, final kiss, “I Love You” sign, and unity candle. It was really nice to see that people have welcomed these ideas into their weddings, while also preserving some classic Chinese traditions.
Congratulations Mao Mao and Zhang Xian Sheng. 祝你们新婚快乐！