Over more than 5000 years’ history in china, there are certain unique customs settled in dealing with wedding issues in China .Given that China is a country range over a vast land region, the wedding customs and rituals surely varies from regions, religions and ethnics. Yet this article will tell you the common tradition of wedding customs and rituals in China in the main clues of how Chinese find their “other half”? What to prepare before a Chinese wedding? What to do during a Chinese wedding? What to do after a Chinese wedding?
How Chinese find their “other half”?
Arranged Marriages in the Past
In the feudal society in China, marriages often were arranged by one’s parents instead of their own will. Condition, wealth, educations, zodiacs and social status would be taken into consideration when a considerable match was happening. `If a boy’s family was well-off or an official family, it was unlikely his parents would allow him to take a poor girl as his wife. The matchmaker was a common job playing a key role in setting a marriage between two families in ancient China. When the boy’s parents identified a possible bride-to-be, they would send a matchmaker to get the girl’s parents’ opinions about this marriage. If their opinion was positive, the matchmaker would obtain the date and hour of the girl’s birth to offer to the boy’s parents.
The groom’s family would place the note containing the girl’s birth detail on the ancestral altar for three days. If no bad things took place within that time, such as quarrels between families or loss of properties, the parents would take this marriage as been favored by their ancestors and give the boy’s birth details to the matchmaker to present it to the girl’s family for them to go through the same process. Only after both outcomes were favorable, would the two families arrange to meet. By then the future bride and groom could finally meet their “other half” face-to-face.
Free Love in Today’s China
Today, the majority of Chinese couples find their own match and marry for love. Their “other half’ could be their classmate, co-workers, internet pal or even a soul mate they have just met yesterday!
Yuelao——The god of Matchmaking
There is a matchmaker god called Yuelao in charge of people’s marriage in Chinese legend. He unites people’s marriage by tying a red string around the ankles of the future husband and wife. In ancient time, many young girls and boys coming to the age of getting married would go to Yuelao Temple to pray for a perfect match. Today, Young men and women would still do the same sometimes but instead of praying for a considerable match it is mainly for a romantic chance of coming across their Mr.\Miss. Right.
(Yuelao Statue in the yuelao temple)
What should be done before a Chinese marriage?
Making a Proposal
In China, after a boy finds his future wife, it is his parents that should elaborate a marriage proposal to the girl’s parents. After the girl’s parents had accepted their proposal, both families would set a date for a formal meeting and negotiating the betrothal. Usually in the past, this would be dealt in the hands of a matchmaker, but since nowadays young people find their lovers without any matchmaker, therefore it is often dealt by the parents of the two parties.
Betrothal & Dowry Before Engagement
In the west it is common for a couple to formally announce their wedding by becoming engaged and traditionally the man buys the woman an engagement ring. In China it is somewhat different. Traditionally, the groom’s family should present the betrothal or “Grand Gift” which is various proposal gifts representing fertility and prosperity to appreciate the girl’s parents’ efforts in raising the girl. Later, the girl’s family would send the girl’s dowry consisted of jewelry to display their support and love for their daughter. The betrothal and dowry are considered to be an important part in sealing the marriage, only by then the two are considered officially engaged.
Betrothal & Dowry’s Evolution Over the Years
How many items and how much the “Grand Gifts” and dowry cost would generally be left to open discussion by the two families. It is like who is going to pay for the wedding and who contributes the newlyweds more. It depends on the two families wealth and social status, usually the groom side is supposed to provide more. In 1970s, the “Grand Gifts” generally were bicycle, watch and sewing machine; in 1980s, it were Refrigerator, recorder and washing machine; in 1990s, it were air conditioning, motorbike and colour TV set ;in 20 century, the “Grand Gifts” are usually house, car and money.
Betrothal and Dowry in China Today
Today when a couple is preparing to get married, they probably already had an apartment or a house provided by the groom parents and a car provided by the bride’s parents. As for the “Grand Gifts” are largely replaced by money, especially in “sixes”, ”eights” and ‘nines’ as they symbolize” well”, “wealth” and ‘forever’. It could be 6999rmb ,9999rmb, 98888rmb or even 1000001 symbolizing that the bride is chosen one out of a million. Most of the money will be used in the wedding ceremony or the honely moon holiday. Of course the negotiation is not always a smooth sailing. But in the end, marridge is about love not about money, so mainly, how much the betrothal and dowry will depend on the wealthy state of both families. It doesn’t have to be a huge number as long as there is love in between.
Getting a Legal Marriage Certification in China
The Chinese marriage certification is a red colored brochure with the newly-weds’ name and ID detail on it. The Civil Affairs Bureau is the only office for completing the legal element of a marriage. The cost will be just 9 CNY unsurprisingly meaning forever. Many couples marry officially and then proceed to the ceremony or party the next weekend, or even later.
What to prepare for a Chinese Wedding Ceremony?
Selecting an Auspicious Wedding Date
In China, anytime a big event going to take place in one family, such as moving house, holding funeral ceremony, visiting ancestors, opening new business, replacing a figure of god and certainly holding a wedding ceremony, people will surely go for a fortune teller (call it Fung Suey teller if you want to) to figure out an auspicious date in the wish of everything goes smoothly and no one offends any god or evil spirits.
This is a long-passed down Chinese tradition for the Fung Suey [pinyin:feng shui]is a part of Chinese culture. According to it, everything belongs to either yin or yang and each item in the universe including everyday can be categorized into five types which are metal, wood, water, fire and earth. In this wedding case, the auspicious date will be based on one’s birth date (year, day and hour),zodiacs and the year’s figure, all those elements or even more needed to be taken into consideration in charting out a auspicious date for the newlyweds.
There are Chinese Almanacs containing predictions for the entire year which are sold by street vendors might tell you which day in this year is auspicious but it doesn’t mean that day would suit you with your unique birth dates, this is why a fortune teller or Fung Suey expert is consulted.
Taking Professional Wedding Photos
This is a bit different from the West. Chinese couples would pay for a local photographic studio to do their professional wedding photos. They will hire fancy costumes such as the western stylish formal wedding gown and formal suit, or alternatively traditional Chinese wedding dress like Long fenggua and Cheongsam. After the photos are taken, the photographer will use Photoshop to make them look as pretty as possible. As to how much they will spend on these photos, it depends on the wealth and social status of the couple, usually it will cost around 5000rmb, whereas some can be quite costly if one prefer to shoot at a romantic tropical island rather than the local beauty spot.
Sending out Wedding Invitations
Usually when the wedding photoes are done, the couple will send out their wedding invitations. It can be just a red card with their name and wedding reception details on it, or a delicate card with their weeding photos on it. Today, many couples would post a video invitation made by their wedding photos (e-invitaion) through Wechat or QQ.
Wedding House Decorating
Different from the west preferring white rose, Chinese prefer red-colored flower like red rose and colorful lily or peony for their wedding decoration process. Others like hanging the double happiness symbol in the house, placing the dragon and phoenix candle in bedroom and dragon and phoenix couplet on the front door, both meaning having good relations between the newlyweds.Also unsurprisingly, prepare lots of fireworks to scare the evil spirits away.
The key part is installing the newlyweds’ bed, a propitious hour and a ‘good luck woman or man’ is selected to do this. When it is done, children were invited onto the bed as an omen of fertility. For the same reason, the bed was scattered with red dates, peanuts, longan and lotus seeds.
Chinese Wedding Dress
In the past, Chinese wedding dresses were mainly Zhongshan suit or Mao suit for the groom and Qipao for the bride. The main color would be red and the dresses would be decorated with embroidered dragons and phoenix or peony flowers for wealthy wishes. Bride should wear phoenix coronet and robes of rank, new red shoes and a red covering veil. Groom should wear a big red flower made by a nice piece of silk in front of his chest. Since Chiang Kai Shek and his wife got married wearing a western style wedding dress in 1920s, the westerns wedding dress gained popular gradually in China.
Today many Chinese brides choose three dresses on the wedding ceremony. The first one will usually be a western wedding gown when they standing at the wedding reception lobby welcoming their friends, then bride will wear a delicate Chinese long fenggua（龙凤褂） to compete the wedding ceremony on the stage, after which an elegant Qipao(旗袍) will be wore as the couple get mingled and start toasts with their families and friends under the stage. Below is a detailed picture showing the evolutions of Chinese wedding dresses over the years since the end of 18th century.
How Chinese Wedding Day Ceremony
On the wedding day, the groom will set out to the bride’s home in the morning and will inevitably get blocked at her door by her families and friends. The bridesmaids will play door game with the groom and his attendants. Then the groom will escort the bride to meet his parents and proceed the Tea Ceremony at the groom’s home, after which both families will leave for the wedding reception or call it a feast to complete the wedding ceremony. Though this basic process sounds simple, there are many traditional Chinese wedding rituals you should know as noted below.
Cleaning Face For Bride
In the wedding morning, after the bride has dressed up, a close un-married younger sister of her has to use a five-colored string to post a cross in front of her face. This is a symbol of making her prettier and refreshing up for a new life journey.
Sitting on Embroidered Quilts
When the bride is waiting for the groom to come, she should sit on her bed with two embroidered quilts beneath her. For the wish of a harmony marriage and a wealthy life, one quilt is embroidered with dragon and phoenix, the other with cute babies.
Game of Hiding and Seeking Bridal’ s Shoes
After the groom and his attendants had finally get in the bridal’s bedroom, the bridal friends should hide her shoes and making it is not easy to find by them. This is mainly about taking their beloved bride away is not an easy mission and will teach the groom to treasure her in future.
Bride’s Feet should not Touch Ground
After the groom found her shoes and wear it for her, he should carry her to his car avoiding her feet touching ground. This is about avoiding bad luck.
Fireworks and Crossing Fire Bow
Both families should set out fireworks to welcome their groom or bride when he\she arrivals as to scary away the evil spirits. The groom’s mother should escort the bride to step across a fire bow when she entering their house as to clear bad luck.
All those processes should be completed before the wedding reception as the reception is set to start at an auspicious time punctually.
What does Chinese Wedding Reception look like?
Scale and Contributions of a Chinese Wedding Reception
The Chinese wedding reception is more like a banquet than reception as it can be a lavish affair lasting two hours. It is usually paid by the groom’s family and hold between 12:00—14:00 on the wedding day. Invited guests should present their contribution to attendants at the entrance of the wedding hall. The guest ’name and amount of money they contribute will be written down on a contribution book for in future the newlyweds can pay same amount of money back when the guest gets married. How much should I contribute for a Chinese Wedding? The number goes from 200 to 1000 CNY according to how close you are to them.
Ceremonies on Chinese Wedding Reception
The banquet starts with a brief elaboration of the newlyweds ‘ love story’ by the host, then it is the parents’ appreciation speech for everybody’s attendance. Then the groom and bride will be invited on stage. They will change wedding rings and vows, drink cross-cupped wine for the meaning of share joy and sorrow. In some region, the bride and groom will bow three times on the stage. The first is to bow for the heaven, the second is to their parents for raising them up and the third is to each other for the respect in marriage life. Then the groom and bride should call their mother and father in law as mother and father, by then the two families are considered united formally.
All those ceremonies are conducted by a professional wedding ceremony host. In the end the bride will throw her bouquet to her bridesmaids, similarly to the west whoever gets it gets married next. After the wedding banquet, close friends and relatives stay and play tricks on the newlyweds as a way to extend good wishes.
Chinese Wedding Night Rituals
Light Dragon and Phoenix Candle
The night of the wedding, the bridal room will lit dragon and phoenix candle to drive away the evil spirit, the newlyweds will drink wine from two cups tied together with a red string, arms crossed from each other
Making a Hair-Knot
At the wedding night, the groom and bridle will both cut a curl of their hair off and tie a knot with it. This ritual is a symbol for their bonding both body and soul and the determination of sharing each other’s life despite joy or sorrow.
Post-Wedding Ritual in China
The husband should escort his newly-married wife back to her Parents’ on the third day after their wedding. They are supposed to present gifts to her parents and the groom needs to get used to call her parents as mom and dad. In doing this, he expresses appreciation and respect to his mother-in-law and father-in-law and mainly shows them that their precious daughter has been treated well.
Today, many Chinese couples go for a honeymoon holiday after their wedding like the Westerns do. In this case they can visit the wife’s parents earlier or later after they come back. But, this tradition is indispensable.
Chinese Wedding Dress
Different with western wedding attire, China has her own special wedding attire. Generally speaking, Chinese wedding dress is basically around theme of good luck and happiness. Dragon, phoenix, red and golden colors are thought to bring good luck and happiness, hence they are indispensable elements in Chinese wedding dressing and decoration. Besides, other stuffs of Chinese wedding dress are with strong Chinese characteristics.
Colors & Elements of Chinese Wedding Dressing & Decoration Settings
The main color of Chinese wedding dress & decoration settings is bright red, the traditional and sacred color. As you may know red is the most favored color by Chinese as it represents happiness, vigor, life and bright delighted mood in Chinese culture. To be used in Chinese weddings, red is also considered as a symbol of good fortune that drive evil spirits away. This is different than that in the west where the wedding color is dominated by pure white and black. The traditional Chinese wedding dress in northern Chinese usually is one piece frock named Qipao(旗袍), which is red mainly and embroidered with elaborate gold and silver design. Brides in Southern China prefer to wear two-piece dress named Qungua or QunKwa(裙褂), as they are otfen elaborately adorned with gold dragon and phoenix,so they are often called longfeng gua(龙凤褂) namely dragon phoenix coat in mordern China.
(chinese wedding dress qipao & longfeng gua)
Longfenggua (龙凤褂) is quite popular among Chinese couples these days. It’s an indispensible Chinese wedding dress in China. Patterned with dragon and phoenix, the Longfenggua is endowed with their auspicious meaning. Besides dragon and phoenix, five embroidered bats, with the meaning of five blessing arrival, also appear in Longfenggua. The longfenggua is more simplified than the above three Chinese wedding dresss, and it can show women’s curvaceous shape. In modern China, when Chinese new couples take Chinese style wedding pictures, they prefer fengguanxiapei, but when they drink a toast to guests, they prefer Longfenggua.
(Longfeng gua 龙凤褂)
(Chinese wedding color & decoration settings)
What’s a whole set of Traditional Chinese Wedding dress inlcude?
Covering veil of Chinese bride is a piece of square-shaped red color silk which is usually embroidered with designed peony or phoenix patterns. The meaning behind this tradition is that people believe a red covering veil can drive away the unauspicous things and also covers the nervious flushing face of the bride. During the traditional Chinese wedding ceremony, the bride is handed by her groom. Her head should be covered by a red veil which is falling down to her shoulder for whole ceremony. The covering veil is not taken off until all the relatives and friends have left. It is the groom’s privilege to take off her covering veil. Traditionally, the groom should take off her veil using a small steelyard,this is meaning the groom could make his bride listen to his opniion willingly. Imagine the special and sweet moment when the groom takes the veil off and see a blush and excited face with the timid candlelight while they sit on the edge of new bed. The bride covering veil is connected with the special occasion the lovers are eager for their life.
(Chinese wedding covering veil)
Chinese Phoenix Coronets
Chinese Phoenix Coronet——凤冠 , namely means phoenix crown in Chinese, is the most honorable ornaments for ancient women. Phoenix coronets have been an important part of Chinese wedding attire since Ming dynasty. This wedding attire is considered as the most classic and representative one among all Chinese wedding dress. Though wearing western gown and black suits is popular in China today, many couples will choose to wear traditional Chinese wedding dresses as a second suit in completing the wedding ceremony on their wedding reception as well. Apart from being a tradition, the exquisite beauty of phoenix coronets is the main reason that attracts brides to wear it for the most beautiful and honorable moment in their lives.
Phoenix coronets were first started in Ming Dynasty in ancient China. At that time, phoenix coronet and robe of rank —— 凤冠霞帔 (Chinese pinyin: feng-guan-xia-pei) were the proper wedding dress for bride. At frist, phoenix coronet and robe of rank were designed especially for queens during Ming dynasty. Phoenix coronet was a crown for queen to wear in attending important occasions such as receiving nobility titles given by the royal family, meeting envoys or holding royal family receptions. And robes of ranks were together in the whole suit, showing queens status and power. Later the folks took this as a fashion tradition when brides got married during Ming and Qin Dynasties. But, unlike the queen’s priceless crown which was made by highly-skilled masters using diamonds and pearls, the phoenix coronets for ordinary people were made of colorful decorations or jade if one was rich. Dragon and phoenix patterns were restrictively forbidden on folks phoenix coronets at that time. Today, brides can purchase all types of phoenix coronets on Taobao(sort of Chinese version of E-bay) at a price of 50 to more than 1000 CNY.
(Chinese phoneix coronet and robe of rank for queen in Ming dynasty)
Traditional Chinese Wedding Shoes
During the wedding ceremony, the bride usually wears a special pair of wedding shoes. Traditionally, in Southern Fujian Province, the bride has to wear a pair of shoes embroidered with patterns of a turtle or a deer, which symbolizes blessing, happiness and longevity after marriage. In southern Zhejiang Province, the bride has to wear a pair of shoes named Shang Jiao Xie (shoes worn while stepping into the sedan chair) before getting into the sedan is for the sake of praying for auspiciousness. Either the bride or others can make the wedding shoes. These kinds of shoes are made with red and green cloth and usually with a soft sole. When a bride is going to step into the sedan chair, she is supposed to wear these shoes. In some places, relatives who make such shoes for bride can receive good fortune, while in other areas, they are made by the bride and another single girl in the morning of the wedding day.
(Chinese wedding shoes)
Chinese Wedding Dress in History
Along the thousands years of long history of ancient China, the style of Chinese wedding dress is different in different dynasties. There were three main Chinese wedding dresses in history China.
In Zhou dynasty, they were 爵弁玄端 (pinyin: jue bian xuan duan) for groom and 纯衣纁袡 (pinyin: chun yi xun ran) for bride;
In Tang dynasty, they were 梁冠礼服 (pinyin: liangguanlifu) for groom and 钗钿礼衣 (pinyin: chai dian li fu) for bride;
In Ming dynasty , they were 九品官服 (pinyin: jiu pin guan fu) for groom and 凤冠霞帔 (pinyin: feng-guan-xia-pei) or called Chinese phoenix coronets and robes of rank.
Chinese Wedding Dress in Zhou Dynasty (1046BC——256BC)
The characteristic of the Chinese wedding dress in Zhou dynasty is modesty and solemn. The color is different from that of later ages. Black and light red is the main color in Zhou dynasty, while that of later ages is bright red. The bridegroom wears juebian-the hat on the bridegroom’s head, and xuanduan-the dressing has two layers, white is for underwear, black and light red is for outwear. Bride wears xunran, which includes a light red underwear and a black outwear. Besides, the bride has to bound the hair up with a 50cm hair band and a 25cm hairpin.
(Chinese wedding dress in Zhou dynasty)
Chinese Wedding Dress in Tang Dynasty (618——907)
Chinese wedding dress in Tang dynasty combines solemnity of Zhou dynasty and the joy of later ages. The bridegroom wears red dress while the bride wears green dress. Based on long sleeve dressing with flower hairpin, the chaidianlifu is developed in late Tang dynasty. The characteristic of the attire is with many layers and long sleeves. Kimono in Japan is developed from this wedding attire. Wearing this wedding attire, the bride has to match with a hairpin made of metals and jewels. After Tang dynasty, the sophisticated chaidianlifu is simplified.
(Chinese wedding dress in Tang Dynasty)
As we all known, the more sophisticated thing is, the less aesthetic feeling people have. So how does the wedding attire combine so much sophisticated things to gorgeous art? What is classic about the wedding attire in Tang dynasty is its collar and long sleeves. Although matching with a set of hairpins and hair ornaments, the wedding attire in Tang dynasty has never ever brought cumbersome feeling. With time pass by, bride’s green dress has been updated to bright red dress.
Chinese Wedding Dress in Ming Dynasty (1368——1644)
From Ming dynasty to modern China, taking wife is a small civil examination for Chinese men, so the wedding attire for bridegroom is the ninth-rank officer’s costume ( 九品官服，Chinese pinyin: jiu pin guan fu), and phoenix coronet and robes of rank (凤冠霞帔， Chinese pinyin:feng guan xia pei) is for bride. Fengguan is the most honorable ornaments for ancient women. Fengguanxiapei has been wedding attire since Ming dynasty. Bride’s fengguanxiapei includes phoenix coronet, red veil, red gown, descendent bag, red dress, and red shoes and so on. This wedding attire is regarded as the most classic and representative one among all Chinese wedding dress. Most Chinese couple today will choose at least two styles when they take wedding pictures, one is western wedding attire, the other is Chinese wedding dress for its exquisite beauty.
(Chinese wedding dress in Ming Dynasty)
Phoenix Coronet for Empress Dowager Xiaojing, Ming Dynasty, Wanli Era(1573-1620). Unearthed from Dingling Mausoleum at Changping, Beijing, 1957. Empress Dowager was a favoered concubine of Wanli Emperor (r 1573-1620) and grandmother to the Tianqi Emperor (r 1620-1627).