Chinese Engagement Traditions
Marriage in China:
Marriage is a big deal in China, and is even more important to Chinese families than most Western cultures. Marriage is a way to secure an ancestral line for a son, and to guarantee a safe and prosperous life for a daughter. Before you can even begin to think about a Chinese wedding, you first will have to navigate through the Chinese engagement traditions. Below are some of the prerequisites and Chinese engagement traditions that I have encountered.
Marriage Prerequisites: A House and a Car
Before a young man can get married, it is very common for the man’s soon-to-be in-laws to demand two things: A house and a car. These are both pricey objects when a young man (normally between the ages of 20-28) is trying to marry. Not only does he not have enough savings, but it also requires a large upfront investment and the decision of where to settle down. The cost of buying such things is normally handled in one of two ways. Either the man’s family is super wealthy and his parents will just buy a house and a car, or a settlement will be reached.
The settlement can be in the form of the man buying the house and the woman buying the car, or for the young couple to produce a certain amount of the money for the house and car with the man’s parents covering the rest. While it may seem like the man is going for broke with this, the woman’s parents often produce a dowry for the new husband that compensates for a portion of these costs.
This tradition is based on history, when a house was required for the new couple, and with the development of technology a car was added later. The house was to ensure that the new bride would have a place to live, and the security of a husband capable of providing for her. The house would also traditionally be located near the man’s family, so as to be near the man’s ancestral home. With the rising housing prices, and a lack of resources from less-fortunate families to be able to pay for both a house and car, this tradition is slowly changing. Many modern couples will seek the 50-50 split with their parents, or try and cover the entire package on their own. Despite this change, the house and car rule is still completely ingrained in Chinese culture. To go against this tradition is asking for trouble.
Chinese Engagement Traditions: The Engagement Dinner(s):
During the process of planning a Chinese engagement there are two dinners that occur. The first happens before the engagement, and is between the parents of the to-be-married couple. This is the juncture in which both families discuss the marriage, and decide if their two children should inf fact be married. It is a high stakes game of poker for those a bit worried that their families social or economic statuses do not match, and may lead to heartbreak for a young couple if their parents refuse to allow the marriage. This dinner is normally executed with a great deal of Mianzi giving (more on that here: Guanxi and Mianzi) and gift giving, demonstrating the economic and social capacity for each family.
The Real Engagement Dinner:
As per Chinese engagement traditions, it is common for the parents of the soon-to-be couple to host a dinner party announcing the new couple before the actual ceremony. If the couple are from the same hometown, it is customary for the parents of the groom to host a large dinner party inviting all members of his family as well as the member of the bride’s family. When I say family, I mean everybody: Aunts, Uncles, Grandparents, Cousins, Siblings, That odd uncle from down the road you don’t really know how he is related but he is, they are all invited and expected to attend. For me, this turned into a rather large dinner gathering of roughly 50 people, and that’s only from my Wife’s side.
After the dinner is over, the red packets come out. The red packets are a tradition for numerous Chinese events and holidays, and are also a part of Chinese engagement traditions. Again this works out as a “payback” kind of way for hosting the party, family members will force the red packets with money into your hands, wishing you a prosperous marriage, and a health life. The wishing are charming, and the funds that are given by the red packets normally do cover the costs of the large dinner, and can even exceed them. This is a very nice tradition that introduces the family and shows how the whole family supports the new couple.
Setting the Date (And Time!):
When the formalities are finished and the engagement is official, you need to pick the time and day of the wedding. This is more involved than in the West. You have to have your wedding on an auspicious day, and start the ceremony at an auspicious hour. There are two ways to figure out which days and times are lucky, and they are directly related to your zodiac signs. You can either use the graph below (Courtesy of blogger the 8th Voyager), or you can consult with your local shaman or wisewoman/ wiseman. Once you figure out an auspicious date, the time is rather easy. The wedding start time should be on an even hour and minute. The even number signifies pairs, as in the marriage. You can also pick a time where there are repeating digits as in 12:12 again signifying pairs. Conforming to these date and time traditions will supposedly bring luck to your marriage.
Now that you know more about Chinese engagement traditions, it is time to learn about a traditional Chinese wedding ceremony: A Traditional Chinese Wedding Ceremony