Look Inside A Traditional Chinese Wedding
What Makes a Traditional Chinese Wedding?
A traditional Chinese wedding is a spectacular event filled with different ceremonies and culture. To be classified as a traditional Chinese wedding, the ceremonies and dress must uphold the local traditions. This includes traditional ethnic outfits, and unique regional ceremonies. Before the main event, there are several traditional ceremonies that take place and lead up to walking down the aisle. I will explore these different customs, and the official ceremony below.
Find Her Shoes!
The first step in a traditional Chinese wedding is for the husband to take his bride, literally. The day of the wedding, the bride will be all dressed for the event, in her bed which is decorated with red sheets and Shuangxi (喜喜). It is customary for the bride to be to hide her shoes, and require the groom to find them for her. The concept is that the bride is not complete until the husband recovers her shoes, and puts them on her feet. While the groom is looking for her shoes, he will be constantly pulled and pushed around by the bridesmaids and groomsmen. In order to get through the tangle of people and actually find the shoes, a groom brings along red packets with small amounts of money in them, and hands them out to “buy” his way through to the shoes. Once both shoes are located, he puts them on the bride’s feet and carries her out of the bedroom. This is a really fun event that engages all of the bridal party.
The Giving of the Dowry
Once the bride has been removed from the room, there is a ceremony in which the groom is presented with a dowry. This takes place during a tea ceremony in which the groom to-be pours tea for the mother and father of the bride, demonstrating his respect. He then is presented with a jumbo-sized red packet containing the dowry for the marriage. This signifies “saying good-bye” to the wife’s parents before she is accepted into a new family. Notably, in the west we say that when a man marries, he marries into his wife’s family, whereas in China it is the opposite.
The Carriage Ride
In a traditional Chinese wedding, the bride will be carried to the ceremony in a bridal sedan called a Jiaozi. Along the way, an entourage of performers will beat drums, and announce the upcoming wedding. Periodically the procession will halt, and the bride will be lowered to the ground. The procession only resumes when the groom gives red packets to the carriers and the announcer. Again, the amount in the red packets is small, it is merely for the significance of giving a token payment to the entourage.
The Big Event
The banquet hall in which the ceremony is held has a unique setup to it. In a traditional Chinese wedding, there is a main red pathway surrounded by banquet tables. The pathway usually starts with an arch, and ends with the “altar”. Along the path there are a few obstacles for the couple to overcome, these vary with different regions but generally consist of the following items. The first is a bowl of fire (usually fake nowadays) which the couple has to jump over which represents purifying the couple of anything negative.
The second is a play on words, there is generally either a saddle or an apple. In a traditional Chinese wedding, the main concept is to reinforce the peace and harmony in the new marriage, and as such these objects represent peace. The saddle in Chinese is a Ma’an, the an part is the same character as the last character in Ping’an which means peace. The Apple in Chinese is called Ping guo, and like the saddle, the ping is the same character as the Ping in Ping’an. Both of these items represent and bring peace and harmony to the new couple.
The third item also differs from region to region, but is generally some kind of weaponry. Whether a sword or bow, it is given to the groom representing his steps into manhood. In Chongqing, my friend was given a bow which he shot into the sky and down to earth, representing the link between heaven and earth.
Once these obstacles are overcome, the ceremony finishes with yet another tea event for the groom’s parents welcoming the daughter into her new family. The rest of the wedding proceeds similar to that of a western wedding with speeches and plenty of good food and drink.
The After Party
One common tradition that I have seen is a game played by the new couple the night after the ceremony. Couples prior to the wedding are supposed to be chaste, and the game that is played is supposed to break the awkward tension the new couple may have. The game involves the new groom laying down, and the couple’s friends placing different nuts and candies on different areas of his body. The friends then watch as the wife then puts on a blind fold and has to find the different treats with her mouth. This may sound awkward, and it is. The friends intentionally will place the treats in spots that are risque to say the least. It is all fun as everyone is involved, and the whole game would be rated PG-13.
Want to read about what goes into an engagement? Click here to find out the different traditions behind getting engaged in China!