We wanted to write about modern Chinese weddings…as we have finally attended one…at least (one of ) the receptions! We were invited to our Chinese language teacher’s wedding reception in Suzhou in early October. Isabelle (Izzy) is her English name, Susu, her Chinese name. She is from the town of Nantong, about an hour away from Suzhou. When the reception was held, she was already married…she got married in August (while we were back in the US) on her birthday. She married Jet, also from Nantong. He is an engineer and works at Flextronics, an electronics factory in Suzhou, near where we live.
The modern Chinese have a whole different approach to weddings…especially since religion is mostly not a part of weddings here. The first legal part is getting the marriage licenses, which look almost like passports…the couple gets them at something like a civil ceremony. It is not a big deal, not a lot of people attend this, it’s more like going to get your driver’s license. (Is getting married like learning to drive???)
Obviously, here in China, lots of people get married, so there are lots of weddings. What do they have in common with Western weddings? One thing is wedding photo albums…or more specifically, photos of the couple at various places, doing various things…shot well before the wedding. Izzy had her photos taken in April. The wedding photo album business is huge here…the photographers supply the rental gowns and various dresses (most Chinese brides do not spend money on buying wedding gowns…it’s not good financial sense!)…we see couples being photographed everywhere all the time…here are just a few shots we’ve taken of couples in their wedding “shoots.”
The funny thing is, after the wedding album is done…that’s about it for pictures…the photographer is not at the ceremony or the reception! The reception is very important. Traditionally, the reception, or wedding feast, has been paid completely by the groom (as it shows he can afford to be married and support a wife), but nowadays, it is often shared by the couple. This is what Izzy and Jet did. The old tradition caused a lot of tensions because the weddings were seen as being important for the parents to show their child was old enough and ready to be married, so the parents would invite all of their friends and relatives…sometimes too many from the bride’s side…so the groom would feel financially “strapped” from this…his parents would not be able to invite all their friends…they’d “lose face”…and they would not like the bride then…so, you can see, it was a big problem, like many weddings can be.
Isabelle and Jet had a wedding feast in Nantong, for their families and friends there; then they had a wedding feast in Suzhou, for their friends here. “A traditional Chinese (wedding) banquet will include somewhere around 12 courses including an appetizer [lobster salad], roast pig, abalone, shark fin soup and end with fried rice/noodles, dessert and fresh fruit.” (from Chinese Wedding Customs at http://www.angelfire.com/mac/jelly/custom/mod.html)
Another part of the reception is the “red envelopes.” Chinese weddings do not have wedding gifts like in the West. There is no bridal registry. The guests give the couple “red envelopes” with money inside. These are like the same “red envelopes” given out at Chinese New Year, wishing them “good fortune.”
There are many customs associated with traditional Chinese weddings, such as throwing rice at the bride when she leaves the house carrying a red umbrella on her wedding day, or barring the groom from entering the bride’s house until he answers questions correctly about the bride…but we won’t go into those now, they can be found on the link above. Modern weddings do not follow all of these old traditions. Isabelle’s and Jet’s wedding didn’t. It’s one more example of the new modern China. Oh, and where were the new couple going for their honeymoon? The U.S., of course, for the new Chinese have money and want to see the world! Happy Honeymoon!