A modern Chinese wedding is a good example of how much China has changed in only a few years. My Chinese teacher’s 89 year-old grandmother had bound feet and met the man who would become her husband on their wedding day. The grandmother became part of her husband’s family and its responsibility.
In vivid contrast, my teacher first met the man who would become her husband when he tried to get a drink of water from a friend in an adjoining dorm room one very hot day after he had played a vigorous game of tennis. His friend wasn’t home, but my teacher was. She says he was impressed by how neat her room was, but I think he was impressed by how cute (and nice) she is.
She is also a modern Chinese woman with her own career. She spent a year teaching in Eastern Europe and has also traveled around Europe with friends. Instead of relying on her new husband and his family to buy a house for them, she and her husband, an administrator here at ZAFU, are buying a house together. In some ways the couple is very traditional: her husband is two years older than she; they have compatible Chinese lunar calendar signs (ideas that are still popular), and they have had three weddings (one in her parents’ town, one in her husband’s town, and one in Lin’an for their colleagues). However, the young couple met on their own and will live on their own, in the house they are buying together.
Besides hearing about my Chinese teacher’s wedding, Barry and I got to attend an actual wedding celebration.
Wendy, the wonderful assistant director in the ZAFU International Office, got married recently. She invited about 400 friends and family as well as a few foreign teachers to her wedding and reception. It was Barry’s and my first wedding in China.
The reception was quite fun although a US fire marshal would have been upset when celebrating wedding guests set off fireworks inside the restaurant. Bouncing off the ceiling and what looked like a fire sprinkler system, the hot sparks neither set off alarms nor drenched us in water–but none of us burned.
Some parts of the celebration seemed very similar to wedding celebrations in the West. The bride looked beautiful, the groom handsome; they looked very happy. The bride wore a white wedding dress and cried.
In his expensive suit, the groom said nice things and comforted his new bride.
Other familiar rituals included –
As at most weddings, there were lots of cute kids.
The reception included a Chinese feast of expensive meat and fish dishes, including jellyfish, duck tongues, eel, and various other special treats. I ate lots of mushrooms, celery, and bok choy.
Some things were not so familiar to us. In China, the color worn for burials is white, so wearing a white wedding dress is something Wendy’s mother and grandmother would never have done. Red is the color for good luck and celebration and has traditionally been the color for Chinese wedding dresses. So although Wendy wore a white wedding dress, she changed into a red dress for part of the reception.
Another difference was the cigarettes: the many given out and the many smoked.
We couldn’t really refuse the cigarettes; I gave mine to a Chinese guy at our table.
Usually at weddings, Barry and I don’t sit with the foreigners, perhaps the out-of-towners, but there we were, so we got to spend time with other foreign teachers we don’t often see.
Everyone had a good time.
The following weekend, the bridal couple had another wedding reception for about 200 people in the groom’s hometown. We heard that the bride wore different wedding dresses, but the toasts and good wishes were the same.
For the Chinese couples, the wedding is extremely important, not only for love and a strong family foundation, but also for money. An important aspect of the wedding is collecting gifts, which is usually money given in a red envelope. All the cash helps start the young couple off with a good economic base. How much everyone gives is meticulously noted. The expectation is that the young couple will repay the gifts (with a small increase in amount) when they are invited to the future weddings or funerals of the other families. It is a way to support young people without having to take out bank loans.
Wendy and her husband’s honeymoon, which is still something most Chinese don’t get to do, won’t happen until next month since work comes first.
Another non-traditional aspect of Wendy’s marriage is that instead of her moving into her father and mother-in-law’s house, her husband has come to live with Wendy and her parents in Lin’an, which is convenient for their jobs. In old China, that would not happen. Young people are expected to take care of their parents who have spent their lives sacrificing for the welfare and good opportunities for their children.
However from what we’ve seen, modern Chinese weddings and those we have in the West are very similar. Barry and I feel very lucky to have gotten to participate in Wendy’s wedding.
We wish the young couples long and happy marriages.
Zài Jiàn and Aloha, Renée