Chinese Weddings

My Chinese teacher showing off her wedding album. It took three days of photographing the young couple in various clothes, settings, and situations to compile the important wedding album.

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.

Classroom celebration of our teacher's wedding

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.

Waiting in front of faculty housing for a wedding car to pick us up: Mark, Ryan, me, Morten, Becky, Patrick, and Barry. Except for Morten, I think we all worried that we might not be dressed appropriately.

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 bride - Wendy, the groom, and maids of honor

Our friend Diana, Wendy, and the groom

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.

Tears of happiness

In his expensive suit, the groom said nice things and comforted his new bride.

Sweet moment

Other familiar rituals included –

The long kiss

Cutting the wedding cake

Lighting the candle

Pouring champagne

The bride's parents welcoming the new couple and offering them many blessings

The bride and groom going to each table to thank everyone for coming to the wedding

As at most weddings, there were lots of cute kids.

Celebrating girls

Curious boy and his mom

Boy and girl having fun

As with most weddings, the dinner was not particularly good for a vegetarian.

A whole fish, soft-shell crabs, and much more

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.

Red–the traditional color for Chinese wedding dresses

Another difference was the cigarettes: the many given out and the many smoked.

Patrick storing a cigarette in the brim of his hat

We couldn’t really refuse the cigarettes; I gave mine to a Chinese guy at our table.

The MC never stopped talking. We, of course, could not understand what he was saying, but we knew he was enthusiastic.

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.

Morten, Becky, Ryan, and Mark

Ryan, Diana, & Mark

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.

Diana and Wendy saying goodbye to us as we leave the hotel where the wedding was held.

We wish the young couples long and happy marriages.

Zài Jiàn and Aloha, Renée


About reneeriley

Our blog was begun as a way to share our experiences in China. From August 2010 to July 2011, my husband, Barry Kristel, and I were at our University of Hawaii Maui College sister school, Zhejiang Agriculture and Forestry University in Lin'an, China, a city considered rural because it has only 500,000 people! We had a wonderful time. Then in February 2012, we returned to teach this time at our other sister school, Shanghai Normal University, in a city of over 21 million people. We've made many discoveries. Did you know that now Chinese girls, at least the ones who go to university, for the most part feel they are luckier than the Chinese boys? Did you know that Shanghai saved over 20,000 European Jews during WWII? Do you know how Chinese university students would deal with problems that come up in Dear Abby letters? What's it like to be on the Great Wall of China? Do you know how many Chinese girls had their feet bound and why? And we have recipes from many of the places we've visited. Among others, you can find instructions on how to fry cicadas from one of my ZAFU students and how to make chocolate-Kahlua waffles from my brother Mike in Gainesville. You can also look back to our earliest entry to see what we experienced in Oaxaca, Mexico, in 2006 during the mainly peaceful six months of protest until the Mexican government sent in the troops. Between our stays in China, Barry and I have been on the Mainland U.S. visiting family, friends and Servas hosts as we traveled home to Maui. We share those experiences too. Welcome to our blog! Aloha and Zài Jiàn, Renée and Barry

2 responses to “Chinese Weddings”

  1. Marty says :

    I am amazed to read your emails about China. When is your time in china over? How many children are they allowed to have? Is that fish at the wedding green? How do you like the food.?

    • reneeriley says :

      Hi Marty: We have our tickets to fly back to the Mainland U.S. on July 10; we are looking forward to seeing our son, family, and friends. We are doing an old and new friends’ tour. “Tune your guitar,” says Barry. Where do you live? As for babies here, most of the Chinese are allowed only one child, but there are exceptions, mainly for ethnic minorities, farmers, and couples who are both only children. However, one of the Chinese girls we had dinner with tonight said that her parents are thinking about having another child since they miss her so much since she has come to college. Most of the students see that there are too many people and know that having only one is the responsible thing to do. The result is that almost every child is treated as a treasure by his or her parents and grandparents, And that fish at the wedding had a tasty green sauce. Because I’m vegetarian, I really appreciate all the vegetables. Even the meat and chicken dishes often are served with lots of vegetables, so I’m happy. Barry says, “Hi.” We hope everything is going well with you. Zài Jiàn and Aloha, Renee

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