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You ever been to a wedding in China? They sure are a cultural spectacle, especially to an expat living and working in the country. I’ve been fortunate to have attended 6 weddings over the years that have included marriage between Chinese locals and Chinese with foreigners. I haven't experienced all types of weddings in the country, but here’s a good look at what you can expect:
Chinese newlyweds having their photos taken by a professional photographer for a glossy photo album is the first thing that kicks off a wedding celebration in China. The photos are typically taken indoor on decorative sets and outdoor at parks, lakes, in front of exquisite buildings, and other scenic areas. In fact, it's not uncommon to see couples posing for pictures in their wedding attire right in front of popular tourist attractions.
Next up, if you’re lucky enough you’ll receive a decorative red invitation card most likely laced with gold Chinese calligraphy. Red is the color of good luck and fortune in China and it is regularly used to celebrate special gatherings, holidays, and occasions.
In the States, guests typically show up to weddings in a nice suit or dress. In China, however, the requirements are a bit less formal. Business casual is the norm, but you wouldn't be shunned from society if you showed up in sneakers, pants, and t-shirt.
As for the bride and groom, they’ll usually sport at least 2 outfits during the ceremony. The first is typical western wedding attire, which includes a black suit or tuxedo for men and a white wedding dress for women. The 2nd is traditional Chinese attire, which includes a Changshan for men and a Qipao for women.
Most Chinese weddings are held in the ballroom of a hotel. The rooms normally contain a small stage, a dozen plus lazy Susan turntables, and are decked out with balloons and other wedding decorations. Depending on the amount of cash spent, some wedding receptions may even include a variety of club-like lasers shooting across the room!
Host play major roles at a Chinese wedding. The master of ceremony, aka MC—usually a hired professional—keeps up the schedule, entertains guests, and is usually a performer him or herself. I've seen host do everything from sing and play instruments to launch stuffed animals into the audience like we were at a basketball game.
Some weddings in China may have special performances from hired singers, dancers, and/or musicians, and if you're an expat, you too may even get asked to put on a show. During my 2nd year in China, for instance, I was invited by my colleague to sing an English slow jam at her wedding—yeah, I couldn’t believe it either! In the end, I tried carrying out my best rendition of Tyrese's R & B smash hit 'Fallen in Love With You', but I learned that just showing up and being the ‘foreign face’ managed to outweigh any of my god-awful singing.
One of the best things about attending weddings in China is that the food just keeps on coming. You'll start with rice and a few cold dishes, then it’s a nonstop combination of savory vegetables, meat, and fish meals that may just leave you very much overwhelmed. Additionally, there are usually a few large bottles of Coke, Sprite, Minute-Maid, coconut milk, and local wine to choose from.
Chinese weddings customarily start off with food being served as the host warms up the crowd.
Next, the first stage of the wedding carries out much like a western ceremony: the groom is presented first, followed by the bride. The bride, however, won't meet her husband-to-be at center stage; rather, the groom will walk to receive her, speak a few sweet words, and they will proceed down the aisle together. On stage they'll exchange vows, drink wine, and share a kiss. Furthermore, the host may ask everyone to stand up and join in on a toast to the newlyweds.
Afterwards there are typically a few performances, and it’s during this time that the bride and groom will change their attire.
The mothers and fathers from both families will join them on stage and exchange their well wishes.
Following their presentation, the newlyweds will then travel around the room to each table and give a toast.
Everyone at the table should rise, share a few positive comments if they choose, and present their glasses.
And that's it! From then on guests are free to socialize, enjoy the rest of the food and performances, and head home.
There are two parts to gifting at a Chinese wedding. One, the newlyweds will normally hand out small boxes of candy/chocolate to their friends and colleagues afterwards to show that they were recently married. And two, there's gifting the newlyweds with presents. One of the most common gifts to give a newlywed couple in China is a red envelope full of cash, much like the tradition of Chinese New Year. The average amount of money varies by things like city and how relationship. In some small cities it may be customary to give a minimum of 200RMB, while in other big cities, at least 800RMB. Other normal wedding gifts like electronics, household appliances, and home decor are also welcomed.
Baijiu, Baijiu, Baijiu. You can expect every Chinese wedding to have bottles of Baijiu, an Everclear-like local distilled spirit and the world's most consumed alcohol, readily available. What's more, you'll typically find most of the elder men—uncles, cousins, and longtime friends of the family—knocking back shots of Baijiu like water. Baijiu isn't for everyone, so if you happen to have someone offer you a shot out of generosity...well, you've been warned!
And well, that’s what you can expect at a wedding in China. What do you think? Does it sound like something you’d like to see? Well, what are you waiting for? Make your way over and discover more about one of the world’s most dynamic countries!
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