In the US, weddings are often all about the bride in her wedding dress and the cake. In China, it’s all about the entire family and the banquet, so everything looks and tastes good. It’s a huge affair, with many things going on from tea ceremonies, the marriage ceremony, and the banquet making it an all day party, not just for the couple, but everyone involved.
If you have ever thought about what it might be like to become a wedding planner, a Chinese wedding has a ton of moving parts. From the typical DJ’s and photographers, to things like planning enough time for the “negotiations” to just get the bride out of her home and past her bridesmaids (think lots of bribes and begging) and a tea ceremony. If that sounds like a fun thing to plan and you are wanting to take that career path, check out Getting Started as a Wedding Planner.
If you’re looking for some ideas for your own wedding or just need some insight into cultural differences, here’s the most important aspects what you need to know.
Red is the Magic Color
In America, the color most often associated with marriage and nuptials is white: white flowers, white dress, white all over. In Chinese culture, the color is red. Red on the invitations, red decorations, red flowers and even, yes, a bright red dress. And this is not a subdued color, like a wine red or a faded red, but the richest red you can imagine.
This is because red is the color associated with all things good and prosperous. White, the traditional Western color of weddings, is associated with death, since it is worn exclusively to show mourning at funerals in China.
However, given the popularity of American cultural values because of our entertainment and celebrities, white dresses are becoming more and more accepted as part of a wedding ceremony. Much like in Western weddings where white was originally a symbol of chastity and purity, it is being seen more acceptable as a fashion choice as opposed to its symbolic meaning.
The Wedding Banquet
A Chinese wedding banquet is a bit similar to a reception but traditionally is a full blown, multi-course affair that can last for hours.
The foods at the wedding banquet are all high-class fare. Things like abalone, crab, lobster, and the much-maligned shark fin soup are all served in celebration. A whole roasted chicken and duck may also make an appearance symbolizing harmony in marriage. Other dishes are served to promote fertility and marital bliss.
During a wedding banquet the bride will change clothes at least once. Usually there are a couple different dresses worn and they are always highly fashionable. Sometimes, the costume changes are to show off their wealth or social standing. The bride may start out wearing her wedding dress (the one she got married in) during the reception when she and her groom welcome people to the banquet. When the meal begins, or even a couple courses in, she may change again, into a different dress. Then when there is time to go and toast all the tables, she may change yet again. And finally, when there are all the games and dancing, there may be even another change of dress. It really depends on the bride’s tastes and what she’s willing to put up with!
Since a Chinese wedding is an opulent kind of celebration, working this kind of occasion can pay handsomely. If you’ve ever considered wedding photography or videography, there are a couple classes here for your consideration Wedding Photography and The Complete Guide to Wedding Videography.
The Dragon, the Phoenix and Double Happiness
The symbols of the dragon and the phoenix are common sights at a Chinese wedding. Separately, they can stand for different things like success, in the case of the dragon, or graciousness, for the phoenix. Taken together, they symbolize the aspects of Yin and Yang, female and male, two parts of a whole. The dragon is the male Yang (the groom) aspect and the phoenix is the female Yin (the bride), and together create unity and balance.
These may be seen around the banquet hall, on decorations or on clothing. Traditionally, they are associated with the emperor and his reign. During the course of a wedding and its banquet, the bride and groom are the focal point of the event, making them royalty for the day.
Another common sight is the character xĭ 囍￼, also known as shuāng xĭ, a symbol of double happiness. It is a doubling of the singular xĭ 喜, meaning joy, implying that one may be happy alone, but together the joy of the bride and groom will be doubled. This character is usually on the invitations to the event, on the red envelopes presented with gifts of money, and prominently displayed behind the bride and groom’s table during the wedding banquet. It may also be on lanterns, dishes, or other decorations around the banquet space.
Gifting Money The Right Way
The traditional gift for newly married couples in China is money. This is so that the young couple have a bit of a cushion when they set off on wedded bliss. It’s also used to offset a part of the cost of throwing such a lavish party.
When folks show up at the banquet, they typically have a red envelope in hand and go to a “check-in” table. This is where the guest list is and where invited guests are tallied and the gift is collected and set aside.
It needs to be said that numbers carry symbolic weight. Not necessarily for the size of the gift but also for what the numbers represent. The number 4 is very unlucky because its pronunciation is similar to the word for “death” in Chinese and carries that association.
A couple numbers that are considered extra lucky for marriages and weddings are 8 and 9. For weddings the number 88 has a similar shape to 囍￼, double happiness, and the number 8 is associated with prosperity. The Chinese for the number 9 sounds exactly like the number for “a long time”, jiŭ 久. Any amount or number with 9 in it, especially 99, is like wishing the couple will remain married for a long time.
Make sure to take that into consideration when offering gifts of money at a Chinese wedding.
This class, Oral Chinese, offers some basic phrases and greetings, but also covers some of the number superstitions, so you can get a better idea of what I mean. Plus, you can impress some people with your cultural understanding!
Whatever your aim, best of luck on your future endeavors!