Monday, 30 March 2009

Wedding Season

The happy couple (Kimi's cousin is on the left)

I don't know if there actually is an official wedding season in China, but if there is one it should be right now. Over the past week I have been to three such events, two of which were with Kimi's family, and the other a colleague from Web. Apparently the real reason is that there have been some lucky wedding days according to the Chinese Lunar Calendar.

Weddings are an interesting phenomenon in modern Chinese culture. Before I had actually experienced a wedding here, I had a kind of exotic image of the bride wearing a traditional qipao, her face covered by a veil; there would be intricate head dresses; everything would be red, from the decorations to the clothing; and Chinese folk music would be banging and piping away throughout the proceedings. My hopes and expectations were greatly dashed when I witnessed the modern style of wedding.

To put it bluntly, a wedding today is more like a westernised-TV game show-all-you-can-eat-and-drink-money-making-event. Usually proceedings are held in a large hotel function room. Guests sit around large round tables facing a small stage at the front of the room. Glossy magazine style photoshopped pictures of the bride and groom are scattered all over the room. Loud music bursts out of the speakers making it difficult to talk, and -- if the family has the spare cash -- a host stands on the stage shouting down a microphone. At what point the bride and groom actually get married, I don't really know. Some people have told me that before the "wedding", they go to a registry office and sign the documents there.

While the host talks, or we are listening to music, food is usually delivered to our tables. Every wedding I have been to has almost exactly the same food on offer. It's not very good for me as vegetarian food is the cheapest to buy, so in a lot of people's eyes, it's not respectable to serve it. Instead we get plate after plate of seafood: crab, lobster, shrimp, oysters, mussels, and even a couple of times, turtle.

Eventually the bride and groom enter the room, the bride wearing a western wedding dress and the groom, a suit. Somebody playing the role of a vicar will greet them, say some words and walk them to the stage. At the last wedding I attended they played an electronic version of the Wedding March at this point. Vows are exchanged on-stage, sometimes a keyboard player will be playing incidental background music and adding sound effects to any funny remarks being said. After the words are over, the rest of the event is in any one's hands. Games are played, songs are sung, and drinks are drunk. Part of the couples responsibility is to go around each table -- and there are always a lot -- and ganbei (bottoms up) a drink with everybody. The fun can continue for hours, but when the food is over many people rapidly exit, with only the loyal few remaining.

The couple on-stage with the host

The newlyweds (now wearing new clothes) must visit each table and ganbei a drink

A wedding is not only a day to seal a relationship, it is also a day for the couples to cash-in on an investment they have made many times before. For each wedding you attend, you must hand over a red envelope (I talked about the significance of the red envelope here) containing some money (absolutely no gifts are involved). The closer your relationship with the bride or groom, the more money you should give. A bridesmaid may put 2,000 RMB in an envelope, whereas a colleague at work can give just a couple of hundred. If you wanted to you could put as little or as much in the envelope as you wish, but whatever you put in, it will be remembered. Sometimes when you enter the function room, somebody will be sitting at a table taking envelopes, counting the money inside, and writing your name and the total down in a book. So, if you gave 500 RMB to your best friend, when your best friend comes to your wedding he or she will also give you 500 RMB. I think part of the pressure to get married so early here is so that all of the money people have paid out over the years can be returned.

The wedding really is an eye-opening event, there is so much more to talk about, and I've not even mentioned what an engagement is like (there's another very similar party for that too).


mabelp said...

The venues, procedures and clothes of the weddings there look like HK's? We also spend loads of money on friends or relatives' weddings here.

Ha! I think I will be broke asap as I have been to more than 40 weddings over the past 2 years.

大眼睛熊 said...

When will I start collecting money back from them?.. Looking forward to it.
It was ashame u were late for my other cousin's wedding dinner, that was even more dramatic!! Xxx

The Acolyte Tao said...

Hm, from the pictures it seems like their weddings are a lot less formal than the ones I have been to in the States.
And I have to admit I'm surprised they are THAT Westernized. I have to say I thought their weddings were much different. Which is odd because the Asians in America that I know and have seen how their weddings were, they were VERY traditional. I suppose there blows one more stereotype out of the water.

大眼睛熊 said...

Hey Miss/Mr. Anonymous, what the hell is wrong with u? U got a problem with China?? .. U dont know me, dont u dare give a speech like that about me!!!
I dont do HINT, if i want something i say it out loud, and btw, i love my nationality just the way it is now, so why dont u save ur "conspiracy" to yourself.

I.S. said...


Hiding behind your keyboard (Anonymous) is cowardly of you. You must be a very immature youngster or just a fool. But probably both.

Chris said...

Anonymous, comments like that do not belong here. You can't tar the whole female population of China with the same brush. That's what we call ignorance and stupidity.

大眼睛熊 said...

Thank you Chris and I.S., i appreciate it!! xx

Anonymous said...

While I don't agree with the mystery guest, he has touched a nerve.

Why should a wedding be about money owed and accounted for? It's a bit petty, oh, she only gave 100 pounds so she isn't our friend as he who gave 500 pounds!'s a wedding day,a happy time, not a accounting or business session.

And also criticism is good. Unfortunately in China, as soon as a foreigner, even an overseas chinese makes any commentary, the natives start putting their hands over their ears and throwing their toys out of the pram...if you don't believe me, check this article:

How can things change for the better, if people aren't allowed to point things out and make suggestions, with the HERD saying thats Baaaaad....


GWENNN. said...

cause it's spring:)

flyingfish said...

OK, this has basically nothing to do with weddings, except that I'm keeping a vow here. Remember how I promised you that information on air-purifying plants? Here are two links. Sorry they are not clickable. I guess it has to be cut and paste.

Chris said...

Flyingfish, thank you so much for those links, I will have a look right now.

Alex, I'm totally with you on that. I agree that some criticism is good, it's how we can make changes for the better. It does seem this kind of behaviour isn't seen often enough here. So many people just put up with whatever is thrown at them whereas they should really be shouting about it.

Anonymous, I don't know if you are still reading this. I received your other comments but obviously I couldn't publish them here, I don't want things to get worse. I see where you are coming from in those messages, and I personally know someone who has been through the kind of thing you mentioned. I understand you weren't trying to fire-up a debate or anything. I know enough to know that it won't happen to me now, but your advice has been taken on-board.

I.S. said...

I do agree that criticism lead to improvement (sometime) but what Anonymous wrote was an insult and a personal attack towards someone he/she didn't know. Let it be no mistake. This was not a criticism.

Anonymous said...

I.S, whether it was criticism or not,is not the issue here!

Whenever you say ANYTHING even remotely critical of China, even if it is intended as a helpful suggestion as a way to improve or change, you can bet the nationalism will rise to the surface, and the anger will explode.

Have you ever seen the sign of a Japanese department store wrecked and propped up with bamboo? I have...and it is blind nationalism,much the same as anger at criticism, that leads to that.

Ever been charged at by a big man with a red flag,simply for having white skin and being called an American and a Japanese supporter? I have, and yes it wasn't pleasant, although I managed to diffuse the situation.

So the problem isn't the perceived criticism, or lack of it by Anonymous.

It's the knee jerk reactionary nationalism to any perceived slight I find FAR more troubling.


I.S. said...

Alex, you lost me there.

Did you even have a chance to read what anonymous wrote before Chris deleted it?

I don't think it has anything to do with nationalism. Just a case of someone making a rude comment and doing so cowardly at that.