May 10, 2013, by Daisy Peak

How to get married, China-style


In London you often hear the cliché, “you wait for the bus all day then two come along at the same time”. Maybe that’s not quite the right analogy, but having never been to a wedding in the UK, after a week in Yunnan I had been to two. The first big marriage ceremony I watched was for my Chinese host family’s friend’s daughter. Since the dad had lent his car to them for the day – wedding processions must have a fleet of all-black cars – we were invited to the ceremony and dinner. The second wedding was a much bigger deal for my Chinese family since it was a relative’s. Although elements of both weddings were traditional, much was decidedly non-Asian. I was a little surprised. The big white dresses, groom in a Western suit, bouquets, flower-adorned limousine. Where’d China go? Well, it wasn’t too far astray. Here are some parts I found particularly fun at the niece’s wedding:

  1. It went on for three days. Lunches and dinners were provided by the bride and groom’s families for all those days, which everyone’s obliged to attend.
  2. At these lunches and dinners, the bride and groom stood outside the dining area holding one tray of sweets, peanuts and sunflower seeds, and one tray of cigarettes, respectively. They implored wedding guests to take as many free treats as they liked. I didn’t see them themselves eat throughout the entire wedding.
  3. The bride bowed to her elderly relatives, then gave them a whole boiled egg.
  4. On the journey from the lunch banquet to their new house the bride and groom had to each hang a red mirror round their necks.
  5. The bride and groom’s new house (purchased by the parents’) was visited by everyone and we all complimented their new surroundings. At this point, the bride was sitting in the bedroom looking a bit tired and despondent surrounded by female relatives. 
  6. We had to eat a strange bowl of baijiu-drenched, sticky, fermented rice. Afterwards we explored the village where the couple had moved to (right on Fujian lake, the second deepest lake in China, pretty old-school rural life and very scenic).
  7. Over dinner I was hastily given 10 yuan (£1) by a lady who I think was the bride’s mother.
  8. After dinner we revisited the bride, still on her bed, only now in a sexy red dress. My Chinese family decided that it was suddenly time to climb a mountain, so we gave our congratulations and said our good-byes.
  9. The first day, I think, was the most important. But I can’t tell, because we never saw anyone get married.


At the first wedding we were at, I did see the couple get properly married on a stage. But I doubt anyone else did. The dinner had already begun, and what with the opportunity to have a free banquet and a good ol’ chat, why waste precious socialising-time watching some youngsters getting hitched? In fact many people left midway through the ceremony. For something which both sides of the family had spent so much money on, I was a little surprised how casual the guests were. Although it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Not many people wore suits other than the groom, or even shirts, mostly just jeans and a not-too-scruffy top. All the teens were in hoodies. It was very relaxed with everyone making jokes, downing baijiu, and generally having a good time, which surely is what weddings should really be about!

Posted in Travel