With so many changes in China over the past 30 years of opening up, it isn’t surprising that weddings have been hugely impacted as well. The result is that in modern China it’s incredibly hard to say what a “typical” wedding includes beyond a large meal and a lot of drinking. So I will describe a wedding I attended last year in Chengdu in order to present some of the interesting twists that now appear in Chinese weddings.
I was greeted at the door by the bride and groom who shook my hand before I was passed off to the official gift collectors. These people counted the money given by each guest and then recorded the figure in a book next to my name. Upstairs I was seated at one of the tables reserved for teachers from my department. The table was already full of cold dishes (appetizers), and several of them had almost been finished by the time I arrived.
The first person that caught my eye was the wedding host. In this case it was a man in some kind of “high fashion” suit that waxed on the meaning of love in an effort to make the women cry (or at least that’s how it was explained to me).
A Disney song (I think it was something from Pocahontas) blasted through the house speakers as the bride and groom made their grand entrance. She was wearing a white Western-style dress and he was wearing a somewhat loosely fitting tux as they walked down the aisle with fireworks on both sides. Friends, relatives, and co-workers fought to get the perfect picture with their mobile phone. It seemed like a strange tribute to Hollywood style weddings, only a bit more dangerous.
The couple than stood patiently as both of their bosses read speeches praising the value of marriage and their individual accomplishments at work. No one in the audience seemed to be listening as the men awkwardly shouted their prepared words into the microphone. At points I felt the urge to shush those casually chatting at the table next to mine, but I managed to resist.
Once that bit was finished, in what seemed to be a nod to a tradition, the couple poured tea for both sets of parents, and presented it by kneeling before them. This, as far as I could tell, was the most important act of the ceremony because the crowd actually fell silent for a moment.
Finally the happy couple kissed as we were once again treated to more Disney music and a barrage of bubbles while the crowd surged to snap photos of this magical moment. It took me several minutes to even begin to process what I had witnessed.
Did anyone there even remember what a traditional Chinese wedding was like? Why were the bosses there? And how many movies do you have to watch before you can claim to be able to plan a Western-style wedding?
There was no time to think about those questions, it was time for the massive banquet along with copious amounts of Chinese red wine (awful) and baijiu (somehow worse than the wine). The bride and groom left pleasantly drunk, after being toasted by each guest, to start their new lives together.
As you may have guessed by now, this week’s focus is going to be weddings and marriage in China, including an amazing guest post by one of my Chinese friends on why he hates the whole subject, a look at a few of the fun/crazy wedding traditions, along with other bits of cultural fun.