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In China the family plays a major role in weddings and a marriage is largely about the joining of two families or the continuation of ancestral lines. In the past, the groom's parents would select a potential bride and then acquire the services of a matchmaker to act as a go between for the two families. Gifts would be given to the parents of the girl and the date and hour of her birth would be noted if they chose to proceed further with the proposal.
An astrologer would then be consulted to determine if the couple were a good match for each other based on their birth dates and Chinese fortune telling, known as suan ming (算命) which means "fate calculating". If it was determined that the signs were good then a "bride price" would be negotiated. This amount was to be given as money or property by the groom's family to the bride's family, this gift strengthened the ties between the two families and was a gesture of good will to recognize the fact that they were taking the bride away from her family. In modern China money is still given before many weddings, however the bride's family may give the money as a gift to the couple to help them to start their life together. After the proposal is accepted the families select an auspicious date for the wedding based on the Chinese calendar, making sure to avoid any unlucky days to ensure that the couple will have a good fortune in the future.
The bride's family would then be presented with the "Grand Gift" before the wedding day, this is a set of items such as food, tea, liquor or wine, fruit and cakes featuring a dragon or phoenix motif, that symbolize prosperity. Gifts should come in even numbers (such as two cakes or two fish), this has the meaning of "good things double" in Chinese culture. A small amount of lucky money is also given, usually in denominations with the number 9 (such as 99 or 999) since the number nine in Chinese is pronounced in the same way as the word for "long lasting" (久).
Before the day of her wedding the bride would go into seclusion to symbolize her reluctance to leave her family and friends. On the morning of her wedding day the "hair dressing" ritual would be performed, this is where a "lucky woman" (one who has living parents, children and a husband) helps the bride to make up her hair. The groom would similarly perform the "capping ritual" where his hair is styled in a bun and a cap is placed on his head, both rituals signify their coming of age into adulthood.
A bridal sedan chair would then be sent to the bride's home and a procession would travel back with the bride to the home of the groom. In ancient times this may be the first time that the couple has met since all the negotiations beforehand were carried out by intermediaries. During the wedding day ceremony the couple kneels three times, to heaven, earth and to their parents and ancestral tablets. Following this ritual a tea ceremony is performed where the couple give tea to each other's family members, starting with the eldest first, then progressing down though other family members. Tea is still an important of Chinese wedding ceremonies today because it symbolizes the fact that the families wish the couple to have as many descendants as there are tea leaves.
After the wedding ceremony there is a Chinese wedding banquet known as xǐ-jǐu (喜酒) literally meaning joyful wine. This is still a very important part of Chinese wedding celebrations today, the feast involves a large number of courses with luxurious items such as abalone, suckling pig, sea cucumber and birds nest soup. Unlike western wedding receptions, a Chinese wedding banquet will usually have no entertainment, music or dancing, another difference is that a wedding in China starts early in the morning and may often be completed by lunchtime. A common theme for decorations during a Chinese wedding is the color red and two stylized characters for the word "xi" (joy or happiness), when placed side by side (囍) this symbol represents "double happiness" since the couple will be twice as happy now that they are together.
Traditional Chinese Wedding Dress
In ancient China clothing was known as Hanfu, named after the largest ethnic group the “Han” and “Fu” meaning clothing. Hanfu consists of long robes with wide flowing sleeves and on their wedding day the bride and groom would wear this form of dress, often elaborately decorated with embroidery and jade. However, Hanfu was banned from the 17th century to the early 20th century during the Manchu Qing Dynasty. During this time the cheongsam (qi pao) or kwa became the standard form of dress for brides in China.
Nowadays, it is common for brides in China to wear two forms of dress on their wedding day, a modern white western style wedding gown that is used earlier in the day, plus a qi pao (northern China) or kwa (southern China) during the tea ceremony and banquet. The qi pao bridal gown is a one-piece dress while the kwa is a two-piece outfit, both types of wedding dress are often made from silk with gold and silver brocade.
Hanfu Wedding Dress
Modern Chinese Weddings
Chinese wedding planning is relatively brief, starting only three or four months before the wedding day, unlike western weddings which are usually planned at least 6 months to one year in advance. The tea ceremony, lucky money and the wedding banquet are still an important part of Chinese weddings and all three are common features in Chinese weddings throughout Asia. Another common element for modern Chinese weddings is the "wedding door game", this fun and playful activity takes place when the groom and his groomsmen go to the bride's home early in the day and are blocked from entering to see the bride by the bridesmaids. The groom will not be allowed to enter until he completes a series of challenges, including answering questions about the bride to show that he knows a lot about her and therefore cares for her. After passing these tests the bride will leave her home and a red umbrella will be held over her head to protect from evil spirits. The bride and groom will then travel by limousine (the modern equivalent of the sedan chair) to the groom's home for the tea ceremony.
A traditional Chinese wedding banquet will then be held in a hotel ballroom or a restaurant. Guests attending a modern Chinese banquet are expected to give the couple a cash gift of "lucky money" placed in an envelope, usually red. This money is typically an amount that approximately covers the cost of the guests meal and will vary depending on the location of the wedding, the status of the couple and guests, plus the guest's closeness to the newlyweds. The meal consists of many courses and during the banquet the couple will pass from table to table to thank the guests for attending, guests will leave soon after the meal has been completed. For more information about Chinese weddings throughout Asia please visit the sections below.