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Traditional Chinese weddings have slowly adopted more contemporary features over the generations. However, certain cherished elements are a fixture in most Chinese weddings which date back centuries. If you’re considering becoming engaged or happen to be traveling through China during wedding season, you should familiarize yourself with some of these most revered traditions.
Before the Wedding
Although Chinese wedding customs varies from area to area, there are essential rituals they have in common. These include proposal making, birthday inquiring, marriage divination, the betrothal gift presentation, wedding date fixing, bridal dowry delivering, and the wedding ceremony itself.
Proposal Making. In ancient times, marriage was completely arranged by the parents of the future bride and groom. When a boy’s parents found a prospective bride-to-be, they would send a matchmaker to the girl’s family to discuss the possibility of the union.
Birthday Inquiring. If the proposal is agreed to by the girl and her family, the boy’s parents would send a matchmaker to the girl’s family to inquire into girl’s name and date of birth.
Marriage Divination. The boy’s parents would send the name and birth-date of the boy and the girl to a future-teller to see whether their marriage is appropriate.
Betrothal Gift Presenting. Two or three months before the wedding, the bridegroom’s family arranges the betrothal gift including betrothal letter, clothes, jewelry, gold, silver and money, and asks the match-maker to present these to the bride’s family. This acts as the groom’s formal proposal to the bride’s family. The bride’s family will often agree to entrust their daughter into the groom’s care.
During the period between the wedding date settlement and welcoming the bride, the bride’s parents will deliver the bride’s dowry a few days before the wedding, including pillows, new clothes for the bride in a suitcase, a tea set for the wedding’s tea ceremony, two pairs of red wooden clogs, gold jewelry given by bride’s parents, etc.
A “return gift” is then given by the bride’s family to that of the groom intended to express the wish to uphold positive relations between the in-laws.
Wedding Date Fixing. If the engagement is confirmed, the two families would invite an experienced person to choose a proper wedding date according to tung shing, a Chinese divination guide and almanac. The chosen wedding date is believed to be auspicious, which could bring good luck and happiness for the new couple in the future. Couples typically base their chosen wedding day based on their birthdays and keep away from certain dates and seasons deemed to be unlucky.
A few days before the wedding takes place, the bridal bed will be built and close friends of the bride-to-be will cover it in dried longans, red dates, lotus seeds, persimmon, a sprig of pomegranate leaves, and some money. The bed, once installed, is off-limits to anyone but the married couple.
The night before the big day, both the bride and groom typically undergo a hair-combing ceremony separately in their respective homes. Both bride and groom will first bathe with pomegranate leaves or pomelo to protect them from evil spirits. The two are adorned with new clothing and slippers when they are done. Then a close friend or family member is permitted to comb the hair of the bride and groom.
The hair is combed four times, each time a line of a poem is recited by whomever is doing the combing:
May your marriage last a lifetime,
May you be blessed with a happy and harmonious marriage until old age,
May you be blessed with an abundance of children and grandchildren,
May you be blessed with longevity
Bridal Dowry Delivering
Wedding Ceremony. The final ritual would be the wedding ceremony where bride and groom become a married couple.
Chinese Wedding Decorations
Red is the wedding color of China, because it signifies love, joy and prosperity. When decorating the wedding, the character for happiness (xi) would be hanged, which symbolizes happiness in the future.
On the Wedding Day
The wedding ceremony is mainly composed of the following parts:
Welcoming the Bride
On the morning of the wedding day, the groom goes to the bride’s home. Younger brides often have a few girlfriends at the home who will tease the groom and beg for small gifts or red envelopes stuffed with money before letting him in. Then the groom carries the bride on his back to the sedan chair. Accompanied by boisterous blaring trumpets, the bride is welcomed into the groom’s home.
Bowing to Heaven and Earth
Once at the groom’s home, the bride and groom bow to heaven and earth in front of the groom’s family altar first, the groom’s parents second, and to each other last.
Traditional Tea Ceremony
At the groom’s home, the couple offers tea to their elders including the groom’s parents. The elder’s acceptance of the tea indicates that the family has welcomed the bride into the groom’s family.
The Day after Wedding
On the day after wedding, the bride wakes up early and pays a visit to the groom’s relatives. It is only then that she is formally introduced to the grooms’ relatives, while the bride would receive small gift from the groom’s relatives.
Three days after the wedding, the bride and bridegroom will pay a visit to the bride’s family, at which point the bride would be received as a guest as opposed to a member of her former family.
In some areas of China, this traditional Chinese wedding customs still exists. If you are lucky enough, you may see a traditional Chinese wedding ceremony during your China tours, which would be an extremely interesting experience on your trip.