What are Chinese customs for love

Chinese wedding - between tradition and modernity

Thousands of people testify to their love in front of the altar every day. So also in China? Which wedding customs are used in the Middle Kingdom? How do you find your partner or what color is the wedding dress? Let yourself be surprised!

The search for great love

Not so long ago, a love wedding was a rarity in China. Arranged marriages were common there until the 1970s and 80s. Even today, the social status, occupation and property of a partner still play an important role. This becomes clear in the so-called marriage markets. These take place at regular intervals in inner-city parks. Parents or relatives act as matchmakers and try to “get their children” when they are of marriageable age. Most of the ads are actually about the placement of subsidiaries. Anyone who is female and older than 27 is considered a “remaining woman” (剩 女 shèngnǚ) and is difficult to place.

In the advertisements, the information about the academic degree, the monthly income and even whether the future person already has their own apartment plays a central role. This information is listed immediately by name, year of birth and gender. Romance and love are put on the back burner. So it still often happens that instead of love, financial security comes to the fore. Once the dream partner has been found, they are introduced to their own child. It is difficult to say whether this will actually lead to a wedding.

Red or white?

Traditionally, people in China marry in red - the color of happiness. Today you can often see wedding dresses based on western models in white, although the color white is still associated with mourning. During the wedding ceremony, the clothes are changed several times anyway, with the last dress usually being red. The wedding photos are taken in special wedding studios before the wedding. During the procedure, which often takes hours, the couple slips into one or the other disguise and costs a few thousand yuan.

The woman's traditional wedding dress is called Qipao 旗袍. It is a red, tight-fitting dress with side slits, a high-necked collar and buttons on the shoulder. Nowadays, the qipao is also often worn on other official occasions.

The acid test

It is tradition that the husband picks up his future wife at home on the day of the wedding. Before he can enter the bride's room, however, he must first push some Hongbao 红包 (“red envelopes”) with a symbolic amount of money under the door. Often there are still more hurdles to overcome before he gets to see the bride. Before he can finally kidnap her and carry her over the threshold out of the room, he has to look for the bride's shoe, which his friends had previously hidden. These types of games can be seen as a "test".

In the festively decorated car we go to the house of the groom's parents. Now the test for the bride takes place. She now serves her in-laws to her in-laws and can put her domestic skills to the test. This is still a relic from ancient times, when the wife not only married into the husband's family, but also lived there and worked in the household.

The wedding ceremony

Larger weddings are usually organized in restaurants, hotels or special wedding locations. Not only friends and relatives come to the wedding, but also superiors, so that you can quickly reach 100 guests.

As is customary in China, various dishes are served on round tables that are shared at the wedding. The number of aisles, but also the color scheme, are important. In addition to a main course such as duck, chicken or fish, eight warm and eight cold dishes are usually served. Eight is considered an absolute lucky number in China. At this point, however, the bride and groom are not allowed to have a bite to eat. It usually goes from table to table to toast with guests. The main thing here is to prove that it is drinkable.

A moderator is usually booked for the western part of the ceremony, where the bride and groom say yes and exchange rings. Going to the district office, where the wedding is registered, is purely a matter of form. An auspicious date is often chosen for the wedding day.

Gifts

The often very high expenses for a wedding are offset by the traditional Hongbao gifts. The red envelopes should contain at least 102 yuan of money. Even amounts are not considered auspicious. The amount in a Hongbao depends on how well the guests know the couple. Some of the envelopes are opened immediately on the spot to count the money. The value is then entered in a list together with the name of the guest. This may seem unusual, but it is necessary in order to be able to give the donor the same amount back at a potential next celebration. If you were to give less, there would be the possibility of “losing face”.

Fun in the wedding room

After the celebration, the bride and groom set off to their wedding room together with their closest friends. This was previously set up in a room in the parental home. Today, a hotel room is often booked for this purpose if the couple does not yet have their own apartment. The traditional decoration - the red double happiness symbol 囍 (shuāngxǐ) should of course not be missing in any wedding room. It is a symbol of marriage and is also often found on the doorstep of newlyweds.

The following games and pranks in the "fun in the wedding room" were meant to break down inhibitions and get to know each other better at the time of arranged marriages. Today, fun is the main focus of this custom. A typical game is biting into an apple at the same time, which is being hung up between the newlyweds. The couple are not allowed to use their hands to help and it quickly happens that their lips suddenly touch. The motto here: The more jokes are played in the games, the happier the marriage.

For you writes: Anna Sellmann

Sinologist M.A. | Blog Editor | Employee at the Museum for East Asian Art Cologne | Lecturer in Chinese