Some photos provided by Diaoyutai Boutique Hotel & Weiai Wedding Planning & Zack KelsangMetok Wu
Millions of couples tie the knots in China every year. As May comes, the early summer wedding season is upon us.
Regardless of the changes, weddings are always an important part of Chinese culture. How are wedding customs and etiquette manifested today? Let's listen to what the "wedding insiders" say.
New Wedding Traditions
In 2016, 11,428,000 couples in China got married. According to a survey, roughly 70 percent of the newlyweds chose professional planners to organize their weddings. Today's weddings are mostly held in restaurants and hotels. Stages, hosts, lights and music are must haves.
Tan Jing has been working for two years for Weiai Wedding Planning, one of the largest wedding organizations in Chengdu. As the planning director, she has already planned five to six weddings in the past half month of September. She plans dozens of weddings each year on average. Having been to more weddings than most people, she still keeps a fresh perspective on wedding. As the wedding industry is changing fast, trends from last year may become outdated this year, or even be disappearing this year.
Tan Jing recalled the weddings she attended when she was a child: "People used to get together to have a feast, the groom would wear a suit, the bride would dress in red, and in winter a red coat would do." As she was growing up, she gradually realized that people started to pay more attention to the word 'ceremony'. But the concept of wedding ceremony really came to her only three years ago." "I came across a wedding sample on the internet when I was in Beijing in 2014: A crescent moon hangs above the central stage against a background of starry night, it looked like a dreamland. Before that I thought a wedding ceremony meant only flowers and drapes and at that moment my eyes opened. "
According to Tan's knowledge of the wedding industry, she believes that after 2000, people become more inclined to plan an exquisite wedding ceremony. Today's local wedding procedures, such as how to get on stage, exchange rings, and how to make wedding toast, toss bouquet and so on, came into being during the last two decades.
Today's weddings are organized by the professionals, and couples walk on gorgeously decorated stage to give their manifesto of love and share their stories. From beginning to end, it even develops like a romantic movie. However, in the 1990s, China's wedding industry had not yet sprouted. The focus of a wedding was on the banquet, and the fancy ceremony did not take shape.
Liu ling, a long-time restaurant owner, worked as a manager at mid and high level local restaurants in the 1990s. She recalled that two decades ago it was not a fresh idea to hold a wedding in a restaurant, with more focus on eating, the procedure was fast. At that time, hosts were often restaurant staff, such as herself. "Sometimes weddings were hosted by radio show or TV hosts. And you had to pay a few hundred Yuan for this."
"After the host's opening speech, the bride and groom come into the hall. The witness, often the groom's superior at work, proposes a toast and reads the marriage certificate, followed by parents' speeches. The newlyweds bow to thank their parents, guests and each other. And then, the banquet begins and the couple toast to the guests one table after another."
This simplified version of today's wedding was considered great in the old days. "Some of the new couples just invited their relatives and friends to eat at a restaurant after getting their marriage certificate, and some other couples even skipped that. In the past, many people lived near the factories where they worked, so they just held banquets at the factory canteen, the auditorium, and even in the courtyard of their houses."
Wedding Ceremony Evolution
Liu recalled red carpets, balloons, and Wedding March at some weddings of 1990s, "but, there was no rings' exchanging." Tan Jing said, "Now, influenced by western weddings, procedures like father giving away the bride, exchanging rings and vows, bride and groom kiss each other have become the very basic elements." When most people think it's a recent thing, however, foreign wedding culture influence can be traced back to the turn of the last century.
Matrimony in China is based on family, and the "marriage arranged by parents through matchmaking" was once commonplace in the traditional marriage customs. According to the Book of Rites and Marriage, the wedding has consisted of six steps since the Zhou dynasty, namely, proposal, asking birthdates, betrothal gifts, wedding gifts, arranging the wedding, wedding ceremony. Since the end of the 19th century, people began distancing themselves from arranged marriage. As the western wedding traditions spread to China, some young people have established new wedding custom. The couples wear tailored suits and white gowns. Superstition and complicated rituals are left behind. Such weddings first appeared in the southeastern coastal cities and commercial ports and then spread inland.
There are descriptions in the Mukden Annual that in the periods of Guangxu and Xuantong emperors in Qing dynasty, European customs gradually entered China. The new policies and regulations had not been set up, the so-called "civilized marriage" in which the old traditional Chinese rituals were combined with western styles appeared among the nobilities. If two families reached an agreement on marriage, rings and jewelries would be exchanged as the engagement gifts. There are also records in the book Qing baileichao that at a wedding, the witness reads the certificate stating the names of the groom, bride, the witness, the matchmaker, and the officiator, followed by speeches from the witnesses, the officiator, etc.
Out of all the weddings Tan Jing has planned, some respected authentic Chinese tradition by going through six steps, while others opted for western style with exchanging rings and sharing kisses. All these Chinese and western elements have come together, forming a new set of wedding procedures.
During the past century, a number of traditions that had lasted for thousands of years have evolved. The outcry against arranged marriage made today's freedom of choice possible. In ancient times, many weddings took place in the evening, but today, they are usually held at noon in north China and Sichuan province. Matchmaking, Chinese fortune telling and engagement have hugely declined. The dowry tradition, which still continues in many provinces in China, has been out of date in Sichuan. Some typical dowry items of the 1970s and 1980s: watches, sewing machine, and bicycle, have been replaced by a new house or a new car. As for the bridal chamber prank, Tan Jing said: "No one does it any more. Maybe some young people still do it for fun when the groom comes to pick up the bride."
*Bridal chamber prank: Chinese wedding tradition, guests pour into the bridal chamber to play pranks on the newlyweds as a way of expressing their wishes for the couple and driving away evil spirits.