Saturday, January 17, 2015

A Big Fat Chinese Wedding

Back in November Margot and I were invited to the wedding of one of my colleagues at SSTPC (Sinopec-SABIC Tianjin Petrochemical). Venessa Wu Junmei and I have been practicing English and Chinese at lunch for the last year or so and I was honored to be invited. Our offices are in a Sinopec owned hotel in Dagang and over the last 2 years there have been a number of weddings there during the week so I was generally familiar with the concepts. I wouldn't call this a traditional-traditional Chinese wedding but a new-traditional wedding.

During the Cultural Revolution (1966 - 1976) all forms of religion were stamped out or forced deep underground. Religion is making a comeback but for Chinese of Junmei's generation it is a very secular societal environment. The wedding ceremony follows some of the western traditions but without the blessing of God. Blended in are certain Chinese tradition. The first of which is that every important event in China starts with fireworks.

The wedding ceremony and reception were held at a restaurant that specializes in weddings. The fireworks are prepared in the street in front of the restaurant. Click the video to get a flavor of it.

After the fireworks the bride and groom arrive in a car escorted by the best man and maid-of-honor.

The bride is carried up the steps to the wedding venue.

Click to enlarge.

The wedding ceremony, decorations, bridal gowns, etc. are all arranged by companies that specialize in this service.

I didn't ask but I imagine the English elements are due to Junmei's interest in the language. On the other hand, English touches are pretty common in magazines, advertisements, etc. and seem to be perceived as adding a touch of class.

I suppose the bride and groom - well the bride anyway - chooses from a range of options for the decorations. Notice the goldfish in the flower holder.

Each place at the table had a small box of 喜糖 (xǐtáng) or wedding sweets.

Xitang are also given out on the birth of baby or other joyous occasions.

There was some entertainment. This young girl is a relative of the bride and gave a brief dance performance.

During this time the guests are chatting, watching the dance, etc. all while the bride changes her dress, hair and make-up.

Finally we are ready to get down to business. The flower girl and her wrangler are ready to go.

The bride appears and is seated in a swing surrounded by her family.

The groom appears and asks her to marry him. She agrees and they walk up the aisle to the stage.

At this point the master-of-ceremonies takes over and leads the bride and groom through the rituals.

There is an exchange of  rings.

Notice the bubbles adding a celebratory effect.

They light some candles as the MOC says some nice words.

Same with the champagne.

They drink a toast.

I thought this part was interesting. The gentleman on the left, Mr. Cui, is Junmei's boss. The guy on the right represents the groom's company. They said a few words - I didn't understand a thing - but everyone applauded politely.

I think this is a throwback to the 50s, 60s,70s, and perhaps 80s when the Communist Party kept a pretty tight control on everyone's life. You had to get the permission of your work unit to marry. Both the bride and groom work for state-owned companies. I don't know if this is included in the ceremony if they work for private companies.

I don't know if you noticed but many of the women wear this decoration in their hair. It is 囍囍. You'll notice that the 囍 character is made up of two 喜s from xǐtáng. 囍 means double happiness. By Tianjin tradition the women wear it on the right if they are friends of the groom and the left for the bride.

The wedding party all participate in cutting the cake.

The bride has changed dresses again. (She will wear 5 dresses over the course of the wedding.) Here they great each guest. This is the grooms family.

Wedding gifts are really simple in China. The only suitable gift is cash - some of which you see exchanging hands here. No gift registration, no doubles, no returns, never the wrong color, etc. I guess the only thing you have to worry about is if it is the wrong size. :)

Usually the gifts are offered in a red envelope or 紅包 (hóngbāo). You can write your name on the envelope so the bride and groom can keep track and offer a thank you. Actually there are some rules about the amount. The most important is to avoid 4's. So 40, 400, 444, etc. are out. The reason is that the word for 4, 四 (sì) sounds similar to  (sǐ) which means to die. 

The amount of food was incredible. The dishes were stacked 2 and 3 high.

This is the 4th dress and hair style. I didn't get a picture of the 5th but it was a traditional Chinese qipao.

Things are winding down at this point. Once the last dress appears the party is over and everyone departs.

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