A Chinese Wedding

Posted by on November 7, 2011

A Chinese Wedding

I had the opportunity to attend a co-workers wedding this past weekend. As the boss I was asked to be a special guest and to make a small speech of congratulations. I was honored to be invited and to be asked to participate; I was also excited to see a Chinese wedding.

The Wedding Stage

My observations should be read in light of several facts. While there is a very strong ideal of American weddings, with a church, stately music and long procession down the aisle I come from a long line of Mormon weddings. The ceremony occurs in private in a Mormon temple with only family and close friends (less than 50), typically there is a brunch afterwards and then a break until we reconvene at the wedding reception in the evening; usually these take place in the gym of a local church that has been carefully decorated to hide its basketball like quality. Alternatively this is my only Chinese wedding so its difficult for me to tell how much of what I experienced was traditional or typical.

The Master of Ceremonies

Lu Yu and his bride to be both live in Beijing. She works as a prosecutor and Lu Yu works as a software engineer. Lu Yu is from the Yanqing district of the Beijing, still technically within boundaries of the Beijing Municipality, but its 90 kilometers from the city center out past the BaDaLing Great Wall far enough away that it is more countryside than the city. The wedding was to occur at 11:08 am, the most propitious time and date to be married according to the Chinese calendar. Lu Yu told me that his wedding wouldn’t be super fancy, and would be simpler; much of this I would guess is his reaction to weddings that you can observe in Beijing where you can see a Lamborghini driving down the street next to the sea of bikes and enclosed motorcycles.

Spotlights in the Wedding Hall

Sofi and I left our apartment at 9am and we arrived around 10:15. The wedding was located at a big wedding hall 新风酒店 (New Wind Hotel). There was a large red arch entry way; a balloon structure made of polyester and air held aloft by the electric blower. Lu Yu told me that the morning would involve him “stealing the bride”, where she would be barricaded in a local house and he’d have to bribe her “escape” with red envelops hongbao and other gifts. We just missed them arriving at the wedding hall in a long line of black Audi sedans; thousands of exploding fire crackers announce their arrival. We walked up the four flights of stairs to the fourth floor to a large hall with a large archway of flowers at one end, 12-15 large round tables that could each seat 12 people each and at the other end a stage draped in pink with two flower encrusted intertwined hearts. Lu Yu introduced me to his parents and his brides parents and we sat at the table with other fellow Amazonians. Lu Yu came up with the master of the ceremonies (MOC) to discuss the proceedings and my part, that I’d be first introduced and then later be asked to come up on stage to give my speech.

Cigarettes and White Lightning

The tables add had two large bottles of orange juice, a red bottle of BaiJiu, a plate of candy and a plate of cigarettes. Baijiu (白酒) translates to White Wine, but its really distilled liquor though this was only 38% or 76 proof.  If your ever in China and someone asks you if you want some wine to drink this is probably what your gonna get.  The table also had sunflower seeds as a snack and everyone sat around chewing seeds and chatting as guests arrived. Most everyone was dressed rather casually, jeans, t-shirts or sweatshirts. The parents of the bride and groom were dressed a little nicer, but virtually no dresses or suits except for the to be married couple.

Walking to the Stage

Sometime shortly after 11 but not coinciding exactly with the designated time, the lights in the hall were turned off and things got very very dark except for two spot lights that were centered on the back corner and loud music blared over the speakers closely resembling the Eye of the Tiger theme from Rocky. The MOC announced the wedding was to commence in a very loud professional announcer like voice. Then he came running through the arched banner at one end through the tables to the stage at the other end where he took several bows in the spotlights. He reminded me of a cross between a game show host and the announcer at boxing match. The spot lights, the music and showers of confetti all contributed to the sensation of stylized, choreographed and orchestrated event.

The Announcer and the Couple

My ability to understand all of what went on is limited to the smattering of Chinese I could understand. But the general outline was fairly easy to follow. First there was a series of questions from the MOC on stage to the wedding couple who were gathered under the arch of flowers. There was a serious officious tone to a series of questions to Lu Yu to which he answered a loud “YES!” and the same to his bride to be. Then the couple walked between the rows of tables under spot lights with people throwing rose petals on them. The rest of the main events were :

  •  I made a speech : excusing the fact I had to speak in English, honored that could attend Lu Yu’s wedding on his happy day and I wished him and his wife a long life and happiness and love with each other and through their children.  Mine was translated by the MOC.  He said a lot more words than I did leading me to believe he was very liberal in his translation.
  • Lu Yu’s brides boss also made a speech, his in Chinese and I am sure sounding much better. He even got a few laughs.
  • the couple exchanged rings, Lu Yu got a bit nervous and had hard time getting the ring on her finger
  • they exchanged a kiss, it was a nice moment afterwards
  • father’s on both sides gave a short speech, it was cute seeing their awkwardness at speech making in the bright lights of the spot lot and the pride and emotion in their eyes.
  • the couple used a long taper to light a heart shaped tier of candles
  • the couple poured a huge bottle of wine over a tiered stand of wine glasses while they all filled from the overflowing
  • the couple toasted each other with a glass of the wine and drank with arms intertwined
  • the couple presented a cup of tea to each other’s mother’s calling them mother
  • the bride threw her wedding bouquet into the crowd of hopefuls, who included men and women; in fact the person who caught it was a guy and he gave a short speech as well with everyone laughing because of some confetti he had hanging from his lip
  • the bride and groom threw small stuffed animals that were surrounding the wine glasses and candles into the crowd.  Zhihui’s wife caught one and she gave it to Sofi.

The Couples Kiss
A Sweet Moment
The Married Couple

Through out all of this the MOC provided a bravado and official stream of speech and commentary on all the events.  Guiding and leading all the participates through the process, he would even raise his hands in the act of clapping to queue the audience to respond in kind.  In all this ceremony from the audience there was constant loud chatter and talking at the tables as individuals gave speeches and lots of cheering and clapping as well.  And then it was over, the lights came up and immediately the Wedding Hall waiters started bringing out the food. Somewhere in all of this I assume the couple were pronounced Man and Wife or maybe they said “I do” with their resounding “YES!”  The workers of the Wedding Events started taking down big blankets that had covered the windows and sealed out all light for the dark ceremony.  The plates of food kept coming one and after another.  By tradition guests should have enough food that they can’t eat it all.  There must have been at least 20 dishes at each table.  The food was good, but was on par with what you’d expect trying to feed 15 large tables at all once.

红包 - Red Envelope
The Pile of Food

The bride changed into a traditional red Chinese dress and then her and Lu Yu proceeded to make their way to every guest at every table where the bride filled the glass of each person who stood and toasted them and gave a hongbao stuffed with 100’s of rmb to the couple.   It wasn’t only the bride and groom that came around making sure everyone had enough to drink but aunts and uncles came around as well. At our table only three of the men were drinking baijiu, everyone else was drinking water or juice.  Food was finished, and Lu Yu came around for one more happy toast.  As he kicked back his glass he whispered to me (“my bottle of baijiu is filled with water”).  And then everyone cleared out the wedding hall and we went

HaiJiao gets a Refill
Lu Yu Toasts

Lu Yu told me that close friends and family members would gather back at his home for more celebration.  Sofi and I fought the traffic back into Beijing and home.  A great day for a Chinese Wedding.  In reflection its not surprising given the great fulcrum of the communist revolution there is no spiritual overtone to the wedding, but amidst all the revelry it was hard to pick out the tradition that tied the past to the present.  Everything was definitely focused as all good Chinese gatherings are on food and celebration.  I was honored to be invited.

The Wedding Hall

All of the photos on Flickr here.

9 Responses to A Chinese Wedding

  1. christine

    sometimes, the spirituality is seen in the joy. the three photos of their kiss, and then the smiles after, made me very happy.

    God is with them. long may they run.

  2. Mark Griffith

    Christine absolutely agree that the photos of them kissing, and touching foreheads best exemplified what all weddings should strive to express a celebration of love of two people coming together!

  3. Heather

    Sounds like a very typical ceremony that you attended! I’ve been in China for 6 years so I’ve been to a few now. A few months ago a dear friend asked my husband and I to be the Best Man/Matron of Honor for her wedding. We traveled to a small town (very rural) about 4 hours south of Beijing. No foreigner had ever been there before. We were a little worried because our presence drew a lot of attention away from the bride and groom, but also gave an enormous amount of face to the groom’s parents, as the top Communist Party official, mayor and all the head cadres threw us a huge banquet the night before. I helped the bride hide her shoes (for the groom to find) and prepare all sorts of ceremonial coins, ribbons, etc. that are part of the ceremony (although she really didn’t know what they meant!). When the groom arrived, I had to force the door shut until he sang a song that I liked. We had so much fun! Best of all, the bride and groom’s families embraced us as their own making us feel welcome in a way that we never had before. It was a real honor for us to actually take part in the festivities, as you did with your speech.

  4. Mark Griffith

    Yes Lu Yu and his brides parents were both very very gracious and thankful for my attendance, I in turn was the one that was honored to participate. Since my own daughter is getting married in December it was a cause for an extra measure of reflection.

  5. Ruth Onuegbu

    Mark, Your blog is amazing! I really enjoy reading about your experiences and admiring the photos.
    SPECTACULAR!! I hope the family is doing well. Please say hello to everyone from all of us.
    So Kia is getting married? Awesome!

  6. Matt

    Mark, does this blog work in china? if so, can you email me and let me know how you did it? i’ve been trying to find a blog site to use while living here in Beijing. I’ve just discovered your blog and think it’s great. Thanks

    • Mark Griffith

      Hey Matt yes this blog is accessible in China. This is running on a website hosted in the US. (Dreamhost.com) and they will run local installs of wordpress. If you have wordpress.com host the blog it will be blocked. Additionally you can use c-name blogger.com’s to host as well (http://blog.niffgurd.com) but not those hosted on blogspot.com domain name. Good luck.

  7. Matt

    Thanks Mark. Can you explain or help me out a little with the “c-name blogger.com’s host” thing??? I have a blogger.com blog now, but want it to be accessible without using a vpn. I guess if it’s easier to use the dreamhost.com thing I could and do a wordpress blog. Thanks for the help.

  8. Matt

    Sorry for all the questions, any recommendations with the domain host? does it matter which company i choose?
    ix web hosting
    DNS Park

    these were some suggested to me, i want to do this with my blogger blog. I guess i just want to know if I use godaddy.com or some other domain host, will i be able to do my blog and have people read it in China without a VPN. Thanks, and again sorry for so many questions.

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