Chinese Wedding

Forest and I had the honor of attending a Microsoft colleague’s wedding! It was a great cultural mashup, starting with the email invitation arriving one week before the date and casual dresscode.  We were told only the bride and groom needed to dress up.  I didn’t believe it, such absurdity went against all my Latina instincts; I wore a skirt and heels and felt ridiculous.  I should have heeded our Chinese friend’s advice and not my mother’s wisdom about erring on overdressing versus underdressing. No big deal, worse faux pas have been committed at weddings, including by me, at my own wedding.

Anyway, the wedding was in the ballroom of a big Yunnanese hotel. The floral centerpieces were beautiful and the table settings included a bottle of wine, a jug of Chinese liquor (beijiu, strong rice wine) and a plate of cigarettes. We gave a wedding party member our red envelope stuffed with 888 kuai (lucky number). We sat with Forest’s buddy and his family.  After the guests settled in, the bride and groom entered to much fanfare and camera flash. I think there were like 3 videographers and 2 photographers. Jijia, the groom wore a suit, she a beautiful white dress, Western style.  He had prepared an outstanding multimedia presentation chronicling their childhood and then courtship.  The two spent a long time in long-distance relationships as they both worked overseas after college.  Much of the history was lost on us as we only got a bit of translation. But it was fun to see the pictures. Also, Jijia created an incredible design using parts of their names and a symbol that looked like a bird in flight. This was incorporated into much of the day’s decoration, signage and party favors.

Ceremony was simple and secular.  An old family friend delivered a speech and some homilies.  Mother of the bride wrote a beautiful poem, recited by the father.  The young couple borrowed a Western tradition of jointly cutting a huge frilly multi-tiered cake and posing for a picture with knife in hand. Our friends’ little boy was excited about that part, but after later investigation, he reported that the cake was fake! The last part of the ceremony was my favorite.  The two sets of parents served tea to the couple, and the bride and groom drank tea with their new in-laws and officially started calling them "mother" and "father." I thought it was a nice ritual of bringing new relatives together.

Our Chinese friends told us that modern weddings are mostly made up from scratch, borrowing from Western and Chinese traditions.  Weddings of this fashion are pretty new in China. Before Mao, weddings were arranged by families and brides whisked off to become the groom’s family property, so I’ve read in American fiction! But since the revolution, until the recent economic boom, marital unions have by necessity been a modest and pragmatic affair. I identify with the urge to embrace cultural traditions while trying to express ourselves in a modern way. Is cutting a fake cake any more or less hollow then a wedding ceremony conducted in "Cat in the Hat" cadence, or having dad "give away" a financially and socially independent woman?

After the guests started feasting on such delicious courses (really!) as fermented tofu, sea cucumber soup, goose liver, chicken feet, beef and garlic fried rice, roasted meats and other goodies, the bride changed into a traditional red Chinese dress, and the couple went around with their parents toasting the guests at each table.   Most of the family is in the North of China, and a ceremony was already performed there.  This reception was mostly to include one of the parents military buddies, party comrades, and the couple’s local Beijing college classmates and work colleagues. Like any wedding the world over, it was fun, full of hope and promise, and a few of dad’s drunk buddies.

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