Welcome to the Budding Bride Guide section. Here you will find a condensed list of all the things to consider for your Chinese wedding with short descriptions and links to my lengthier, in-depth ramblings. I hope this will assist you as you plan your Chinese wedding. I will attempt to update and expand this section as I gain more Chinese bridal experience. Good Luck in Planning!
You are just attending a Chinese wedding and looking for some tips on do’s and don’ts? Check out Tips for Attending a Chinese Wedding.
You can technically have as many bridesmaids as you like but keep in mind that your husband will need to find the equal number of best men. Most weddings I have witnessed tend to have four or five bridesmaids. What do you need to do as a bridesmaid? Except defend the bride, collect red envelopes and selfie away not too much actually. Get the detailed bridesmaid experience here.
It took us six months, two attempts and lots of money to get the bureaucracy involved in a German-Chinese marriage sorted. You need to get certificates of nubility, birth certificates, passport and hukou, all of which need to go through a triple verification process. I have heard from many people that places like the US and the UK are much simpler by comparison. I plan on making a detailed infographic at some point in the near future. In the meantime read up on the bureaucracy here.
As with weddings the world over there will be decoration and it will follow a certain colour scheme. Now, tastes differ according to culture and in China, “China Red” is the lucky colour traditionally used for weddings, while shades of pink, purple and turquoise also seem to be big favourites. Be aware that if you have very specific colour ideas (e.g. I had dreamed up a grey-blue, Bordeaux scheme initially) you will have to pay much more money than if you simply go with their bog standard colour palette. Read about the colour chaos here.
The wedding date, this is a topic in its own. Anything with an 8 in it is a lucky number and our wedding date will feature two of them, so that should be good news for us. Otherwise, public holidays such as the 1st May or first week of October for national holiday are very popular. Stay away from the number 13. Why? It means “to separate”. Get the down low on the date here.
Since in China people love things grand, you can’t just only have one wedding dress. Well, maybe part of it is also the fact that traditionally in China the bride wore read, while nowadays the white Western wedding dress is also very common. So, you need at least two dresses. However at both weddings I attended the brides had a total of four dresses. Details on what dress to wear when and where to get the cheapest wedding dress in China will follow soon.
One big part of the wedding ceremony is drinking the “happy alcohol” with every table. Since many big lavish weddings have around 30 to 40 tables, that equals the same amount of Baijiu glasses making their way down your protesting throat and into your stomach to try and defeat your stomach acid in the grand battle of gastric lake. Luckily, you will have help from relatives and on occasion best men. Also, as a woman there are tricks to get out of it. The men however tend to be so plastered after the wedding they can barely walk. Don’t expect a traditional Western wedding night! Read the coping mechanisms in relation to Chinese wedding drinking here.
So far my absolute favourite of all the wedding shenanigans. These pictures are taken shortly before the wedding by professional photographers and will feature in your wedding display. You will have a set of different outfits such as Han Chinese wedding dress, Old Shanghai qipao’s, evening gowns and Western wedding dresses and take photos in special photography studio villas and/or outside. Read about the weird things that will happen, such as shaved eyebrows and nipple compliments here.
The food at Chinese weddings, well how do I put it. It seems to be a common experience of many foreigners I have spoken to in China that the more exclusive a Chinese banquet is, the weirder and more inedible the food becomes. Concerningly jelly-like and generally strange consistencies of food are common. Things such as sea cucumber are a classic. I will soon share some details about why we will have six soups at our wedding.
The Chinese expression 收礼区 gift area could be seen as misleading because it implies a multitude of items could be wedding gifts, when in fact there is only one acceptable wedding gift in China, a red envelope stuffed with money. Hey, at least there is no time wasted wondering about what to present to buy for the happy couple, which they might then not use anyway. This area usually has a guest book to sign and is decorated according to the wedding theme.
Happiness Candies (or Wedding Candies)
On the day of your wedding you will have to hand out these sweet treats to anyone you meet by way of celebrating. If you are a foreigner, you will probably be enlisted during the next trip home to bring back as many sweats as you can possibly carry, as having foreign happiness candy is seen as exclusive and constitutes a gain of face.
Traditionally, Chinese weddings have a host. That sounds a lot like talkshow atmosphere and sadly or funnily, depending on your point of view, that is exactly what these noisy “entertainers” are like. Since religion is not allowed and the couple are legally already married the “ceremony” is held by the host and is merely for show. It is also their job to “set the right mood” for the wedding by cheering on the guests and in many cases being almost revoltingly cheesy. Some modern-minded couples ask friends to be a host, to make it more personal and less tacky, or might not even have a host at all. That notion was however quickly quashed by MIL, who insisted that there were too many people at our wedding for our friend to handle, as he was not “a professional”. Read the story of how I earned the host’s severe disapproval as a bridesmaid.
I J K
The location of your wedding is a big question if you are an international couple. You might not necessarily want a Chinese wedding but your Chinese family most certainly does and refusing them is next to impossible. In this case your location in China will be your partner’s hometown. You might also want to have a second wedding in your home country. Read up on the considerations that went into our decision to have two weddings.
Oh, the sensitive issue of money. Traditionally the parents of the groom pay for the wedding in China and with today’s Chinese brides’ expectations it can often lead to conflict. Then there are such things as the dowry, and the fact that you never know how much you should be paying for your wedding but what you know for certain is you are probably paying too much. More detailed explanations about the monetary issues of Chinese weddings coming soon.
Probably since nightclubs and any entertainment resembling such are still loosely associated with mafia and the underworld among China’s elders, there is no dancing at regular Chinese weddings. Though a modern couple might take the younger generation out to a club after the wedding if they can still walk from all the alcohol. Hence, there is no question of band or DJ. Usually, there will be playback music during the ceremony and then live singers help to loosen up the procedure. These can either be close friends of the couple, or sometimes even the groom himself, or a professional hired singer, often foreign women to gain face.
It is not yet very common for Chinese men to propose in public due to the fact that public displays of affection have only recently become slightly more accepted in Chinese society. In fact, in the past it was no common for Chinese men to propose at all. Hence, Mr Li became the Inofficial Fiance. When they do, many Chinese men I know propose at home or in a secluded place. Here I recount Mr.Li’s fabulous proposal, which included a messy flat, a curry-cooking burglar and a lack of “the question”.
Who are the people at and involved in your wedding, you might wonder. As usual in China, there are so many of them it is difficult to mention them all. That does not mean I won’t try. If the family you are marrying into is middle class and cares about face expect a ludicrous number of guests neither you nor your future husband have ever met in their lives (on average maybe from 300 upwards). Your closest friends will act as bridesmaids and best men. Then there is the host, possibly singers, the sound crew for the ceremony, photography and video crew for the whole day, stylist plus assistant, wedding planner, hotel managers and staff. Basically probably around 20 – 30 people on average tend to be involved in making this event happen.
See Buraucracy. You will need so many certificates. You will need certificates for your certificates.
I do not even know how many superstitions there are in China, it is hard to keep up. What is sure is they will often interfere with your wedding plans, maybe you are not allowed to marry within a year or ghosts will stop you from taking engagement pictures.
In many cases, Chinese weddings do not only have a colour scheme they also have theme, such as the UK, Han style, ethnic minority style or Old Shanghai. Read about my battle for the latter here.
In China, there is not yet so much creativity with regards to wedding venues. Usually, they will simply be in a hotel, if the parents are comparatively wealthy a five-star hotel is a “must”, again it is all about the face. To Western eyes, this can seem really impersonal, just a room in a hotel, whereas at home we often look for special wedding locales with character, here it is typically standardised, unsurprising considering the country’s sheer number and roots in collectivism. This is where the wedding theme and display go a long way in giving the wedding character. The major problem with five-star hotels though is their attitude. Read about how the IM Hotel held my wedding hostage.
Despite Mr Li’s conviction that wedding planners only assist with the decoration, they do actually help find all the people involved in your wedding, of which there will be many. Especially if you are having the wedding in a city from third-tier downwards you need to brace yourself. Standards of professionalism are in many cases appalling, as I wrote about at length. Though at some point you will hopefully get lucky, like I seemingly have *touch wood*. The key is perseverance. Of course you need to be aware that as soon as you have any specific ideas that are not their bog-standard, reusable colours or schemes, the price will skyrocket. We are looking at around 12,000 RMB for everything from flowers to musicians for a run-of-the-mill vintage theme; if you want customised expect at least four times that; and this is in a third-tier city, the higher the tier the more London-like the price. According to my boss in Nanjing you will be looking at 400 000 RMB total cost for a wedding on average.
The wedding display is a decorative item in the wedding ceremony. It will usually be placed close to the entrance of the room you are having the wedding in and it will correspond to a theme and colour scheme of your choosing. It often includes a table filled with little decorative tidbits, your engagement photos, some flowers and maybe some sweets. It gives the whole wedding its feel and is in my opinion the most attention-catching decorative piece of the wedding. Read about how I considered doing my own display.