Chinese Traditional Wedding: What to expect from an expat’s view

**Disclosure: I am not an expert on Chinese weddings. These are just some of the things I’ve noticed from the weddings I’ve been to in China. Which equals a whole two. Not a huge sample size by any stretch of the imagination. Some of my generalizations may be purely coincidence and not at all typical of all Chinese weddings. if you have more questions, I would suggest asking a Chinese friend. **

  1. What should you wear?

  2. Whatever you want. I was really nervous about what to wear to both of the weddings we’ve been to. Shouldn’t have been. You’ll see everything from jeans and sneakers (I wouldn’t suggest going that casual, but you’ll see it.) to fancy dresses. I don’t think I saw a single tie except for the foreignors. Most will have on what you’d wear out to dinner on a Friday night. A simple sun dress for a woman, slacks and a polo/button-up for the guy.

    What to wear to a Chinese wedding

  3. Plan to get up early.
  4. Weddings in China normally go from 9 am until noon. Often people arrive even earlier to greet the bride and groom when they arrive at the restaurant with confetti and streamers.

  5. Bring a camera.
  6. Seriously. There will be cameras everywhere and I’m convinced nobody loves photographs as much as the Chinese. Just trust me on this, there will be plenty of photographic moments you’ll want to capture.

    Photos at the wedding

  7. A parade of dresses.
  8. One of the most interesting thing to me at a Chinese wedding is the parade of dresses by the bride. She will change clothes at least 4 times during the celebration. First a white dress that looks like what brides in the US would wear. Then a traditional ‘qipao’ Chinese style dress. Then one or two more colorful dresses that look like what you’d wear to prom.

    Chinese wedding dress

  9. The ceremony.
  10. The first wedding we went to in China was a Christian couple and so they had a Christian wedding. The ceremony was nearly verbatim to a western wedding just like we’re used to in the States. (Really interesting to me since it was all in Chinese but I could still understand a lot of it with my limited Mandarin because it was so close to our wedding ceremony.)

    Christian wedding in China

    The wine tower was a little different. Especially since it was kind of a spin off of the tradition of feeding each other cake. Except in this case, it was wine. And to “feed” their spouse, they each took a swig and umm… passed it on. More or less by spitting. Interesting new take on the tradition, I thought.

    Wine tower at the Chinese wedding

    The second wedding was really interesting. It was more a modern standard Chinese wedding. Held at a restaurant. They had a aisle and an arch. The groom sang to his bride. All the girls were giddy. Apparently, he said some pretty romantic things. Kevin is pretty awesome. He took us to our first real Chinese restaurant during our first week in China.

    One difference that seemed quite odd to me (because it’s different from the way we do it) is that you don’t really have to “watch” the ceremony. I mean, people talk and chat pretty much the whole time. It was really odd at the first wedding where the chairs were set up as an audience. I kept wanting to “shhh” people. At the restaurant wedding, it made a little more sense because you watched from your table and the tables were round and the way they were set up, a lot of people couldn’t really see anyway.

  11. Bring money for the red envelope.
  12. The main reason you get an invitation to a wedding in China is for the money. No gifts. Just money. The amount is dependent on how close you are to the couple and how much you make. I asked my Chinese teacher before the first wedding what a normal amount would be. She said she wasn’t sure because it depends and we should
    “Just ask.”
    “Ask who?”
    “The bride”
    “……” (I didn’t know how to respond it was such a foreign concept.)

    We did ask (though not the bride, just another Chinese friend) and at least for now and in our circle, the suggested amount was 300 RMB.

    Chinese wedding guestbook

    The money thing is a big tradition. They appreciate it, but they know you’re going to give it. Usually, the wedding ceremony is paid for out of the gift money. Whatever is left is the nest egg of the bride and groom.

    Chinese red envelope

    I’m sure you’ve already heard about the red envelope. Any time you give money in China you put it in a red envelope. They are mostly used for weddings and for Chinese New Year. At a wedding, they’ll have them available so you don’t need to worry about getting one yourself. Like I said, you’re expected to bring money so they’re prepared. Make sure you write your name on the envelope so they know who gave it. And also whether it belongs to the bride or groom. Yep, they each get a cut. Depending on who invited you.

    After you get it ready, just hold onto it until the couple makes their round during the meal. Then you give it to them directly. They’ll offer you a cigarette or a small gift if you don’t smoke. Don’t worry about declining the smoke, it’s no problem if you don’t want to.

    China wedding cigarette

  13. Food.
  14. We’ve mentioned it here before, but food is a big deal in China. Weddings are no exception. And you won’t believe how much food is served. It’s truly amazing to us westerners. Especially since it’s barely 10 am at this point. They just keep bringing it. Meatballs are apparently a traditional wedding food so we were told and they were served at both weddings we went to. So was fish. Try them. They are good! There is a huge assortment of dishes. I’m sure you’ll find something you like. If not, you can just chalk it up as another “cultural experience.”

    chinese wedding food

    During the meal is when the bride and groom make their rounds. Keep your eyes peeled during this part, because this is when the bride will be doing all the quick changes. So far I’ve been really impressed with the dresses.

    chinese bride and groom

    As soon as the food is done, the party is over. It’s crazy how fast that place clears out. At weddings in China, it is just expected that most of the guests come to eat and drop off the money. It’s just the way it is.

  15. If you can’t make it to the wedding
  16. It is perfectly acceptable to contact a friend who is going to give money on your behalf. They’ll fill out a red envelope, stuff it with cash and sign your name.

    If you can make it, I would suggest going though. It’s quite a fun experience!


5 thoughts on “Chinese Traditional Wedding: What to expect from an expat’s view

  1. Hi Kristin! – I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Chinese wedding customs – really interesting! Looks like a lot of fun! I hope your China adventure brings you may blessings and that you savor every moment you are there…

    Your artwork is simply amazing – I’m looking forward seeing what’s in store for you as you continue to venture forward! I hope the class we are taking continues to inspire and inform, so far it’s been wonderful for me…

    Have a great day…heading to bed over here in the US :o )

    Hugs & Blessings,

  2. I think you did not mention about the dishes coming at 1 go, stacking up and there is like at least 14 dishes per table and up to 18 dishes for the more expensive tables.

    Guest will practically be there for the sake of being there, but one thing for sure it is a very crowded and loud occasion.

    Maybe you wanna get urself invited for a rural wedding 1 day. ;p