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Chinese Wedding Today:
Fashion, Tradition and Internet Revolution

9 January 2007

There are only 40 days left before entering the Pig Year on 18 February, and China is reportedly experiencing a big surge in wedding-related business.

While under the western influence the white wedding becomes quite popular in the urban areas, in China’s vast countryside, traditional wedding in jubilant red still holds its sway, along with many time-honoured customs.

When peasant worker Zhu returned to his home village in Anhui Province in the central China to get married, he found himself ill prepared for what he was going to face. Instead of hiring a fleet of Mercedes-Benz to take the bride and her family to the restaurant as he observed when he attended his friends’ weddings in Nanjing, he was offered a family cow wearing a red silk flower. When he arrived at the bride’s home with the cow, he was greeted by no one, and had been forced to wait in the freezing cold weather outside the front door for three hours until her family was fully satisfied with his sincerity and patience.

But what fascinated him most was the way the wedding hall was decorated. The gifts of money were not placed in red paper bags but stuck on the wall to help generating an auspicious atmosphere.

A money wallpaper wedding in Anhui

On the northern wall of the hall there was the central deco theme, a Chinese character for "double happiness" (喜喜) that is formed by 30 hundred-yuan notes from his father’s brothers, considered the closest family members. In the old less affluent days, the character would be made of coins.

The fifty-yuan notes given by his mother’s brothers and twenty-yuan notes from his best friends were displayed on the sidewalls, all in the form of the double happiness character.

The traditional wedding reception taken place at groom’s home is usually running like a soap opera, which includes a warm up banquet (暖房酒) on the first day, a formal banquet (正喜酒) on the second day, and then on the third day a homecoming banquet (回门酒) by the visiting bride’s family. Accordingly, the money deco must be kept for three days before taken off from the walls. During this period, family members would take turns playing mahjong in the hall throughout the nights to guard their valuable wallpapers.

As the villagers have tried their best to preserve their custom, some people in the modernised metropolitans would even go further back in time to revive authentic Chinese culture tradition.

A few days ago in a county town in Chongqing, a wedding presentation in a pre-Manchurian style attracted thousands of onlookers. In the soothing melody by the ancient bamboo instrument guzhen (古筝), the newlyweds draped in the authentic Chinese clothes, han dress (汉服), were led by the wedding conductor to perform three deep bows to the heaven and earth (一拜天地), to the parents (二拜父母) and to each other (夫妻对拜). Then the bride cut a few strands of hair from the groom’s head and tied them to her own hair to symbolise their sacred marriage bond (结发夫妻). Finally they locked each other’s arms to drink wine from a pair of cups linked by a red thread (交杯酒).

Another couple in Hangzhou, nevertheless, preferred neither white nor red but a black wedding, a style that could be traced back to the very root of the Chinese culture in the classic Zhou Dynasty, a golden era keenly recommended by Confucian.

A Black-dressed Wedding in Hangzhou

While some Chinese find pride in the formality and substantiality of the tradition, others secure convenience in the virtual world created by the latest technologies. An IT couple in Changchun spent less than two hours to get 200 wedding invitations sent by email, which otherwise would take days, if not weeks, to accomplish.

The exploitation of the modern high tech does not stop at the invitation stage. In Jinan the actual wedding reception at a restaurant was broadcastered online in real time and the special occasion was attended electronically by the relatives and friends all over the world.

As China gradually becomes a giant meeting place of the past and the future, the East and the West, you never know how many other coloured weddings may appear.

(References: Initial reports by 袁帅, 聂飞, 解璐, 李忠 and other journalists can be found on 新华网, 现代快报 and other Chinese media)

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A wedding in traditional Chinese dress in Chongqing


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