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Complete Guide to Chinese Wedding

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Complete Guide to Chinese Wedding 
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Chinese wedding culture is a vital part of Chinese tradition.  Many rituals and customs have been lost in course of history, but many are observed even today.  It is practiced in honor of family value and respect to committed relationship, the holly marriage.  

We offer this printer-friendly version of a complete guide to Chinese wedding in hope you could print it and read it at your convenience.  Blue color text is hyperlinks which will leads to that particular ritual or product and service.

Chinese Wedding Customs and Rituals Before the Wedding

Proposal & Betrothal

In Chinese Culture, a marriage is considered the joining of two families.  Thus the parents of the bride's and groom's get involved in their wedding planning from very early on.  Two families pick an auspicious date as the Betrothal Day.  This is a formal meeting between the parents of the perspective bride and groom. The groom's family presents various proposal gifts that represents fertility and prosperity in Chinese culture, which is also known as "Grand Gift" or "Guo Da Li".  All gifts should come in even numbers, meaning "good things double" in Chinese culture.  Thus, the two are considered officially engaged. 

Chinese Wedding Cakes

After the betrothal  meeting, both families will make wedding announcement to their relatives and friends by sending out  "Double Happiness Cakes" along with wedding invitations.  This is the Chinese style wedding cakes also known as "Dragon & Phoenix Cakes".  These are baked cake with dragon and phoenix imprint on the surface.  Some styles have fillings made of lotus seed paste, red bean paste or green bean paste.  

The wedding cakes are usually presented to the bride's family by the groom's family as part of the proposal gift. Bride's family will then present some of the cakes to worship their ancestors and send the rest of cakes to friends and relatives along with wedding invitations. Quantity of cakes to be sent depends on seniority of guest or relationship with the family.  Nowadays, the wedding cakes are usually served to the guests at the wedding instead of the western style wedding cakes.

Chinese Wedding Dowry

The bride's family then prepares dowry and give a list of the dowries to the groom's family.  Dowry is mostly composed of daily necessities for the new home, such as bedding, linen and dining set, etc.  In the old Chinese culture, girls start learning needle work at young age, and prepare plenty of shoes, socks, table cloth etc, as part of her dowry.  This is also an opportunity for the bride's family to display their love for their daughter as well as their wealth.  

Bridal Bed Setting (An Chuang) Ritual.  

A few days before the wedding, the bride's family send dowry to the groom's family, or the couple's new home nowadays.  The groom's family will invite a respected female relative or friend to "set the bridal bed" at the new home.  In some part of China in the old days, a unmarried young boy will be invited to sleep in the bridal bed the night before the wedding to bring fertility to the newlyweds.

Chinese Wedding Decorations

The two families decorates the bridal house and the reception site for the upcoming wedding ceremony.   Lots of lively colors, red in particular, is used in Chinese wedding decoration.  Red banners used for wedding is called "happiness banners", which is an essential part of the wedding decorations.  It's decorated on both sides of the doors of the newlywed's home and the reception site.  The Chinese writing on the banners are rhythmic poem praising the adorable couple and the perfect marriage. 

Papercut of Double Happiness, dragon and phoenix are widely used at Chinese wedding.  

Wedding Day Ceremony

In the morning of the wedding day, "hair dressing" (Shang Tou) ritual is performed for the bride. A "good luck woman", woman with living parents, spouse and children, will come to help dressing up the bride's hair. The woman should also say auspicious words while tying up her hair in a bun, a style of married woman. The groom's family perform "capping" (Jia Guan) ritual for the groom at their home.  These rituals in Chinese culture symbolize that they are entering adulthood.  

Chinese Wedding Door Game

Then the groom sets out to the bride's home, and he will inevitably be blocked at her door by her friends, and the bridesmaids will play door game with the groom and his attendants.

Door game originated from ancient time which implies that the bride is a lovely girl and her family and friends do not want to marry her away.  The groom will be blocked at the bride's door, and her friends will try to stop him from entering by asking questions about the bride, a way to test if he really cares about her.  They may also do other tricks to delay the bride's leaving.  The groom will try to buy his way in by presenting "Li Shi", token money wrapped in red envelops. Door game is a joyous and good-natured "bargain" game essential in Chinese wedding.

When the bride finally goes out to ascend the car, a bridesmaid will hold a red umbrella over her head, meaning "raise the bark, spread the leaves." Other relatives will scatter rice, red bean and green bean on her. The red umbrella protects the bride from evil spirit, and the rice and beans are to attract the attention of the gold chicken.

When the bridal sedan, equivalent of motorcade nowadays, arrives the groom's home, firecrackers and music with gongs and drums greets the bride.  The bride will leap over a iron basin with lit charcoal inside. It is a ritual to bring prosperity and keep evils away.

Chinese Wedding Tea Ceremony

Then at the official ritual that equals to the wedding vow in western wedding, the newlyweds kneel three times, to the heaven and earth, to the ancestral tablets and their parents, then to each other.  The kneeling part has been replaced with bowing in modern Chinese wedding.  The bride then present tea to the parents and relatives in sequence of seniority.  Those who receive the tea usually give the bride gifts such as jewelry or Li Shi money wrapped in red envelope.  Thus it's the end of the ritual and the wedding proceeds to the banquet venue.

Chinese Wedding Food

Certain types of food are commonly served at the Chinese wedding banquet, which include fish, roast suckling pig, pigeon, chicken cooked with red oil, lobster and desert bun with lotus seeds stuffed inside. The pronunciation of fish is the same as "abundance", meaning the newlyweds will have plentiful of wealth. Roast suckling pig is usually served whole, a symbol of the bride's purity (virginity). Pigeon implies peaceful future. Chicken also means phoenix, cooked in red oil to symbolize the wish for a prosperous life ahead for the newlyweds. Lobster is literally called "dragon shrimp" in Chinese. Having lobster and chicken together at wedding banquet indicates that the dragon and the phoenix are hormones together, and the Yin and Yang elements in this family is balanced.

Most oriental caterers can give you an idea of the menu.

Chinese Wedding Dress

The color red is considered good luck, a strong color that can drive away evil spirits. The traditional Chinese wedding dress in northern China usually is one-piece frock named Qi Pao, embroidered with elaborate gold and silver designs. Brides from southern China usually wear two-piece dress named Qun Gua, Kwa or Cheongsam, also elaborately adorned with golden phoenix and dragon. 

In the old days, a piece of red veil is part of the bride's costume to cover her face during the wedding ceremony.  Newlyweds would see each other's face for the first time in their lives at their wedding night.

In modern Chinese wedding, the bride changes dresses at least 3 times at the wedding day.  She would start with western style white wedding gown for a church for civil ceremony.  Then at the tea ceremony, she would change to traditional Chinese bridal dress, which she will wear to the reception too.  Before the end of the banquet, she would change into a cocktail dress, and great the guests, and then see them off at the door, thus this dress is also called "Song Ke" (See Guests Off) dress.

Chinese Wedding Night Ritual

The night of the wedding, the bridal room will lit dragon and phoenix candle to drive away the evil spirit.  This is a Chinese version of unity candle.  The newlyweds will drink wine from two cups tied together with a red string, arms crossed from each other. This is the formal wedding vow in Chinese culture. Then the bride will be offered dumplings that's boiled half-raw.  The pronunciation of "raw" is the same as giving birth to children, a indication of family prosperity.

Post-wedding Customs

The next morning of the wedding, the bride should get up early and make a meal for the groom's family to demonstrate that she is well-nurtured. Three days after the wedding, the groom and bride will go back to visit the bride's parents.

Frequently Asked Questions by Bride and Groom at Chinese Wedding

Q: When should I start preparing for my wedding?
A:  You should start preparing 6 months before the wedding. Since marriage in Chinese culture is considered the joining of two families, you need to arrange a proposal and betrothal meeting for parents from both families. You will also need to make arrangement for wedding gown, banquet venue or church if you so choose...  More at
Check List>>>

Q: How do I choose an auspicious wedding date?
A: You should choose a even number date for the wedding. The more even numbers the merrier, e.g., Saturday, October 28, 2004. Sometimes, people choose date with special meaning, e.g. lunar calendar September 9th is a festival for family reunion, and the Nine means "forever"...Sign up for
China Bridal Newsletter...>>>


Q: I want to have a Chinese wedding, but my in-laws are Christians, how can I combine a church wedding with a traditional Chinese wedding?
A: In modern China, more and more young couples favor a church wedding for its solemn surrounding and the holly wedding vow. You may combine the two styles together and cater to both families. First, perform traditional Chinese rituals at home, e.g., hair-dressing ritual, tea ceremony, etc. Then after the bride has served tea to her in-laws and bowed to the ancestral tablets, proceed to the church to exchange wedding vows. After the banquet, you can continue to have the traditional bridal chamber party at the wedding night... More at Wedding Procession...>>>

Q: How many dresses should I prepare for my wedding, and what kind of dresses do I need?
A: The bride change dresses a few times during the wedding while the groom changes once or does not change. In the morning, the bride is usually dressed in traditional Chinese wedding gown.  She won't change until after she has served tea to her in-laws. Then she changes to  western style white wedding gown for the ceremony in which the newlyweds will bow to the heaven and the earth, the ancestor's tablets and to each other. At the wedding banquet, the bride changes to a formal day time gown, and the newlyweds will serve wine to every guests at the wedding. The last one is a night gown she wears when she sees the guests off at the end of the banquet.  The groom usually is dressed in a Chinese men's traditional gown in the morning, then change to cocktail suit before the banquet.. It is also acceptable to wear a formal suit instead of cocktail suit... More at
Chinese Wedding Dresses...>>>

Q: Some of the Grand Gifts are hard to find, can I substitute with something else?
A: Generally speaking, you can always substitute Grand Gifts with cash, particularly named Li Shi, usually wrapped in red envelope. The Li Shi money usually comes in $99 or $999, as the pronunciation of Nine is the same as "long and forever." However, presentation of Grand Gifts is a symbolic gesture of appreciation to the bride's family for raising her and marrying her away. Many traditional gift shops have Grand Gifts items in stock... More at
Gift Shops...>>>

Q: Is there any formal wedding vow in Chinese wedding?
A: There is no formal wedding vow in Chinese culture. The closest ritual is to have the newlyweds drink wine from two cups that are tied together by a red string. The newlyweds cross their right arms and drink at the same time. That's considered the gesture of binding commitment by the two... More at
Wedding Day Rituals...>>>

Q: What is the Tea Ceremony at a wedding reception?
A: The Tea Ceremony is when the bride arrives the groom's home, and serve tea to her new in-laws. She will hold the tea cup with both hands, kneel in front of her parents-in-law, and serve it. After the groom's parents, she will serve tea to every one on the occasion, with a sequence of seniority. Those who accepted the tea are supposed to give her gift such as Li Shi money or gold and jade jewelries wrapped in red envelope... Prepare
gifts for the bride...>>>

Q: What is the appropriate wedding banquet menu? How can I explain the meaning of the dishes to non-Chinese guests?
A: Certain foods must be served at wedding, which include fish, roast suckling pig, pigeon, chicken cooked with red oil, lobster and desert bun with lotus seeds stuffed inside. The pronunciation of fish is the same as "abundance", meaning the newlyweds will have plentiful of wealth. Roast suckling pig is usually served whole, a symbol of the bride's virginity. Pigeon implies peaceful future. Chicken also means phoenix, cooked in red oil to symbolize the wish for a prosperous life ahead for the newlyweds. Lobster is literally called "dragon shrimp" in Chinese. Having lobster and chicken together at wedding banquet to indicate that the dragon and the phoenix are hormones together, and the Yin and Yang elements in this family is balanced... Most important of all, do not forget to serve Chinese Dragon and Phoenix wedding cakes...>>>

Frequently Asked Questions by Guests to a Chinese Wedding

Q: I am invited to a Chinese wedding, what gift should I bring for the newlyweds?

A: The most common Chinese wedding gift is cash wrapped in red envelope, also named  Li Shi money.  Check is acceptable, of course.  However, if you are not a close relative or friends, go ahead and buy any gift you think is appropriate.  Whatever you buy, do not give the couple a FAN as gift since the pronunciation of fan is "san", which means "disperse" in Chinese, thus considered a bad omen... Gift Ideas at our Shop...>>>

Q: Can you teach me some auspicious words for congratulations to the newlyweds?
A: Bai Tou Xie Lao, meaning "may you two grow old together, and be each other's companion when your hair are white."  Bai Nian Hao Ho, meaning "may you happily together for a hundred years." 

Q: Any taboos at a Chinese wedding?
A: Certain people should not attend Chinese wedding, i.e., pregnant women and someone whose immediate family member just passed away... However, for the younger generations, these are not considered taboo anymore.  Learn more at Do's & Don'ts...>>>

Do's & Don'ts at Chinese Wedding

Don't 1:
At the proposal meeting, the groom's family will present the bride with an alive goose. The bride's family should not kill the goose and eat it because the goose represents the groom. If the goose is quiet when it is turned over to the bride's family, it indicates that the groom has good personality. Otherwise, it indicates the groom is quick-tampered. The bride's family should leave the goose to a pond where it will grow by itself.

Don't 2:
Bride's friends will try to block the groom from entering the bride's room on the morning of the wedding day. But the friends will have to watch time since a auspicious timing is already chosen for the bride to depart her home. 

Don't 3:

When the bride departs her home, and ascends the car, she should change to her formal shoes, thus to indicate that she did not take away even the good luck from her parents.

Don't 4:
When the bride enters the groom's home, the mother-in-law and sister-in-law should not face the door, watching the bride walk in. This is to avoid confrontation in the future.

Don't 5:
Pregnant women and people whose family member just passed away should not participate in the wedding ceremony, nor to touch the newlyweds' clothing or anything in the new home.

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