Traditional Chinese Marriage

Chinese marriage is important to perpetuate and ensure the survival of the family. Although the marriage is officially recognized once it is registered with the Register of Marriages, a Chinese wedding ceremony and banquet must be held before the marriage is acknowledged by society. A Chinese marriage that does not observe proper Chinese customs is invalid in the eyes of most Chinese.

There are two types of marriage among Chinese. One is the marriage arranged by the parents and relatives, the other is a marriage based on one's own willingness and choice. Arranged marriage is no longer widely accepted. Liberal marriage is more practical because it allows a person the freedom to choose his or her own spouse. Parents usually abide by their children' choices.

There are prescribed ages for marriage (21 years old for women and 23 years old for men). Once the choice is made, all other aspects of the wedding are normally taken over by the parents and older relatives. Thus all traditional customs are observed. A typical wedding ceremony is supposed to impress the friends and relatives of both bride and groom with the families' social status and prosperity.

There are 5 important stages in a Chinese arranged marriage.

1. Information gathering

Information gathering is the investigation of the background of the bride and her family. This is done very diplomatically. The reputation and social status of the bride's family is important. The groom's family needs to be assured that the personality, character and behavior of the bride are above reproach. Usually the first meeting of two families will be held at a restaurant. The conversation will center on general and mutual topics of interest, especially regarding family background and origins. Good presentations from both sides will lead to a successful marriage arrangement.

2. Negotiation

When both families are satisfied with each other's background, the parents will negotiate on the amount of dowry expected, the number of tables allocated to each family for the wedding banquet and the choice of a suitable date for the marriage. Negotiations can be done directly or through a middleman.

3. Engagement

After negotiations are ended, the engagement is announced. An engagement is only an indication that a couple intends to be married. A typical engagement is simple, the bride and groom exchange rings and a dinner is held for close relatives. The length of engagement depends on the couple concerned.

4. Wedding Dowry

The dowry will be presented to the bride's family according to what was negotiated in the initial phases of the marriage agreement. Dowry can be jewelry, cloth, cash, etc. In China, the dowry is a symbolic compensation to the bride's family for the loss of their daughter. For the sake of the family's reputation, the dowry must comply with the status and wealth of the groom's family. A notification of the date of marriage and further wedding details follow the presentation of the dowry. The groom's family is then treated to a banquet.

Wedding - Traditional Chinese Marriage5. Wedding

A suitable day is selected for the wedding ceremony and banquet based on the Chinese lunar calendar. On the wedding day, the groom, accompanied by close friends and younger relatives, must go to the bride's house to greet the bride. First the groom with his companions must give money to the relatives of the bride who have set up obstacles to keep the groom from finding the bride. The money will help him in his quest to successfully find his bride. Then the couple needs to serve tea to the bride's parent.

After being granted permission by the bride's parents, the couple departs for the groom's house. The residence will be beautifully decorated, mostly in red. The most auspicious colors for the wedding costume are white, red and yellow. The couple is prohibited from wearing other colors. From the moment the bride enters the door of the groom' residence, she becomes a part of his family. The bride is required to serve tea to the groom's parents. After this ceremony, the couple is considered validly married by Chinese tradition. The wedding banquet is the highlight of the wedding celebration. It is served as either dinner or lunch. The dining place can be a restaurant or hotel.

Guests attending the banquet bring gift money and sign a guest register. Before the banquet, the bride, the groom and both of their parents are introduced to the guests. After the blessing which is conducted by the parents and elder relatives of the bride and the groom, the banquet begins. At the wedding banquet, liquor is a compulsory item. The couple is encouraged to drink a toast with the guests and convey thanks to relatives who helped with the wedding. The banquet usually lasts about two hours. The wedding ends with blessings from the guests.