I Do! I Do! In China
In the United States, Valentine’s Day, of course, is the date most associated with love and all things romantic. In China, this year January has taken on special significance for courting.
In the Mandarin language, the date, Jan. 4, 2013, sounds similar to the sentence “I will love you all my life”. Somehow, the date became known as “Love you forever day”. A number of Chinese couples apparently took that as their cue (or perhaps a good excuse) to tie the knot. It’s the type of new special occasion the Hallmark Card Company would love to capitalize on! So on January 4th, all over China thousands of couples crowded into marriage registry offices. In Beijing alone, a reported 10,000 future brides and grooms lined up to begin the process for walking down the aisle.
Besides the attractive sound of January 4, matching days, months, and years (such as the recent 12/12/12) are considered lucky in Chinese society. It seems couples want to cash in on anything that might bring them good luck or fortune. That may not be a bad idea since the divorce rate here has doubled from what it was 10 years ago.
During holidays in China, I have run into wedding parties at various restaurants and historic sites. The attraction of certain holidays has to do with available time off from work. That way you can maximize the number of relatives who can attend. But sometimes even then it’s not possible to get all the family members together. Attorney Hong Shanling and her husband Vincent are a couple that felt obliged to hold two wedding ceremonies over a period of time in different provinces to accommodate all the relatives!
Since the bride always likes to be the center of attention, even glances from strangers in public places seem welcome. I’ve taken pictures of a number of brides on location. Sometimes it seems they pay more attention to this photographer than they do their own!
On occasion, the bride and grooms you see may not actually be couples at all. At a beach area on Qiao Island some colleagues and I came across a bride and groom posing for pictures. When one colleague commented on what a lovely couple they were, I bluntly stated that they were not lovers at al. My thirty years as a journalist of people watching observed there was no “lovey-dovey” chemistry between them. That’s easy to spot with newlyweds. Turns out I was right-they were models.
The wedding garb is often a mix of traditional Chinese and Western style at different times throughout the ceremony as well as the reception. Red is the color of the traditional Chinese wedding outfit . Some well to do brides will change outfits multiple times When the wedding pictures are taken at a historic site ,the traditional wedding outfits are often popular. The couple on this page in the old style clothing are posing at New Yuan Ming Palace, a replica of the Emperor’s Summer Palace in Beijing.
One major difference in China is that usually the groom’s family not the bride’s picks up the tab for the reception. Just like in America , families would prefer to hold the reception in one of the nicer hotels or clubs instead of some random hall. There is no dowry like in olden times which typically included poultry, cattle or land. One thing the couple won’t have to worry about useless wedding presents. Guests are expected to give cash gifts called “hong bao”.
The amount of the money is supposed to reflect your status. In other words, if you’re fairly wealthy the RMB (Chinese currency) in the “red packet envelope” should be generous. If your gift does not match people’s expectations for your status, you will lose “face”. (In some ways this is similar to American guests who give you that crummy toaster oven!)
There are also some major differences in the wedding party. Very often a brother or sister won’t be the best man or maid of honor. Thanks to China’s “One Child Policy” frequently there are no brothers or sisters (there are exceptions to this policy, however). One tradition that is followed-the bridesmaid is supposed to be single. Bride Shanling regrets that she will be unable to fill that role for her friends who have yet to say “I do”.
Some Chinese men won’t have to make any of these decisions. The Scientific American reports that there are more boys than girls in China. Some estimates say that by the year 2020 there might be 30 million more males than females. Bottom line-there’s also a severe wife shortage here!