I’m thinking of marrying my Chinese boyfriend. I don’t mind (except for the cost) of doing weddings in both the US and China. But which one for the “real” one?
When you ask about the “real” ceremony, I’m assuming you’re envisioning one big, official ceremony and a second smaller and more intimate affair. But here’s the deal — regardless of what you’re imagining, I can guarantee that “small” and “intimate” will NEVER apply to the ceremony in China.
You can think of Chinese weddings literally as a family affair — a sort of public face that impacts the entire family, beyond you and your groom. And for Chinese families, good face comes from putting on the biggest, fattest, loudest possible affair. Reputation is everything here! After all no one wants guests to remember them as, say, the family who put on that small and pathetic little wedding banquet, or the family who served crappy food or booze. You get the point.
It’s no wonder, then, that often your fiancee’s parents and the rest of the family will have a hand in some, if not most, of the planning of that Chinese wedding ceremony. John’s family sure did. And the resulting ceremony often looks and feels something like this:
Chinese parents don’t like quiet weddings. They want a giant fucking banquet where they invite 400-700 people that you’ve probably never met before in your life.
That includes that cousin of an aunt that lives in China, your dad’s kindergarten friends that he hasn’t met up with since kindergarten, and that random guy that might be related to your family because there can’t possibly be that many people named “Lee” in the world, right?
They want noise, they want strangers, they want ecologically-unfriendly and inhumane soups to be served, and they want a spectacle. In movie terms, they want the kind of wedding like the one in Ang Lee’s The Wedding Banquet.
Well, you’re forewarned, right?
Still, there’s good news for your budget. In China, it’s tradition for your guests to present you with hongbao filled with money as a wedding gift. In some parts of China, families will use some, if not all, of that money to pay for the wedding. Yes, I’ve actually heard of weddings in China that paid for themselves (but if you’re getting hitched in a huge, expensive city like Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou, you’re probably out of luck there).
But what if yours doesn’t? Or, what if your family wants you and your hubby to keep the hongbao yourselves? No problem — in China, paying for weddings often falls to the groom’s family (instead of the bride’s, which is true in the US, my home country). In my case, John’s family took care of all the wedding bills and even gave every RMB of hongbao to us.
Ultimately, what happens in the finance department depends on his family and and their local traditions — which vary from place to place. So go ahead, ask your fiancee. What financial support will his family provide for the wedding ceremony in China? Will the hongbao go towards the costs, or to you, or a little of both? Get some answers, and then you’ll get a sense for what your budget will be like for that US ceremony. If the money’s there, you might as well go all out and put on the wedding of your dreams in the US.
And remember that when it comes to having a “real” wedding, what’s “real” is relative. Most of us in the community have multiple wedding dates and multiple matrimonial memories. While it might mean you’re never quite sure which date is your wedding anniversary (like me), it’ll sure make for a hell of a story to tell your kids and their kids — about how you were, in the words of Tianjin Shannon, some of the “most married” people in your social circle.
(UPDATE: Updated the original headline on this post to add the word “wedding”)
Do you have a question about life, dating, marriage and family in China/Chinese culture (or Western culture)? Send me yours today.