Mandarin Love: A Banquet of Chinese Wedding/Marriage Words, With Personal Notes

It’s nearly summer, that intoxicating season of endless love — and, where I’m from, one punctuated by lots of wedding invitations. If you’re planning to tie the knot in China or know someone who will, here’s handy little reference of Chinese wedding/marriage words and expressions, with some of my own personal notes.

Getting Married in Chinese

Qiúhūn, 求婚: Whether you’re getting down on one knee or making a big spectacle, this word means “propose marriage.”

I proposed (marriage) to her.
我向她求婚了.
wŏ xiàng tā qiúhūn le

Note that in recent years, the trend in China is for men to turn wedding proposals into major spectacles — make it memorable and romantic!

Jiéhūn, 结婚: If you’re “getting married” here’s the word for you — as in

We’re getting married!
我们要结婚啦!
Wǒmen yào jiéhūn la!

But keep in mind that there are also different words for a woman marrying a man versus a man marrying a woman. The difference reflects the Chinese perspective that the woman marries into the man’s family.

Qǔ,娶: If you’re a man and you are marrying someone, you use qǔ,娶, which also can mean “take a bride”. For example:

He married a girl from Henan.
他娶了个河南姑娘。
Tā qǔle gè Hénán gūniang.

Jià, 嫁: Women, however, are perceived as marrying out and so you use the word jià, 嫁 instead. For example:

I married (gave myself to) him.
我嫁给他了。
Wǒ jià gěi tā le.

But if you think that’s confusing, so are anniversary dates in China. That’s because most people register their marriages and thus become officially married ahead of the wedding ceremony itself. (If you’re curious, read The Dengji Question: How Marriage in China Gets Confusing.) Which brings me to the next word…

Dēngjì, 登记: While this word means “to register” in general, it’s also a term people use to describe registering a marriage in China (which must be done in a marriage registration bureau and usually happens before an actual wedding ceremony occurs).

We registered (our marriage)!
我们登记了!
Wǒmen dēngjìle!

Hūnlǐ, 婚礼: This is the standard word for “wedding ceremony” and the best term to use when in doubt.

But there are other similar words people often use to talk about wedding ceremonies (which usually just comprise the banquet with guests in China), such as xǐshì, 喜事 (usually taken to mean “wedding”), xǐjiǔ, 喜酒 (meaning “wedding feast”) and of course, hūnyàn, 婚宴 (“wedding banquet”, also the name of the famous film by Ang Lee).

Wedding Attire in Chinese

Hūnshā, 婚纱: The white bridal gown, which has become standard for brides in China. At wedding ceremonies/banquets, the bride usually wears her hūnshā first. If you’re purchasing a wedding dress in China, keep in mind there are lots of options for having yours tailor-made, which is what I did years ago in Suzhou (which like a number of cities, has its own “wedding-dress street).

Tóushā, 头纱: The veil for your white bridal gown.

Qípáo, 旗袍: As I wrote before, the qipao or cheongsam is “a high-necked and form-fitting style of dress with slits down the skirt, often on both sides. The dress first appeared in 1920s Shanghai as a modern take on traditional Manchu garb, and has since evolved into a stylish tradition of its own for women in China.” Since most Chinese brides wear several dresses, many opt to have a qipao at their weddings. I actually wore two at mine.

If you’re debating whether or not to have one, see Do You Need to Wear a Cheongsam in Your Chinese Wedding?

Wǎnlǐfú, 晚礼服: The evening gown, another wedding dress option chosen by many Chinese brides.

But let’s not forget the groom…

Yànwěifú, 燕尾服: A tuxedo, one option for the groom.

Tángzhuāng, 唐装: A Tang suit, which mainly consists of a jacket, often made of silk or silk brocade, to match a bride’s qipao. My husband wore a Tang suit at our wedding.

The Wedding Party in Chinese

Xīnniáng, 新娘: The bride. While weddings in the West traditionally have reflected the bride’s style, weddings in China often revolve heavily around the family and guests. In other words, it’s a family affair, much like in Ang Lee’s The Wedding Banquet.

Xīnláng, 新郎: The groom.

Xīnrén, 新人: The newlywed couple.

Bànniáng, 伴娘: The bridesmaid(s)

Bànláng, 伴郎: The groomsman/groomsmen

Traditionally, bridesmaids and groomsmen in Chinese weddings should be unmarried individuals.

Other Wedding Must-Haves in Chinese

Hūnshāzhào, 婚纱照: Pre-wedding photos, one of the most important — and glamorous — steps in getting married. There’s a huge industry in China devoted to turning every young couple into models for a day, complete with multiple outfits, professional makeup and hair designers, and airbrushed photos.

Jiéhūn jièzhǐ, 结婚戒指 (hūn jiè, 婚戒): The wedding ring. While not a traditional part of Chinese weddings, most couples today will exchange rings.

Hūnchē, 婚车: The wedding car, a modern version of the traditional wedding sedan chair (or jiàozi, 轿子). Expect your wedding car, which is almost always a luxury model, to be decorated in elaborate flower arrangements.

Xīnfáng, 新房: While it literally means “bridal chamber” — traditionally, extended families lived together so the new couple only had a chamber within the home — now people use the term to refer to the apartment or home purchased explicitly in preparation for a wedding, usually bought by the groom. (The pressure to buy an apartment in China, where prices have skyrocketed in major metropolitan areas, weighs heavily on the shoulders of young men, especially if their families don’t have much money. See Marriage in China Is Home, Car Money?)

Xǐtáng, 喜糖: Wedding candy. Whenever someone gets married in China, they will pass out wedding candy to all their guests as well as friends and even coworkers who may not have attended the nuptials. There’s a whole industry built around this, with ultra-cute boxes for the candies. (I love chocolate, but soft corn candies shaped like miniature corn cobs are a personal favorite as well.)

Nàodòngfáng, 闹洞房: Roughhousing in the bridal chamber, also known as the most humiliating portion of the wedding for the bride and groom. Their friends will either corner them in the banquet hall or follow them back to the new apartment or a rented hotel room, and tease them with risque practical jokes (including those involving bananas). Traditionally, it was done to ease the new couple into their sex life, long before sex education existed; now it’s just done to amuse the guests and make the couple blush, and then some. Sigh.

Hóngbāo, 红包: Red envelopes stuffed with money. Chinese weddings may be exhausting for the couple, but at least you can count on receiving lots of these from your guests.

Other Helpful Chinese Wedding Expressions

Méndānghùduì, 门当户对: Refers to families of equal status. Traditionally, Chinese marriages happened between families that matched each other in rank and wealth.

Báitóuxiélǎo, 白头偕老: A happy greeting for the newlyweds that means, “May you live together until you’re old and gray.”

Sāndàjiàn, 三大件: The three big items, which refers to three must-haves for married couples. Once upon a time when my in-laws married, it was actually four big items (sìdàjiàn, 四大件). In more recent times, the must-haves are things such as a home, car and money — or even a home, car, money and nice honeymoon.

Jīngpílìjié, 精疲力竭: Completely exhausted, which is how the bride and groom will probably feel after that marathon Chinese wedding. Trust me.

What do you think? What terms would you add/recommend?

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