Ask the Yangxifu: Big Fat Chinese Weddings Revisited

John and I standing before the "Double Happiness" banner at our wedding
(John and I at our wedding in China)


I’m 27 and I was born and raised in Europe but my fiancee is Shanghainese so we’re gonna have one of those Chinese super expensive weddings in a 5 stars hotel in Shanghai and I really dont know what to do. I really do not like the Chinese wedding style made up of performances, games and speech. Besides relatives, I invited around 20-30 friends to the wedding here and I’m gettin more and more nervous about what is going to happen during the feast. We have an MC that will entertain the guests and lead the night but both with him and the wedding planner I had a really hard time to plan everything and trying to make as nice and simple as possible but unfortunately there are some things such as exchange of vows and rings on the stage in front of everybody and organize some games for the guests, apparently Chinese people really appreciate and enjoy them. You went through this already so can you or anyone else who went through this and can give me some advises?


I remember many moons ago when I told my Chinese father-in-law about my vision for our wedding — something simple at their family home in the countryside. He told me, “Of course, it will be simple.”

By “simple” he meant a huge wedding banquet at the biggest hotel in the county seat with over 200 guests and a menu so lavish (and un-vegan) that every table came with a pair of turtles, steamed and standing in broth as if they were still alive. Let’s just say I didn’t get exactly what I had in mind.

But there’s a good reason why — the guests mattered more. When I once decried the fact I couldn’t have my dream all-vegan wedding banquet, my husband pointed out a simple reality. “The guests wouldn’t accept it,” he said. That matters a lot. After all, weddings are a public event, and if we had put on a wedding the guests didn’t like, my family in China would have lost major face. With face at stake, that also meant my family wanted to get the most possible mileage out of the event, which meant my “simple” idea just wouldn’t do.

So what about yours? The truth is, you might not get everything you want in your wedding for the same reasons I didn’t. You’ll have a hard time trying to get out of exchanging vows or even those naughty wedding games — I’ve yet to see a wedding in China without them.

But you don’t have to say “I do” to everything. For example, the exchange of rings you mentioned isn’t a Chinese tradition. Nowadays, a lot of Chinese wedding planners and wedding companies toss these Western traditions in — many Chinese still think “Western is better.” But I guarantee your guests won’t notice if you leave out that ring exchange (we didn’t have one). So talk to your fiancee’s family or even the wedding planner about leaving some of these “imports” out of the ceremony, if you think they’re not your style.

What if you still can’t get what you want? Well, who says you only have to have “one perfect day?” In fact, I’ve gotten married twice — if you count the on-the-spur ceremony we had at the government office where we registered — and so have most of the yangxifu I’ve met (such as Kelly and Shannon, to name a few). Consider planning the wedding of your dreams in Europe instead, or as a destination wedding with a few close friends. And then, when it’s all said and done, you can make all your friends back at home oh so jealous — because you got to walk down the aisle more than once. 😉

What do you think?


Do you have a question about life, dating, marriage and family in China/Chinese culture (or Western culture)? Send me yours today.

11 Replies to “Ask the Yangxifu: Big Fat Chinese Weddings Revisited”

  1. All of a sudden I’m curious to know about those “naughty” wedding traditions. ( Someone told me that the family steals a bride’s shoe that she has to pay money to get back…) I’ve only been to one American wedding and I have to be honest when I say it was quite different than Russian holidays or parties where we dance, make speeches, eat food, etc. I actually would like to experience Chinese wedding mixed in with elements of Russian and Jewish traditions.

    Maybe like Jocelyn mentioned, two weddings perhaps? Maybe one public and another private?

  2. I totally understand what you are going through as well. Even though I was lucky enough to plan our main wedding with only my husband and not his parents (it would be in the city we live in, not my husband’s hometown where they live) it was still difficult at times to convince people of what I wanted/didn’t want.
    My first question to you would be what sort of time you have to plan this wedding? If time is short, I would bet that your in-laws will most certainly take the reins and get things done as quickly as possible, meaning you’ll have little input. If, however, you have more time, you might still have some hope.
    First of all, I would say that it is key to reflect and think about what you would like to include (or take out) that is most important to you. You are not going to be able to convince them to do everything your way – the best you can hope for is a bit of compromise, so think about what would be truly the *most meaningful for you* and focus on those few ideas (for me, it was having photographs taken that day with our families in a local park, having my father give me away and including our families in a couple of parts of the ceremony, and not having techno-club music playing!). Chinese people are generally resistant to change, so you won’t be able to take over and do everything your way, but you might be able to get a few things done differently if you focus on just those few ideas.
    After you have a few ideas, the next most important step is to speak to your fiance and help him to understand how important these things are to you. You’ll need to have him on your side as an ally to help others understand your feelings about these things. He should be able to help you explain to his parents about the few changes you want to make and hopefully they can understand as well.
    Outsiders, such as wedding planners (we didn’t use one), MCs (ours were friends of my husband so willing to listen to what we wanted) are more difficult to convince. If you have personal contacts with people in these industries, it can help, but otherwise, you and your fiance will simply have to insist as much as possible to try to get what you want.
    And Jocelyn is right, Chinese weddings are all about the guests and gaining face. You do have to remember that changing too many things and doing things too differently at your wedding will leave a lot of guests scratching their heads. They simply won’t understand if you don’t do things the way they expect.
    In the end, did I have my absolute dream wedding? No. Did things go wrong? Sure. But…did the guests have a nice time and leave with full bellies? Yes. Did we still have a very beautiful wedding? Yes. Did we even notice the things that went wrong? Not really. In the end, it all goes by so fast that it’s hard to remember all the details anyway (and that is the truth no matter where you get married). Do I still have people mention how lovely our wedding was and how certain parts (the parts we changed) really touched them? YES! It can be difficult, but it can be done if you pick your battles carefully and work with your fiance.
    If your fiance and/or his family are not willing to consider your feelings about this, then you may have to find a way to deal with this wedding and then do as Jocelyn says and plan your own wedding for a later date.
    My last piece of advice for you is this: Please remember that the wedding is just one day; it is the marriage that lasts a lifetime.

  3. @Sveta

    If you have the time, watch Ang Lee’s The Wedding Banquet. It depicts the importance of big weddings to Chinese families, the confusion of the American mixed up in the situation, and also includes some of the embarrassing games.

  4. I love “The Wedding Banquet” and saw it a couple years before my own Chinese wedding. I love Jocelyn’s advice. You can have more than one wedding celebration and it doesn’t have to cost a year’s worth of salaries. I got married in Hong Kong at city hall with just a few friends in attendance. Afterwards, we went out for dim sum. In China we had the big, 200 guests wedding, but it was very bare bones since that was back in ’95 when no one in the interior had much cash. Back in the US, my parents had a cocktail party with heavy appetizers. The marriage is about the couple, but the wedding is for the guests. When I had my big Chinese wedding, I focused on finding a dress I liked. That became my pet project while my inlaws did the rest. It’s good to have your hand in something, but it’ll just drive you crazy to try to control everything. All the best!

  5. Ah, Chinese wedding, it’s a thousand and one thing. Often loud and ostentatious with a many 干杯 ganbei bottoms-up or what we Malaysian call yamseng. But what’s once in a life-time..I like what susanbkason said that marriage is for the couple, wedding is for the guests. So, don’t begrudge. Maybe can do away with some of the naughtier naughtier wedding games. These games are getting more and more out of taste here in Malaysian Chinese weddings and I won’t recommend them.

  6. Wow, AK, thank you that you mentioned “The Wedding Banquet”, I just watched it. What a great movie! It was significant for me on so many levels… Just to mention the scene when Simon gave the presents to Wai Tung’s parents, I thought of myself when I first met my boyfriend’s parents and I was so nervous. I already felt that somehow I love them cause they are the parents of the guy I love and at the same time I was doing my best to make a good impression, felt awkward… and I also gave Ye Feng’s mom a face cream 😉 Okay, I didn’t tell her that she’s old but… my dreadful chinese… 😉
    But speaking of the wedding itself. Well, actually, the chinese wedding in the movie and the polish weddings are pretty much the same. They’re about eating and drinking… um, I mean, about family and tradition 😉 But seriously, it resembled the most of the polish weddings I’ve attended. The differences are:
    1. In Poland, after a blessing from parents, it starts with a ceremony in a church, since Poland is a fanatically Catholic country; if there’s no religious ceremony (for example because groom or bride has been already married before and then divorced) the girl DOESN’T wear a white wedding dress. Never ever! She can wear any other dress she likes but not a white wedding dress, which originally is a symbol of virginity.
    2. The party lasts until the morning. No matter what, the groom and bride have to treat and entertain their guests for all night. However, it is not uncommon that wedding parties last for a few days, especially at the countryside and in the area of Tatra mountains, but it also depends on a season.
    3. The games we play are far more naughty 😉 Like the groom has his hads tied up and has to take off the bried’s garter with his teeth. Or the bride has to put an egg into one of the groom’s trouser leg and somehow “transport” it to another trouser leg… Not to mention the drinking games. And it’s in front of all the guest, including parents.
    But yes, it is once in a life-time event, the couple has to invite many guests they have never actually seen before because it’s important for their families, there are many speeches, lots of vodka and lots of (unhealthy) food. I’ve been at the backstage of my sister’s wedding preparations and it really was a battlefield. Our parents and the parents of my brother-in-law wanted to organize the big fat polish wedding for their children and even if it was a terrible struggle then, now, after ten years my sister has to admit that she is very happy with their wedding 🙂
    But of course, even if chinese baijiu and polish vodka go well together, organizing an international ceremony can cause a headache. Many Chinese think that they are the only nation which has traditions cause their knowledge about so-called “west” comes from silly hollywood movies. But I’m lucky enough to have the future in-laws who also respect and try to undrestand my culture. Since M comes form the Old Continent, maybe it’s good to show to her Chinese family that she also has her own roots? The Chinese in-laws should understand it and respect her own traditions. My friend’s cousin got married in Shanghai a few years ago (he is polish and she is chinese) and the girl was so happy to know that catholic Poles don’t accept divorce, so her family agreed to have a ceremony in a catholic church first (i have no idea if she was baptised before, so don’t ask me).
    Anyhow, M, all the best to you and your future husband!!! I’m sure that you’ll have an unforgettable wedding 🙂

  7. I’m from Singapore which is a migrant country in Asia. It’s not surprising to have triple weddings often given the families background e.g. bride’s family is from Malaysia, but she grew up and lived in Singapore all her life. Husband’s family is from Hong Kong but moved here when Hong Kong returned to China. There are always aging and ailing relatives who can’t travel, so if it can’t all happen in one location…have it in 3!

    Multi-cultural weddings here stretch even further. An ethnically Chinese woman marrying a Malay husband whose family is muslim get throw a mishmash of a Chinese wedding banquet and Malay wedding. A portion of the banquet tables get a halal menu, the other guests get their usual Chinese banquet dishes. There’s a western dance floor, cake cutting and tea ceremonies, a hodge podge of

    Just remember that your guests expect the familiar, but for would definitely love to have a novelty happen as a talking point they can boast to other friends of an interesting wedding they attended. Just embrace it all.

  8. When I married my wife Ying, we had a much more subdued affair and avoided all the pomp and circumstance. It was her second marriage and my third. We met at the airport in Beijing spent the next day, my birthday, at the Great Wall, then took the train to Changchung, where we went to the foreign marriage bureau to fill out our paperwork. We spent the next couple of days in her home in Yanji, meeting her family there, her friends and some personal bonding of our own. Then we went to Helong, where her parents lived. I had won over her mother months before when Ying and I first started communicating online, but initially, her father, who served in the Chinese army fighting Americans during the Korean war, refused to meet me because in his eyes, I was the enemy (eventually he came to like me, but that is another story). Ying’s brothers, sisters, their husbands and wives, nieces and nephews had a huge family dinner in Helong and just being myself, I managed to charm and win them over. Not once do we regret not having a fancy affair to impress others, because like us, her family is not as concerned with the idea of saving face by having a big to do. Instead they were more concerned with welcoming a new member to the family and letting him know he was appreciated.

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