Why I Don’t Like Going to Wedding Banquets in China

In China, there’s nothing that strikes fear into my heart quite like the phrase, “Let’s attend a wedding.”

I should know. A little over a week ago, I was worried when my husband’s old classmate was about to have a wedding banquet – and kept insisting that I simply had to come.

My palms started to sweat and visions of wedding banquets from hell in China flashed through my mind.

(Sadly, almost every wedding banquet I’ve experienced was pretty hellish in one way or another…)

The classmate tried really, really hard to persuade me to come. He offered to take care of everything that worried me about weddings, promising things would be different this time.

As much as I knew he was a nice guy, and as much as my husband trusted him so much he called him a “brother”, I wasn’t exactly buying it.

It’s not that I didn’t believe in his hospitality. It’s just that I know better about weddings in China. I know the drill. I’ve been there and done that. And I never, ever, want to go again if I can help it.

Here are my 3 reasons why I really dislike going to weddings and wedding banquets in China:

#1: I’m a vegetarian, which means I won’t have anything to eat

Wedding banquets in China are renowned for being extravagant feasts, with more dishes than everyone could humanly consume.

In theory, nobody should leave the table hungry.

But I, on the other hand, have left most wedding banquets in various states of hunger. At best, slightly hungry and requiring an additional snack; or at worst, so famished I ended up leaving the banquet hall before the affair was over.

That’s because wedding banquets almost exclusively serve up the finest meat and seafood dishes, while I’m a vegetarian (vegan actually) pining for something that’s not on the menu.

In China, people assume everyone eats meat, seafood and even eggs – and can’t imagine that there are people like me with special dietary needs. It’s such a problem that even dishes that technically ought to be vegetarian – like Chinese kale or tofu – end up being prepared with non-vegetarian ingredients like lard, ground pork or oyster sauce.

It’s bad enough to come for dinner and find there’s nothing for you to eat. But it’s pure torture to watch everyone else at the table blissfully devour their dinner while your stomach grumbles in vain.

Unfortunately, I’ve had this experience a few too many times at weddings in China. It’s enough for me to mentally link the occasion with “starvation” in my mind – and want nothing to do with wedding banquets in China.

Now, my husband’s friend did promise he would have commissioned the kitchen to prepare all the vegetarian dishes my heart desired. That was incredibly generous of him to offer. Still, that wasn’t enough to tempt me, because it’s not just the food that makes weddings in China so aversive to me…

(Photo by MiKi via Flickr.com)
(Photo by MiKi via Flickr.com)

#2: People usually smoke at wedding banquets in China, and I hate secondhand smoke

My husband and I are both fervent nonsmokers. We detest secondhand smoke and don’t want it crapping up the dining table – including when we eat out.

Well, it’s common practice at weddings in China to pass out cigarettes, guaranteeing most of the people there will light up. (And guaranteeing that if I were there, I would be coughing and hacking in agony.)

True to form, they distributed the Zhonghua brand smokes at my husband’s classmate’s wedding. My husband reported that the banquet hall was mired in a noxious cloud of smoke. Yuck!

Jocelyn-John-letdown#3: Weddings in China can be huge, overwhelming events — and I prefer small, quiet affairs

I’m an introverted, quiet kind of gal. I prefer long hikes in the mountains, lazy afternoons writing articles on my own, or reading a fantastic book all morning. I’m not a big party person, but when I do go I usually end up in the most low-key place with a handful of people to talk with – generally the kitchen. Loud noises unsettle me and crowds make me nervous.

In other words, I’m not at all suited for the kind of atmosphere you’ll find at most wedding banquets in China. You know, packed with at least 100 (and often more) people and often so noisy it’s difficult to carry on a conversation at the table.

Indeed, I’ve left more than a few wedding banquets in China wishing I’d just spent that time reading a good book instead.

How do you feel about wedding banquets in China?

40 Replies to “Why I Don’t Like Going to Wedding Banquets in China”

  1. You forgot to mention the hard core drinking that takes place at banquets! As far as the second hand smoke, I guess you could always wear an air filter mask.

    1. Yes Susan, good call! I’ve found that drinking is less of a hazard for me because I’m a woman (and it’s assumed we don’t drink). But yes, you’re right that it can be a nuisance in general and might detract from the pleasure of being there.

  2. Wow, Jocelyn.

    All the three things you listed are exactly mine as well.

    I don’t like binge eating. If I see a pig head floating, I’d puke.
    If I sniff a secondhand smoke, I gave a stare at the smoker.
    I also don’t like a big wedding festival. As long as a couples are mutually understood, it all can be done with a small circle of friends. Why need to call a friend who just lost 10 years of presence overseas and suddenly, they also need to be invited?

    I don’t like it at all.

    And imagine if you are a Vegan. You’d be starved.

  3. Well, as introvert, you are happier with few people around.

    As high IQ person, you also like to have less socialization.


    Introversion, quiet personality is evolved in icy cold place due to low population density. Most of your brain is devoted to solve problem on your own instead of socialization since your next door neighbood is several days distance away.

  4. Neanderthals had larger brain and less developed communication skill(autistic) than modern human.

    Our autistic personality might trace back our admixture with neanderthals. Interesting enough, non-African people (Eurasians)are the only people who carry some Neanderthals genes. Recent studies have shown a higher Neanderthal admixture in East Asians than in Europeans.

    So introversion should be common in East Asians and Europeans.

  5. The reasons why I do not want to marry in China. I consider myself lucky because noone from our closer Chinese family smokes or is a heavy drinker, but they still prefer lots of unusual fancy dishes, and I always leave the table hungry too. I am no vegan or vegetarian, but I do not like to eat meat too often, and if we do at home, I insist on organic meat from animals who at least had a good life although they’ll end up in my stomach anyway. 🙁

    While our wedding preparations, I was asked by my future mom in law that she wanted to buy me fancy jewellery from the wedding so I could show off. I am a person who doesn’t like to boast at all, so it took me some time convincing her that I don’t need anything to “show my wealth”. It is of noone’s concern who “well off” we are.
    And that she cannot just randomly invite people to our wedding party.

    That said, our wedding bonquet will be a small, non-smoking, non-heavy-drinking, vegan-menu-included, vegan-weddingcake-option party.

    1. Wow, Betty, your wedding banquet sounds amazing! I wish my wedding had included a vegan menu…I had to special order the vegan dishes for myself. Sigh…

      You’ll have to share all the details with us!

    2. @Betty
      That’s the way to go. I married my girlfriend in Hong Kong – which I can recommend very much. Almost no paperwork and the officials were all very friendly and helpful. We just invited very close friends and close family, parents, sisters and their kids. We booked a big table for lunch at the Man Wah next to City Hall for the formal celebration. Afterwards we took the ferry to Macau where it was more relaxed where we had a quite informal dinner at Fernando’s, which is one of my favorite places there. Everyone had a really great time, and nobody gambled away their fortune either. For both our parents it was the first time in HK/Macau and they really enjoyed the sightseeing and the hotel. We stayed in the Galaxy – the kids really loved the huge outdoor pools there. So everyone was happy 🙂

      We skipped the celebration in mainland China, where we would have to invite God knows whom and hold it in the middle of nowhere (well, Chengde it is) and do all the “usual Chinese wedding stuff” and nobody was in the mood for that. Not even my wife’s family. Thank God!

  6. I feel your pain! I attended many, many banquets in China and while I was appreciative for the kindness extended to me before, during, and after, it was at times (okay, usually always) uncomfortable with all the smoking, drinking, and forced food options.

    In my memoir, I wrote a chapter about a banquet we attended in which the patrons got so drunk, they began throwing food, falling over, etc.. and many readers wrote scathing reviews about that chapter–condemning me for being a petulant foreigner, etc.. but I don’t regret writing it, as that was my China experience and not theirs.

    Keep up the good work in sharing your own journey. It’s fun to follow along!

  7. Even in the U.S., where smoking pretty much banned in restaurants, I’m with you on wedding banquet aversion. Like you, some if it is the menu. I don’t like seafood, and it’s ALL seafood. Seriously. I’d’ve killed for a tofu or meat dish. I don’t know when Chinese-Americans gave up on meat at a wedding, but there you have it. Haven’t seen a meat dish yet, whether in Hawaii or California.

    Sometimes Andy can persuade the wait staff to bring me a glass of milk, and I survive on that and cake. 🙂

    Do your wedding banquets have karaoke and the interminable bride & groom slideshows? That’s headache central, right there. Especially if you don’t drink.

    1. No meat dish in Chinese wedding banquets in Hawaii and California? I am surprised because there is always a chicken dish in Chinese wedding banquets in Hong Kong. Other than the chicken dish, all the other dishes usually involve seafood. I feel sorry for you when you had to survive on milk at those banquets. At least Andy was doing his best in looking after his wife. Good for him! The reason seafood predominates in Chinese wedding banquets in Hong Kong is that seafood is considered fancier protein sources than meat, and the hosts want to serve the guests the best food that they could find. Serving tofu is almost unheard of in Hong Kong (the hosts would be called cheapskates if they serve tofu in wedding banquets). Unlike China, binge drinking is not common in wedding banquets in Hong Kong. Some Hong Kongers do not like big dinners in mainland China because the Hong Kongers do not like heavy drinking and yet their mainland hosts would expect them to participate in the heavy drinking and continual toasting.

      1. Yeah, the seafood is definitely considered the classier dish, and I think there are some symbolic reasons for certain dishes, but no, no chicken, in California, sadly. I was hungry enough to try the feet! (Don’t tell Andy.)

        Some of the families came to the U.S. by way of Hong Kong, and some by way of Taiwan. Either way, it was all seafood.

        1. Autumn: Chicken feet!! I think you are being sarcastic. I doubt you would really eat that. Among all the my friends born in the U.S. who are not ABCs, I know of only one who would eat chicken feet. He also would eat cow stomach. I heard that some Europeans would eat the internal organs, but I am not sure how truthful that is. When you mentioned symbolic reasons for certain dishes, that reminded me that chicken is not the only meat dish. Another meat dish in Cantonese wedding banquets in Hong Kong is roasted young pigs usually served as the first course. The meat dish does carry a symbolic meaning very important to the older generation of Cantonese. Before I tell you, please ask Andy to see if he knows.

          1. Oh, I will have to ask Andy about the young pig once he emerges from his top secret cocoon this evening. I bet he doesn’t know, though, since there was only seafood at our banquet.

            You’re right, I have not yet tried the chicken feet. But I have a post coming sometime soon about a white guy who did. Saw it with my own eyes. 🙂

        2. Autumn: I am not sure that Andy would know the meaning of serving roasted young pigs in Cantonese wedding banquets. I will tell now. The roasted young pig informally refers to the virginity of a woman. So traditionally, roasted young pigs were served to acknowledge the virginity of the bride (most people would believe that the bride was a virgin until after the first night of the marriage). However, nowadays, the significance of that has understandably diminished greatly because people are more realistic and their expectation is much less (of course they would not dare to mention it during the banquet). Nevertheless, the tradition of serving a roasted young pig still remains. Personally, I am glad that Cantonese nowadays have played down the significance because I think it is sexists to “emphasize” the virginity of the bride while nobody apparently would care whether the groom is a virgin. What is good for the goose should also be good for the gander. After all, it is nobody’s business whether the bride is a virgin.

          Marta: Did you like the chicken feet? My American friend who has tried likes it.

          1. As you suspected, Andy was totally clueless. So thanks for filling us in. So the idea was that a baby pig represents the virgin bride? *rolls eyes so hard they fall out of head*

            Sometimes, it’s good to discard a tradition or twenty.

          2. Autumn: I am not surprised that Andy did not know because it is not something that Chinese parents, Andy’s included, would feel comfortable sharing with their kids. However, I believe I should pass the knowledge to you and Andy so that the knowledge on the informal symbolic meaning, albeit outdated, would not get lost. I was told by a Cantonese friend of mine from HK. Andy may want to confirm that with his dad.

          3. David: they don’t taste bad, they’re just annoying to eat because of all the little bones and nails! It’s not something I would order in a restaurant, but if I cook a whole chicken at home, the feet are also thrown in the pot and I eat them (my Chinese boyfriend refuses to eat them!).

  8. I remember watching “The Wedding Banquet” in my 3rd year Chinese class. Those are not appealing to me as I don’t want people I barely know coming to my my wedding (if I ever have one, which I won’t if I get married. Totally saving money by going down to get my license and having an extravagant honeymoon.)

    Have you thought about eating vegan/vegetarian food before going to a banquet?

  9. I still have yet to attend my first Chinese wedding, but reading your reasons, I know I will not enjoy it… Just this Saturday, Derek’s family had a large gathering for his parents’ birthdays… around 100 people came. Needless to say, it was super overwhelming and both of us just sat quietly for most of the night as we both hate large crowds… Actually, that’s partially why Derek hasn’t taken me to a wedding before because he knows I’ll be as overwhelmed, if not worse than he is! It was at this lovely Chinese restaurant, and naturally I assumed there would be a couple of things for me to eat… I ended up eating some rice… actually a lot of it, with some Chinese cucumber, taro soup and two tiny pieces of tofu since everyone else at the table grabbed it before I could… there were about another 20 non-vegetarian dishes there so I couldn’t help but feel hungry after…

    And like Susan said… the drinking… my dad isn’t a drinker and he got caught up in the drinking game to some extent… four glasses of wine and two shots of whiskey… I don’t drink unless it’s a special occasion, and even then, I probably won’t…

    And as you mentioned with the smoking… As I am writing this, my upstairs neighbors happen to be smoking away right now and I feel like screaming… I can’t stand secondhand smoking!

  10. I agree about the smoking — not just at wedding banquets, but at any banquet with my husband’s parents’ friends or co-workers. If it’s just my husband’s friends, he can convince them not to smoke because I really hate it. But there’s no way my father-in-law will ask his buddies not to smoke (I did ask them myself a couple times, and one guy refrained from smoking for about 10 minutes. Nice of him.)

    The crowded atmosphere and rowdiness doesn’t bother me; I sit with my husband and, often, friends or family, and I don’t care who is at other tables or what they’re doing. I’ve never been forced to drink alcohol at a Chinese dinner.

    As for the food, I have to slightly disagree or, perhaps, not disagree, but just ask a question. Since the culture is so meat-focused for these banquets and you know you’re unlikely to find things you want to eat there, why not eat before going…? Supposing your friend is getting married and you do want to attend that happy event to support them, knowing that planning a wedding in China is a huge affair and that it’s quite difficult to have vegan dishes prepared for just one out of hundreds of guests, instead of having your stomach rumbling and being hangry you could perhaps just eat before you go? Could solve one of those three problems easily. 🙂

    1. I can’t speak for Jocelyn, but for the wedding banquets here in California, the drive is at least an hour, possibly two. The reception before the seating is also an hour. And there’s the slideshow… The last banquet we attended ran from 6 PM to midnight.

      So even if you eat before you go, you’re gonna be hungry long before the night is over or the cake is wheeled out.

      I have, however, learned which clutch purse will fit a granola bar. 🙂

  11. Oh man, I’ve only been to one Chinese banquet wedding and it was awful (I was proposed to there, in which I later said no, but that’s another crazy story entirely). Anyway, it didn’t feel very heartfelt or emotional. It all felt like a big show–showing off with fancy baijiu and food, families gossiping, ugh. It was a nightmare.

    The smoking thing I just don’t get. When I saw them smoking the cigarettes I was so alarmed–what a horrible tradition! I think the groom was forced to smoke too. And the smell… eesh.

    I don’t know how you managed to sit through multiple ones, Jocelyn! After my one and only Chinese banquet I think I’m done for life.

  12. Jocelyn, glad you find my message interesting.

    Like you, I just do not like party and crowded event. For long time, I thought there was some thing wrong with me until these recent research findings. I just do not like any gatherings. It does not matter whether this is in China or West.

    I do have some ABC relatives here in USA. These people are some kind of self-haters who show strong negative reaction toward anything Asian or Chinese. The sad part is these folks disrespected by Westerners also. I have way more western friends than these losers. I always respect my heritage and culture. I have unshaken confidence and pride in my heritage. I keep telling them that brown nose self-haters would not get any respect from others. If you want respect, do not kiss ass. Western culture love confidence and heros.

  13. I’m not a big fan of Chinese weddings either! At least I can eat the food, but you are right, everything contains meat or fish. Maybe you can get one lousy garlic fried dish of veggies at the end, but that’s all. And all weddings serve the same dishes, it is so boring!! Before arriving to the banquet I already know what I’m going to eat. In Suzhou the standard wedding contains a dish of lobster, another of crabs, a big chunk of glazed fatty pork, cold chicken or duck… boooring!

    I told C. that in our wedding we won’t put cigarette packs in the tables and I don’t give a damn if people think I am being unrespectful. There will be no smoking at my wedding and if someone cannot resist even 2 hours without smoking they can stay at home.

    1. Is that for me? There is no planning, only talking, haha. However I am thinking we might be headed for a fight here, will C. want to invite many co-workers and partners? God no please…

  14. spot on. Can’t stand Chinese weddings myself. I’m not a vegetarian but I’m absolutely not into Chinese “prestige food” like abalone, sea cucumber and what not – leave the critters in the sea. I’m more happy to see them there than on my plate. And really, why doesn’t anyone serve anything yummy at weddings, like dumplings? I bet there would be much less wasted food at the end.

    But whatever. The weirdness already starts with contemporary Chinese weddings being more like “dinner with entertainment” (emphasis on dinner) rather than an actual ceremony of an important life event.

  15. There’s a joke that Chinese people go crazy at weddings but not a parties and Westerners go crazy at parties but not at weddings. 🙂

  16. I feel the pain. I have never been to China but I married into a Chinese-expat family that’s been in Panama for generations. It’s an interesting mix but I had food allergies and would starve all night at the weddings – to even ask ingredients was offensive, and people would lie to me! Can’t trust the Chinese culture to tell you what’s really in the food! It’s just because they realllllly want you to be eating. 🙂

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