When I say my husband and I had a “half-naked marriage”, you’d be wrong to envision the two of us parading down the aisle in, say, a stripper’s version of wedding garb. As titillating as it might sound, the reality looks far more practical (and not nearly as sexy), as reported in the Feb 3, 2010, China Daily article Embracing a ‘naked marriage‘:
A witty poem on major BBS and SNS websites defines naked marriages as: “No apartment, no car, nor diamond ring; no wedding ceremony, nor honeymoon; each of us pays 4.50 yuan ($0.66), and we get a wedding certificate to start a new life.”
There are two types of naked marriage, the totally nude kind and the half-naked marriage, which means the man should at least provide a ring or something else for his beloved when they get hitched.
By July 2007, it’s not as if John and I hadn’t wrestled with these issues before. We faced “Money” all the time — hadn’t we survived summer 2006, when some months I never knew when the checks from my new business would come in, and wondered what bills to pay and what to leave aside? Hadn’t we just managed to scrounge the cash together for plane tickets? When it came to “Car,” we were just grateful that our secondhand 1991 Toyota station wagon — teeter-tottering with every bump on its barely-there shocks — still ran after some 170,000-plus miles. And as for “Home,” we felt lucky to manage the rent on our place — owning just wasn’t in the cards for us yet.
Still, we did have a wedding ceremony in 2007 (which included a banquet that welcomed over 150 guests) and enjoyed a simple honeymoon a few years earlier in Bali, firmly placing us in the “half-naked marriage” camp.
While the public seems to appreciate the philosophy of true love trumping everything else, most respondents in repeated surveys still reject the notion of disavowing all traditional trappings of marriage.
When asked about “naked marriage”, a recently coined term for getting married without owning a house, car or much other property, 45 percent of those polled said they are not against the idea, but less than 30 percent would “practice a naked marriage” themselves.
While I embraced our half-naked marriage, I don’t believe I represent most foreign women either. In my previous post 5 Fascinating Stereotypes of Western Women in China, I emphasized that many follow the lead of Ember Swift, who blogged about how she valued the financial stability of the Chinese man she later married.
Nevertheless, China will always have its share of couples who dare to eschew all that pricey pomp and circumstance, whether for frugality or simply to make a statement. And while Jun and I most certainly did not have a bare-it-all ceremony, that hasn’t stopped some couples in China from trying out a more literal interpretation of the naked marriage concept — such as saying “I do” in something resembling their birthday suits.
What do you think about naked marriage?
P.S.: For those curious, naked marriage in Chinese is 裸婚 (luǒhūn).
While Shannon might indeed claim the title of “Most Married,” in fact, many other intercultural and/or international couples straddling the East-West divide have also held more than one wedding ceremony.
Tying the knot across cultures and borders makes it that much harder to have all your family and friends together at one single ceremony. Travel costs and even securing visas can already get in the way of well-intended supporters who would love to watch a couple say “I do”. Plus, every country and culture has its own distinctive wedding customs and foods, often difficult to replicate outside those borders. And what about those of us who, say, grow up with a dream of getting married at home?
For all of these reasons — and more — many East-West couples prefer to organize at least two wedding ceremonies (and yes, sometimes even three or four)!
Whether you’re looking for wedding inspiration, a way to remember your big day, or a delightful diversion, here are two different examples of how East-West couples have chosen to walk down the aisle more than once.
Since the beginning we planned a double ceremony. We are both interested in each other’s culture and we like to learn and experience about it so having our wedding ceremony only in one of our countries would have meant missing something. Besides, we both have aging grandparents who could not travel. A double ceremony, one in Japan and one in Italy, was the perfect solution.
My husband’s family lives in Kyoto so it was natural for us to get married there. We choose Kamigamo Shrine because the Kamo river had played an important role in our story being the place where we strolled hand in hand for the first time on our first date. Again we were lucky because the shrine was already almost fully booked and we got the 12.45 slot.
I choose this village because it is the place where the priest who celebrated my parent’s wedding lives. He moved there some years ago and we kept in contact. He was overjoyed when I asked him to celebrate our wedding on January 5th 2017. He also helped us a lot because, since my husband is not Catholic, we needed to obtain a special permission from the Catholic Church in order to get married with a Catholic ceremony. My priest is so dear!
The couple also decided to sandwich their honeymoon between the two ceremonies (they went to Norway — Northern Lights and dog sledding!).
This blogger went on to chronicle every moment of each wedding ceremony, with lots of Instagram-worthy photos. In Kyoto, the couple organized the day a little differently to reflect their cultures and also accomodate guests from outside Japan. Here’s my favorite quote about their ceremony:
The ceremony lasts twenty minutes and ends with further blessings and prayers. We leave the wedding hall and walk to the inner shrine where we pay our respect to the god. In the meantime it has stopped raining. My father in law says it is the hare hito hare onna power. Hare hito hare onnameans sunny guy, sunny girl, my father in law likes to say that when me and my husband are together the sun always shines. The funny thing is that it is actually true almost all the time, we have always been lucky with the weather.
We didn’t exchange rings during the Japanese ceremony because we choose to do it during the Italian ceremony since the rings exchange originally is a western tradition. Our wedding rings are a gift from my parents and our Best Men. Usually inside the wedding rings there is the wedding date engraved but we got married twice and we didn’t want to choose one date over the other so we decided instead to write 二人三脚 (nininsankyaku) that means “two people, three legs”. It is a Japanese proverb and it describes two people cooperating and sharing responsibility to achieve a common goal. To us it is the perfect synthesis of what being a married couple means.
You can read both posts for a vicarious look into the ceremonies in Japan and Italy (and to ooh and ahh over the photos)!
If you’re an East-West couple, then shouldn’t each ceremony truly reflect your cross-cultural relationship? That’s the kind of reasoning that Katie at Adventures in Asia shared about her decision to have a Chinese-style wedding in the US and an American-style wedding in China:
My dream was to have an American-style wedding in China and a Chinese-style wedding in America. I thought this sounded fun and interesting! Until our wedding, none of my family had visited China before, so giving my relatives and friends a taste of my relationship and my life in China at our wedding in the U.S. was very important to me. I felt that doing cross-cultural weddings would express our cross-cultural identity as a couple. Doing our weddings this way would mean sacrificing certain customs – that is, I couldn’t have a truly and completely American wedding in China on a reasonable budget, and we couldn’t do all of the Chinese family traditions in America. That’s reality.
The Chinese wedding dinner usually includes a Western-style ceremony inserted halfway, complete with the bride dramatically entering in a white dress and the exchanging of rings and simple vows. This is sandwiched between the Chinese traditions of the bride and groom welcoming all the guests at the door (and receiving all the red envelopes of cash money), and the couple toasting each table of guests (after the bride has changed into a red dress or qipao). There is also usually entirely too much food stacked onto the tables, the parents give speeches, someone sings a song or performs a dance, and an emcee entertains with games and prizes. We tried to replicate this dinner at our States-side wedding and got decently close!
+We had our ceremony at the church where we attend, and as such we did not pay anything for the building, the officiant, the pianist, or the sound guy. In China, it’s all about who you know!
-Finding an officiant to marry us was surprisingly difficult. Most of the people we asked weren’t too keen on the attention of a Chinese-foreigner wedding. (For Chinese, the emcee usually narrates the vows, if they do them.) I wrote the entire script for the wedding myself (mostly inspired by traditional Western ceremony I found online), and my husband translated it.
+We were able to hire a company to handle the reception decorations (as mentioned previously). Our dining tables were outdoors with candles and dangling lights in the trees and dancing under the stars! This definitely would have been outside our budget in the U.S.
-Finding everything from candles to the flower girl basket in white, not red, was a constant struggle, but possible!
I recommend reading Katie’s entire blog post, which details everything from some of the initial challenges to their East-West engagements and both of the ceremonies.
For East-West couples who are considering two wedding ceremonies, what do you think is the best solution?
When you tie the knot across cultural and even international borders, as I have, the whole idea of “I do” suddenly becomes even more complicated. Now you’ve got another culture to consider, with its own set of expectations for the wedding.
If that culture happens to be Chinese, that means there’s another possibility for your wedding dress – the cheongsam. Which leads to this question:
Do you need to wear a cheongsam in your Chinese wedding?
For those of you who don’t know about the cheongsam, also known as the qipao, it’s 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.
While most women in China don’t wear the dress on a daily basis, it does appear at certain holidays (like Chinese New Year) and special occasions such as weddings. So it’s very common to see brides wearing cheongsam in their pre-wedding photos and at their wedding ceremonies or banquets.
But does that make the dress a must-have in your Chinese wedding?
The short answer is, not necessarily.
I’ve attended a number of Chinese weddings where the brides never even wore a cheongsam. While you’re almost guaranteed to see Chinese brides decked out in a white frothy gown fit for a princess, the cheongsam is generally optional. (Unless, of course, it’s an expectation or wedding tradition of the Chinese side of the family.)
Still, a lot of brides in China will opt to have a cheongsam for a number of reasons. First, you get to wear more than one dress – three is very typical for weddings in China — which means, at least here, you don’t have to choose. And second, the cheongsam is a gorgeous way to add a little Chinese flair to your bridal look.
Many women have rocked the cheongsam in their Chinese weddings, and it’s hard to resist the allure of this sexy dress, which hugs every curve. I ended up wearing two in my own Chinese wedding ceremony (which I’ve shown in the photos I included with this post).
So really, the question shouldn’t be, do you need to wear a cheongsam in your Chinese wedding? Instead, you should ask yourself, do you want one?
P.P.S.: While the issue of cultural appropriation can come into play whenever non-Asian women are wearing a cheongsam, I like Walking May’s take on this:
I feel the difference between the offensive and non-offensive is crucially ‘how one wears the traditional dress’, so here’s a few ideas to consider:
Research that dress! If you would like to wear a Qipao (Cheongsam) respectfully, then do a little research into what looks nice with it and know the name of what it is that you will be wearing. It is probably best not to mix a widely perceived Chinese dress with items from other Asian cultures, to avoid making broad statements about all Asian cultures, or indeed dig out the political through a historical war context that could simmer a stereotypical grudge of some sort. If in doubt, keep it simple.
Mere fun-filled costume or true loving appreciation? Your intention matters, and how you choose to wear a traditional garment will allow others to decipher information about you as well as how you feel about the garment. If you love something, then you will simply want to do it justice and appreciated it in the best way that you can.
When a friend told me she didn’t want to have a big wedding banquet in China, I could totally understand why.
After all, I’m the one who wrote about Why I Don’t Like Going to Wedding Banquets in China. I still have a “just say no” policy when it comes to Chinese wedding invitations. Just the mere suggestion of a wedding in China fills me with dread. The last thing I need is more non-vegan food I can’t eat, a room polluted with noxious secondhand smoke, and a raucous atmosphere that will leave me unsettled for the rest of the night.
In short, a good book at home beats a wedding banquet in China any day for me.
And to be sure, there was a time when I once hoped that my own wedding ceremony in China would have been different. Smaller. More intimate. Vegan food. A strict smoking ban. I envisioned this glorious countryside wedding at the family home, a delightful ceremony closer to nature and tradition than anything I’d seen in the cities.
Well, it didn’t happen that way.
Instead, I got a big, red banquet in a hotel with more than 150 guests in attendance. The only vegan dishes were prepared for me, on the side. And as for that smoking ban, as much as we tried enforcing it, it was kind of laughable when there were free cigarettes at every setting (typical for most wedding banquets in China).
In fairness to the family here, I should be clear about one thing – I was enormously grateful for the wedding banquet for a number of reasons.
Having a wedding in the US was pretty much an impossibility for my husband and me. So if we hadn’t had the ceremony in China, we wouldn’t have had anything at all. Furthermore, they shouldered all the costs of the wedding, which was incredibly generous of them. And in the process of planning the banquet, they allowed me and my husband to make a lot of decisions. We chose the décor for the stage/backdrop. We organized the karaoke afterparty. We decided on the flowers. We specifically requested those candid photos shot during the event. We even planned to let me sing “our song” during the ceremony (which would have happened, had I not lost my voice). In short, we were given a lot of leeway to lend a personal touch to the event.
But yes, if I had planned it all according to my wishes, like brides in America do, I would have had a completely different wedding banquet altogether. (And nobody would have gotten those free cigarettes at the table!)
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.
There’s also another important reason why the wedding banquet must go on – because many families don’t consider you married without it.
So yes, your Chinese family wants and expects a wedding banquet. While there are probably lots of things you can have a say on – from the flowers to the décor to even your photographers – the actual wedding banquet isn’t one of them. Not even close.
But I say, if you’ve got to do it, embrace the experience. And believe me, there are benefits to getting married over here. How about having more than one dress in your ceremony? Or getting your hair and makeup redone several times during the event? Or even having those stunning wedding/engagement photos done? Trust me, there’s lots of potential to enjoy the whole “princess” treatment here.
As for me, I don’t regret the way my wedding banquet turned out. Maybe it wasn’t the “perfect day” I imagined long ago, but that’s OK. After all, my husband and I honeymooned in that magical island of Bali.
Have you ever attended a wedding that changed the way you thought about yourself — and who you want to date? That’s what happened to Joanna Scarpuzzi, who writes, “Even though I thought I had grown up under much Chinese culture and influence, nothing had prepared me for the experience that this wedding was.”
Do you have a story about a life-changing wedding — or another guest post you’d like to see featured here? Visit the submit a post page to learn more about how to have your writing published on this blog.
Growing up in a mixed family (my dad is White-American, and my mom is Asian-American), I was excited to see who my siblings and I would date and eventually marry. All of us kids were homeschooled until were in 9th grade so our circle of friends was pretty small. I remember my sisters and I having crushes on White boys and Asian boys alike. My brother, also, dated a Chinese girl, a mixed girl, and a White girl, in that order.
It wasn’t until we were college age that our preferences became more evident. My sisters felt that Asian culture was too traditional and exclusive dated White boys. I, on the other hand, moved to China in 2010 to teach at an international school in an attempt to learn more about my Asian roots. During my six years abroad, if someone were to ask me if I could see myself married to a Chinese man, I would have told them, without a doubt, yes! I loved everything about Chinese culture: the food, the language, the community aspects, the filial piety.
Then, I attended a traditional Chinese countryside wedding. A group of us foreigners spent a weekend at a hotel awaiting the wedding festivities for our friend and coworker. The whole time we were there, we were not allowed to do anything remotely relating to helping with preparations. We were treated like honored guests.
The morning of the wedding, we joined the friends and family in the courtyard of the house. Cousins climbed up on the roof to bang pots and pans and set off firecrackers to welcome the wedding party.
After a short traditional ceremony in the courtyard, the bride and groom were ushered into their wedding chambers where they sat on a red-blanketed bed with posters of naked babies on the wall behind them. On that bed, they played some teasing games while the groom’s friends and relatives tossed nuts and dried fruit at them.
It was during this time that I realized how very different I really was. Even though I thought I had grown up under much Chinese culture and influence, nothing had prepared me for the experience that this wedding was. It was so different from my expectations for weddings, and made me realize I would not want a wedding like this, which made me wonder if it was really just the wedding or if it was something more.
It was this experience that caused me to ponder on the fact that perhaps I wasn’t being honest with myself when I told people I could see myself ending up with a Chinese man. Maybe I’m more independent than I thought or maybe my version of being raised the Asian way was a mixture of East and West. Maybe I wasn’t willing to give up being “comfortable” in America to truly connect with my roots. Whatever the reason, someday I hope to find a man who embraces my world, a perfect blend of Chinese and American culture.
After living in China for the past six years, Joanna Scarpuzzi is now back in the US and writes about teaching and her experiences with culture, specifically Asian culture.
I am having my wedding celebration in Beijing in late Spring of this year and my family is coming to celebrate from [Western country]. Now, let me first say that my family has been just HORRIBLE about the entire situation. What I mean by family is my siblings. They feel like ‘I am being a bridezilla’ which in my opinion I am not. One minute they are mad at me because I didn’t ask them to be in the wedding (you only have one bridesmaid/groomsman in a traditional Chinese wedding and its not a great job—I want them to enjoy the wedding, not be following me around) the next minute they are telling me that I am being selfish because I haven’t shared any details of the wedding with them. I have explained the situation to them 1 million times, I am not planning this wedding my father and mother in law are (they are also paying for it) and I basically just have to show up on the day (P.S. I am actually really happy about this as I have planned a wedding before and it’s not easy). Anyways moving on, we have a huge problem right now with the hongbao.
My siblings refuse to give hongbao because they are paying to come to China and their hotel, etc and believe that it’s extremely expensive and are making me feel BAD about MY OWN WEDDING!. My husband says that its a slap in the face for China and all Chinese people if they don’t give the hongbao “mei mianzi’ [no face], I’m sure you are familiar. Me, I’m stuck in the middle. I understand where they are coming from but I am extremely upset with them because they have turned what is supposed to be a joyous occasion into something that I am dreading. I tried to mediate the situation by saying that if they gave hongbao, we would obviously pay for the hotel and their 4 day excursion around Beijing. However they completely disagree with the whole concept. They want to show up at my wedding without hongbao and just pay for everything on their own — the hotel and the excursion.
I don’t know what to do at this point. I think my husband is right, I mean it’s going to look really bad that my family does not give hongbao at my wedding. It’s a traditional Chinese wedding, I’m wearing traditional Chinese clothes and we are doing everything by Chinese custom which my siblings completely don’t understand. Help!
I have a feeling you’ll never convince your siblings to do the right thing. I’ve met people like them. They remind me of “ugly American” tourists who act as anti-ambassadors around the world, making everyone hate America just a little more when they disrespect local cultures. Their way is, of course, the right way and the only way! 😉
It’s bad enough to meet these people in your travels, but worse if you’re actually related to them. You have my deepest sympathies.
So here’s what I’m proposing:
Option #1: Have them present empty hongbao envelopes. Okay, it’s not ideal and it is a little bit of a “bait-and-switch”. But no one would ever have to know. I’m sure somewhere in a Chinese etiquette book out there, there’s an entry about “never opening the hongbao before your guests” just as Chinese never open gifts when presented. I’ve never seen it happen. Your family will have no idea there’s nothing inside…and you can remove them from your hongbao pile before any prying hands/eyes are the wiser. Just give the envelopes to your siblings and ask them to present them at the wedding. Later on, you can then stuff the envelopes with cash yourselves (should the family do any post-wedding bookkeeping and need to record the amounts).
But then again, with such uncooperative siblings, chances are they wouldn’t even agree to this! And if so…
Option #2: Prepare hongbao for each sibling yourselves. Just stuff them with appropriately auspicious sums of cash, write their names on the envelope, and then drop them into your basket/bag when nobody happens to notice. (Alternatively, have the bridesmaid or groomsman deposit them in the basket/bag ahead of time.) Then, when it comes time to add up the hongbao cash after the wedding, your family will see the contribution and assume your siblings did their part.
Of course, if this seems like too much work for a bunch of ungrateful siblings, there’s always…
Option #3: Don’t invite them.
What do you think? What advice would you have?
Do you have a question about life, dating, marriage and family in China/Chinese culture or Western culture? Send me yours today.
Canadian Alex calls it destiny. She went to China in June 2010 as an exchange student, never realizing she would leave her heart in Qingdao — and end up becoming a wedding planner together with her husband, Fei.
Our hometowns share an ocean, but are on different continents. We both celebrate a new year, but at a different time. We both have parents, but only one of us has siblings.
I can tell the story of how Fei and I met in two languages. This type of meeting is called 缘分 (yuanfen) which depicts that by fate or destiny two people come together.
Like most foreigners here I began my journey as an exchange student in June 2010. At the same time Fei agreed to help his friend by teaching a class on Business in China. Fei studied and lived in Dublin, Ireland for nine years. When we met it was not in Canada, it was not in Ireland, nor was it in Fei’s hometown Qingdao (青岛). We met in a small suburb outside the city, in an old classroom on the 6th floor.
In class we exchanged cards and arranged to meet later on. We went with several friends for a dinner of roast duck, which led to night market shopping, and further an intimate pot of blue mountain coffee shared between the two of us. After coffee I followed like a puppy to watch a football match in a pub even though I had never been a fan.
The next day I left to Xi’an. It was painful leaving but the Terracotta warriors, Yangzte River, and Wuhan Dam all distracted me for a little while. As I traveled throughout China we kept in contact every day via text message. Through these short but meaningful first messages we subtly developed our relationship.
We met in a classroom, bonded over coffee, and spent only one week together in Qingdao, China before I had to fly home to Canada. Over the distance our relationship grew closer and commitment solidified.
Today we work side-by-side creating weddings and events here in Qingdao. Everyday we share a cup of coffee together, we make jokes and laugh in both languages, and when I am not at home working we are often crazily texting each other about some little wedding detail or color combination.
It feels surreal to think that my small exchange student opportunity has opened up this entire new world. I am fluent in Chinese, married to a wonderful husband, and we are both building our careers and future together everyday.
It’s quite complicated how we came to be in the wedding industry. After we were engaged we of course began to think about how to arrange and coordinate an international wedding party. We also went to check out a few of the local wedding planners (婚庆公司). At first I saw their weddings and just didn’t really understand how there was such a huge T-shaped stage, many different colored lights, and aisle decorations that were nearly touching the ceiling? I thought to myself this isn’t the wedding that I imagined and just doesn’t feel right.
So after some trials and tribulations and meeting the right people, in May 2011 we had our first wedding client (a friend of a friend of course). Our first wedding was an amazing (and frustrating) learning experience about the different between Western and Chinese style weddings. I learned very quickly that creating hand-made seating arrangements for 300+ people just do not work!
One year later I had the chance to design and create our own wedding. I wanted to give my Chinese family and friends the experience of what a western style wedding is like. We were married by the sea, in the yard of a 100 year old building, we ate delicious steak and drank wine, we danced, we ate cake, and we drank some more. It was the best day of my life and Fei agrees it was his too.
Our company is growing, we are learning so much everyday and being challenged in every way possible. I feel honored that I can help other brides and grooms create the same wonderful memories that we had after our wedding day.
Chinese American Michelle Guo — a fellow blogger and personal friend — shares her story of how she went to China and ended up marrying Alex, a man from Henan Province.
Four years ago when I first came to Beijing, locals asked me what brought me back to China. The question always threw me off, since I was born in Portland, spent most of my life in California, and had never been to China before. I’m Chinese-American and was raised by my mom, who is anything BUT a traditional Chinese parent. My values, thinking, and culture are very Western, which is why I assumed that whoever I married, no matter what ethnicity, would also be American, or at the very least a Westerner.
I’m going to attend a Chinese wedding in Shanghai soon and I have NO idea what to wear! Could you please help with some suggestions???
When it comes to attending weddings in China, think casual.
I’ve seen people wear nice jeans or skirts, T-shirts, sweaters and even sneakers to weddings — yes, sneakers! In China, whatever people wear in public or to the office is pretty much the same thing they’ll wear to a wedding. Which means if you choose to go a little more formal — a nice suit, a lovely dress — you might actually stick out even more than you usually do as a foreigner in China. Dress up at own your risk. Continue reading “Ask the Yangxifu: What To Wear To Chinese Weddings in China”
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