The Modern Chinese Wedding Ceremony and Banquet

midsection of bride in traditional Chinese wedding dress

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In modern China, the official marriage ceremony is now substantially different than it was in traditional Chinese custom, where most marriages were arranged according to a social arrangement and were heavily influenced by the philosophy and practices of Confucianism—at least for the majority of Han Chinese. Other ethnic groups traditionally had different customs. These traditional customs were a carry-over from feudal times in China but were changed by two different reforms after the Communist revolution. Thus, the official act of marriage in modern China is a secular ceremony, not a religious one. However, there remain strong traditional customs in place in many parts of China. 

The first reform came with the 1950 marriage law, the first official marriage document for the People's Republic of China, in which the feudal nature of traditional marriage was officially eliminated. Another reform came in 1980, at which time individuals were allowed to select their own marriage partners. In an effort to control population numbers, Chinese law today requires men to be at least 22 years of age and women 20 years of age before they can legally marry. It should be noted that while official policy outlaws all the feudal customs, in practice of "arranging" marriage does persist in many families.

Chinese law does not recognize yet recognize same-sex marriage rights. Since 1984 homosexuality is no longer considered a crime, but there is still substantial social disapproval of same-sex relationships.

Modern Chinese Wedding Ceremonies

Although the official modern Chinese wedding ceremony usually takes place in a city hall office presided over by a government official, the genuine celebration generally occurs later at a private wedding banquet reception that is usually hosted and paid for by the groom's family. Religious Chinese may also opt to exchange vows at a religious ceremony, but either way, it is at the later banquet reception that the larger celebration occurs, attended by friends and extended family. 

The Chinese Wedding Banquet

The wedding banquet is a lavish affair lasting two or more hours. Invited guests sign their names in a wedding book or on a large scroll and present their red envelopes to attendants at the entrance of the wedding hall. The envelope is opened and the money is counted while the guest looks on.

The guests’ names and amounts of money given are recorded so that the bride and groom know how much each guest gave toward the wedding. This record is helpful for when the couple later attends this guest's own wedding—they are expected to offer a gift of more money than they themselves received. 

After presenting the red envelope, guests are ushered into a large banquet hall. Guests are sometimes assigned seats but are sometimes welcome to sit where they choose. Once all the guests have arrived, the wedding party begins. Nearly all Chinese banquets feature an emcee or master of ceremonies who announces the arrival of the bride and groom. The couple’s entrance marks the beginning of the wedding celebration.

After one member of the couple, usually the groom gives a short welcome speech, guests are served the first of nine meal courses. Throughout the meal, the bride and groom enter and re-enter the banquet hall, each time wearing different clothing outfits. While the guests eat, the bride and groom are typically busy changing their clothes and attending to their guests’ needs. The couple typically re-enters the dining hall after the third and sixth courses.

Toward the end of the meal but before dessert is served, the bride and groom toast the guests. The groom’s best friend may also offer up a toast. The bride and groom make their way to each table where the guests stand and simultaneously toast the happy couple. Once the bride and groom have visited each table, they exit the hall while dessert is served.

Once dessert is served, the wedding celebration promptly ends. Before leaving, guests line up to greet the bride and groom and their families standing outside the hall in a receiving line. Each guest has a photo taken with the couple and may be offered sweets by the bride.

Post-Wedding Rituals

After the wedding banquet, close friends and relatives go to the bridal chamber and play tricks on the newlyweds as a way to extend good wishes. The couple then shares a glass of wine and teach traditionally cuts off a lock of hair to symbolize that they are now of one heart.

Three, seven or nine days after the wedding, the bride returns to her maiden home to visit her family. Some couples opt to go on a honeymoon vacation as well. There are also customs regarding the birth of the first child. 

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Mack, Lauren. "The Modern Chinese Wedding Ceremony and Banquet." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Mack, Lauren. (2020, August 28). The Modern Chinese Wedding Ceremony and Banquet. Retrieved from Mack, Lauren. "The Modern Chinese Wedding Ceremony and Banquet." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 7, 2023).