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  All materials © 1999 
  Beijing Scene


Beijing Scene, Volume 6, Issue 3, October 29 - November 4 

Surviving Chinese Weddings

Weddings have always been a big affair in China. Without them you could never have duoziduosun -- 多子多孙 (many children and grandchildren). Not legally, anyway. Of course, all that depends on whether or not you live past your wedding night! Chinese weddings have a tendency to get a little wild and crazy. But fear not, this week's Comrade Language can serve as a Chinese wedding survival guide (not to be confused with a marriage survival guide!). 

The first step in any wedding is to qiuhun -- 求婚 (propose). With that formality out of the way, the cheerful couple go on to their local hospital to jianchashenti -- 检查身体 (get a medical checkup). Providing the dongfang -- 洞房 (lit. 'cave room' or new home), is the responsibility of the xinlang -- 新郎 (groom), while the xinniang -- 新娘 (bride's) family prepares their jiazhuang -- 嫁妆 (dowry), also known by the less-than-formal word peijia -- 陪嫁. In traditional China, if the bride's family was wealthy the jiazhuang 嫁妆 might consist of two cows or a camel. Nowadays a jiazhuang 嫁妆 might consist of the sandajian -- 三大件 (three big symbols of wealth): air conditioner, hi-fi stereo and a color TV (and depending on how far up the socio-economic ladder you climb, now includes: VCR, VCD, his and her mobile telephones, microwave oven, multimedia computer with Internet access, luxury automobile, foreign passport, etc.). Now that's what I call wealth with Chinese characteristics! 

The hunli -- 婚礼 (wedding) begins when the happy couple meet at the photo studio, where they spend half a day getting their pictures taken in different outfits and poses. Then they finally go home and put on their wedding clothes. The groom gets in his Avis, Hertz or Flyover-By-Night rent-a-car and rushes to pick up his blushing bride. When the bride emerges from her home the tape recording of fireworks starts (since real fireworks were outlawed in Beijing in 1997). The noise cues every drifter, bottle-collector and knife-sharpener in the neighborhood to come out and kanrenao -- 看热闹 (literally: witness hot confusion). The couple then gets in the car and heads off -- not for a chapel -- but a [the more stars the better] hotel. At the door of the hotel they wait out in the cold to greet every single guest until they all arrive. Wedding guests are seated around a bunch of tables with eight to ten invitees (with a place for the odd stray) per table. At each seat two packets of cigarettes await every guest. Dinner consists of one whole chicken and one whole duck per table in addition to eight cold dishes, eight hot dishes (the number eight being a homonym for "get rich" and therefore considered auspicious), soup and dessert. 

Throughout the course of dinner, the bride and groom distribute cartons of cancer sticks to their guests. Each table must jingjiu -- 敬酒 (propose a toast) to the soon-to-be-intoxicated newlyweds. After the new couple have an obligatory drink at each table, all the people who hate the defenseless pair can bully them by huijing -- 回敬 (toasting them individually) to get them drunk.That's where the nubinxiang -- 女傧相 (bride's maid) and nanbinxiang -- 男傧相 (best man) come in. Their function is to drink for the bride and groom when confronted by evil guests bent on destroying the couple's respective livers. You might be wondering why the bride and groom would invite people that hate them to their wedding in the first place. It's because if you invite one tongshi -- 同事 (workmate) it's buhaoyisi -- 不好意思 (embarrassing) not to invite them all. At least the newlyweds can expect to get a hongbao -- 红包 (gift of money) from each of them! 

Once everyone's had enough to eat and drink, the freeloaders all leave. The couple's real friends accompany the newlyweds to naoxinfang -- 闹新房 ('raise the roof' figuratively and sometimes literally at the new home). At the ensuing party the guests all have fun at the expense of their newly-married hosts. The idea is to play silly jokes on the bride and groom to make them look like idiots. The bride and groom begin by drinking jiaobeijiu -- 交杯酒 which involves intertwining their arms and drinking from their respective glasses without spilling any booze. Then comes the old 'hang the apple between their faces and have them bite at it so that they end up kissing each other' gambit. Leave it to the newlyweds' friends to find the smallest possible apple! One of the more kaifang -- 开放 (risque) party activities includes placing an egg in the groom's pant leg and having the bride move it with her mouth up one pant leg, across his crotch and down and out the other pant leg. And I thought Chinese people were supposed to be baoshou -- 保守 (conservative)! Back in the 1970's when porcelain toilets (and indoor plumbing!) weren't as common as they are today, Chinese homes all had portable wooden matong -- 马桶(chamberpots). Newlyweds would enter their new home to find a brand-spanking-new toilet filled with hard-boiled eggs painted red, a sight that would ruin any normal person's appetite. The eggs in the toilet were meant to represent fertility.

Couples these days spend an average of about rmb 100,000 for a wedding, covering every expense from renovating the new apartment all the way up to the eggs used in the groom's crotch and the toilet. When a Chinese couple gets married, everything they have when they start their lives together must be brand new. New apartment, new sheets, new bun steamer, the works. No hand-me-downs are allowed. And since they're just spent both of their families?life-savings on their wedding, the couple can look forward to 20-some odd years of frugality and arguing over a few fen with the local fruit vendor until they get to do it all again for their single child! Until next week, the Comrade wishes all those married but destitute couples out there baitoudaolao -- 白头到老 (may your hair grow white together), bainianhehao -- 百年合好 (a hundred years of getting along) and xijieliangyuan -- 喜结良缘 ('til death do you part)! 


Previous Stories...

The Dating Game

One Party, Two Systems

Shop till you Drop

What's in A Name

Making friends with Chinese people

Chinese Zodiac Part II

Chinese Zodiac Part I

Everyday Items in Chinese People's Homes

Blood Type

Judging a book by its cover

Losing Weight

Money is everything

The Comrade's final exam

Wining and dinning out

Pekinese in beijing

Using Your Electric Brain

Traditional Holidays

Little Emporer Syndrome

Henpecked Husbands

To Own Real Estate is Glorious