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Amber: Hey everybody! Welcome back to Amber and Victor’s Chinese Buffet.
Victor: 大家好 (dàjiā hǎo), 我是 (Wǒ shì) Victor.
Amber: I am Amber. Welcome back. And today, we are going to have a new segment in our show about Chinese culture and this is called ‘Fortune Cookies’.
Victor: Fortune Cookies. Okay.
Amber: Which as we are a bit of an imposter on the Chinese Buffet scene but, this segment is about how to get lucky in Chinese culture. Well, it’s actually some aspects of what is lucky and unlucky in Chinese culture.
Victor: Right. As you know, luck is a huge…
Amber: Huge!
Victor: Aspect of Chinese culture, yeah.
Amber: Yeah. So, today we are going to narrow it down and talk about one subject, which is Chinese weddings.
Victor: Oh, okay.
Amber: Because there are many traditions involved with Chinese weddings and many of them are due to different factors like things that are auspicious or inauspicious.
Victor: Very complicated process.
Amber: Yes! And it’s kind of fun because… probably if you make friends in China, one day you will go to a Chinese wedding and it’s nice to understand all the things that are going on.
Victor: There are certain things you should definitely know before…
Amber: Yeah. And even some things that maybe you don’t want to make a full par but we will also let you know. Now getting married in China is sort of an elaborate process traditionally in the past.
Victor: Right.
Amber: It wasn’t just ‘when a boy meets girl, falls in love and gets married’. There was actually a marriage proposal, an acceptance process, and the young were not trusted with this process themselves, with their own marriage destiny. They definitely do not have the experience or the wisdom to make this kind of choice for themselves. So, it was the parents and also this go-between matchmakers that were basically the ones who were in charge.
Victor: It’s like a whole family process.
Amber: Exactly.
Victor: It’s not just people all getting married.
Amber: Yeah! So basically, how it all played out was that the whole process of getting married being so complicated, they would place it in the hands of a go-between and this person is kind of like the similar role to whatever your listing agent today where they are going back and forth between the two parties, showing the good, that sort of thing.
Victor: Usually like older women. Older females.
Amber: Yeah, exactly. Kind of like a matchmaker and who the important parties were, were actually not the potential bride and groom. It was their parents of each potential bride and groom that were the important ones. So, what will happen is the boy’s parents, maybe they would identify or be shown by this matchmaker a likely bride-to-be. And what they would do is the go-between would go and send some gifts to the girl’s parents to see how they felt about the match.
Victor: Test the water a little bit.
Amber: Exactly. Now maybe depending on the gifts or different factors maybe well received.
Victor: Right.
Amber: And if so, then the go-between would do something else. Well, they wouldn’t go back to the girl’s family yet. There are still more to be proven.
Victor: Still more.
Amber: Yes. They had to get not only the date but the hour of the girl’s birth.
Victor: Oh, okay.
Amber: They recorded it in a formal document. Now, talk about whether things are lucky or not, they had to know whether the bride was lucky. So, they would put this date, this document on an altar, the ancestral altar, for three days and if no bad things happen in these three days – for example, quarrels between the parents, or some disaster – then, they would get to the next step, which was the astrological expert consult if they were a good match. So, all this would happen if the girl passed the master and the same thing would be done by in universe demand.
Victor: It is quite a process.
Amber: Exactly.
Victor: I hope these matchmakers are getting paid well because this sounds like a lot.
Amber: Yeah. So, all this would happen and the potential couple haven’t even met yet. Do you even like that? So, if you pass through all of these hoops and it came out favorable, then the two families would arrange to meet. And then, face to face, they could still say they weren’t into the person. The people still had somewhat of a choice.
Victor: Yeah.
Amber: But if they were satisfied, then they would proceed to the betrothal.
Victor: And sometimes, in the more severe cases, the groom and the bride won’t meet until their wedding night.
Amber: Really?
Victor: Yeah. This happened. I have heard stories like that.
Amber: At least there’s none of that “is he into me?” and all these dating stuff.
Victor: Yeah. He’s not going anywhere.
Amber: Exactly. So, the actual marriage, such a process, but it would only be agreed upon after there is a lot of bargaining. See, when the man and the woman decided they were okay with each other, there would be lot of bargaining money and goods. They have to negotiate what would be the engagement tokens. And then, the next step is picking an auspicious wedding date. This is very important.
Victor: Very, very important.
Amber: People take it very seriously. For example, when was that really lucky day where there was thousands and thousands of 88?
Victor: It was June 6, 2006.
Amber: Right.
Victor: When everybody in the West was freaking out about the triple six, people in China were busy getting married.
Amber: That’s right. That’s like the luckiest day you could have gotten married.
Victor: Right. And that’s even just modern times. But, when we are talking about the old days, it’s a lot more complicated than just the numbers. You know your birth hours and then the date, the year, your zodiac, and sometimes your family is involved. So, the date choosing is quite a process too.
Amber: Yeah. It’s very important. And you will often find in China even today that most of the couples I know, they kind of have two weddings. They would go and actually sign their wedding paper on a very auspicious date and then later they will have the ceremony when it is convenient.
Victor: Right.
Amber: So very often, people would be married officially a year before they actually had their wedding.
Victor: Oh, okay.
Amber: Just so that they could have a good date. Okay. So Victor, what about today? Is there all this regular rules still?
Victor: Definitely, not even near. You know, right now people have a lot more freedom, of course, and they can choose their spouse on their own or whatever. However, some of the oldest styles of matchmaking still exists. Sometimes, young people are introduced through friends or through family friends, through an elderly, or there are still companies that are basically doing matchmaking business.
Amber: The best matchmaking I saw was in 人民 (Rénmín) Park, at People’s Park in Shanghai. On Sunday, his parents would go with a big placard with their child’s picture and stats, job, income, age, and then they will walk around and find other ones that they felt looked good and try to match up their sons and daughters.
Victor: Embarrassing.
Amber: Yeah, because they felt now the Chinese people are very busy. They work long hours and they are really concerned that they didn’t have time to meet someone.
Victor: Yeah.
Amber: So, the parents are very proactive in this way.
Victor: So, the retired parents would go out and find spouses for their kids.
Amber: It was like a meet-up.
Victor: Right. Between parents?
Amber: Yeah. Okay so, they have gone through all that, the couple-parents matchmaking, whatever, everything in the past or present. Let’s talk about the wedding day itself now. There is a lot of lucky things and unlucky things to be aware. So, now you will know what to expect some things about Chinese weddings.
Victor: Right.
Amber: So during the wedding days speaking of, one thing I remember is there was a lot of toasting, a lot of food. There was generally like a couple of number of courses of food served. Like eight courses is it, Victor?
Victor: Just depends, I guess.
Amber: Lots of food anyways.
Victor: Lots of food, yeah.
Amber: And I do remember it was funny. The wedding I went to was an American guy marrying a Chinese girl and so, there was half and half. Some of the guests were Western and some were Chinese.
Victor: Okay.
Amber: So, the groom had picked Chinese foods that he knew would be acceptable to his parents and the visitors from overseas. So, they definitely weren’t the usual Chinese dishes I have seen in other weddings, which were like heads on the things and stuff like that. But the funny thing was that our table, which was all my workmates, most of us were Westerners, we were like ‘This food is delicious!’ and everything was clean right off the dishes. And then at one point, I looked over to the people next to us. It was a fully Chinese table and they barely even touched the food. They were like, “What kind of food is this for a wedding?” And also another unique thing is there is generally a lot of drinking and there will be full huge couple of bottles of whiskey, expensive whiskey on your table and a couple packs of cigarettes at the weddings I’ve been to.
Victor: Yeah. Right. A lot of candies too.
Amber: And candies.
Victor: Because you know, the sweetness represents the sweetness of life. So, a lot of these things actually have actual meanings to represent certain things on a wedding day.
Amber: Yeah.
Victor: And speaking of objects having extra meanings or whatnot, a lot of things should be present during a wedding day and some things should be avoided. One thing that is good to have is peanuts because in Chinese, it is called 花生 (huāshēng) and the second character 生 (shēng)also means to give birth or to grow, and 花 (huā) means flower or variety. So, you can give birth to different kinds. You know, like girls, boys. It means…
Amber: So much for the one child policy. There are too many peanuts.
Victor: This is old tradition. So, it means you have a prosperous family line going down.
Amber: Yeah.
Victor: And one thing to be avoided… this a big no-no. I think it still applies today is to have pears, the fruits as pears on a wedding day.
Amber: What’s wrong with a pear?
Victor: Because a pear in Chinese is called 梨 (lí) and it is exactly the same pronunciation as the word for to part. 离 (lí),分离 (fēnlí) which means to separate and if you think of that, it’s like cutting a pear and eating a pear. All these associations should definitely not be had on a wedding day.
Amber: Makes sense.
Victor: Yeah. This is traditional but also, still applies even today. So, I guarantee you that you’ll never see a pear appearing during a wedding day.
Amber: Yeah. And here is another thing. As a guest, now we’re used to bringing a gift to the wedding, right? But in China, I rarely saw anyone bring a gift. There is something else that you give. It’s the hongbao.
Victor: Yeah, money.
Amber: Which is a red envelope filled with money. But there is something very essential to know. A mistake I almost very nearly made is that the denomination of the money that you put in the hongbao is important and there is certain denominations you should not put as a gift.
Victor: Okay.
Amber: For example, I was thinking, “Okay. Well, I don’t know this couple very well. Maybe I’ll give them 400 Renminbi.” And my friends, “Nooo!” Why, Victor?
Victor: Four again, I think talking about associations with the other things, four as people know is 四 (sì) which sounds like the word for 死 (sǐ), which is to die. And of course, the topic for death is very much avoided publicly. If you can, and totally the opposite of the wedding day. So, you should never bring up any association of fours.
Amber: So, the good news is you can give them a 300 because you’re actually doing them a favor and you saved a hundred kuai.
Victor: Another thing, I’m not sure people know this, 250 is also a bad number.
Amber: Ah, because it means stupid, right?
Victor: Stupid. When you call somebody 250 in Chinese, it means you’re calling them stupid. So, people will actually try hard to avoid these numbers. So, no 250, no 400. Nothing about four.
Amber: No 44 000, if you’re really generous.
Victor: Eight is good. Five is good. Six, of course like we said, is good. Nine, 九 (jiǔ), which also sounds like forever, is also very, very good.
Amber: Okay. So, go with the 900.
Victor: So, instead of 400, you have to double it.
Amber: Yeah. The higher you go, probably.
Victor: Too practical though. See, you don’t give a gift. You just give money.
Amber: Money is a much better way actually. Saves time.
Victor: Right.
Amber: I hear something else interesting about Chinese weddings. One thing we mentioned is that often the wedding itself, the reception is not on the same day as the actual ceremony. Maybe the couples have already been married for a year. The other thing is, this kind of breeds a lot of jumpstarts in the wedding photos and as anyone who has been to a Chinese park on a Saturday afternoon would know, there seems to be an order of number of brides taking pictures and sometimes changing dresses. Dresses help up with safety pins in the back because it is not really their wedding dress, but they are just taking these wedding photos, which is a very popular thing now.
Victor: Very popular. I think you see, sometimes even the West do it but here and there, but not very often. But in China, you see it all the time.
Amber: Yeah. In fact, I think some people are doing it and they are not even getting married. They just want to get themselves in a dress. But the other funny thing is that they really touch up these photos and I’ve been in friends’ houses and seen their wedding photos and been like, “Who is that?” “Whoa, it’s me.” And it doesn’t look anything like that, you know. They are like all white and yeah, it’s totally different. And the guys are in like a light blue tuxedo and those stuff. And even the guy, they touch up and…
Victor: Well, that’s their celebrity Hollywood moment.
Amber: It is.
Victor: They are going with the flow.
Amber: Yeah, it’s really popular. Girls live for that moment in China.
Victor: Right.
Amber: Okay. One more thing that I think is very uique in Chinese weddings is the hazing of the bride and the groom.
Victor: You thought they were all clean and…
Amber: And tame. No. This is one tradition that… I mean sure, there is a little bit of rubbing that goes on, in Western weddings but literally on the wedding night, friends of the bride and the groom will go in their wedding chamber and play tricks on them. There is no peace on their wedding night.
Victor: And they really get down and dirty on some things.
Amber: They do.
Victor: Yeah. Of course there is no regulated rules or anything like that because you just go in and do whatever you want. It’s literally like the hazing of the fret house in the West sometimes.
Amber: It is. On your wedding night.
Victor: Right.
Amber: So, the bride and groom have to be prepared to not get any sleep on their wedding night. But, not for the reason you’d think in Chinese weddings.
Victor: Yeah. Basically, you’re like entertaining your guests.
Amber: Yeah.
Victor: Drinking and doing whatever they want you to do. And it gets pretty crazy actually.
Amber: Yeah. So, whether you’re attending a wedding or you’re the one getting married, hopefully you will get a chance to experience all of these interesting cultural aspects to Chinese weddings.
Victor: Definitely.
Amber: And everyone can come to our site and share your comments if you’ve been to Chinese weddings or been in a Chinese wedding.
Victor: Or any Chinese wedding photos to share.
Amber: Yes! You can come and share them with us. So, that’s it for the Chinese Buffet today and if you want to learn more Chinese or about Chinese culture, make sure come visit us at chineseclass101.com. We have lots of lessons there that can give you lots of insights about China and also teach you to speak Chinese. 再见 (zàijiàn)!
Victor: 再见 (zàijiàn).