Nov 30, 2009 By Susie Gordon ,

During your time as an expat in China, the chances are you’ll be invited to a wedding of a friend or colleague. If so, you’re in for a treat. Chinese weddings are a lot of fun. However, the prospect of attending such an important event can be a little daunting. You’ll be wondering what to wear, what to take, and how to behave. No worries – our special wedding FAQ will help put your mind at ease.

How to attend a Chinese wedding
Photo: ToastyKen

What can I expect?
Unlike nuptials in other parts of the world, guests at a wedding in China don’t usually attend the actual ceremony. This is conducted in private, with just the family of the bride and groom in attendance. So when you receive the invitation, it will just be to the banquet. When you arrive, the happy couple will already be man and wife, after various rituals stretching back months. An auspicious day will have been chosen, and gifts will have been exchanged between the families of the bride and groom. Depending on how traditional the couple is, these gifts can be linen, home goods, or money in red envelopes (hóng bāo). Red is the colour of weddings in China, so you’ll be seeing a lot of it, along with the character囍, meaning “double happiness”. The symbol is made up of two 喜(x? - happiness) characters side by side, and is also known as shuāng x? - twin joy.

What shall I wear?
Since the bride will be wearing red for at least one of her wedding outfits, it’s best to avoid this colour yourself. Likewise, white is best left alone, as it’s the colour of mourning in China. Since weddings are a jolly affair, it’s a good idea to choose something bright with several colours, but not too gaudy. For the ladies, think modest cocktail party attire; for the gents, a smart suit, or shirt, trousers and blazer, but definitely no tuxedo/morning suit.

What shall I take?
Red envelopes! Giving physical gifts isn’t done in China, unlike the West where lavish wedding lists are de rigueur. This makes things easier, but deciding how much to give can be a thorny issue. Too much will smack of over-generosity, and embarrass the couple. Too little, and they’ll think you’re stingy. Of course, you can play the laowai card, but it’s best to come up with an amount that is fitting. A ballpark figure is 1000 RMB for a close friend, and 500 to 800 for an acquaintance or colleague. If you really want to take a gift as well as a hóng bāo, by all means do it – no-one will be offended. In fact, a special wedding present from your home country would be a thoughtful and welcome gesture. However, don’t give a fan – this is incredibly unlucky, as the Mandarin word for fan sounds like the word for “disperse”, and who wants their luck to disperse on their wedding day? Also, on the subject of no-no’s, some traditional families may not be happy with pregnant women at the wedding, nor people who have recently suffered a death in the family. The best thing to do if this applies to you is to check with the bride or groom.

What sort of food will there be?
Chinese wedding feasts typically take place in hotel banquet halls. Guests can number into the hundreds, making for a very rowdy affair. After the master of ceremonies has made his welcoming speech, the bride and groom will cut the cake, and the banquet will begin. Traditionally, eight courses will be served, since eight is the luckiest number. Each course has a symbolic meaning. Suckling pig stands for virginity, while fish means plenty, as the sound of the Mandarin word is similar to the word for increase. The lobster course is lucky because the shell of the crustacean is red; pigeon signifies peace, and shark fin soup implies wealth. There will usually be plates of cold cuts and small snacks including chicken feet, based on the phoenix and the dragon which stand for yin and yang. If sea cucumbers are served, it is because their name in Chinese (h?i shēn) sounds like good heart (h?o xīn). Dessert will be sweet red bean cakes or buns. It is customary for doggie bags to be passed around after the meal so guests can take home leftovers. Participate in this even if you don’t want any food; if you don’t, people will think you didn’t like the food, or are spurning your hosts’ generosity.

What happens next?
The most entertaining part of a Chinese wedding is arguably what comes after dinner – the games. These often get quite risqué, as the aim is to embarrass the couple, and break any taboos that might remain between them before their wedding night. Popular games include popping balloons between bodies, tying cherries to the bride in certain places and making the groom bite them off, and having the bride identify the groom by feeling the rear ends of a row of men. Another well-loved jape is for the groom to knock at the bride’s door (a door in the banquet hall) and be questioned by her family as to how good a husband he will be. Three of these games are played, but there may be more if the bride and groom (or guests) are particularly boisterous. By the end, there will be red faces all around, and plenty of laughter.

So that just about sums up what you can expect at a Chinese wedding. As with every cultural experience, the best thing to do is observe, get involved, and enjoy!

Related Links
My First Chinese Wedding
Dreading Your Wedding: Chinese Women and the Pressure to Marry

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4 Comments Add your comment


James Phillips

In Regards to your Wedding Descriptions,and what to expect and to do,are accurate,depending on whom you marry and where in China,what city and province and culture and belie fs of the Bride and Groom,as their families. I am married to a Wonderful Cantonese woman,and thus also have been to,ten weddings,all different,and hardly none as you have described,in Guangzhou City.Many of the Brides and Grooms live here,and have been actually been Officiate d at one wedding by myself,where the Clerks also have bee n at the wedding,to have the Bride and Groom sign their papers of marriage at the wedding instead of at the recorder s office.A few of the other weddings also had the Recorders at the wedding,for the married couple to sign as well.The oth er banquet receptions,the married couple were all ready married,as is custom. The Receptions were not anything as you described,in this article,and the gift of money,explanatio n is reasonable,but not as you described,as again it greatly depends on your own circumstances of what you wish to gi ve to the couple.All the weddings,I have attended,well as Birt hday parties,its a good bet,that if you ever filled a Take Out Bag to go with you,you most certainly would be looked upon as Poor,and having no manners,at least with the weddings we have attended.You can take the candy and cigarettes,if you do not let anyone see you do it. Over drinking of the drink s is not accepted,and when the drinks are cleared of the tab les for food,you have to wait to be served,any additional drin ks,as all must be accounted for,when the payments are in order for the paying families who set up the reception. Its not proper ,to become drunk,nor to over eat,nor is it proper to travel through out the guest,ubless asked to come to their table.The married couple and their families and frie nds will go to eat table and have toast with all at the table. Most of the weddings,were very expensive,and usually you must pay,something,to help with what you have eaten to wards the price of your share for the table and your food whi ch you consumed.Whats left usually goes to the married cou ple ,unless other plans were made. There may be those whom will disagree with me,though I am sure,you did not attend the same weddings as I did,and these weddings all were different,according to the culture of the people being married,as not all are from Guangzhou. I have married one couple,at a very elaborate ceremony and then the couple were officially asked to sign their marriage papers,by the Recorder whom also was at the wedding,for this purpose. Generalized,as far as what to wear,you will see many white shirts being worn,and a few pregant women being invited. I am sorry if you mat disagree,but you have not attended the same ten weddings I have. I thus hope this is all acceptable,and from a real sense of attending weddings wh ich were not adhering to any real traditional protocol. Thanks

Dec 07, 2009 16:47 Report Abuse



That article reinforces stereotypes and is not accurate. Weddings are different in different Chinese cities. Some people prefer to have Western style and Western tradition. Foreigners who marry Chinese don't always follow Chinese tradition. Some don't even have any celebration, just do the paperwork. The actual marriage IS the celebration.

There are way to many misleading and stereotypical articles written here on this site.

Mar 04, 2011 06:56 Report Abuse



Suckling pig stands for virginity? How many Chinese women are virgins when they marry? Don't make me laugh. More rubbish!

Mar 04, 2011 07:01 Report Abuse



Actually, the Chinese wedding banquets that I have attended in California sound like what is described. These were weddings between couples who were born and raised in Canton and moved to California in their late teens or after. I cannot speak for what weddings are like in Canton, but I just wanted to say that this article is not completely inaccurate as some other commenters are making it out to be. Certainly there are things I would not agree with (like taking food home in a doggie bag even if you don't want any), but there can be great variation between different cities or even individual families. Best thing to do would be to ask =)

Aug 02, 2012 22:03 Report Abuse