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Chinese Weddings Through Foreign Eyes
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The bride and the groom are the center of all eyes at a wedding feast in the Chinese countryside. True? No, not if a blonde, blue-eyed US citizen is around.


And certainly not if she can speak standard Putonghua (but not the local dialect) and carries gifts and smiles for the children.


The young American (the author) who teaches in English in Jinan, capital of Shandong Province, attended two wedding feasts in Henan Province just before the Spring Festival. And not surprisingly, she attracted the most attention of the hosts and the guests.


A lot of people wonder what weddings are like in other countries and cities. How do the celebrations differ from those in other countries such as the US? Are all Chinese weddings the same in all the cities and provinces? Are weddings in cities different from those in the countryside? How different are the customs and rituals? How different can two weddings in the same area be?


Food, customs and traditions and transportation are the three factors that make weddings different. The main difference between a city and countryside wedding lies in the way food is prepared. In cities, a wedding banquet is generally held in a hotel or a restaurant. Which means none from the groom's or bride's side has to worry about preparing or serving the special dishes.


But in the countryside, where homes are generally bigger, the wedding feast is the responsibility of the groom's side, with his relatives and friends preparing the food. This gives it a personal and more human touch to the proceedings.


Similar types of dishes were served at both the weddings, though they were spicier at the first. But at the second, men and women were served in different rooms so that the men could drink as much baijiu (Chinese liquor) as they could, and the women could stay sober.


The only man who did not drink was the groom. Traditionally, a new Chinese couple visit each and every table to propose a toast, whereas in the West, a person or persons close to the bride and groom propose a toast.


Unlike in the West, dancing, throwing of the wedding bouquet, playing games and other activities are not part of a Chinese wedding. No wonder many guests leave the party immediately after their meal is over.


A bride in China almost always has only one attendant, with the groom having none. Although the bride and groom are more often than not the only people dressed for the occasion at wedding receptions, photographs and more photographs are important for any new couple, no matter what country they are in. And China is no exception.


Another similarity seems to be the white bridal dress, which is becoming popular in rural China too.


A common custom at all Chinese weddings is the bursting of confetti from specially made cannon-like machines as the bride and groom approach the feast/celebration. In the countryside, fireworks make the atmosphere more festive.


The bride and groom bow to both sets of parents after reaching the venue, addressing them as baba and mama. This signifies that the couple now have two sets of parents. This custom may vary from region to region.


For example, at the first wedding, a person unexpectedly put a stripe of a black paint-like substance on the cheek of the groom's father. And during the celebration, the bride changed her white dress to put on the more traditional red dress.


A long line of cars decorated with flowers (and confetti) has now become an unmistakable feature at many weddings, with the first the most decorated. That is because the leading car carries the bride and groom and their attendants. Most of the cars are black but almost all of them were white at one wedding in the countryside.


The procession usually starts from the groom's home, picks up the bride from her parents' house and ends at the feast venue. At one countryside wedding, a marching band announced the groom party's arrival.


In the US, though, such cars are used to carry the newlyweds away from the ceremonial venue.


The food may be different, the customs worlds apart and the transport going the other way, but a wedding in China as in other countries, is an occasion when hearts and souls unite.


(China Daily February 26, 2007)

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