Wedding Supplement: Evolving Chinese Wedding Traditions

“Chinese people just love raucousness,” says Lucy Lu, a 25 year old bride-to-be currently planning her Shanghai wedding. “The more noise, the more shouting, the better the wedding. The Chinese are all about impressions.”

As part of the traditional nuptial showiness, guests feast on a gluttonous array of dining options, a professional host entertains the crowds with song and dance numbers and the bride puts on a fashion show with several gown changes. Each detail follows a strict guideline according to traditional superstitions, such as starting the banquet at 6.08pm because eight symbolises good luck and fortune, but the younger generations are already weary of the strict traditions.

“I’m not a fan of all the different rituals. I don’t even want a banquet, it’s just my mother,” Lu says. “As the bride you don’t get to eat much of the food because you spend the entire time switching dresses, talking to people and making sure that your husband doesn’t kill himself from everyone force feeding him alcohol. If it were up to me, I would have a quiet reception so I can wear my wedding dress and save money for the honeymoon.”

Although certain aspects of the actual wedding ceremony have evolved to reflect Western influences, like exchanging vows and swapping rings, Lu believes family pressure means elaborate banquets will continue to define Chinese weddings.

“One of my friends opted out of the traditional wedding banquet, and she told me that she fought a lot with her family so she could hold a smaller event,” she says. “I know couples who have split up due to complications from planning the banquet. It’s just such an unnecessary headache, but it’s too rooted in culture and it will be too hard to change.”

Hu Jian, a wedding planner who founded of The Red, a company emphasising Chinese style ceremonies, says he’s noticed that the Post-‘80s generation has modernised and internationalised the traditional Chinese banquet.

“At most the bride wears a qipao,” says Hu. “Nobody runs an authentically Chinese wedding banquet from top to bottom. These young people get their ideas from watching television, then they stir-fry it together with Chinese habits to produce a new hybrid that’s neither foreign nor inherently Chinese.”

Yet, she says food remains a key component relatively resistant to the tides of change.

“People might like to eat Western food now more than they did before, but you will never see Italian or French cuisine replacing Chinese food at weddings,” says Hu. “At the end of the day, we are still Chinese, and we want our rice.”

Daniel Feng, marketing director for restaurant Shanghai Uncle, says certain dishes, like shark’s fin soup, will always appear on the menu at Chinese wedding banquets. “It’s all about saving face,” he says. “The parents are the masterminds of the entire operation and they want everyone to know how well they’re doing.”