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Books: Chinese Culture

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Chinese Wedding



Special Report:
Four weddings, one country - four Chinese generations
By Xinhua writer Wang Aihua

"We will wed at a small theatre in Beijing by performing a play about our love story," said Wang Zhe, owner of a small restaurant in one of central Beijing's alleys, "I am the playwright and all the actors and actresses are my friends and relatives."

Shanghai office worker Li Runya, 26, on the other hand, said frankly that she and her husband had no wedding ceremony. A year before, they registered as a couple and had been living together since.

China, a country with its thousand-year-long traditional style wedding, has seen constant changes in the past decades in how people celebrated marriage.

1970s: "Let's bow to Chairman Mao's portrait."

In 1971, the then 22 and 19-year-old doctors Mr. Wang Shan and Ms. Yang Ying, walked into a local marriage office in the central Henan Province with letters of reference written by their respective work units, proving they had approval to get married.

No photographs, no wedding gowns. Instead, they bowed to Chairman Mao Zedong's portrait, worshipped at home, and to their parents afterwards.

With a monthly salary of 30 yuan (4.4 U.S. dollars), Wang borrowed a door panel from his work unit to be their "new" bed. They gave candies to colleagues and relatives and in return, got teacups and paintings as gifts.

"For most people in the 70s, our dream was to own 'three wheeled things and one vocal thing' which, namely, are a bicycle, a sewing machine, a watch and a radio," said Yang.

1980s: "I blushed when we kissed at the wedding."

"Naughty friends forced us to kiss at the wedding in front of parents and relatives," recalled Han Tong, who got married in 1988. "It was very embarrassing indeed."

"The 80s was an innocent and conservative age when people took love and marriage very seriously. We barely kissed or hugged in public," added the 46-year-old man.

Sun Shuangding, 58, now a librarian at the eastern Nanjing University of Science and Technology, had a different story to tell. "My wife's parents strongly objected to our marriage though we had been in love for three years. All we could do was to get registered as a couple and continue to live apart."

In 1983, Sun's wife finally persuaded her family, but due to "tight money issues", the couple was unable to hold a wedding. "We only went to nearby Zhenjiang city for a trip."

"By and large, our fathers' dreams of watch and radio came true during the 80s," said Sun, "but we still could only manage to live frugally. Homemade furniture was popular and basic electric appliances such as a TV and refrigerator became common in urban families."

1990s: A western style bridal veil, pink and rented

Zhi Ying, 38, recalled how she fought to be a fashionable bride in 1995. She insisted on wearing a western bridal veil on the freezing winter day despite strong objections from her mother.

"I'd rather go to hospital after the wedding," said the courageous woman. Finally, the mother and the daughter made a compromise: the bride wore her dream veil, but only in pink as white was traditionally used for funerals.

Zhi paid six months of her salary to just rent the veil. "Western style wedding dresses were the trend in the 1990s. Most young people chose to wear western suits and gowns at weddings, at any cost," she said, full of excitement even today.

Also, at that time, a groom had to give his bride a ring, a necklace and a pair of earrings, all gold, as wedding gifts, according to Zhi's husband Wang. Washing machines, stereos and honeymoon trips became hot choices for newly-weds.

Wang added, "Another interesting thing is that professional wedding service companies came into being and became popular very quickly. At first, they only provided dresses for renting and helped brides put on make-ups; later on, they took on everything from car arrangement to ceremony anchoring."

21st century: "A play" vs. "a certificate"

21st century China has seen a division in how people choose to get married, typically the "play" type and the "certificate" type.

The "play" type, such as restaurant owner Wang, put a great deal of effort into planning special weddings. The "certificate" type, such as office worker Li Runya, on the other hand, are happy to live together with their other halves without any ceremony.

Li Runya, who had been with her husband for over a year now, told Xinhua, "As we have just finished furnishing our new apartment, we are likely to have a wedding early next year."

Li was born in the 1980s, a "one-child" generation who were often considered spoiled and rebellious. Brought up in a relatively well-off China, this generation had access to a wide range of information and has become familiar with different cultures.

Cathy Xu, 25, now working in Melbourne, Australia, got married two years ago before she left China. Like Li, she and her husband only had a marriage certificate and had been living together since.

Some others, though, didn't even wait to get officially registered to live together. "I can totally understand if two people in love live together before getting married," said Wu Dan, a customer service worker in a U.S. company's Shanghai office, "but as girls, we also have to beware of unsafe sex."

 Almost every 20-something who was interviewed said they could accept living with their boyfriend or girlfriend before getting married. However, they all emphasized that they had to be quite sure he or she was the right person before having sex or living with them. (Xinhua Net, Dec. 8, 2008)

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