Things You Never Knew About Chinese Wedding Traditions

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“What am I supposed to prepare for my bed-setting 安床 (An Chuan) ritual? What are the do’s and dont’s that I must adhere to during the tea ceremony 敬茶 (Jing Cha)?” Surely, these are some questions that usually hover in the minds of most Chinese couples nearing their highly anticipated big day. Fret not, here's our definitive guide to all the Chinese wedding customs and traditions you never knew about. 

Images from Michael and Hillary's betrothal by The Synchronal

Since ancient China, Chinese wedding traditions have been practiced extensively across households and passed down from generation to generation. Even in our modern era, these traditions are still customary and prevalent in many of our contemporary weddings. Ceremonial rituals, kicking off from the betrothal 过大礼 (Guo Da Li) to returning the bride to her home on the actual day 回门 (Hui Men), profoundly remind and ingrain the defining roots and culture of every Chinese couple. Yes, the variation in traditions between different dialect groups is pervasive and the practices in a Teochew wedding ceremony might deviate from a Hokkien one, so we recommend discussing with your families on which ones they'd like to incorporate into your wedding. 

Betrothal 过大礼 (Guo Da Li)

Signifying prosperity and good luck, bestowing betrothal gifts from the groom to the bride’s family is common practice that is deeply appreciated in most dialect groups. Despite this delivery being a straightforward act, it is a symbol of genuine sincerity and assurance that the groom would commit and honour his promises. Often occurring two to three weeks before the wedding day, the groom would personally deliver dowry money and gifts to the bride’s family on an auspicious date. Thinking of what should be included in this package? Here are some items that could be included: monetary tokens, gold jewellery, auspicious food items such as oranges (signifying good luck), bridal cakes (signifying prosperity), red dates (signifying fertility) and winter melon seeds (signifying happiness), as well as the mandatory pairs of dragon and phoenix candles (signifying good fortune). 

Images from Michael and Hillary's betrothal by The Synchronal

Returning of Gifts 回礼 (Hui Li)

The bride’s parents should also return the favour to the groom’s family as a gesture of acceptance and deep appreciation of the betrothal gift. Often referred to as 回礼 (Hui Li), this gratifying return of betrothal gifts is an act of blessing the beloved couple with a lasting and blissful marriage. 

Images from Michael and Hillary's betrothal by The Synchronal

Dowry 嫁妆 (Jia Zhuang)

Next, as a sign of blessing from her parents and in-laws, the daughter will receive a dowry gift to represent that she has taken up the role of a married woman. Also known as ‘Si Dian Jin’, this gift usually encompasses four types of gold including a necklace, a bracelet, a ring and a pair of earrings. Besides that, basic necessities such as towels (symbolising a lasting marriage), a pair of candles (symbolising fertility and continuity of the family line) as well as tea and bowl sets (no doubt in even numbers) are endowed to the couple. 

Images from Michael and Hillary's betrothal by The Synchronal

Images from Roy and Cheryl's betrothal by Acapella Photography

Bed-Setting 安床 (An Chuang)

In most dialect groups, bed-setting is one of the most practiced traditions during the preparation for Chinese weddings. The wedding day inches closer, an auspicious date is specially decided among the two families and the bed is set with a cloak of red. Amongst the vibrant red and gold patterns of the bed sheets, there are beautifully designed dragon and phoenix motifs embroidered on it. Apart from that, a spread of red dates, longans, lotus seeds and red beans are often presented on the bed and left untouched till the grand day. On the wedding day itself, the ritual is completed as children are usually allowed to roll on the bed to bless the couple with fertility. 

Image credit: amandinaxx

Image credit: Andri Tei Photography

Image Credits: Multifolds Photography

Hair Combing 上头 (Shang Tou)

This significant ceremony derived its origins from early Chinese culture where both the bride and groom will wear wooden clogs on the eve of their big day and comb their hair to iterate different blessings in their respective homes. As the tradition is passed down to the modern generations, the couple now wear bedroom slippers and new pyjamas (symbolising growing old together) and have their hair combed in four strokes. This observance is carried out with the groom in the living room facing away from the window while the bride faces the window. As they get their hair combed, four phrases are chanted by the bride’s and groom’s parents. 

Image credits from Anton Chia for Jonathan and Diane's wedding

Image credits from Clarissa Lum

Hair combing accessories; image credit by Asia Wedding Network





This litany can be translated as:

First combing represents a long lasting matrimony.

Second combing represents an everlasting, harmonious relationship.

Third combing represents a household consumed with children and grandchildren.

Fourth combing represents longevity. 

Images from Michael and Hillary's betrothal by The Synchronal

While such traditions are widely practiced in most Chinese families, they vary among different dialect groups. As long as families from both sides are agreeable on the ritual that will be conducted, the ceremony will be a tradition that has been passed on to the newly-wed couple. Look out for part 2 of Chinese Wedding Traditions where we will be featuring customs and ceremonies on the actual day itself! 

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