Traditional Marriage of East Meets West

chinese-customary-wedding-photo-by-flyingstar-at-flickr

I think love happens and many times, it’s not within the same racial group, interracial marriage is becoming popular in this day and age as most of us are living in a melting pot society. A westerner recently asked me about a Chinese traditional wedding, not so much of the tradition itself, but more so as to who has to pay for the wedding. I think when you’re Asian, most people just assume that you’re one of the same and share the same tradition, but in reality, most of us have different traditions and beliefs.

It’s true that I’m part Chinese, but I’ve very limited knowledge about the Chinese tradition, especially Chinese traditional wedding. My third sister is married to a Chinese man and I thought at the time when his family brought my parents boxes of cakes and cash in the amount of $999.99, we thought that he knew the Laotian tradition, and that it was for the dowry, but after doing some research, and learning a bit more about the Chinese traditional wedding, we were way off. His family didn’t know or understand the Laotian tradition as we originally thought, but they were just following their Chinese tradition, and the money and boxes of cakes were the grand gift to the bride’s family.

In Chinese culture, wedding is considered a joining of two families, and once the bride and groom decide to get married then both families get involved. As for the grand gift, the groom’s family presents it to the bride’s family. This is a formal occasion where the two families officially acknowledge the marriage and give their blessing. The gifts include money wrapped in red envelope and items such as tea, double happiness cake, pair of male and female poultry, sweetmeats and sugar, wine and tobacco. The token money is usually $99 or $999 as the number nine represents “forever” in Chinese culture. Tea is included as an important part of the gift because the families wish the new couple to have as many descendants as the tea leaves. The total items of gifts should be even number.

In the Lao traditional marriage, the groom pays for the dowry to compensate the bride for her mother’s milk or Nam Nomb, but in the Chinese traditional wedding, the bride’s family pays for the dowry, very much like the Indian tradition where the bride’s family has to pay dowry to the groom’s family, and the amount of money depends on the social status of his family, and as well as his education, so asking for $100,000 might not be a lot for a certain groom.

The Internet is a great place to do research and there is plenty of information on the Chinese traditional wedding, but I still can’t find the answer to the original question of “Who has to pay for the wedding?”

I was fortunate that I have a Chinese friend; I grew up with her and she is knowledgeable about the Chinese tradition. We came to the US about the same time, and her answer to the question was,

“I think from a very traditional perspective, for Chinese weddings, it is usually the male family that takes care of the costs (very different from the western culture). From the female side, the parents will usually give her some “gifts” such as jewelry, clothing, money, etc. (perhaps loosely considered to be “dowry” like in the old days).

That said, I’m not sure how much tradition is observed. There are many couples who would take care of the expenses on their own (of course it also depends upon the relative financial ability of all parties involved). Especially with all of the mixed cultures, I think it is difficult to say what should be the norm anymore. Basically whatever suits the individual situation.”

This can be very confusing for the westerner if one doesn’t understand or familiar with the Chinese tradition, there could be some cultural clashes here because according to the American culture, both families help pay for the wedding, the bride’s family pays for the actual wedding, and the groom’s family pays for the rehearsal dinner.

When the father of the groom learned that he has to pay for the wedding, this could be somewhat shocking because it’s not the norm for the groom’s family to have to pay for the wedding in the American culture, but once he understood the Chinese tradition, and since his son is marrying a Chinese bride, then he has to respect her family’s wish, and if it’s important for the bride and her family to have a Chinese traditional wedding, then the tradition also comes with a pricey price tag of the groom’s family having to pay for the grand gift, and the wedding banquet, but on the bright side of this is that they’d get most of it back from the guests, as most would give money as wedding gifts. Understanding of each other’s tradition and culture is very important in an interracial marriage.