Unusual Marriage Practices that Happen Only in China

Every culture has their own wedding traditions. In the USA it’s not uncommon for the bride to wear something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue. Similarly, in China there are superstitious and ritualistic practices unique to each region’s culture. Instead of blue, for example, it’s common to use 红色(hóngsè) red for the happy occasion.
Contrary to modern Chinese weddings where romantic love is the driving force, traditional Chinese marriage was deeply rooted in ceremonial rituals that defy contemporary beliefs about marriage. Some of these rituals are strange compared to marriage as we know it today. Usually it would involve pairing couples through pre-arranged agreements between families. Some Chinese wedding traditions are very understandable, while other traditions can just seem weird. Let’s explore the more unusual side of Chinese marriage customs.

Key Vocabulary:

婚 (Hūn): get married; marriage; wedding.

礼 (Lǐ): social custom; manners; courtesy.

婚礼 (Hūnlǐ): wedding ceremony; bridal.


Hūnlǐ shàng, xīnrén jiāohuàn le jièzhǐ.
At the wedding, the couple exchanged the ring.

Tāmen de hūnlǐ lái le hěnduō péngyǒu.
They have a lot of friends at their wedding.

1. 提亲 (Tíqīn) propose marriage
HSK 3 quiz

Marriage proposal in traditional Chinese culture is unlike anything seen today in the West. To “提亲 (Tíqīn) propose marriage”, they utilized etiquette seriously and maintained rituals. Matchmakers played a significant role in the past. The function of the matchmaker was to act as a mediator between families and conduct meetings and confirm proper steps were taken to ensure the man and woman would be a suitable couple. It was the matchmaker who would initiate the proposal on behalf of the man’s family. If the man liked the woman he would stay for tea if the woman liked the man he could stay for dinner. If neither were interested in one another he would simply go home. Perhaps her feet were larger than he had hoped. But if the families agreed to “提亲 (Tíqīn) propose marriage”, the matchmaker would then request the woman’s name and birthdate. Getting her name was to make sure they didn’t have similar ancestors while the birthdate would be useful for fortune telling to ensure they would be compatible in the future.

2. 送嫁妆 (Sòng jiàzhuāng) Deliver the Chinese dowry
HSK 3 quiz

If the matchmaker was successful then the wedding details would ensue. The groom’s parents traditionally paid for the wedding banquet and betrothal gifts along with the bride’s price, which was negotiated between the families, while the bride’s parents supplied dowry items to furnish and decorate the couple’s home. This dowry would include everything from the bed to the tea set. The bride will use the tea set during the wedding ceremony to serve her parents tea since traditionally the daughter-in-law would serve the morning tea. The “送嫁妆 (Sòng jiàzhuāng) deliver the Chinese dowry” would happen a few days before the wedding ceremony. It was tradition to send bedroom slippers, gold jewelry for the bride, a chest of clothes for the bride, baby items, and a sewing basket. The Chinese bridal bed would be installed and had a whole set of rules of its own which involved inviting children to roll around on new sheets to bless the couple with fertility and in some regions a pair of chickens would be released under the bed as well. If the rooster emerged from under the bed first it was an omen that the couple’s first born would be a boy.

3. 哭嫁 (Kū jià) Bridal Laments
HSK 3 quiz

One especially unusual practice hails from the Tujia ethnic group. The bride-to-be goes through a process of “哭嫁 (Kū jià) bridal laments.” Girls begin studying how to cry for a wedding from 12 years old. The bridal lament is a tradition of cry singing. This custom is for the bride to express her gratitude of all her family has done for her throughout her childhood and to express sorrow from leaving her family once married. It was once also a way to protest matchmaking and protest the loss of their old life. Many brides-to-be would begin their songs of sorrow one month before the wedding day and neighbors would sing in reply to encourage and congratulate the new couple.

4. 吃婚面 (Chī hūn miàn) Eat wedding noodles
HSK 3 quiz

While this next tradition doesn’t involve crying, it is sure to bring any man to the verge of tears from the pressure. It’s a more known custom to eat longevity noodles during the new year festivities but this lesser known Guanzhong region custom involves eating noodles during the proposal state. Shanxi province is known for having the “eight evils.” One of the evils is that you must not marry a foreign girl. It is not easy to marry a local girl, however. To propose marriage, first you need to “吃婚面 (Chī hūn miàn) eat wedding noodles.” Once a man intends to marry, he will mention it to his younger brother. The villagers will then proceed to prepare wedding noodles for him. The bowl full of soup is comprised of 80% vinegar while the remaining 20% is local specially grown peppers. In the following step of the ceremony, it is necessary to be able to finish eating your portion of noodles and then propose marriage before the other villagers have finished their soup.

5. 十里红妆 (Shílǐ hóngzhuāng) Ten-mile Red Dowry
HSK 3 quiz

If you think eating a bowl of noodles within a short time is challenging, imagine how intense the labor for a “十里红妆 (Shílǐ hóngzhuāng) ten-mile red dowry” would be. One Chinese wedding tradition that makes a huge spectacle is the ceremony with a grand procession of bearers who carry the brides gifts and dowry through town in Zhejiang Province’s city of Ningbo in a county called Ninghai. The bearers carry furniture, chests of clothing, and other household items the couple will need to start their lives together. It’s almost like the bride arrives with a care package. The procession of gifts could literally stretch for miles but was named the “十里红妆 (Shílǐ hóngzhuāng) ten-mile red dowry” to emphasize its grandiosity. The festivities were embellished with red and yellow while the furniture was often lacquered in gold. From afar it looked like an undulating dragon making its way through town.

HSK 3 quiz

1. Which of the following is not a traditional Chinese wedding custom?

A. 提亲 (Tíqīn)

B. 哭嫁 (Kū jià)

C. 闪婚 (Shǎnhūn)

— Written by Julia Liu —

Julia Liu teaches Chinese with eChineseLearning. She has been successfully teaching for 5 years and loves reading and practices her passion of drawing in her free time.

Know More about Chinese Wedding:

结婚纪念日(jiéhūn jìniànrì) Wedding Anniversaries
The Red Veil in Chinese Weddings
Chinese Culture
Chinese Popular Words (Fun Stuff) 
General Chinese (Beginner Level) 
General Chinese (Intermediate Level) 

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