Getting Married in China? Learn These 4 Traditions First!

Teaching Chinese culture and tradition is an essential part of teaching Mandarin Chinese. Not only are the words and phrases important, but learning about the lives of Chinese people adds a motivation to integrate and inspire my students to continue to pursue the language. Today, I’m going to introduce four traditional events that Chinese couples getting married in China must do before they start their new life together.
Getting married and having a wedding is one of the most important events in most people’s lives throughout the world. It’s a big deal not only for the newlyweds, but also for their families and friends. Each culture has its unique wedding traditions. In the US, the bride tosses her bouquet of flowers into the single female guests to determine who will be the next to marry. Korean grooms must have their feet whipped by family and friends. China is no different. Some of our traditions might seem “normal” and some might seem a bit strange. I enjoy teaching my students this lesson and discussing our cultural differences.

In China, there are four essential traditions in the wedding process:
1. 拍婚纱照 (Pāi hūnshā zhào) Take Pre-Wedding Photography
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Most westerners take pictures on their wedding day. In China we do this as well and we call wedding day pictures “婚礼照 (hūnlǐ zhào) wedding photography”. However, more important is “拍婚纱照 (pāi hūnshā zhào) take pre-wedding photography”. Chinese couples will spend more money on the pre-wedding photography than on wedding photography. Many couples will even fly to famous locations such as the Maldives, Paris or Rome to shoot “婚纱照 (hūnshāzhào) pre-wedding photography”. Nowadays, pre-wedding photography has become a huge industry in China.

2. 领结婚证 (Lǐng jiéhūnzhèng) Apply for A Certificate of Marriage
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Every government requires some kind of certification to make a marriage officially recognized. The China, couples must apply at their local “Civil Affairs Bureau (民政局)”. In a whimsical tradition, the certificate will cost both the man and the woman 4.5 yuan each. You might be thinking: Why does the government even bother charging the same price as a subway ride for something as important as a marriage certificate? Well, people say it has to do with the Chinese people’s adherence to lucky numbers. Together, the couple will need to pay 9 yuan for their certificate. “9 (jiǔ)” and “久 (jiǔ)” are homophones. In Chinese, “久 (jiǔ)” means “long time.” Therefore, the 9 yuan here also represents a hopeful wish for a happy and prosperous future together.
Foreigners in China may decide to marry a Chinese citizen. In past decades, quite a few foreign men marry Chinese women, and increasingly many foreign women are marrying Chinese men. In general, if you are applying for a certificate of marriage in China it is important to remember to bring your “护照 (hùzhào) passport” and “单身证明 (dānshēn zhèngmíng) single certificate”.

3. 办婚宴 (Bàn hūnyàn) Hold A Wedding Banquet
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Then, of course, comes the “big day”. Just as in other cultures, Chinese couples will have a “婚宴 (hūnyàn) wedding banquet” attended by family, friends and colleagues. As you might have expected, a long lavish meal will be served to guests, along with drinks and well wishes. Traditionally, the bride will present gifts such as wines or tea to parents, their spouse, and other guests attending the banquet. Guests of the wedding will be expected to bring money in a red envelope or a wedding gift. If you’re attending a Chinese ”婚宴 (hūnyàn)” just be sure your wedding gift is not one of these taboo items!

4. 回门 (Huímén) The Return of A Bride to Her Mother’s Home on the Third Day of the Wedding
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This tradition seems to be unique to Chinese and other East Asian cultures. Generally, the newlywed couple must wait for three full days before returning to the bride’s family home. The couple should visit and greet the bride’s parents together. They will bring gifts to present to the bride’s parents. Again, the Chinese believe in lucky numbers has an influence in the gifts that are given. The couple must pay attention to the number of the gifts. A single or odd number of gifts is considered unlucky and inconsiderate. The gifts must be in pairs. Don’t forget!
So, before you “take the plunge” in China, you must know these four essential traditions for a marrying couple here. Now that you’ve got the cultural knowledge, you’re ready to go. What are you waiting for?

HSK 3 quiz

1. Which of the following is a traditional Chinese marriage custom?
A. 回门 (huímén)

B. 拍婚纱照 (pāi hūnshāzhào)

C. 领结婚证 (lǐng jiéhūnzhèng)

D. 喝酒 (hējiǔ)

―Written by Becky Zhang―

Becky Zhang is a teacher at She has over eight years of experience teaching Mandarin Chinese to foreign students and promoting Chinese culture. She lives in Beijing but loves traveling to ancient Chinese villages. One day she’d like to be a tour guide in China!
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