Chinese Wedding Tradition

The traditional wedding rituals undertaken by the Chinese aimed as an elaborate process by the groom’s family to search for an ideal bride, it is particularly complex yet essential regardless for wealthy or poor households.

These traditional Chinese wedding rituals are known as the Three Letters, Six Etiquettes (三书六礼).

The Three Letters, Six Etiquettes (三书六礼) consist of:

Three Letters (三书)

  • Betrothal Letter – a letter confirming the arrangement of marriage.
  • Gifts Letter – an item list containing the specific type and nature of gifts that the couple are requesting during Betrothal.
  • Wedding Letter – a formal letter presented to the bride's parent on the day of the wedding day and marks the official welcome of the bride by the groom into his family circle.

Six Etiquettes (六礼)

Propose of marriage (纳采/提亲) – usually by groom’s parents or employ a matchmaker to present gifts to the potential bride’s family to propose the marriage, and show their interest and sincerity.

Matching Birth Dates of Bride and Groom (同名/合对八字) – if both bride and grooom families agree to the marriage, the groom’s parents will request for Bride's ‘Eight Letters of Birth Time’ (生辰八字), which will in turn be checked by an astrologer to match up the birthdays of the bride and groom astrologically. The marriage will progress through to its next phase.

Bride Proposal Gift/ Betrothal Gifts (纳吉) – gifts are arranged and standby for the matchmaker to present to the bride’s family, including a Gift Letter.

Formal Gifts for the Bride’s Family (纳征/过大礼) – the traditional gifts and item is to show the sincerity of the both families and as promise to take good care of the bride. And traditional items symbolise different meanings such as ‘wealth’, ‘abundance of descendants’, ‘sweet of a loving marriage’, ‘good shelter’ and etc.

Picking an Auspicious Wedding Date (请期/择吉日) – an auspicious date of wedding must be compatible for the bride, groom and their family and is chosen for its ability to give good fortune to the couple.

Wedding Ceremony (亲迎) – The final big day, the formal auspicious day that the Groom come along with the Wedding Letter to marry the Bride and officially accepting the Bride into Groom's family.

Betrothal Gifts (Guo Da Li)

The betrothal gifts are prepared based on dialect groups and is presented to the bride’s family to confirm the marriage between the two families.

It is a traditional way of thanking and showing sincerity to the bride’s parents for raising up the bride, and to forge a good relationship with the future parent-in-laws. In accepting the gifts, the bride’s parents formally pledge her to the groom.

Betrothal (过大礼)

Items by Groom side:

  • Seafood - divided into four, six or eight style. Usually divided into two packs. Include Nostoc (发菜), abalone, oyster sauce, Scallops, mushrooms, sea cucumber, squid, Shrimp, shark 's fin and maw
  • Coconut - bring goodness to grandfather and son.
  • 6 Propers fruits and Jin Guo (京果).
  • Tea leaf - implied the Bride will stay with the Groom in good will.

GuangDong/ Hakka(广东/客家)

  • Ang Pao for PinJin (聘金)
  • 2 Chickens
  • 2 bottle of Alcohol
  • 2 pairs of Dragon Phoenix Candles
  • 2 set of Dragon Phoenix incense sticks
  • 18 Oranges
  • 18 Apples
  • 2 red cloth
  • 1 big plate of sponge cake (发糕)
  • lettuce, celery, green onions
  • male pants
  • Hakka: additional "jian dui" (煎堆)

FuZhou (福州)

A red basket is prepared to fill with, PinJin (聘金), FuZhou Bride Cakes, 2 bottles of alcohol. Roasted pig, 1 pair of Dragon Phoenix Candle. 10 oranges, 10 apples, 2 red cloths, 1 pair of taro with root and leaf. A bracelet and pants for Bride's brother who still not marry.

Chaozhou/ Fujian(潮洲/ 福建)

During first visit to propose a marriage at Bride's family. Partial of LiJin (礼金), 10 or 12 oranges, layer cakes, are prepared.
On the second visit to Bride's family. Prepare the remaining LiJin, bride cakes, 12 oranges, layer cakes, 1 roasted pig, 2 Chickens, 2 bottles of alcohol, 2 red cloth, 2 pairs of dragon phoenix candles, noodles, and red dates.

Return Gifts (女方回礼)

Items by Bride side

  • Bowl - Symbolic to unlimited ration.
  • Duo Zai Fu (多仔福) - Bring goodness in having a lot of kids.
  • Towel - For the Bride side during Betrothal day as a sign of appreciate and thanksful.
  • Five Grains - Symbolic to great fortune.
  • Qi Gu Ding (脐古丁) - Bring goodness in bringing a son to the family.
  • Charcoal - Symbolic Bride will bring good luck to the Groom and children.
  • Chopstick - Symbolic soon to have children (快快生子).

GuangDong (广东)

1 pair of lotus to symbolic the Groom and Bride will bloom in their family trees, and their parents will be long live.

Chaozhou/ Fujian (潮洲/ 福建)

The Bride need to prepare for Groom's elder brother each a wash cloth and Ang Pao. Aslo prepare wash cloth and a big Ang Pao for Groom's father. Besides, a small bag with five type grains, 2 taro, 2 ginger, 2 chive, 2 charcoal with red paper on it, 2 pack of flour (汤圆粉), 1 tie with wallet and a Ang Pao for the Groom family member to buy shoes, cloths, ginger.

Dowry Preparation

Bride’s family will bless for the couple’s continued happiness and prosperity in marriage – a new suit or materials for their new son-in-law; a belt, symbolizing the couple’s long-lasting union in marriage.

The dowry represents the wealth and prosperity of the bride’s family and is also a firm display of the bride’s family’s love for their daughter. It encases within the blessings for their daughter and future son-in-law.

  • Scissor - Represent a lovely couple like butterfly.
  • pail set - ( baby bathtub, potty, face washbasin, tray, mug )
  • Duo Zai Fu (多仔福) - Represent more children.
  • GrandChild Ruler (子孙尺)- Gain more prosper.
  • Sweets - a complete and sweet marriage.
  • Bowl & Chopstick set - Represent worry free for ration.
  • Fan (扇子) - Bloom in families' tree.
  • red wooden clogs wedding slippers or bedroom red slippers.
  • sewing basket with even numbered rolls of colourful thread, needles, pincushion, scissors, etc
  • gold jewellery given by bride’s parents.
  • tea set for the wedding tea ceremony at Groom’s house.
  • Red umbrella
  • Prosperity Lamp (子孙灯)

Bed-Setting Preparation

This essential practice is done to bless the bride and groom with good health and good fortune and offspring.

  • Fate Coin (缘钱)
  • Bed Setting Ang Pao
  • Prosperity Dry Fruits
  • Sweets
  • Qi Gu Ding (脐古丁)
  • Rock Sugar (冰糖)
  • 5 type of Grains (五谷)
  • Prosperity Tray
  • Prosperity Lamp
  • Xi (喜喜) Stickers
  • 1 pair of Orange
  • Grandchild Bucket Pail
  • Money Bucket Pail
  • Duo Zai Fu (多仔福)
  • Money Bag
  • GrandChild Ruler (子孙尺)

Step By Step Guide

1. Select an auspicious date and time from the Feng Shui Master according to the Groom’s & Bride’s date of birth

2. Fill the Red Packets with even numbers of cash inside. Eg (RM8 or RM18 ) A good fortune woman will shake the mattress to symbolise installation, and change into a new wedding bedsheet while saying auspicious words like夫妻和合, 甜甜蜜蜜, 早生贵子, 多子多孙, 百年好合, 白头到老 etc. After making the bed, the good fortune woman will :

  • Place Fate Coin (缘钱) at each corner of the bed.
  • Place Fate Coin (缘钱) in dressing table drawer and big cupboard.
  • Place Money Bag (钱袋) inside the big cupboard. This is to symbolise prospoerity and abundance.
  • Place the Bed-Setting Set, 2 oranges and 2 Red Packets on the center of the bed. The tangerines and red packets are for good fortune.
  • After the bed-installation, the pair of prosperity lamp must be lit 3 days before actual wedding day. This will bless the couple with an offspring soon.

Remarks : Ensure that the bride does not rest on the bed before the customary wedding. It is believed that it will lead to poor health if she does so. Remember to give Red Packets to the good fortune woman and the children. In addition Red Packets will also go to those who helped set up the bed for their own blessing and good luck.

Hair Combing Preparation

The Hair Combing and Dressing ceremony is carried out on both the groom and the bride in the early morning or the night before the wedding day. It is a ritual that represents the couple’s transition into adulthood.

The groom’s hair will be taken care of by the senior male relative of his family, who live in harmony and enjoys good health, while the bride’s hair will be tidied up with a comb and tied into a bun that is the specific hairstyle for married women, by the senior female relative of her family, who live in harmony and enjoys good health.

It is customary that the hair-dressing ceremony for the bride should be carried out at a desk facing a window with a view to the moon, while the groom’s ceremony should be carried out about half an hour before the bride’s. Before the ceremony, the couple should take a bath with pomelo leaves and change into new pajamas and slippers.

During the ceremony, a pair of candles with dragon and phoenix pattern and incense should be lit. Their hair needs to be combed four times and each has a special meaning: (If either has been married before, then the combing event can be skipped for that person.)

  • 一梳梳到尾: the first combing symbolizes “from beginning to the end”
  • 二梳百年好合: the second combing symbolizes harmony in your marriage
  • 三梳子孙满堂: the third combing is a blessing with many children and grand children
  • 四梳白发齐眉: the fourth combing offers hope for wealth and a marriage that lasts a lifetime

Hair setting for Groom

  • Dragon Phoenix Candle
  • Mirror
  • GrandChild Ruler (子孙尺)
  • Scissor
  • Dragon Phoenix Comb
  • Red String
  • Dragon Phoenix Pyjamas, towels, red slippers

Hair setting for Bride

  • Dragon Phoenix Candle
  • Mirror
  • GrandChild Ruler (子孙尺)
  • Scissor
  • Dragon Phoenix Comb
  • Red String
  • Powder (海棠粉)
  • Needle kits (喜针、 五色线、 六福针线包)
  • Dragon Phoenix Pyjamas, towels, red slippers

Done on the Wedding Day

Fetching the Bride (接新娘)

Groom and groomsmen arrive at the bride’s home to pick up the bride. The groom’s side would “bribe” the bridesmaids with lucky money in red packet in order to get through the “wedding door” and take the bride away from her original household. When the groom crosses the threshold, the bridesmaids will bring the bride to her father so that the father-of-the-bride can give her away. After the groom and bride greet each other, they have to bow to the Heaven and the Earth, their ancestors and then serve tea to the bride’s parents.

Red Umbrella

Bride's father will use a red umbrella and bring the bride. While bride's mother will prepare five grains (五谷) and throw at groom in representing blooming in their marriage.

Leaving Bride's place

Bride side will prepare a live Hen and Chicken for the Groom. As the Hen and Chicken will lead them to happiness and sweet in marriage forever. However as of 21 century, now the Hen and Chicken is now replace by decorative chicken.

Arriving at Groom‘s place and Tea ceremony (过门, 敬茶)

The tea ceremony is the most important event in a modern chinese wedding. This is the time when the newly arrived bride meets other members of the groom’s family.

The new couple show their respect by bowing to the Heaven and the Earth, their ancestors and kneel down to serve tea to their parents.

Upon the parents delivery of their blessings, they will present the couple with red packets and give jewelries or gifts to the bride.

Bride will serve tea to the elders and present Groom's parents with one pair of prosperity towel (一对喜喜毛巾) as a return to the parents.

Bride‘s Home visit (三朝回门)

Three days after the wedding ceremony, the newly wedded couple should return to the bride’s home with a whole roasted pig that represent the bride’s chastity, together with 2 bottle of wine, 2 bride cake, 2 sugar cane, lettuce, fruits, noodles, pork and pork tripe. The bride’s family will reward the groom with gifts that is worth half of what he brought.

The groom is introduced to the bride’s family during the bride’s home visit. A tea ceremony will be held using the bride’s mother’s wedding tea set, if available, is used for this ceremony. Otherwise, any nice tea set can be used.