Tradition with a Twist at Chinese Weddings From singers dressed as Red Guards to underwater ring ceremonies, young brides and grooms in China are electing to fuse old and new on their big day.
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Tradition with a Twist at Chinese Weddings

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Tradition with a Twist at Chinese Weddings

Tradition with a Twist at Chinese Weddings

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ANDREA SEABROOK, host: From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Andrea Seabrook.


And I'm Michele Norris.

Many children of China's postwar baby boomers are now tying the knot. That means a big boom in weddings. And many couples are eager for something other than the traditional ceremony. NPR's Beijing bureau assistant, Joy Ma, just married an American, and she sent us a few examples.

JOY MA: My wedding was a fusion of Chinese and American culture. I wore a Chinese wedding dress and a veil over a traditional headpiece decorated with phoenix patterns. Later, I changed into a white wedding gown for a sort of Western ceremony. We lit candles and kowtowed it to my parents and also to my American fiance's parents. We formally started to call our in-laws Mom and Dad and then we kissed. Kissing at a wedding is not as strange as it used to be to Chinese people, but some guests were still embarrassed and even a bit shocked.

(Soundbite of fireworks)

MA: It is traditional at Chinese weddings to set off fireworks in hopes that the noise will drive away evil spirits. We wanted to update the tradition and used propylene cannons to make a bigger noise. For most of the people in China, a wedding is about customs.

(Soundbite of wedding host shouting)

MA: Most of the people in China hire a host before their wedding. Ours shouted at us at the top of his lungs. And my mother-in-law, Laura Harman(ph) found it a big jarring.

Ms. LAURA HARMAN (Joy Ma's Mother-in-law): The sound system, technically, it was distorty. The speakers happened to be right behind my head, so my biggest impulse was to look for the plug and try to toy with that. But I didn't do that.

Unidentified Man #1: (Chinese spoken)

MA: Taking highly posed wedding photos is a popular custom, adopted from Taiwan. It is usually done at least one month before the wedding, where the photos will be displayed. My friend's fiance, Jeremiah Jenny(ph), was browsing through photo albums in a studio before his wedding.

Mr. JEREMIAH JENNY: I opened up the book, and they had sort of the pages had a watermark on them. And I immediately recognized as the CD cover and lyrics from a Prince album. But I'm not really quite sure I want to celebrate my love and my wedding with the lyrics to "Darling Nikki" scrolling in the background.

MA: The families of the couple usually have more say than the couple does about how the wedding is planned. Law student Gao Simin is shopping for a Western-style wedding gown in a Beijing wedding supply store.

Ms. GAO SIMIN (Law Student): (Through translator) To some extent, a wedding is not like what people think, a completion of two peoples' love. It is mostly a coordination between two or three generations. I don't feel it is a conflict for me, though. I respect my family's wishes and try my best to compromise.

MA: Some couples try to spice things up with themed weddings. Office clerk Su Wenjuan hired a group to perform songs and dances from the Cultural Revolution for the guests at her wedding.

Unidentified Group: (Singing in foreign language)

MA: With a revolutionary song dedicated to Chairman Mao, the actors dressed as Red Guards and performed a dance to declare their loyalty to Chairman Mao and to bless the newlyweds.

Unidentified Man #2: (Chinese spoken)

MA: Down with landlord Wang, they screamed. The actors reenacted the class struggles and they picked out audience members to play the evil landlord and the kind peasant.

Unidentified Woman #1: (Chinese spoken)

MA: The guests are laughing and enjoying the familiar scenes from their youth. Most of them were Red Guards themselves. They seem to have forgotten the torturing and the killing the Red Guards did during the Cultural Revolution.

(Soundbite of ship horn)

MA: A few days later, six couples in Shenyang in Northeastern China decided to have their wedding in an aquarium instead of a hotel. A barking sea lion kisses them, and they scuba-dived into a big tank where they exchanged rings. Some of them can't even not swim. Two instructors dragged them to the bottom of the tank. They bowed to their families, who are watching outside the tank and exchanged rings with awkward underwater movements. Most of them will also have traditional wedding ceremonies with feasts, gifts of money in red envelopes, and other fancy stuff, but now they are having a great time. Yang Yang is one of the grooms.

Mr. YANG YANG (Groom): (Chinese spoken)

MA: It's so exciting, he says. I feel that our love is so pure in the water.

Young people's choices in weddings in China are influenced a lot by their parents' experience. My parents had a wedding-less marriage in the 1970s. Instead of a ceremony, they registered at a government office and bowed to a big picture of Chairman Mao. The only gifts were seven or eight copies of Mao's little Red Book. My mom noticed the contrast and said.

Unidentified Woman #2: (Chinese spoken)

MA: To some extent, my daughter's wedding feels like making spiritual amends for me and my husband.

When I heard that, it made all the efforts of preparing my wedding worthwhile.

For NPR News, I'm Joy Ma in Beijing.

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