Wedding planning with my Chinese family

A few months ago I blogged that we’d be having a Chinese wedding banquet in the autumn and that it would mainly be organised by my Chinese mother-in-law. At that point, I’d semi-begrudgingly agreed to the whole thing, a date had been chosen, and a venue booked. When I arrived back in China last month with 4 month old baby Z, progress was as follows: a date had been chosen and a venue had been booked. That’s all. Total progress in those few months was zero.

I was happy that I’d get to help plan and make key decisions, but surprised by the lack of urgency. I remember back to my sisters wedding in 2013, they were busy every weekend for months and months ahead of the big day (granted they did a lot DIY). I was relieved that we’d be getting a wedding package with a wedding planning company 礼仪 and we went to see one with 5 weeks to go, but couldn’t agree on price. So we saw a few more with 4 weeks to go, but couldn’t agree on price. Then with 3 weeks to go we went back to see one we’d seen before, saw a couple more, but couldn’t agree on price. I was getting worried, but evidently I was the only one worrying about time scale and the in-laws were just worried about the price. At 2 weeks to go we finally signed a contract with a wedding planner, even more expensive than the first one we saw. Definitely the best choice, and the choice of R and me, but I do feel maybe if we had gone with the first one we saw we could have saved a lot of hassle!

When I agreed to having the wedding, which I wasn’t that keen on having just had a baby, and not wanting to spend the early months worrying about losing weight and looking presentable, plus the fact that me and R felt perfectly satisfied with our low-key wedding day last year, I had three main requests: no seafood, no host and no smoking. The first one I quickly conceded. I was told that seafood is VERY important in Dalian, and providing I don’t have to eat it, and with the concession that my family’s table have a different menu (they tried sea cucumber 海参 on their last visit and unimpressed might be an understatement), it could be worse. If the guests will like it, then that’s good.

My second request of no host went down ok. We had our own ideas of involving family members to welcome us to the stage and to conduct the vows etc, and said family members were happy to be involved. Until MiL called them, put the fear into them, and then they weren’t happy to be involved. So we felt we had no option but to get ourselves a host. But with firm instructions of no romantic rubbish, no filling gaps with speech, no loud 婚礼现在开始! kind of stuff and no standing on the stage. I forgot to request no sparkles on his clothes… We’ll see how it goes! It’s a compromise anyway. We were met with a few ‘you think you’re so innovative, but not having a host is nothing new’, so I wondered what the big problem was, if it’s nothing new. But we never said we wanted to be innovative, we just want our wedding to reflect us.

My third request of smoking was the most important to me. After all, my 6 month old baby will be in attendance, as will my pregnant sister, and for that matter all my important people. And I know one evening in a smoky restaurant isn’t the end of the world, but surely it’s easy enough to just ask people not to smoke?! Apparently not, and for my in-laws it’s an issue of face. Over the last 5 weeks we’ve gone round and round in circles on this. I know the wedding is more about them than me (after all, me and hubby have a grand total of 2 tables between us, whereas they have the other 16 tables), and I don’t want them to lose face, but I also don’t want to compromise on this. After all, it’s about health. So the no smoking signs have been made, no cigarettes will be served on the tables, the restaurant and wait staff will be told, the host will mention it and we’ll hope for the best. Phew.

Another thing which shouldn’t actually surprise me given the emphasis on conformity here in China, is the disregard for personal choices. I sent our wedding planner some pictures of the kind of bouquet colours I want, and she replied that those colours don’t look good ‘不好看’. However, I do think they look good, that’s why I after doing my research I asked for them. When I tried on my wedding dress, I chose the most simple non-sparkly non-puffy one in the shop (despite MiL’s advice that the more sparkles the better). I also said from the beginning I didn’t need a make-up artist, as from experience Chinese make-up artists don’t really know how to make me look my best, but MiL kept insisting I must have one, and that I must wear these shoes, must do my hair like this. I just want to look like me.

I’ve had a few moments of ‘why won’t they just listen to me? I’m the bride!’. But I’m forgetting this wedding isn’t really about me.

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9 thoughts on “Wedding planning with my Chinese family

  1. Sounds stressful! We are planning on having two weddings (one in Korea and one in the U.S.) but neither of them are booked yet due to lack of funds. We set up our house and got furniture, so now we are in the red until my paychecks start coming in. I really wish I could go ahead and reserve a wedding date, not even both! I just want to be able to officially feel like I’m getting married. Anyway, I hope things smooth over for you soon!

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  2. Indeed Chinese weddings are never about the wedding couple but about face for the family…it is sad, really sad. We didn’t plan anything for our wedding in china, everything was done by MIL but we had our own wedding in Finland were everything was planned by both of us with every little thing we wanted 🙂

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      • Well two have another wedding at some point (which you and you alone plan) is just an idea however it can be also a very nice experience. Personally I did not enjoy our Chinese wedding at all, it was just feeding the guests, keep up a high noise level, get them drunk and supplied with enough cigarettes and once all is empty they leave….in comparison our wedding in Finland lasted the whole day and night!

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  3. Exactly the reason why we went for a two part wedding, half Chinese the way they like it and half Finnish the way we like it.

    Your post reminded me of one issue coming later this year. When our baby is one month old we need to invite family and relatives to eat. I also want to ban smoking during the lunch/dinner for healthy reasons. Not sure how well that will go down…

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  4. It seems in China there are still many people who don’t know that smoking is harmful, and especially second hand smoke for children. I hope you can get a smoke-free wedding! I mean, it shouldn’t be that hard! People should be able to survive 2 hours without a cigarette! (and if they can’t… then outside it is).

    I think I will need to arrange my wedding when I get married, up until now my MIL has not shown any kind of manipulative behaviour!

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  5. We had a 满月 party at a restaurant for our son and my husband asked everyone not to smoke while that baby was there (maybe for 30 or 45 minutes) and it was fine. It’s happened in other instances too and people have been understanding. They just go outside the room/restaurant if they really want to smoke. I think it’ll be fine and I agree that it’s at least worth making the effort to ask people not to instead of admitting defeat from the onset.

    I have struggled with dealing with Chinese people’s blunt opinions about stuff like you describe. If it be your wedding or your house or your child, why is the way you do or want something up for constant debate and criticism? I think Chinese people often see it as “being helpful” but I find it rude and at times intrusive.

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  6. Oh gosh, that sounds like a stressful experience. Never planned a wedding, we got married in secret, so we just did the registration thing between the two of us at some Osaka city hall. Very low-key and low-stress.

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