A Chinese wedding has many traditions, customs and rules. It is important for guests of the bride and groom to be aware of etiquette concerning different elements of the wedding celebration, from attire to gifts. It is equally important for guests to know what they should not do at the ceremony, to avoid causing offence to the newlyweds and their families.
Traditionally, the Chinese wedding ceremony was complicated and subject to very particular rules of reverence, etiquette and obligation. The organisation of pre-existing wedding customs is attributed to the Warring States period (402 to 221 B.C.). As a result, the Chinese wedding process became more ordered, while still maintaining the chief objectives: bringing two families together and starting a long line of descendants. Etiquette for wedding guests has been an important element of the ceremony since those ancient times.
A Chinese wedding is hugely influenced by symbolism. It is important for guests at a Chinese wedding to be aware of the meaning of certain colours in what they choose to wear. Suitable colours to wear to a Chinese wedding are peach, pink and purple, as these represent new life and happiness. Black and white should be avoided; these colours are symbolic of funerals and sadness. The colour red at a Chinese wedding represents the luck, happiness and fortune of the new bride. However, guests who wear this colour may be accused of trying to steal the bride's spotlight.
Traditionally, guests at a Chinese wedding give the bride and groom a "red pocket," or hongbao, which is a red envelope filled with money. Guests should be scrupulous in choosing the amount of money. The number four should be avoided as it is thought to be unlucky. Guests should choose another even-numbered amount as even numbers symbolise joyous occasions. In Chinese tradition, the number nine symbolises a long-lasting relationship, and the wedding banquet often consists of nine courses to reflect this. Each course is carefully planned and prepared to be meaningful to the newlywed couple, perhaps containing ingredients that represent blessings and happiness. As a guest at the banquet, you must be prepared to eat and appreciate a large amount of food. It is considered a sign of appreciation to take home leftovers, and a sign of rudeness to leave before the end of the last course.
Chinese wedding tradition dictates that pregnant women or someone who has very recently lost a family member should not attend a Chinese wedding. Those that do attend shouldn't touch the newlyweds' clothing or anything in the couple's new home.
The Chinese place huge significance on horoscopes when selecting the date for a wedding. A guest born under a star sign that clashes with the wedding date should decline the invitation to avoid bringing bad luck to the newlywed couple.
Modern Chinese weddings often do not observe many of the age-old traditions. Nowadays, it is acceptable for guests to attend the wedding wearing black or white without causing offence. Likewise, very few Chinese weddings ban pregnant women or the recently bereaved from the celebrations. Although times have changed, Chinese symbolism and wedding etiquette is still an important consideration and the themes of blessing and good fortune endure even at modern Chinese weddings.