“Open up!” We were pounding on the door, but the girls wouldn’t let us in. They demanded we slip four red packets of money under.
I was one of three groomsmen at the wedding of a Chinese couple in Beijing this Mid-Autumn Festival weekend. Eventually the groom and we made our way into the bride’s chamber. This “door game” is an ancient Chinese wedding tradition. But it wasn’t over until we found the bride’s shoes, which the bridesmaids had hidden around the room, and the groom kissed her feet and put them on.
It was one of a few Chinese elements of the day. In a traditional Chinese wedding the bride’s procession to the car would have been accompanied by the bangs of firecrackers, gongs, drums, and rice being scattered.
But the couple wanted a Western-style wedding. “Chinese want Western-style weddings, and Americans marrying Chinese want Chinese-style weddings,” the bride said.
For the most part it was a very Western wedding. It was held outdoors in a park with a violinist and a short ceremony. Still, a few Chinese elements during the ceremony stood out as well. After the vows were exchanged, the new husband and wife offered tea to their new in-laws and officially became part of their families. That is called “gai kou” tea (改口茶), which means “changing (改) words (口)” tea—i.e. changing the words that you use to refer to your new “mother” and “father.”
Another Chinese feature was that one of the groomsmen—me—sang a Chinese song—“The Moon Represents My Heart,” one of the most well-known songs in modern Chinese history, made famous by Taiwanese singer Teresa Teng in the 1970’s.
The banquet afterwards cannot be left unmentioned either. What is more representative of China than good food and plentiful drink among friends? Plate after plate of all kinds of food—prawns, fish, soy sauce vegetables, eggplant, soup, chicken, tofu, and many, many kinds of lamb (it was a Xinjiang Muslim restaurant)—kept coming for over an hour. The newly married came from table to table and did rice wine toasts with the guests.
The whole weekend was full of such hospitality among the couple’s families. The night before I had dined with the bride’s family at a Korean BBQ buffet. There, too, there was plate after plate brought to our table, as relatives took it upon themselves to bring us more food from time to time, even though we couldn’t finish what we had. One of the bride’s older cousins thought nothing of drinking a whole small bottle of Chinese liquor in the short time frame after we arrived, and he made sure that when I eventually finished my first bottle I wasn’t left empty-handed.
The bride joked with me the next day, “Did you drink a lot last night?” (Who told her?)
“No, just a little bit. Two bottles is nothing in China.”
At the banquet even I walked around the room to give my own toast to the bride’s father—and in the process, I got pulled over by even more groups of people who wanted to talk and drink with the foreign groomsman. There’s a saying thats always fun to pull out at Chinese banquets: Jiu feng zhiji qian bei shao. (酒逢知己千杯少.) It means when wine meets friends, 1,000 cups is nothing.
But by the end of the banquet the bride was tired of drinking, and she pulled a little trick out of her book while sitting next to me at a table with her and her husband’s friends. When we were invited to do more gan shots of clear rice wine, she poured from her own red rice wine bottle and filled our cups. “It’s water,” she whispered.
Mitchell Blatt is a travel writer, editor, and columnist based in China. He is an author of two guidebooks, Panda Guides Hong Kong and Panda Guides China. He has been published in National Interest.org, The Korea Times, Roads & Kingdoms, Vagabond Journey, The Hill.com, City Weekend, Silkwinds and The World of Chinese, among other outlets. See examples of his published articles.