David Yerle goes to a Chinese wedding and decides to write about it, even though it has nothing to do with science, technology or philosophy.
He gets to the newlyweds’ house the day before. The place actually belongs to the groom’s parents, who will give it to the couple as a wedding gift. In this case, the bride has graciously acceded to let the parents live with them, so they won’t have to move out.
Everything is new, from the furniture to the flat screen TV set, including a ceiling lamp which plays music when turned on. David Yerle wonders what that’s for.
The next day the ceremony starts at five in the morning. With firecrackers. Their function is to let the neighbors know a wedding is taking place. Judging by the power of the explosions, the neighbors are well informed. Next, the relatives start trickling in.
After the firecrackers it is time for the groom to go and pick up the bride, who is at her parents’ house. He takes a car and a cohort of relatives, who drive away into the dawn not to be seen for a good three hours.
David Yerle stays in the background and is shown on parade to a group of relations who have never seen a foreigner before. He smiles and says “ni hao.” He doesn’t understand a word because his Chinese is not great and, anyway, everyone speaks in dialect. After a while the novelty wears off and the relatives move on to better things.
The bride arrives at eight o’clock, preceded by a couple of detonations to announce her. In the backyard, mat has been prepared so that she can kneel before her parents-in-law to show respect. A brick has been included in the mat to make the showing of respect a bit more difficult and because people find it funny.
Everyone leaves at eight thirty to go to the restaurant, where a very early lunch is being served. On one side there are the groom’s mother’s relatives; on the other, the father’s. The bride’s relatives are nowhere to be seen: the parents are not allowed to go, sending in their stead two women who are in charge of protecting their daughter from her new family. The men are in charge of the feast and are not allowed to eat; the older women have to cook and will have a morsel after everybody else. The restaurant does not have enough dishes and some of them have to be supplied by the groom’s family.
In the restaurant’s patio a man has a list of names written on a background of red paper. People come and give some money, normally around 10 RMB, which will be recorded next to their names. The final sum will be allotted to the groom’s parents.
When the lunch is over everyone heads back to the house for the final ceremony. In it, the bride, surrounded by their two protectors and a myriad of women from her new family, is made to bend down in front of her new relatives. When she refuses to do so, they force her. When she finally does, one of the women hits her in the head. Others follow suit and keep trying throughout the ceremony. Her protectors do what they can to make sure she avoids most of the harm.
While some people try to hit her, others give her money. An older man produces another list with names on them, which are called one by one. People give different amounts depending on their degree of relationship to the newlyweds, going from 10 RMB to 4,000. When everybody has given their share, it is over. The relatives go back home.
The house is a mess. There are sunflower seed shells all over the floor, together with packets of cigarettes and confetti. The family does not clean it: according to the tradition, it has to be left that way for a day.
At night the relatives come back. First, the women. They swarm into the bride’s new room and make her and her husband perform different actions, with the goal of amusing themselves at their expense. After a while the bride runs away, crying, and seeks shelter with her sister-in-law, who provides it. Time goes by. The women try to convince her to go back to her room. Finally she does. They are satisfied and, shortly after, they leave.
It is time for the men. They, too, come with the purpose of humiliating their friend. This time, it’s the groom’s turn. He bears it a little better than his wife, whom they try to get into the game. She refuses. In this case it’s a friendly pull and push which goes on for almost half an hour, until the men give up. At half past nine they leave.
The bride lets out a sigh of relief. Finally, the wedding’s over.