I recently completed my first visit to China since January 2020, where I spent 7 days visiting four Chinese cities to understand how the country has changed over the course of the pandemic. More on the trip in potential posts to come, but I wanted to share this short post from an experience during the first few days of the trip.

At the heart of many aspects of Chinese culture is the importance of family. Filial piety, the attitude of respect exhibited towards parents and ancestors, has been a key part of Chinese society for thousands of years, and thus it should come as no surprise that marriages are major family events.

While on a recent visit to the old town of Xizhou, located in China’s southwestern Yunnan province, I had the opportunity to return to the Linden Centre, a hub for cultural exchange, boutique hotel and home to the Middlebury School of the Environment in 2018 and 2019. As I arrived to meet one of the staff members, I was told the center was closed to the public for the day due to a wedding. After a quick tour of the center’s facilities, I learned that the soon-to-be-married couple had rented out the center’s guest rooms for their family and friends, including one of the Linden Centre’s auxiliary sites.

The main courtyard was set up for around 70 guests and was adorned with traditional local indigo dye cloth. In a neighboring courtyard tables were already set up for the post-ceremony dinner. While the ceremony was scheduled to begin at 3 p.m., it kept being pushed back and finally began at 4:45. Along with some of the staff, I stood on the side and watched the events unfold.

He Kuan was to marry Linhu Wenjun (otherwise known as Junjun). The couple, one from Guizhou and one from Shanxi province, met at work and remained in touch even as one of them moved into a new job. As Junjun was not quite ready by the time the ceremony was supposed to start, Kuan, who was the wedding’s MC and quite a funny one, led the audience in participating in trivia about the couple. There were a number of gifts to thank guests for coming for the wedding, and the winner of each question received a gift bag. Questions ranged from guessing the combined weight and height of the bride and groom to whoever’s phone battery percentage was the highest (anyone who said over 100% was clearly cheating). In addition to the round of trivia, the wedding party had placed flowers under the seats of three lucky winners, who all received a gift bag.

After the bride arrived, the ceremony officially began, consisting of speeches and performances from various family members and friends. One of the couple’s grandmothers sung a song while someone else played the harmonica. “It’s like The Voice: Dali,” one attendee joked. Another family member who sang a traditional Miao ethnic minority song towards the end was compared to Chinese pop star Han Hong (to be fair, their hairstyles looked alike). The wedding included the traditional presentation of the rings (I assume this is common; as this was my first Chinese wedding I have nothing else to compare it to) and each of the parents had the chance to speak. “You have known each other and fallen in love with each other, and you are husband and wife today,” one of the fathers said. There was also a simultaneous drinking of some liquid in a shot glass. The playlist throughout the wedding consisted of songs such as Jay Chou’s “告白气球” (“Love Confession”) and Jolin Tsai and David Tao’s “Marry Me Today.”

Following the ceremony, the extended family took pictures and then everyone retreated to their rooms to prepare for dinner. The center’s staff transformed the courtyard into a dinner space for the guests, and I left the center shortly before the meal, which looked quite elaborate.

Even for those who may not speak the language, the pure joy and elation seen in the couple’s facial expressions transcended linguistic barriers, and it was clear how much of a momentous occasion this was for everyone who attended this destination wedding. The ceremony included elements of traditional and modern cultures and it was quite the experience to witness. Thank you to He Kuan and Linhu Wenjun for tacitly allowing me to crash their wedding, and to the Linden Centre for their warm hospitality during my third visit to Xizhou.

Categories: China 2023