Asian weddings in the United States represent a magnificent culmination of historic and contemporary traditions. Each element, from traditional wedding dresses to extensive tea ceremonies, showcases the beauty and richness present in Asian culture.
This guide will focus specifically on Chinese wedding traditions.
For those interested in Asian cultures not included in this guide, we’ve also created Korean and Vietnamese wedding tradition guides. Please keep an eye out for our future cultural wedding photography guides. While each of these Asian cultures incorporate many wedding traditions from Western culture, especially during weddings performed in the U.S., the unique traditions they preserve truly distinguish them from one another and allow them to introduce their heritage into U.S. culture. From the playful antics of Chinese door games to the structured pyebaek ceremony observed during Korean wedding receptions, each tradition further enriches the wedding day.
In this post, you will learn about several Chinese wedding traditions, like those mentioned above.
PLEASE NOTE: The information shared in this guide has been culled from our own experiences photographing Chinese weddings and does not proclaim to be a definitive guide that includes every possible Chinese wedding tradition. We recognize there may and likely will be traditions, however frequently or infrequently observed, that are not represented within this guide.
Chinese Wedding Timeline
While photographers do not usually create wedding timelines (a job handled more often by wedding planners & coordinators), they should familiarize themselves with the timeline so that they can anticipate the major events that are scheduled to occur throughout the day and plan accordingly.
PLEASE NOTE: The timeline presented below is intended to serve only as an example of what a timeline might look like for a Chinese wedding. Actual timelines for all weddings will vary.
09:00 am – Bridal party hair and makeup begins
10:00 am – Photographer arrives | Prep & details
Individual portraits of bride & groom
10:45 am – Door games
11:15 am – First look/Couple’s daytime session
11:45 am – Bridal party portraits
12:30 pm – Tea ceremony at bride’s home
01:00 pm – Lunch
02:00 pm – Photos of wedding ceremony details
02:30 pm – Processional & ceremony
03:15 pm – Recessional
03:30 pm – Family formals
04:30 pm – Couples session
05:30 pm – Doors open to reception
05:45 pm – Grand entrance
05:55 pm – Chinese Lion Dance
06:15 pm – Dinner, speeches
06:30 pm – Table visits
07:00 pm – Open dance floor
07:30 pm – Sneak away couples session
08:00 pm – Cake cutting ceremony/dessert
08:15 pm – Dancing continues until conclusion
**Although not included in the timelines above, each of these weddings may or may not feature a grand exit.
Chinese Wedding Glossary
Here is a quick reference list of terms you should know before photographing a Chinese wedding:
Dating back to the days when brides and grooms would meet each other for the first time on their wedding day, door games present a way for couples to ease the tension before they walk the aisle.
Double happiness is the name for a traditional Chinese ornament design that is commonly used as a symbol of marriage. The design consists of two Chinese characters in the center and varies in presentation (round, square, heart-shaped, etc.).
The jing cha, or tea ceremony, is one of the most important traditions to occur during a Chinese wedding as it allows the bride & groom to pay their respects to family while officially joining the two families together.
Lai see is a lucky red envelope given by family members to the bride and groom after they’ve served their family tea and bowed respectfully.
Qipao is a traditional Chinese wedding dress that is worn by the bride. Today, most brides wear multiple dresses throughout the day, including a white bridal gown and an additional ball gown.
Dates & Lotus Seeds
During the tea ceremony, red dates, lotus seeds, and longans symbolize sweetness & loyalty and refer to a traditional saying: “Soon give birth to precious children.”
Tsao chun is a Chinese tea that is typically served in elaborately decorated tea sets for the jing cha (tea ceremony).
The typical Chinese wedding invitation is red, placed in a red envelope, and usually has gold, vertical wording read from right to left with information on the bride and groom, as well as Chinese calendar dates and info for the wedding.