Sunday, May 31, 2009

Asian Wedding
Chinese Wedding Rituals

As a Malaysian-born Chinese, I am always interested to know more about our Chinese wedding culture. It might be complicated, but it worth the effort to find out the interesting customs and rituals to be performed in a Chinese Wedding.

Before we kick start our traditional Chinese wedding planning, let's talk about the basic rituals included in the wedding ceremony - Three Letters and Six Etiquettes. Isn't it sound like the Western wedding culture - Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue, and a Silver Sixpence in Her Shoe?

Not really...Chinese wedding ritual is far more complicated than this Western wedding tradition. The ritual of Three letters and Six Etiquettes is like a summary of the whole Chinese wedding planning process. It explains the formal proposal, gifts exchange, to the wedding itself. The Three Letters are Request Letter, Gift Letter, and the Wedding Letter. On the other hand, the Six Etiquettes consist of formal proposal, birth dates assessment, betrothal gifts presentation, acceptance of betrothal gifts, wedding date selection, and lastly, the wedding ceremony.

Three Letters and Six Etiquettes (三书六礼)

For Chinese people, a marriage begins with a series of three letters. The first letter is known as Request Letter (Pin Shu 聘书). It is a formal request for a marriage arrangement sent by the groom's family to bride's family. The Request Letter must be accepted by the bride's parents before the groom is allowed to marry their daughter. Once the letter is approved, the groom's family will send formal gifts to the bride's family along with the second letter which is known as the Gift Letter (Li Shu 礼书). The letter is like a record and it lists down the value of the gifts. Last but not least, the Wedding Letter (Ying Qin Shu 迎亲书). This letter will be given to the bride's family on actual wedding day. It confirms the act of bringing the bride into the groom's family and it officiates the union of the two families. (Having the same meaning as Unity Candle in Western culture.)

The Six Etiquettes begins with formal proposal (Na Cai 纳采). The groom's family will hire a matchmaker as middleman between the two unknown families when discussing the possibility of marriage. Once the bride's family accepted the proposal, the process is usually followed by the request of the bride's birth date (Wen Ming 问名). The matchmaker collects and compares the couple's birth dates whether or not their Chinese astrology compatible to each other. As soon as the couple's birth dates are confirmed compatible ^, the groom's family will have the matchmaker to present betrothal gifts (Na Ji 纳吉, the process of presenting the betrothal gifts) along with the Gift Letter (Li Shu 礼书) to the bride's family. The procedure of accepting betrothal gifts by the bride's family is known as Na Zheng 纳征. This procedure is equivalent to the Engagement in Western culture. After the betrothal gifts presentation/engagement announcement is done, an astrologist will be consulted to select an auspicious wedding date based on the Chinese Lunar Calendar to perform the wedding ceremony. This process is known as Qing Qi 请期. And finally, the last step of the marriage arrangement is the wedding ceremony itself, commonly known as Ying Qin 迎亲.

^ In modern days, most couples and their families no longer concern about the sign of astrological conflict. As long as the couple is deeply in love with each other and they are ready to build their future family together (they have grown up and ready to take care of the other responsibilities in life), their families will be happy for them.

To know more about Betrothal Gifts, we will discuss more in details at our next posting.

Stay tune,

Chinese Marriage, Wikipedia,
Three Letters & Six Etiquettes,
Chinese Wedding Customs,
Chinese Wedding Traditions,
Malaysia Wedding Handbook, 2007, Sky Publisher

Old letter image,


  1. As a Chinese myself, I have heard about the 3 letters and 6 etiquettes but I don't really know the details. This is a good one!

  2. Wow...Great that you have heard about this tradition before. I believed not many people (including Chinese) out there even know the existence of this wedding ritual.

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