October 5, 2011

CHINA: Red is sign of happiness. Believe me, I’ve had lots of that

PORTLAND, Maine / The Elder Storytelling Place / Time Goes By / October 5, 2011

My Chinese Marriage

By Johna Ferguson

Once Zhou and I decided to marry in Qingdao, China, the difficult part began. We couldn’t marry without the consent of my embassy plus that of his government.

I wrote the embassy in Beijing to find out what they needed: my birth certificate, wedding certificate, divorce papers and copies of my last two tax returns because I would be supporting Zhou if we moved to the states.

From Zhou they wanted his birth certificate, marriage certificate, his wife’s death certificate, his school’s and government’s marriage permissions and where his two daughters resided. These of course they wanted translated into English.

On the Chinese side, they wanted all my records, all translated into Chinese and notarized, and all his work and government records. If both sides agreed to the findings, then we had to have health exams at a special Chinese hospital.

All these steps took time. My papers were in Seattle and my family must send them to me. On Zhou’s side, it was much more complicated. All his records were gone over by the police security bureau with a fine tooth comb, especially his political ones for he had once been in prison.

Finally, both governments agreed and we made reservations to visit the hospital for our health exams. After that, we could actually apply to be married.

In the states, you go to a government office and apply. Then, after a certain waiting period, maybe three days, you take the license to a judge, minister, priest or rabbi who marries you and then he/she would sign your marriage certificate.

Not in China. First we must have pictures taken for our marriage certificates. The next day, we went by bus to the marriage office, a really drab place with nothing to remind you you were getting married - not even a vase of fake flowers on the long counter we stood behind.

We handed in our pictures and left our records that had all been officially red stamped at every level. We were fingerprinted and signed our names. That’s all. We would be legally married once we received our little red wedding books (the size of a passport), which we could pick-up in five days.

No singing, no dancing, no church or reception filled with friends and family. Nothing. Chinese hold these little red books and do not consider themselves married until they have a wedding party with their friends, sometimes a week or many months later.

Zhou and I decided we were married so could begin our lives together. Therefore I moved into his apartment. I had no close friends or family in China and his family lived in Beijing as did many of his friends so we’d have a celebration dinner with them all later.

I have no teary-eyed, sweet remembrances of our wedding, just of our wonderful life continually filled with new adventures. But I did get a 24K gold wedding band on that day. At times, strange cultural differences have popped up, but so far we have managed to meet those obstacles, each giving in some, for sure.

But when we travel, because it is unusual for an American woman to marry a Chinese man, we always carry our little red books to show we are legally married or we couldn’t stay in hotels together. Lots of foreign men marry Chinese women, but not visa versa.

Above is a picture of our precious books, both inside and out, a reminder of that day. But I followed Chinese tradition a little. I wore a bright red blazer to be married in. Chinese women used to wear bright red silk wedding dresses, but western ways have grown popular, so in the cities, most brides wear long white gowns.

But not long ago, we went to a countryside wedding and the bride wore a red silk outfit, embroidered with flowers and birds.

Red is the sign of happiness and believe me, I’ve had lots of that.

© 2011 Ronni Bennett.
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