Category: China

Learning about China and Chinese Culture

I have found that all of our clients are interested in learning about Chinese culture and customs as well as learning to speak Chinese.

Chinese culture is rich and profound. It has the richest historical records. Chinese have been most historically-minded. Perhaps, China has more historical records than the whole world put together. This guess will not be far from truth. She has a great deal of historical records from the pre-Christian era, not to mention the matchless twenty-six history books of the imperial dynasties. She is not the home of Buddhism, but she boasts of the richest Buddhist scriptures.**

China is wonderous and awe-inspiring. It has a history of five thousand years. It is the only continuous ancient civilization. Other ancient civilizations have changed, discontinued, withered or perished. Why is it so enduring? Why is it so coherent, often sticking to itself, remaining undivided? Why is it so dynamic, always able to revive, regenerate and revitalise itself? Why is it an immortal phoenix able to rise again on its ashes? These are enduring questions. Nobody can give a complete answer, full stop. They will stimulate intellect, provoke interest, engage investigation.**

I have come to realize that even if I am reborn a thousand times in China I will never fully understand this awesome country and her people. Every day I learn something new that amazes me. How wonderful that my work as a consultant in China allows me to share my adventure with others.

Richard Ward

We spend time with our Clients talking about with them about Chinese culture and customs, presenting workshops as well as recommending resources for them.

We think that the best way to learn about Chinese culture, customs and language is to spend time in China.

**A Brief Introduction to Chinese Culture at Pasadena City College

Dragon and Phoenix


    The most prominent of all Chinese marriage symbols is the pairing of a dragon (long 龙) and a phoenix (feng 凤) which represents love and a happy marriage.

    The dragon is the preeminent male or yang (阳) symbol and represents strength and the warmth of the sun.

    The phoenix, as you might expect, is the ultimate female or yin (阴) symbol.

Double Happiness Symbol

Double Happiness Symbol

The symbol of Double Happiness is an expression that the bride and the groom are to be united, as well as their families.

The “Double Happiness” symbol is usually found displayed at Chinese wedding celebrations whether in a traditional or more contemporary setting.

The Double Happiness symbol is composed of two standard Chinese characters. Each of the characters that denote happiness is written as “hsi” or “xi” in Mandarin. In the case of the Double Happiness sign, the two “XI” characters signify the happiness of the newlywed couple that are about to spend their lives together. Pronounced as “shuang-xi”, the sign generally stands for marital happiness.

Note that the Double Happiness sign is not used in regular Mandarin writing, but is only observed for marital union invitations and declarations.

The Story of “Doubled” Happiness

The story of the Double Happiness sign originates from a student’s journey during the Tang Dynasty. According to the story, a young man who was about to take a final examination but became ill on his way to the capital city. Fortunately he was helped by a herbalist doctor and his daughter. However, the girl did not just help him to heal she also made him fall in love with her.

Because the girl was in love with the young man, she wanted to make sure that the he was her perfect match. So before the boy left for the capital city, the girl wrote a part of a rhyming couplet on paper, with the hopes that the young man can find his perfect match.

At the examination, the young man was able to achieve first place. When the emperor came to assess the young man’s skill, he asked him to finish a couplet. Fortunately, the part of the couplet that the emperor gave the boy was the missing match to his love’s rhyme.

The boy recited the part of the couplet that the girl wrote for him. Pleased with the young man’s answer, the emperor made the young man one of his Ministers. But before taking his post, the young man went back to the girl and recited her couplet’s match.

Then they got happily married. During their traditional Chinese wedding, the couple wrote the character “XI” twice on a red piece of paper. They posted it on the wall and since then, that double “XI” became the Double Happiness sign, symbolizing the “doubled” happiness that the couple felt because of their union.

Mid-Autumn Festival – Moon Festival

The Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋節), also known as the Moon Festival or Zhongqiu Festival is a popular harvest festival celebrated by Chinese, Taiwanese, and Vietnamese people. Dating back over 3,000 years to moon worship in China’s Shang Dynasty, it was first called Zhongqiu Jie (literally “Mid-Autumn Festival”) in the Zhou Dynasty.[1] In Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines, it is also sometimes referred to as the Lantern Festival or Mooncake Festival.

The Mid-Autumn Festival is held on the 15th day of the eighth month in the Chinese calendar, which is in September or early October in the Gregorian calendar. It is a date that parallels the autumnal equinox of the solar calendar, when the moon is at its fullest and roundest. The traditional food of this festival is the mooncake, of which there are many different varieties. The Chinese festival is very traditional and a great way to celebrate.

The Mid-Autumn Festival is one of the few most important holidays in the Chinese calendar, the others being Spring Festival and Winter Solstice, and is a legal holiday in several countries. Farmers celebrate the end of the fall harvesting season on this date. Traditionally on this day, Chinese family members and friends will gather to admire the bright mid-autumn harvest moon, and eat moon cakes and pomelos under the moon together. Accompanying the celebration, there are additional cultural or regional customs, such as:

  • Carrying brightly lit lanterns, lighting lanterns on towers, floating sky lanterns
  • Burning incense in reverence to deities including Chang’e Erect the Mid-Autumn Festival.(树中秋,竖中秋,in China,树 and 竖 are homophones)It is not about planting trees but hanging lanterns on the bamboo pole and putting them on a high point, such as roofs, trees, terraces, etc. It is a custom in Guangzhou, Hong Kong, etc.
  • Collecting dandelion leaves and distributing them evenly among family members
  • Fire Dragon Dances

Shops selling mooncakes before the festival often display pictures of Chang’e floating to the moon.

China Lily

White China Lily, China, Chinese, marriage, love

The white lily symbolises “Love for all seasons” and is widely used in Chinese weddings.

In China the lily flower is a symbol of motherly love and also symbolizes the beauty of women.

In addition, the lily also represents the purity of the soul.

The color of the lily is very rich and most Chinese people link the white lily with innocence and sweetness.

I Ching – Book of Changes: Joseph Yu

I Ching - King Wen - 64 Hexagram arrangement

I Ching literally means the Book of Changes.

The I Ching is the most ancient book in China on analysis of the present situation with possible changes in the future.

Chinese philosophy advocates the belief that mankind is part of the Universe and that what happens in the near future can be predicted by what is currently in one’s mind.

What is in one’s mind can be transferred into apparently unrelated outcomes of a random experiment. Using the Text of I Ching these outcomes can be interpreted to predict the outcomes of various actions. Tossing coins is one such random experiment.

The original text of the I Ching is complex and profound even for the expert. I have extracted the essence of the text and made reference to our daily life experiences. The reading is then easy to understand.


The words above were written by my Teacher, Master Joseph Yu, the founder of the Feng Shui Research Center based in Markham, Ontario north of Toronto.

Master Yu also advises and teaches Feng Shui and Astrology.

Through a Foreigner’s Eyes – Marriage in China

Chinese woman | foreign man | marriage

Marriage traditions in China can be mystifying to a foreigner especially considering the idea that marriage is not just about the couple but about the joining of families.

The following article with a byline from Alan Paul Trundley that I have found posted in various places on the internet provides some interesting insights through the eyes of a foreigner.

Chinese Marriage Through a Foreigner’s Eyes
– by Alan Paul Trundley

Perhaps a big difference for many foreigners is that in China marriage is seen as a joining of families, such as it was in the past in western countries. Given that most children are from one child families, it is easy to understand that parents take a keen interest in who their ‘child’ marries. Foreigners should also remember that the child is responsible for looking after the parents in their old age.

In many countries there are three components to a wedding: the legal, a wedding ceremony perhaps religious, and a ‘party’. This is essentially true in China. The legal element can only be completed by the officials in the offices of the Civil Affairs Bureau. Many couples marry officially and then proceed to the wedding ceremony and or party the next weekend, or even later.

China has full religious tolerance so any couples wanting a religious ceremony can have one of their choosing. Others sometimes choose a non-religious traditional style wedding ceremony quite likely related to the region or ethnic group they are from. Given the size of China and its range of ethnic groups, it is easily understood that there is much variety throughout the country. There is a growing interest in reviving traditional ceremonies. Visitors who not themselves marrying should take any opportunities they have to view a wedding ceremony.

Wedding Banquet

The third element is the ‘party’, what in the English tradition is known as a ‘reception’, though the word ‘banquet’ is perhaps the best in the Chinese context, where friends and relatives are entertained. Again similar to the west, there are ‘obligations’ and the guests will often be friends of the parents. As in most countries there is special food and usually alcoholic drink too. The form of this varies often according to finances. Some receptions are held in the street, but most will be in a restaurant, often very lavish. Generally, a foreigner will not feel at all out of place at a wedding banquet as it is not so different from what they’re used to. Of course, the meal is in the Chinese way, with groups of about 10 guests around each table with a range of dishes being served over a period of an hour or so. The couple, perhaps with immediate family, will probably move from table to table toasting the guests. China has special foods associated with weddings, again varying from region to region. There is an equivalent of the western wedding cake. Individual Dragon and Phoenix cakes, meaning Happiness Cakes, may be given to guests.

Usually, there will be speeches complimenting and praising the couple and the families, and offering good wishes for the future. There will not be a speech by a ‘best man’ insulting and seeking to embarrass the groom as we are used to in the Anglo-American tradition!

The wedding vow is considered a core element in western weddings, both civil and religious. China does not really have this but during the reception you could use the custom of the couple drinking from glasses or goblets joined together with red string or ribbon.

There are many traditional aspects to a western wedding – that typically women know well and men say ‘yes’ to, such as a bride wearing ‘something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue’; the groom not seeing the bride before the wedding; or the idea that girl that catches the bride’s bouquet will be the next to marry. In China, there are similar things. The bride must wear new shoes, the bride’s family may act trying to prevent the bride meeting the groom and so leaving her parents, while the groom’s family tries to get the bride and her entourage into the groom’s family home. There is also a tradition of visiting the bride’s parents on the third day after the wedding with an associated series of rituals such as further meaningful gifts and even the returning of some gifts. Such traditions are varied as is the desire of families to follow them.

Foreigners and men: for a happy life, be flexible to the desires of the hosts and your bride!

Wedding Photos

Typically, this is a bit different from western countries where professional photos or videos are taken as part of the wedding ceremony. In China, they are often referred to as bridal photos. Most couples will choose to have professional photos and have them taken maybe as much as 3 months before the wedding. Most couples will hire costumes, perhaps the most popular is for the bride to wear a formal western style wedding gown and the groom to wear a formal suit or a more modern stylish jacket and trousers. Alternatively, some couples choose traditional Chinese clothes (gua qun 褂裙 or qi pao 旗袍). Unless you have a personal choice the photo ‘shoot’ will be at a local beauty spot and in the photographic studio so as to ensure romantic backdrops.

One thing you can be sure, every town has at least one specialist wedding shop where you can hire clothes and arrange for wedding photos. So early in the planning process visit some and see what is available. If you would like to see photo shoots in action, just go to the favoured local spots. In some cities there are very clear favourites: in Guangzhou it is clearly Shamian Island.


In the west it is common for a couple to formally announce their wedding by becoming engaged and traditionally the man buys the woman an engagement ring. In China it is often somewhat different. Most Chinese, especially girls, will want their parents to be happy with an engagement before it is committed to. Clearly, the Chinese part of the couple must take the lead in ensuring this occurs, but the foreigner will need to co-operate.

Some parents will consult a fortune teller to see if the marriage is suitable and to select an auspicious date. This can be a concern but the fortune teller will probably provide the answer then parents want to hear! If you get a negative, you clearly face an uphill struggle.

On the other hand, when you are first introduced to the parents be careful about what words are used if you are not yet committed to marriage. Some parents equate ‘boyfriend’ or ‘girlfriend’ with being engaged and if they approve of you, you could find things get out of hand!

The custom is for the grooms parents to buy ‘grand gifts’ for the bride’s family to formally accept the marriage. These gifts may be largely ceremonial or may include money, especially in ‘nines’, i.e. 99rmb, 999rmb as nine symbolises ‘forever’. Just like in many other countries, in today’s world this is open to discussion just like who pays what for the wedding.

9 symbolises forever.

Family and guests invited to the wedding ceremony and reception will normally provide cash gifts, traditionally in a red envelope (li shi), though other gifts are sometimes given. If a foreigner is marrying a person from a not well off family, it could be embarrassing to have the wider family members contribute money; it could be a good idea to suggest the system of wedding gifts that many of us are used to. The gift list could then be restricted to inexpensive items. In some instances, guests at the reception contribute to the cost of the reception with the money going to the parents.

Paying for the Wedding

In marriages between Chinese couples, the parents decide who will pay for what – of course, that is not always smooth sailing. Where a foreigner is involved it can become more complex. It is often assumed the foreigner is rich and can afford to pay more than would otherwise be asked. Likewise, the parents might be inclined to upgrade the wedding beyond what they would do themselves, especially by inviting more guests which brings them greater status or ‘face’. In some ways this is not unlike some foreign parents, but they will be paying. In this situation, the foreigner is struggling to balance ‘doing the right thing’ with not feeling being taken advantage of.


In many countries and cultures there are difficulties in arranging weddings; parents of the couple and the couple themselves have different ideas. So it should be no surprise that the same can happen in China. The foreigner can sometimes feel bewildered by what is being planned. Perhaps more importantly, the foreigner does not realise some of the broader implications and commitments.

At the simplest level, the Chinese have a closer connection with their parents after marriage and have a responsibility for them. This will not be diminished if you do not live in China; your Chinese ‘other half’ may want to send money, especially in the parent’s old age. There are also obligations to other family members which go beyond what a westerner is used to. There is also a greater desire for two or more generations to live together, than many westerners are used to, though the younger generations are beginning to value more personal space.

As commented on earlier you might feel that the wedding costs are rising well beyond your expectations and even your means to pay. It is more likely that it is mostly enthusiasm that causes this to happen. It is not always easy to overcome, but the best way is to try and avoid the situation arising. Discuss the style and lavishness with your fiancée, discuss what you consider a reasonable budget and try to have these established well in advance. It won’t always go according to plan but the couple must have a common view of what they want.

There are also a few stories of the future parents in law demanding substantial money presents from foreigners. Large gifts are not part of modern Chinese wedding culture so in the unlikely event that you meet this situation you should meet with other people in the same community and of a similar financial standing and discuss what is reasonable. You can then review the situation with your fiancée and try to overcome the demands. Only you can decide the right course of action.

Almost all Chinese who want to enter into an international marriage are genuine; likewise so are most foreigners. Sadly, there are some individuals who are not being totally honest. All Chinese who anticipate living in their partner’s country need to consider whether they are being told the truth about their fiancée’s work and lifestyle they will be going to. Clearly, you each need to find out as much about each other as possible. If the Chinese partner asks for some proof, don’t be insulted, but offer it willingly. Foreigners need to consider whether the Chinese fiancée is simply seeking residency overseas and will demand a divorce soon after arrival. There is no clear way of checking this, but if from an early stage you say you would consider living in China, some will not be interested.

Fortunately these problems are not too common, though they do exist. And if you see warning signs you should not ignore them. Romance must always be tempered with good sense!