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Wednesday, 05 October 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.

Below 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.

Marriage Book Cover

Marriage Book

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


What a handsome couple you are!
All that rigmarole and red tape certainly proved you really wanted to be together. didn't it?


I love your stories because of the great insights you give us into a wonderfully different culture.

How would we ever know all this about China without you telling us. Thanks!

Love in any language is most wonderful!Makes me happy!

Being entertained and educated at the same time is about as good as it gets. Excellent story.

Johna - Neat story!

I think it's terrific that you wore your bright red blazer after wading through reams of red tape, and got your little red books! - Sandy

I loved your story. It is so interesting and filled with love, it leaves me smiling.
Thanks for sharing this wonderful story.

What an interesting story. After going trough all of the complicated steps prior to getting married I am sure it will be a lasting union. No one would want to go through it twice.

Hello Jo,
Congratulations on your marriage to Zhou! Imagine being able to locate you after all these years! Tom and I enjoyed reading your post.

We moved to the Seattle area almost three years ago. Tom is a water treatment engineer and has done volunteering in the developing countries of Thailand, Cameroon, and El Salvador. I am an ESL teacher in the Lake Washington School District.

We hope this finds you happy and healthy.

Rosina and Tom Bell-Games
[email protected]

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