The wedding ceremony in old Beijing was exceptionally strict. In terms of the general procedures, there were four major steps: blind dating, birthday matchmaking, betrothal gifts delivery, and the wedding procession. Visiting was the process when the two families examined each other and decided on the marriage. After the initial decision, they would go to a fortune-teller to predict the future of the couple-to-be based on their exact dates and times of birth, in the process of "birthday matchmaking." In the past, it was a very important process, because the "marriage certificate" was "issued" by the fortune-telling shop. Only when the marriage was approved as a "top marriage" or "mid-level marriage" would the groom's family deliver the betrothal gifts to the bride's family. The betrothal gifts were divided into "Xiao Ding" (small rite of presenting betrothal gifts) and "Da Ding" (large rite of presenting betrothal gifts).

"Xiao Ding" was the initial engagement. The groom's family would assign a "blessed matchmaker" to send the gifts, which were usually simple, such as jewelry and clothes. "Xiao Ding" was optional. What was important was the "blessed matchmaker," who must be a female having a happy family with her parents, spouse and children all in good health. "Da Ding" was the formal engagement, which was relatively solemn. The two sides should hold no regrets 'after the ceremony. The groom's family would pay the "bridal sedan chair store" to send the gifts. The first sedan chair would carry the "marriage certificate" approved by the fortune-telling shop, which recorded the auspicious day of the wedding ceremony; on the second sedan chair, there would be "goose and wine". The goose would be dyed red and the wine could be one or two jars. For two jars of wine, there should be one jar of yellow rice wine and one jar of spirits, i.e.the "gold and silver wine". The betrothal gifts also included jewelry and clothes for the bride.

After these steps, the two families would prepare for the wedding. They needed to set up booths and hire chefs. A wedding ceremony without a banquet was not recognized as a formal wedding in old times in Beijing and was rare. For the Han ethnicity, the simplest wedding banquet offered "eight bowls of pork dishes." In order to make it less greasy, some would also offer "nine different dishes." A rich family would treat guests with sea cucumber. And in even better banquets, guests would enjoy duck wings and swallow wings, which were not common to see.

The most typical feature of the wedding customs in old times in Beijing was the emphasis on responsibility, which was also an important part of responsibility education. There was a complete ceremony that reminded the newly-married the importance of harboring gratitude to their ancestors and shouldering responsibility so as to make the young cherish and revere their marriage.

In the traditional bridal chamber, across from the bedding, there was a "heaven and earth table," which held the god card, incense burners, etc. Before the procession set out, the groom would first burn incense to worship, assisted by the wedding dispatcher. And then the sedan chair could set out. On the way to the bride's home, the curtain of the sedan chair shouldn't be opened. When encountering a city gate, bridge, or ancestral hall, they should figuratively cover the sedan chair's door with red felt.

In the past, the wedding ceremony was quite elaborate. In late Qing Dynasty, the wedding ceremony was usually held in the twilight, as "twilight" in Chinese is a homophone of "wedding." Ox horn lamps should be used in the wedding ceremony, with the most elaborate ceremony using 120 pairs of lamps. Even in less extravagant ceremonies, there would be 32 pairs of lamps. The scene could be quite spectacular. In the early Republic of China period, the ceremony was held in the daytime, and lamps were no longer used.

The procession should take a different road back, a symbol that the same goal is reached by different means. After the bride got off the sedan chair, she would shoot arrows, cross the saddle, cross the charcoal fire pan, etc., but these were not the focus of a traditional wedding. The emphasis of the traditional wedding was worship. With the assistance of the wedding dispatcher, the couple should burn the second incense by the "heaven and earth table" and bow three times. There was no one counting beside the table "the first bow, the second bow," and there were no established rules of bowing, unlike the "three bows" we usually hear about. Burning incense was not an open rite. After this step, the god card and the yellow paper on the table would be thrown into the charcoal fire pan which the bride crossed. The process was called "farewell with god". In the traditional wedding customs in old Beijing, there were no "bridal chamber pranks." During the entire process of the wedding ceremony, the most important rite was worship, which was meant to comfort the ancestors and pray for a successful marriage.

(Sources: people.cn, wenming.cn)