9 September 2006 2006 nian 9 yue 9 hao

Journal: Engagement

Yuxiang and I were engaged last month. Originally, I wasn't planning to write about this in detail, since this website is supposed to be about me and China, not about me and Yuxiang (yes, even bloggers value their privacy). There is, let me assure you, nothing distinctly "Chinese" about how we relate to each other—apart from the language, a young couple in Australia would behave much the same. The engagement itself, however, was quite different to an Australian engagement.

Actually, the first difference is that if this were Australia, I don't think we would have got engaged quite so early. We only dated for about four months in Qinghai before I moved to Beijing in January. After that, of course, we phoned each other every day (a waste of money which many Chinese of the previous generation seem to find hard to understand!), but I don't know if that counts as the relationship moving forward, or just treading water. The question we then faced was whether or not Yuxiang would move to Beijing after her graduation. A lot of people, including her parents, were not very keen on this, not only because she would be so far from her family and friends, but more importantly because of the challenges of finding work and making a living in Beijing. In Qinghai, she already had a good offer for a job, and many people couldn't understand why she would turn that down. I don't think it's that they disliked or distrusted me, it's just that in a country where many married couples do spend long periods apart for reasons of work or study, the fact that her boyfriend was in Beijing seemed either unimportant or irrelevant.

I understood (I think) the risk that Yuxiang would be taking if she came to Beijing, and I knew I couldn't ask her to come unless I was certain we had a future together. I thought about this a lot in the months that we were apart, and decided in the end that we were just too good a match to give up on.

Yuxiang's parents urged her to take the job in Qinghai, but fortunately (and unlike some Chinese parents) they did not try to compel her. As for the idea of engagement, it came after Yuxiang's uncle in Beijing suggested to me that we have a simple wedding before I bring Yuxiang back to Beijing. Yuxiang and I both felt that it was too early to get married, but decided that getting formally engaged was best all round for everybody. In Qinghai, a lot of people feel that the status of "boyfriend and girlfriend" is close to meaningless, and certainly doesn't justify running off to another city. For us to be engaged would look better in everybody's eyes, including putting her parents at ease. For me, however, her coming to Beijing was the biggest commitment; having already made that decision, getting engaged was more a formality than anything else.

I hoped it could be done relatively quickly, though, because I couldn't afford to be away from work for too long. If it was done strictly according to tradition, it might well have taken much longer: three visits to her parents, visits to all of her uncles, etc. But her parents were happy to do away with a lot of these details, including the need to arrange a meiren (match-maker). If we were following tradition, it would be the meiren who would first approach Yuxiang's parents to discuss the engagement on behalf of my family and I. After hearing the difficulties that some would-be son-in-laws have faced, I feel very grateful to Yuxiang's parents for making my job relatively painless.

So in the end, apart from giving six bottles of alcohol to her parents, there was only the matter of the engagement ceremony itself. Of course, there was also the planning and preparation, including buying engagement gifts and choosing a restaurant. After searching both Minhe and the nearby town of Haishiwan, we only found one restaurant that satisfied our requirements of having a room big enough to comfortably sit 20 to 30 people, and being halal (since there was one muslim among the guests).


Two tables were enough to seat a select group of relatives, friends and coworkers. Since there was no meiren to lead the ceremony, we had an M.C. instead: Zhang Enquan, a relative of Yuxiang's who I know quite well due to his involvement with SDA. After everyone had arrived, the M.C. welcomed them and read out the list of engagement gifts while I took them out of the red cloth they were wrapped in and arranged them on the table: two bottles of alcohol, two articles of clothing, two tins of tea, a necklace (it could have been other jewelry, such as a ring, but Yuxiang preferred a necklace), and 26,666 yuan wrapped in red paper. Yuxiang's father suggested this figure, since it is what their family paid when Yuxiang's brother was engaged. I'm glad he didn't ask for more, or I wouldn't have been able to afford it!


After that, Yuxiang's great uncle (her grandfather having already passed away) and her father both expressed their consent, and they took out some more red cloths which were tied about my body. Incidently, these cloths, like the one the gifts were wrapped in, are actually manufactured to be used as backing to make a quilt! They just happen to be exactly the right size and colour to make an excellent sash.

Being sashed

That was the end of the ceremony, after which Yuxiang and I went around the room offering alcohol. Some guests tried to get me to call Yuxiang's parents "mum" and "dad", but Yuxiang had already warned me that her family's custom was not to do this until the wedding.

The event continued in much the same way as any banquet I have been to in Qinghai, with the men playing hua quan and drinking. A few people sang songs, including myself. Yuxiang's brother borrowed a digital video camera for the day, so there is probably actually a record of this somewhere, although I haven't seen it and am in no hurry to be reminded of what my once-famous anthem "Zai Na Yaoyuan de Difang" sounds like after almost a year of not practising.

Alcohol ready
Yuxiang and I preparing to offer alcohol to the guests.

Yuxiang's father
Offering alcohol to Yuxiang's father.

Yuxiang's mother
Yuxiang's father's workmates forcing her mother to drink even more.

The engagement was on a Wednesday afternoon (unintentionally), and an even-numbered day on the lunar calendar (intentionally). After all the guests had left, somebody remembered that it was Yuxiang's brother's birthday, so for dinner we had noodles, which is an old Chinese tradition (the noodles represent long life), and birthday cake, which is a new Chinese tradition. When you buy a birthday cake in China, they not only decorate it while you wait, they also provide candles, paper plates, plastic forks, and yes, even a paper hat. Maybe one day birthday noodles will see the same level of commercialization in Australia.

Birthday cake
Yuxiang with her brother and his fiancee, Zhang Lingfei.

Who is Qin Yuxiang?

Yuxiang was born in the town of Guanting, but moved with her family to Minhe when she was 12, after her father found a job at the county government. She has a younger brother called Yulong. Her family are Mangghuer (officially, the Tu ethnic group), and speak the Mangghuer language at home.

Yuxiang's mother grew up during the time of the cultural revolution, and was refused schooling because of her class background (her family had been landowners). But although she herself cannot read, she always pushed Yuxiang and Yulong to study hard.

Yuxiang studied a bachelor degree in law and a masters degree in civil law at Qinghai Nationalities University. In 2003 she came to know SDA (the NGO I used to volunteer at), and worked there as a volunteer over the summer. Although she soon had to return to her studies, this experience made a big impression on her, and she wrote her masters thesis on the legal status of NGOs in China.

Hello Todd (and Yuxiang),

Once again, heartiest congratulations to you both. May you live long & happy lives together.

Great pics btw!

(Uncle) David
David Tehr
12.09.2006 , 13:31

Hi Todd, great news, best wishes to both of you. Will pass on the info & links to Darren & Cheryl. Best of luck, LOL to both of you. Allan & Chris
Allan & Chris Dods
12.09.2006 , 19:58

Congratulations! Love that baijiu pic. I think I can tell just about how much you love it...
John [homepage]
13.09.2006 , 00:26

Oh my god, wow, congratulations!
Cheryl Dods
13.09.2006 , 07:32

Congratulations! You did a good job by following all the local customs. I think her parents are satisfied not only you has showed your respect to them but also you has proved that you are willing to take care of their daughter. This would be all the parents' wants when giving away their daughter.

You are a brave man. I didn't have a traditional wedding because of the baijiu, the way how people make fun of groom, and etc. 10 years later, kind of regret for not having a wedding like that to remind us the happy time.

Any way, enjoy life, the laugh and tear, the good and bad.
16.09.2006 , 04:09

17.09.2006 , 23:19

I know your blog for one of my bloggers. Your articles are also very interesting. I like it very much. It is really very nice to see that you have a good engagement with Yuxiang. Best wishes to you!
23.09.2006 , 16:10

Sorry! I typed a wrong sentence just now. The right one is : I know your blog from one of my blog friends.
Thank you!
23.09.2006 , 16:12

Congrats Todd - from all your old work colleagues at DLU.
25.09.2006 , 18:51

Hi Todd, Congratulations! From the pictures it looks like a wonderful experience. Emma (DLU).
26.09.2006 , 09:18

Hi Todd and Yuxiang,
Wonderful news, congratulations. Love seeing the lads trying to give "mum" a bit more alcohol, some things stay the same? Good to read about your progress and of this occasion. Hopefully we will all see you and your bride to be down the track. Maybe I will come to Beijing for Olympics, lets see.
Keep the photos rolling.
Cheers, Stu (DLU)
26.09.2006 , 15:22

Congrats!! Nice photos btw~
29.09.2006 , 22:56

Sounds wonderful! Congratulations!!
Michal (DLU)
03.10.2006 , 12:11

Wow, Congratulations on your engagement. One thing on your web that I felt especially connected to is the page on Jinzhou. (http://www.waze.net/china/bybus_jinzhou.php) That's my hometown! I seriously didn't expect someone from another country to actually write about it. (let along the fact that most Chinese don't even know the existence of that city) Thank you so much!
07.10.2006 , 12:49

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