Obtaining the “Red Book”


Ahh the little red book… you know you are married in china… if you hold this red book.  However, the process to obtain the marriage book is not so easy for a foreigner and a Chinese… and even worse if it is a Chinese man and a foreign woman… at least for us it was.

As you have learned in previous posts that I have written nothing in China is easy.  And as you might can guess getting married in China is going to be an experience to remember and not only because it is your wedding day.

Traditional Chinese way of marriage, if you are Chinese , consist of first both parents’ approval of the joining.  Yes… if one of more parents disagree, most likely you will not be getting married that that person.   The reasons your parents may disagree could be one of many reasons… not rich enough, not tall enough, family not high level enough, job not good enough, education not high enough, living in a town too far away, or they don’t own a car or a house.  These are just a few of the reasons Chinese parents might not approve of the union.

After the approval is finally made then the wedding planning begins… it is customary to have a dinner with all the family members to announce that there will be a wedding.  Then while the wedding is being planned by either a wedding planner, or parents.. the wedding invitations must be giving personally with small gifts and of course …dinner. (nothing in China can be done with out some eating involved.  So this process could take a few months to complete if you have a lot of family members.

After that is completed, the wedding photos must be taken… these are usually done at a wedding photo shop… (yeah I know) . it is kind of our version of Glamour shots… but strung out on crack… they have the bride and groom run around all over town to take photos and you are to wear several different outfits … (5 to 8 outfits in some cases)… you are then expected to purchase a large quantity of these photos… (this is the sales pitch they give you)… however, most people do.. this I know from visiting homes that have photos of their wedding all over the place.

The funny thing about these photos is that they never look like the real you… they make you thinner, younger, and whiter…. My photos will be taken soon.. and I told the little Chinese lady that I do not want to be “whiter” … this was a 15 minute  heated conversation .. on how she thinks my photos would look more beautiful if she made me more white… and I told her.. I want people to know it is me in the photos and not Michael Jackson .. so please leave my color alone... I did compromise and said.. she can make me look younger and thinner…. (actually I said.. please make me younger and thinner… please?) .. anyway… after that conversation was over… my date was set… (I will post photos when they are complete)

The next thing is deciding where you will have this .. fantastical.. wedding banquet… a hotel, or a resturant…or ..just someone’s home.   Then to pick many different dishes to serve at the banquet.   The Chinese seem to feel that you need to eat.. many different variety of foods when you have even the most basic of meals…


So when it is a wedding you must have at least  20 dishes to serve to each table of 10 or more people.  That is a lot of food.  Basically, at the wedding banquet they do just that… sit and eat, and eat and …. eat.

Please remember at this wedding gatherings… you need to provide gifts for your guests… (yeah… you’re getting married and THEY get gifts).. you have to provide them with expensive cigarettes (even if they do not smoke), a lot of beer and wine, and candy.  The interesting part is that they give you “little red envelopes” of money… ending in “8” for good luck (88, 800, 288…) you would think this is a treat for you and to help you to pay for this expensive wedding that they are all Chowing down out at… however… You need to keep track of who gave you how much.. because… when they get married or their children get married you need to return the favor with a higher amount.

This custom to me is just like trying to impress each other with how much money you can give….. sometimes.. people go to multiple weddings a month and this can become very costly.  I tell them.. why don’t you just say you cant go… or your busy… they say then you will lose face and they will talk bad about you….. in my mind I was like “so”.… but that is my Americanism creeping out….So these people save all their money and borrow money to be able to pay large amounts of money for someone’s wedding day.

Then there is the car thing.. I am not really sure when this tradition started but evidently you must have a long line of expensive cars decorated with flowers to carry you to and from the wedding party.   BMW, Audi, Mercedes, etc.  the more the better and the more expensive the better… to give you “face” of course.  (so silly)

The whole banquet consist of the bride and groom going from table to table .. toasting the guests.. and answering funny questions or doing funny things.. so everyone can get them totally drunk… (this is funny to them .. ).. the bride and groom sometimes.. do not even get to eat…. ( I am like .. what?… all this food and we can’t eat it…..not this chick)

So.. I figured .. since I am western.. my wedding banquet would be different…. and the difference started with … the obtaining of the marriage book.. or “red book” as they say in China.   I had to first was figure out how to get the book.  This began with my husband going to the government office and asking them if we can purchase the marriage book there.   They quickly said No… and that we needed to go to the next City of Ningbo… because they had no power and no idea how to do it in our smaller city.

I also researched the US embassy website and China embassy website to try to obtain some information on what paperwork we would need to get this … book.    I found that I needed a certified document from the US embassy to prove I was able to marry in China, I needed that translated into Chinese, I needed my passport with valid visa, I needed a physical, and I needed my husband’s ID card, and family book.   whew… this was going to take forever.   So, we decided to get started early….

We had to make an online scheduled appointment to visit the US embassy in Shanghai to obtain this permission slip.. I call it…this also consist of traveling to Shanghai by bus, getting a hotel and then locating the embassy, obtaining the certificate for a fee of course and taking a bus back to our city.  (2.5 hour ride one way)... total cost f this trip…2000rmb … cha-ching…. then we needed to schedule a time off from work to go to the Ningbo city and find an office to translate the document into Chinese and stamp it formally… this trip was during a rainy day… (great)… and the bus ride was about 45 minutes one way.. however finding a taxi in the rain in China…. not fun.   We made it to the office to translate then had to find the office to obtain the license…. after finding this office and giving them the required paperwork…that took us about 2 weeks to obtain it all…. we were told we need 4 photos of a specific size of both of us together and that they were leaving for lunch in 30 minutes so we better hurry or we will have to wait for 2 hours for them to return.   (priceless)…. so we ran from the office quickly to find a photo shop… lucky for us we found one not too far away that wasn’t too busy to get us in right away.  Then we had to go thru the age-old argument of me not wanting my photo lightened in any way… the man insisted that I would be more beautiful..(what is with these people) … and I insisted that he give me my damn photos now.. without touching up my face color…or I was coming behind the counter to get them myself…..(you get a tad bitter when you are on a time limit)… we quickly left there and made it back to the office 5 minutes before their lunch break…. lucky enough my husband charmed the woman into doing our paper work…. we then had to complete two applications one in Chinese and one in English for each of us… (this made no sense to me.. but whatever…) … they begin reading my passport… and of course questioned me about my visa and my stay in China… and also what my job was … etc.   (just nosy I think) ….. I noticed they created two books… one for me with my name first and one for my husband with his name first…. they asked me to review the books when they finished… and of course… they were wrong… (smile)… they had spelled my name incorrectly…. Not Jo Kelly-Bai… but Kelly Bai-Jo.... (who was that person..I asked my husband if he had a wife number two in waiting… he just smiled.. and said.. yes.. but she isn’t as beautiful as you…he’s got jokes at a time like this….. ) .. this meant the process had to be done again… luckily.. we had gotten 6 photos instead of 4 photos at my insistance…(I knew there would be an issue).. … finally the process was complete… and lucky for us .. they made a mistake because they gave us the books for free to make up for it…. so that made the total cost of this trip….2500rmb… cha-ching.… the money is just racking up…. but now we have the coveted red books… for the low, low price of  4500rmb…. cha-ching, cha-ching... what a bargain..(only two months salary for the average Chinese worker). and we haven’t even got the pleasure of paying for our wedding photos and wedding party planned yet.

When I arrived back to work, I questioned one of my married students on how much it cost her to get her red book… she said… 20rmb…. total cost no traveling necessary(amazing…)

Well.. the book is taken care of … next comes the photos… and the wedding party…. Which is planned for Oct. 10, 2010 ….10/10/10 …. this year... Yes … we have been married for a long while now… but… due to cost and time restraints… we haven’t had the wedding party yet….and evidently in China.. unless you have a wedding party .. you are not really married in their eyes…. even though in my and my husband’s eyes and in the eyes of the Chinese and American governments we are… (damn Chinese Traditions…)

After this experience with the … red book… I just cant wait to see what happens at our Glamour Wedding Shots…. which are scheduled for next month…. “lord give me strength… not to kill anyone”

until next time….


18 thoughts on “Obtaining the “Red Book”

  1. Pingback: Shanghai Scrap » A Shanghai Scrap Valentine’s Day Exclusive Interview: East-West Relation(ship) Blogging with Shanghai Shiok!

  2. Randy

    Geesh… makes me think getting married in US would have just been easier then you could hae just returned to china…
    That’s a long process.
    I don’t like the whole my present is bigger than yours thing. But tradition is nice 🙂 (I guess)

  3. Osirus

    I look forward to reading your new posts and every time I do, I just think of how much your life experiences in China “mirrors” mine. I’ve been married to a Chinese guy and living in China (Beijing) for five years.Thanks for sharing your experiences and please keep posting.
    Is Hangzhou as beautiful as they say it is? Have you been to Beijing yet?

    1. Aww.. thank you so much for reading.. I havent been to Beijing yet.. since it is in the North and a little far from me.. but I have been to several of the cities here in the south.. and from what I can tell… Hangzhou is the most beautiful.. with the lakes, bay, traditional and modern.. they spend a lot of money.. making the place nice . by planting trees and a lot of landscaping. Also… very low pollution…

  4. Your blog is amazing! You write well and it’s fun to read your posts. This blog post about getting that book was really helpful because I’m going to marry my Chinese boyfriend in the near future. I’ve been thinking is it better to do in China or in my country. I also liked the post about Chinese parents and nice to hear that they accepted you so soon. And I’m happy to say that after visiting my bf’s family they seem to like me too. And then I read the post about how you two met. Interesting story! And in the end you wrote: “be careful what you wish for.. you just might get it…” And this is exactly what happened to me. I had a little wish and it came true pretty soon after 🙂

    Now I keep reading some older posts from you.

    1. @EuropeanGirl…. first.. Congratulations on your upcoming nuptials…. second.. thank you so much for reading my blogs…. there will be a book soon… and finally… if you ever need any advice about living with a Chinese husband… just shoot me an email.. i will be happy to .. throw you a tip or two… I wish you both.. double happiness….

  5. wow…that is a long process so you better really want to get married. If you had any doubts about the marriage this would be huge wake up call… When all this is done I am sure you will have fond memories 🙂

    1. Yeah… makes you really think about it.. doesn’t it… Maybe in American it is too easy to get married and divorced.. so it happens often… Here in China.. very low divorce rate..but maybe because of the hassle of the marriage…

      1. Ton Tai-Tai

        I’m prior service, and my former shipmates would tell me all the time how easy it is to get married. Just take a photo ID and $ for the certificate. You don’t even need a blood test anymore in some states (Cali for sure you don’t…)

        I think there should be more steps involved in the States. No guarantees, but at least you have time to think and rethink what’s about to happen.

        And getting the USCIS & Consulates (difficult asses) involved…..yeah. You have to really really want it. Bet you can’t wait for the [second] big day to come and go!

        BTW, those little photographers were about to get it, lol. You are hilarious, but I can imagine how it went down… they were probably trying to be all nice about it too.

        1. @Ton Tai-Tai… Yeah.. dealing with the embassy’s are a big pain… but i was luck the girl behind the window was Black American… and there arent many of us around… so we kind of bonded. As for the photographers… they were really honestly thinking that they were helping me out .. by trying to lighten my skin the photos… because.. I was told by a chinese girl here… the whiter your skin the closer you are to going to heaven… yeah..you dont want to know what I said to her….* okay.. i will tell you*… i said… “Soooo.. Bitch, are you trying to tell me that I am going to hell because my skin is dark?” she just stuttered and stammered… and then walked away…. she had no words…

  6. pearls

    That entire experience reminded me of Finding Waldo and The Amazing Race tv show combined! Definitely intriguing! I know your special day is going to be beautiful! Looking forward to seeing your photos! Peace!

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