Last month, a Chinese bridesmaid died after over consuming alcohol on behalf of the bride
Being a bridesmaid in China is no walk in the park and as a result, a number of brides are outsourcing the role to professionals.
Weddings are supposed to be happy and jolly occasions and for the most part, they are. In China, weddings tend to follow a number of cultural traditions that date back hundreds of years. Rituals such as exchanging specific gifts, forcing the groom through an ordeal to earn the bride’s hand, banquets, and humungous feasts, are all in good fun and characterise Chinese weddings as unique. Bridesmaids in China play a pinnacle role in ensuring that everything runs smoothly for the bride. Amongst others, their tasks include greeting guests and drinking on behalf of the bride. Furthermore, at Chinese weddings, bridesmaids are arguably objectified as part of the wedding display. The beauty and number of bridesmaids reflect well on the bride and her family. This in itself is an important role to fulfill.
It has become sewed into tradition that the newly-weds toast every individual wedding guest, often “ganbei”-ing their drinks – IE the bottoms up approach. Consequently, bridesmaids who are tasked with drinking on behalf of the bride, often end in over-consuming alcohol.
In September, the unfortunate death of a bridesmaid in Wenchang stirred up a conversation about the pressures of bridesmaids in China. The 28-year-old bridesmaid was egged on to drinking a lethal amount of baijiu, which resulted in her choking to death. The incident was recognised as part of a wider problem that Chinese bridesmaids face and reflected on the increasing pressures that befall onto them.
Bridesmaids can also fall victim to sexual harassment and abuse. Traditionally, bridesmaids in China act as the final hurdle before the groom is wed. The groom and groomsmen engage the bridesmaids in stunts that too often involve some sort of sexual innuendo. Stunts range from licking bananas to stripping the bridesmaids. The incidents are predictably exacerbated by alcohol.
Of course, it would be unfair to paint all Chinese weddings with the same brush. After all, China is an extremely large country with 1.3 billion people, so wedding ceremonies will undoubtedly vary. Indeed, sexual harassment and abuse of bridesmaids are largely concentrated in rural areas in China and less so in urban ones. Traditional gender norms still largely exist in rural provinces and as a result, the differing empowerment of women deters women from reporting such assault in rural areas, whereas in urban areas with more liberal gender norms, wedding participants will be subject to legal prosecution in such incidents. Victims may also choose to remain silent to uphold their ‘purity’ and virginity – both of which are cherished dearly in traditional communities.
With all of this in mind, being a bridesmaid in China is a decision one does not take lightly. Consequently, a number of brides in China are now looking to hire professional bridesmaids. Professional bridesmaids, as a service, are offered by more than 50 wedding planning companies in China. Amongst a number of tasks, the professional will drink alcohol and fend off rude guests on behalf of the bride. These professionals are paid anything between 220 yuan and 800 yuan per wedding.
However, whilst these professionals may provide a quick and easy solution for the bride, attitudes towards bridesmaids will still exist. Until legal provisions are introduced to combat the objectification of women across China, the mistreatment of bridesmaids may never cease to exist.