For the Chinese, the traditional colour for wedding is red. This signifies prosperity, good luck and happiness. Today I want to introduce you to the traditional Chinese wedding dress. It is called the Qun Gua or sometimes simply the gua.
The gua originates from the Manchus, an ethnic minority in China who established the Qing Dynasty and, for reason that I still don’t know, is worn predominantly by brides from southern China, including Hong Kong.
Ever since I was a child, and during the many years I worked in Hong Kong, I have always seen brides wear the gua at weddings so thought it was the norm for all the Chinese brides. Since coming to Taiwan, I found out that brides here don’t normally wear the gua, and after a bit more investigation, it seems that neither does many parts of China particularly the northern part.
我的裙褂My Qun Gua
Like most brides in Hong Kong, I wore a gua when I got married. This gua actually belongs to my eldest sister, bought by her mother-in-law from Hong Kong. To give you an idea of how old the gua is, my sister is now a proud and happy grandmother of three lovely boys the eldest one being six years old!
This is me on my wedding day. Those were the days when I was still young
The gua I wore is fully beaded and sequined, thus hand made of course. I don’t know how long it took to make it, but I hear nowadays the embroidered ones can take anything up to 8 – 12 months. So I imagine this would have taken just as long if not longer.
A Qun Gua comprises of two items. Gua is the top half, like a jacket with a zipped front and 3/4 length sleeves. The jacket is loose fit, and the sleeve length is purposely designed shorter so the bride can show off her jewellery, the gold bangles, bracelets and rings gifted by relatives.
Qun is the bottom half, the skirt. The qun is a straight full length skirt with a draw string waist. The one I wore had straps that goes over my shoulder like dungarees. Since the gua is loose fit, and both the waist and length is adjustable (up to a certain degree) on the qun, the entire wedding gown can fit a range of bride sizes as alterations which would not be possible.
The main motifs on the gua are dragons and phoenix as there is a phrase in Cantonese that includes dragons and phoenix and sounds the same as everlasting love. The pronunciation of this phrase is different in Mandarin which may be another reason that gua is not common in large parts of China.
Since my sister’s gua is fully beaded and sequined, it is quite heavy. That is why the straps across the shoulders are necessary to hold up the weight of the qun. In fact the entire Qun Gua weighs 2.6kg. My laptop weighs 2.3kg so imagine lugging your laptop on you on your wedding day. It’s quite hard work!
During our wedding, our best man who was quite a veteran as a best man, said he had never seen such an exquisite qua before. He joked that with all the beads and sequins, it could double up as an armour if we were attacked!
This is the rear view of the qua, isn’t it just gorgeous?
我的婚禮 My wedding
As part of a traditional Chinese wedding ceremony, before the bride leaves her maiden home, she has to serve tea to her parents and elderlies. This is done kneeling down as a mark of respect. Here, I am serving tea to my beloved grandmother. The design of the shorter sleeves enables me to show off my (small) collection of gold bangles and bracelets.
在傳統中國婚禮中，其中一個重要的儀式是新娘子出門前要向父母及長輩敬茶，答謝養育之恩。 為了尊敬長輩，新娘新郎都會下跪敬茶。我在這相片中，正向我至愛的嬤嬤(台灣人稱奶奶~爸爸的媽媽 (香港的奶奶是老公的媽媽噢！))正在敬茶。你看，裙褂短袖的設計，剛好可以顯示我佩戴少少的龍鳳鈪和金手鏈嫁妝。
After the tea serving ceremony, I leave home with my husband to go to my new home (his parents place). In line with the customs, my chief bridesmaid is holding a red umbrella above me. Some say this is to protect the bride from any evil spirits as she starts her new journey. Others say because umbrella sounds the same as blossom in Chinese, so hopefully the bride will bear many children. Either way, we followed the custom.
A few years ago I lent my sister’s gua to be exhibited in London. My friend works runs a charity and was organising an exhibition called “From East to West : Chinese Life in London Since 1900”. The gua was the centre piece of the exhibition and many people said they had never seen such an exquisite gua like this before.