Wedding in Changchun

I just attended my friend John’s wedding over the weekend, in Changchun, China. Changchun is pretty far north. It’s north of North Korea, and probably the farthest north I’ve ever been in China. It was a great time to be there; I got to trade Shanghai’s sweltering August heat for Changchun’s crisp early autumn weather. Not a bad deal.

The wedding was nice. It was the first Chinese-style wedding I’d been to for one of my non-Chinese friends. Despite all the horror stories of Dongbei baijiu chugging I’d been fed, the drinking really wasn’t too bad. Yeah, a few of my old ZUCC buddies were ensnared by the evil stuff, but I think they wanted to be martyrs. Or to have baijiu horror stories to tell. Or both.

I was also asked to play interpreter for John’s parents, as most of the ceremony was in Chinese. I was happy to do that, of course, although I felt a little unqualified. Interpretation is hard work! Fortunately, what I was translating into English was not too hard: the host’s good wishes for the happy couple, the bride’s father’s speech to the guests, and even John’s speech in Chinese. It was an honor to be the one translating John and his bride’s love story for his parents, but I had to choose my words carefully. The emotional effects of my every word were plainly visible on his parents’ faces.

What I wasn’t exactly prepared for was to interpret John’s father’s speech into Chinese for all the Chinese guests. Fortunately, he had it written out and let me take a look at it beforehand. It was written in a straightforward way that could be translated without loss of emotion even by an amateur like me. The crowd liked the speech. No one threw tomatoes at me.

My interpretation failure came a little later when they asked me to come up again and do some more interpretation into English. I don’t know if they were testing me or what, but when I got up there, the host just started spouting chengyu after chengyu that I had no hope of understanding, much less translating. I was utterly clueless, and yet, there I was, on stage with a mic: the interpreter. It went something like this (luanma used for chengyu I didn’t understand–I still don’t know what was really said):

> Host: 弐尗曑暪! (grinning and gesturing at the couple, then looking at me)

> Me: Ummm… “This is a happy day!” (I hear a few giggles from the crowd)

> Host: 戼枩枀毜! (grinning even bigger)

> Me: “…very happy!” (the Chinese guests are laughing now.)

> Host: 仴仺佷凷! (triumphantly)

> Me: “Ecstatic!” (at least most Chinese guests wouldn’t understand my last word!)

All in all, a very fun, interesting, educational experience.

Congratulations to the newlyweds!


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. Didn’t your experience as best man at a Chinese wedding for Chinese friends help prepare you for things?

  2. luanma? John you have got the goods!

  3. Tim P,

    It prepared me somewhat culturally, but not for interpretation. Plus, every wedding is different…

  4. Da Xiangchang Says: August 25, 2005 at 12:24 am

    Pretty cool. Unfortunately, I’ve never been to a Chinese wedding–or an American one either. The only wedding I’ve ever been to was a Romanian one where the bride was, oddly enough, ethnically 100% Chinese. It took place in this little village right in the middle of Romania, and while there, I had to pinch myself I was really there. I still can remember one of the groom’s Romanian aunts taking the Chinese girl’s arm and tenderly kissing it up and down; the look of stupefaction on the Chinese girl’s face was priceless. Haha.

  5. My parents, Kexia, and I all really really appreciated your translation work. I’m glad you could make it up to Changchun to be there for the ceremony.

  6. John B,

    My pleasure.

  7. I see why you were in Changchun now, My experience with chinese weddings, I’ve been to two, one was great it was a friend of a good friend, the other I didn’t really know the couple but I had to stand up and give a speach with the parents regaurdless, which was nearly disastrous since I hadn’t prepared one. . .

  8. Hi, Interesting reading? I have been asked to be Best Man at my friends wedding in Shanghai in one week… Do you have any suggestions. The Groom and I will be the only western people (from the UK) there?? Any advice!!!!

  9. Hi, I just moved back to Changchun. I can speak fluent English and Standard Mandarin. Wish I can be interpreter or Mandarin tutor in Changchun.

  10. Jan Melnikov Says: December 7, 2007 at 10:21 pm

    I admire your job anyway. I just started to learn Mandarine and was invited for wedding during upcoming chinese new year. I would like to prepare couple of words. Are there any sample speeched on the web, that I can adjust for my need? Thank you for advice.

  11. Congratulations, even if belated. I am going to Changchun in October to meet a girl I have been corresponding with for a long time, sort of an
    online romance. I will go to meet her and her family and if all goes well
    sign up for the big event to be held at a later date. So this story really helps prepare me for things to come.

    Now, what I need is a good interpreter for this trip. Emily, are you still interested or can someone recommend a good English Chinese
    interpreter that is fluent and can provide a nice fluid seamless interpretation? I have hired interpreters in other cities for about 300rmb / day so that is what I’m looking for.

    Look forward to any suggestions, and other language experiences on this site


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