An excerpt from How Sweet the Bitter Soup
by Lori Qian

William’s family knew we were broke and that this was the main
reason we were putting off the wedding. One day after lunch at
Shi Mo’s house, his parents, aunts, and uncles gathered around
us and asked if we would consider getting married during Spring
Festival if they would help with the cost.

We were completely shocked! First of all, there were only
two weeks left in Spring Festival. That would mean planning a
wedding immediately. Second, William’s family was very poor—
that was a fact—and rent collectors and other bill collectors had
been hounding them for days. They had so many problems of
their own and yet here they were, offering us money so we could
have an actual wedding.

We accepted their kind offer and they went to work devising
creative ways to come up with the money. Everyone contributed,
either financially or with their time. We needed to find
a place to have the wedding, make and deliver invitations, plan
the food, get some clothes, and, finally, decide on a ceremony.
The common practice in William’s hometown was to have a
big, wonderful dinner in celebration of a couple getting a marriage
certificate, but we wanted something more than that—we
wanted a ceremony.

When we approached his aunts for advice on this, they smiled
and said that they just didn’t do that. There was no exchanging of
rings, no walking down an aisle. That just wasn’t the convention.
Convention hadn’t been a part of anything in our relationship,
though, so why should our wedding be any different? We
sat down one night, pen and notebook in hand, and came up
with a plan.

We took a little Western tradition and mixed it with
things we had read about marriage ceremonies in ancient China.
We wanted to include his parents, our wedding rings, walking
down the aisle, acknowledging God, and, of course, a kiss. We
actually came up with a way to incorporate all of this. Now we
had three days to get it all together.

We found a hotel with a room large enough to accommodate
our ceremony. The place was not fancy by Western standards—
in fact, it was quite run-down—but was the best hotel in this
small town. We cleaned it up ourselves, rearranged the tables
and chairs to create an aisle we could walk down, and bought a
few inexpensive decorations to give it a better atmosphere.

William’s brother bought invitations, and he and William’s father
hand-delivered these to all their relatives living in the mountains,
the countryside, and the city. We rented some wedding
clothes representative of the Qing dynasty era, and came up with
some money to hire a chauffeur for the day of the wedding. Two
of William’s friends agreed to take the pictures. It seemed we
had managed to plan everything…….