A Country Wedding
After the mountain drive we hit the flat road that took us past Yangcun, a village inside the Beijing border. It was a long narrow village mostly on the left of the road. The villagers’ fields were on the right. We’d never stopped there but this day we heard loud music as we approached then saw a large square just off the road with plenty of people milling around.
Two colleagues from work had come with me - Yang Yang and Xiao Xiangyi (Zoe). When they realised the commotion was a wedding party, we decided to stop.
As we walked into the square people stared and smiled. We met Yang Xiaoyi, a young man in shirt and tie who turned out to be the groom. He asked Zoe and Yang Yang where we were from and who I was.
“Please stay for the wedding,” he said. “It starts in 10 minutes. If you stay for the ceremony and the banquet, our wedding will be international.”
We were put on a table with six men and one woman, all of whom were in their 50s or 60s. They could not stop smiling at us. With Zoe and Yang Yang’s help, I was able to chat to them.
“Aodaliya. Hen hao pengyao,” the man next to me said. “Australia. Very good friend.”
All the people on the table came from villages in the area. The only woman was delightful and her husband had a flashing, handsome smile. She was having a great time. Like most of these villagers, they were completely at ease with the camera. Zoe asked where they were from and I heard a village name starting with “F” and the words “Dayingpan”. I told Zoe I’d been there and pulled up on my camera the photo of the three elderly people I’d met there.
“That’s my brother-in-law,” said the husband. “We live close to Dayingpan. You have to come to our house.”
It was a huge delicious meal; all homegrown ingredients cooked by the villagers. When we finished we had to move as the second shift of guests was coming into the hall. At these weddings, every villager is invited.
The ceremony was similar to a Western wedding in that there were vows, kisses, pledges and toasts. But it was less formal, more lively. Towards the end, the four parents came on stage, stood solemnly in front of the crowd then sat down.
The tradition is that the groom’s father must look sad as he is losing his son. This father fiercely maintained the tradition. The couple came to the front of the stage and bowed three times in front of their parents and new parents-in-law. They pledged to look after the old folks when the time came.
Out in the courtyard people were milling around while the lady who did the sound and lighting sang items from Hebei Opera. The volume was high but the woman had a good voice. Yang Yang and Zoe were impressed, as they had been with the compere's eloquence and wit. Zoe went over to speak to the compere and got their business card. They called themselves the Yunsan Sister Troupe.
At first sight you could tell Yangcun (Yang Village) was a typical village in Northern China - a little dry and bleak. But only a little, because there were enough cornfields and walnut trees nearby to support the 80 households. If we had not heard the sound of gongs and seen a joyful crowd of people, we would not have stopped at such an inconspicuous village.
Most people’s family name there was Yang, which is the origin of the village’s name. This is common in rural China.
We met Yang Cuilan, the mother of the bridegroom soon after we arrived.
“She’s no great beauty, but she is really wonderful,” Cuilan said of the bride.
“She’s the most filial and considerate girl I’ve ever known. She treats me like I was her mother. She even knelt down and helped me lace up my shoes when we went walking together. I was embarrassed and touched.”
During the wedding, I saw a 10-year-old boy, Yun Zhiwei, who was a relative of the new couple.
“Are you enjoying the wedding?” I asked him.
“It’s not bad.”
“Will you get married one day?”
“The girl I like doesn’t like me!”
Then he ran off.
During the banquet, the people at our table kept saying: “You’ll never get drunk on wine at a wedding feast.”
This is one of those Chinese sayings that doesn’t make literal sense. They just believe that, for a good friend, a thousand toasts are not too many. Yang Yang, Mark and I were their guests so they toasted us many times.
After the wedding banquet we went to a graveyard on the side of a hill into which the village nestles like a child into its mother. Every small village in China is sheltered by its ancestors, generation after generation of them.
Among the apricot trees, incense was still burning in front of a gravestone. It had been Qingming, Tomb-sweeping Festival, the week before.