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Museum wedding honors past

By Lia Zhu in San Francisco | China Daily USA | Updated: 2016-12-19 11:58

Museum wedding honors past

Chris and Claudia Chuang celebrate Chinese culture and history by holding a Tang Dynasty-style wedding at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. PHOTO COURTESY OF CHRIS CHUANG

Claudia and Chris Chuang entered their wedding ceremony at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco in bright-red, flowing robes. They were followed by similarly attired groomsmen hoisting banners bearing the couple's family names written in Chinese seal script style.

Some guests felt as if they were being transported to ancient China.

The theme of the wedding was menghui hantang in Chinese, or "dreams back to Han and Tang Dynasties"- a period when the arts were cultivated, cities boomed and when the country was particularly open-minded toward other peoples and cultures of the world.

The Chuangs, born in the US with ties to Hong Kong and Taiwan, consider themselves "the epitome of cosmopolitanism". The recently married couple said that is why they decided on the dynastic wedding.

"Why don't we just go all out and go for the theme?" Chris, a sales professional at a high-tech company in San Francisco said to himself when he started planning the wedding months ago.

They later chose the museum not only for its "majestic halls and regal dcor" but really because of "what it represents - the past and the future".

"Surrounded by over 5,000 years of the arts, traditions and culture of our Chinese heritage, we cannot help but be reminded of who we are and where we both come from," Chris said.

The moment they knew the museum was confirmed as the venue, they started thinking how cool and unique it would be to pay homage to their heritage and to incorporate some of the most beautiful elements of Chinese history and culture into their wedding.

First came the outfits.

"We've been to many weddings, like Japanese or Korean weddings, people wear kimonos or hanboks," said Chris. "Many Chinese people wear qipao at weddings, but since we had the wedding at the Asian Art Museum, we should go a little further back in history and wear something special like hanfu."

Hanfu was the historical dress of the Han Chinese for thousands of years until the Qing Dynasty. The clothes are symbolic of cultural and ethical values, such as the expansive cut with board sleeves representing a moral, concordant relationship between nature and human creative power.

But Claudia was hesitant at first. "We'd never done it before. We didn't even know where to get the outfits," she said.

Chris found a supplier in China. The outfits were custom made - the robe for the

bride had a phoenix pattern and the one for the groom bore a dragon pattern.

"It's pretty impressive and very unique," said Claudia. "I'm glad we did this."

Some of Chris' co-workers saw their hanfu pictures and thought they looked Japanese.

"Vietnamese ao dai, Korean hanbok and Japanese kimono, they all basically derived from hanfu," said Chris. "We had a good time explaining (it) to people."

That's when Chris decided to make it a learning experience for the guests, because they were in a museum. They also prepared intricately designed models of classical Chinese pagodas for a centerpiece, and jue, ancient bronze drinking vessels, as gifts.

"What's really cool is the museum actually has them (the real artifacts) on display," Chris said.

Complementing the Tang-style wedding was the traditional Spring River Flower Moon Night, a famous Tang Dynasty poem, and the serene movements of a peacock dance performed by children from the China Dance Theatre.

"People nowadays may know certain Chinese wedding traditions, but they may not appreciate nor necessarily know that our wedding traditions stretch back to the Zhou Dynasty and have such a rich background to them," said Chris, a history buff.

He said it felt good to know that they celebrated their wedding the same way that their ancestors and countless others before them may have.

"We can't help but feel a strong sense of continuity, of being a part of something greater than ourselves, and we recognize the privilege we have in being able to say we did all of this," he said.

The couple spent months planning the day. Their families and friends assumed they would have a Western-style wedding without Chinese ornamentation.

"But I think when they saw it all come together, they were very surprised in a good way," Chris said.

They wanted their wedding to be not only unique but to inspire their guests' interests in their own culture and history.

"The guests were white, black, Indian all kinds of people at the wedding. I think after they saw the way we put a lot effort into celebrating our heritage, they may want to do something like that," Chris said.

The museum has become a popular wedding venue, with more than 200 couples exchanging vows there since 2004.

According to the museum's facility rental program, the number of weddings performed at the museum has risen 240 percent since 2009.

"We've hosted weddings for Americans of Chinese descent as well as destination weddings for couples living in China," said Minda J. Quickel, the program's associate director. "We are thrilled when couples choose to share and express their culture and heritage through wedding traditions, performances and dcor."



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