If you want to do business in China, you must understand face, developing relationships and guanxi.
Business at a Nice Dinner
In some ways a wedding is a business transaction. Weddings can teach you how to build relationships, develop guanxi and give face. The family invites other family members, friends and close business contacts. Sometimes the couple is giving face by inviting someone. At other times, the couple will thank someone important for giving them face by showing up. Learning to read between the lines at the wedding hall will help you read between the lines in the boardroom.
The main part of the ceremony is a meal. Meals are an important part of doing business in China. A good friend, Geoff O’Keeffe, believes that people must leave their “food ninniness at the door.” I agree. Let it all go and enjoy the experience. Doing this alone will help you build relationships in China.
On a side note: different foods have different meanings.
If you look around, you will notice that the more important people are sitting closer to the bride and groom or at better tables. Hierarchy is important in China and you should at least understand why people are sitting in certain spots. The family will be closest and at the best spots. Friends and old classmates will come next. The further out the less important you are. This is similar to how it is done in business, so study and learn.
The Gift is Money (but is it really a gift?)
Instead of a gift, each person brings a red envelop with money. Give more money for closer relatives and friends. The number must be even but should not include any fours. Give the red envelop to someone at the table where you sign in. They will write your name and the amount you gave in a register. Later they will create a list of each person and the amount they gave. This list will be used at future weddings. One day, you will invite the bride and groom to your wedding (or your child’s). They will bring a red envelop with more money than you gave them. Guanxi functions in a similar manner. If someone does a favor for you, you should be prepared to pay them back. Break this unspoken rule and risk losing the relationship. Follow this rule for long enough and you might even develop some guanxi (as much as a foreigner can anyways).