Thursday, November 30, 2006

Getting Married in Lanzhou

I don't normally take requests... but as Magnús asked so nicely so here (to the best of my recollection) is a guide for a British person marrying a Chinese person with a Hukou of Lanzhou.

Clearly the whole business of getting married is the subject of much confusion. To my wife’s family, the part in Lanzhou where we obtained the marriage certificate was a mere formality (and one that most villagers might see as an unnecessary expense) but, clearly to the British Consulate, the fact that we’d had a big banquet whilst dressed in new, red clothes wasn’t quite formal enough.

There is information on the British Embassy website that was of use to me but that seems to have been simplified over the last year. This being China, it would seem likely that the It also wouldn't surprise me if the rules in China didn't change regularly, and for that matter, be interpreted differently by different officials. Amongst the things that we produced (based on warnings posted on various websites) that were not needed were:
  • A set of translations of every single document we had
  • A document from the British Consulate confirming the nationality of my ex-wife
A quick trawl of the web also reveals all sorts of documents that we didn’t need:
To actually get married in the Lanzhou 民政厅 we just needed the following:
  1. Cash: not sure how much but it’s not a huge amount
  2. Photos of the two of us - actually a single, wide photo of the two of us side-by-side. The photo shop in Hangzhou we went into knew what was required. At least three photos (one for the marriage bureau and one for each of the two marriage certificates - you get one each!)
  3. ID: Passport, ID Card, Hukou booklet - you will need photocopies of these so take copies of every page with personal info on it. We didn't and, despite the presence of a photocopier in the room next door to the marriage bureau, we had to go out in the street and find a shop with a photocopier (if you fall foul of this, come out of the Lanzhou marriage bureau building and turn right. There's a little signwriter's just after a small road junction with a photocopier.
  4. Letters of eligibility to marry. YY obtained hers from the PSB office in her home village and it was just a hand written note. I had to obtain mine from the British Consulate in Shanghai (although it would have been doable via a registry office in the UK). The process is slightly complicated that you (just the British Citizen) need to attend the Consulate or Embassy after you have been in China for at least 21 consecutive days, then you need to wait for 21 days before they will issue the certificate (although you may leave China during the 21 days after application). A quick look at the US embassy website implies that this process is peculiar to British law as there’s no mention of waiting for 21 days.
What you need to apply in the British Consulate (it would seem likely to be similar at
other consulates) is:
  • Your full name and place of residence.
  • Your partner's full name and address in English.
  • Chinese partner's name and full address in Chinese characters.
  • Details of your marital status, i.e. bachelor / spinster / divorced.
  • If you have been previously married or you are a widower, we need to see an original divorce decree or death certificate.
This will clearly be different if you apply in your home country and, unlike the consulate, they won’t produce a version of the certificate in Chinese so you will need to take the certificate you your local Chinese embassy or consulate for translation and notarisation.

With all of that, there’s not really much to it. Fill in a form or two when you’re there, wait in a soulless little grey office and then without any ceremony of any sort, you get your marriage certificates and your done. Seems very matter-of-fact for such an important life event.


HistoryElephant said...

Why does this story always remind me of the last two lines of the Velvet Underground song Some Kinda Love?

"I don’t know just what it’s all about
Put on your red pyjamas and find out"

Richard in Kunming said...

Thanks for sharing all of that, very interesting! I'm an American citizen living in Yunnan and depending on how the relationship progresses I may be marrying a Korean... I don't know if we'd marry here or in Korea (okay, probably korea, she'll want family around, right?), but this actually encourages me that I might be able to jump high enough to make it through the legal hoops. Certain things just seem more intimidating than others..

Magnús said...

Thank you so so so so so so much. This was a great post, I am so relieved since I had read all the pages you linked to and they mentioned so many documents that I was beginning to be afraid.

I have a few questions about the docuemnts we need:

2. Photos, I have already got 7 photos that I took of us together, which are just normal standard size (got 2 copies of each one). Can I use them or do we need to go to a photo shop?

The letter of eligibility to marry:
I already got a letter that I am not married (like the one on this page: I also put in it my fiancees name and I.D. card number
I already got it notarized and approved by the police bureau, the ministry of foreign affairs, and the chinese embassy is notarizing it now. The chinese embassy in Iceland told me that they can't translate it, they don't provide that service. Do you know if I need to get it translated or can I use the forms even though they are in English or do I need to get them translated?

Your wife, where did she get hers letter of eligibility to marry? You say from the PSB - is that the police station bureau? Was there any trouble getting this? What did she need to give them to get this letter?

And how did your wife get hers hukou booklet? What did she have to do to get it?

We are also going to apply for a passport for her, and she already get a letter of approval from the copmany she works at. What did you have to do to get a passport for your wife? Was it difficult.

Thank you again, you maybe don't know but you have helped ours life tremendously, and I will always remember this and be grateful forever.

Yours sincerely,

DB said...

Richard - I can only guess that there are different hoops and that they probably hold them slightly higher for foreigners marrying foreigners. It's only recently become legally possible. The biggest problem isn't a dearth of information, far from it, there's loads of information and it conflicts all over the place. The biggest problem I had (although not quite as big as it is for Magnús) is that I don't live anywhere near Lanzhou and the marriage bureau there never answered the phone to allow us to be absolutely certain. Like Magnús, I did half expect to be flying back to Hangzhou with a requirement to get some other document from the UK or from the Consulate that I'd never seen mentioned anywhere.

I don't know about getting married in China as being the 'happy day' of legend, but it's certainly a relief to get the certificate!

Magnús - (2)depending on your photos, you may need to go to a shop. The background has to be red and for reference the photos I have are 54mm wide and 36mm high. I'm sure there's some margin for error but if they're too big, they won't fit on the certificate booklet.
(4) This is straying outside of my knowledge I'm afraid as I obtained mine in Shanghai. The British Embassy site says that if you obtain a Certificate of No Impediment outside China you should get it legalised in your country (sounds like you've done that) then:
# Prior to your arrival in China, contact either the British Embassy or Consulate so that the Notice of Intent can be produced in the format required by the local authorities.
# Please provide your partner's details in Chinese characters.

I can only suggest that the people who are likely to be able to help you are the Icelandic Embassy in China.

PSB is the Public Security Bureau (or 公安局) but further clarification from my wife reveals it was the local 民政局 that issued the certificate of marriageability. In my wife's case, her father went to the bureau and obtained the relevant document and chops so I can't really say any more than that.

My guess is your fiancee already has a Hukou booklet - I believe all (registered) Chinese people get them shortly after they're born. If she doesn't, then she will definitely need to go to her local PSB but I can't guess how difficult that's going to be.

We did go and see the local PSB as part of trying to get her a passport (I'm still not quite sure what part they play). They wrote down our information and took a photograph which they stuck in a book that they kept. God alone knows what they did with that information but shortly afterwards (and with only a small, er, incentive) a passport was produced.

Unfortuately, the bits of Chinese processes that are visible to me (i.e. those in which I actually participate) seemed fairly straightforward, if unneccessarily time-consuming and worrisome. The purely Chinese bits are much more arcane and undoubtedly involved a bit of haggling on my father-in-law's part with the various officials in their village.

If there are any more questions, fire away!

Magnús said...

Tanks for the information.

"God alone knows what they did with that information but shortly afterwards (and with only a small, er, incentive) a passport was produced. "

Small incentive, you mean gifts usually in the form of paper with numbers on them :)
are they common to help you solve some bureaucracy problems?

I am a little worried about the Hukou booklet, because my girlfriends parents are really hard glued to the idea that she should marry a Chinese man, so I am not sure if she can get it from them.
Is there any other way for her to get a hukou without getting it from them? She was born in Lanzhou, but her parnets moved to a village outside of Lanzhou to work.
Could the right incentives, say 10.000 in the local cur..... help her get a new hukou at the local PSB?

I am just worried about these things, and the fact that her parents don't approve make this all much more difficult.

Magnús said...

Or could the right incentives, help us so she would not have to present her hukou at the marriage registration office? If she would explain that her parent's didn't want to give her hers hukou, and then offer the registration office compensation for their troubles.

I read on the internet that this was very common, that is giving gifts to get out of bureaucratic mess.

I know, sounds a little desperate. But I am willing to do everything for us so we can get married. And if I have to give incentives out for that so be it. I would much rather do that then to stand in a long legal struggle, and long bureaucratic struggle to get a new hukou, only then to maybe get turned down.j

DB said...

Magnús - I'm afraid this is well beyond what I know and only into what I could speculate.

I don't believe that this will work. The Hukou booklet is too important so my guess is there's no way they would let you get married without that and your fiancee's 身份证 ID Card. Don't forget that although government officials don't get paid very much (10,000 would likely be the best part of a year's pay) but they do get a good pension which they will be averse to risking.

The only sweetener we used was when the local PSB said that they could produce whatever-it-is that was needed to get the passport but very few people in the village have ever asked for a passport so it would take them a long time. I read that as "give us something and this will speed up" - I think that's a long way away from "give us something and we'll turn a blind eye to the fact you have an essential document missing".

It may be that your wife can go back to the authority that issued her Hukou booklet and declare it lost but I'm afraid I have no idea. My wife's Hukou booklet also contains all of her father's details so it may well be that the authorities would need to contact him before issuing a new book.

Have you met your prospective in-laws? Mine were naturally suspicious before they met me - no foreigners, to my knowledge, ever having visited their village - but after a week with them and a supply of gifts purchased by my then girlfriend (she will know how they will react when they accept them) then they might actually come to like the idea.

Failing that, my wife's suggestion is that your fiancee use the time at their house to steal her Hukou booklet back.

If you get the Hukou booklet you genuinely shouldn't need to resort to any other incentives.

Magnús said...

Thank you very much. I have never meet them, because they have been very agains the idea from the beginning. They don't trust foreigners, they think foreigners can't be trusted. They don't even want her to talk to me. And they have already arranged with the family of another man that they get married, but my girlfriend many times rejected that, but hers family still holds on to that idea. So this is a complicated matter that I am not sure how we can make good (make good with hers parents). The hukou will also be a difficult subject. She also has no idea where it is in hers parents home.
She thinks that they don't want to talk to me until I speak chinese.
Were you able to speak to your wifes parents in chinese or did your wife translate everything? How did it go with you?

I found on the internet that in the marriage registration office foreigners have to have a letter stating that they are not connected to their prospective wife linearly or some other way for three generations. Did you need this letter?
Since I have gone and done everything, except this.

DB said...

Magnús - I think this is turning more from practical advice into pre-marriage guidance.

I've never heard of that letter you refer of and I certainly didn't have one.

I would give communicating with them a go. It might take a couple of attempts but you might find that going in with a few gifts, being nice to them and sitting up with her father until the small hours playing a drinking game or two and drinking enough bai jiu to blind an elephant might do wonders for future relations. Obviously I don't know what they're like as individuals but it's always hard to completely reject people who make an effort to make friends.

My in-laws weren't at all happy when they first found out about me (particularly as my girlfriend had just broken off a relationship with a Chinese businessman who they liked). I couldn't speak very good Mandarin when I first met them but, then again, neither could they. The clicks and whistles that comprise their local dialect are incomprehensible to most other Chinese people. I relied a bit on my Chinese, more on simply being nice.

Obviously if they just slam the door in your face its going to be tricky but if you think about it, it doesn't actually make things any more difficult than you believe they are today and, you never know, it might just work.

Magnus. said...

Ok thank you :)

I know, so many questions ( :Q ) I'm sorry, I didn't mean to ask you so many questions, and so many difficult and sometimes "crazy" questions, like you probably know this process just seems very overwhelming, and the fact that her parents aren't agreeing makes it seem even more overwhelming, so that is why I asked you so many questions. I just wanted to know as much as I could so I would be prepared for almost "everything" that could happen. Thank you very much for all of your time, and for all of your answers. They have been most helpful, and you have helped me see this process like it really is, not like all the so many contradicting things that you can find on the internet.

Thank you so much for your time. I hope you and your family will have a great prosperous happy life.

With kindest regards from Iceland.

DB said...

For a more recent wedding experience in China look at this, albeit it's not in Lanzhou.

Magnús - don't forget to come back and let us know how it went!