Chinese Australian brides, photography and the white wedding

Sophie Couchman

La Trobe University

In 1930, Myrtle Fong and Charles Houng On’s wedding was the first of four weddings held in Darwin, which were officiated by Kuomingtang officials. Photographs were taken of the bridal party posed in the local Kuomintang hall with the ‘Blue Sky with a White Sun’ flag just visible behind them. The brides wore dresses made of satin and crepe de chine with lace veils, caps or bonnets – not in white but in a pale pink with Chinese decorative elements like brocade or mandarin collars. Chinese Australians were part of evolving global shifts in wedding fashion and culture whether that was in China, Australia, Hong Kong or elsewhere. Through an analysis of wedding photographs of Chinese Australians taken from the 1890s through to the 1940s this paper will explore the diversity and evolution of wedding practices in Australia, within larger global movements in fashion and culture with a focus on white weddings. It will suggest that by marrying in white (or pale pink), Chinese Australian women were not assimilating into Western, Christian cultural practices that already existed, but that they, alongside other women in Australia, China and around the world were building something new – the global phenomenon of the white wedding.


Dr Sophie Couchman is a curator and historian with a particular interest in migration history and the role photographs play in how we tell history. She has worked as a curator at the Chinese Museum and Museums Victoria. With Kate Bagnall she recently edited Chinese Australians: Politics, Engagement and Resistance (Brill, 2015).


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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