Well, the short answer is that, if you don’t screw up anything really serious, the entire process will probably take about a year, all told. This is not because you need to do a lot of hard work, but because large governmental bureaucracies move very slowly. Before I begin, please understand that I’m saying this with the assumption that you and your wife are in China when you get married. The big rules for this process are that you must:
1) Not be married to somebody else.
2) Not be getting married to someone who is already married or is some kind of criminal mastermind on a no-fly list.
First, get married in China. Go to your local marriage bureau and fill out the paper work. They will require that you get some kind affidavit from the US embassy stating you are not already married back in the states. This is easy to do, so just get it and bring it with you when you go to register your marriage. While you are at the embassy, they may also give you some kind of brochure about how to apply for an immigration visa. Take it and follow these instructions.
The next big thing to remember is that your wife needs to apply for an immigration visa. Do not apply for any other kind of visa because you will not get it. If she is married to you in China, the embassy will assume that the only reason she wants to come to the US is to immigrate, so don’t try to get anything other than an immigration visa. This process is long and filled with hassles, but as long as you don’t lie about anything, there really shouldn’t be any major snag. Your wife will need to get some kind of form from a local PSB stating that she isn’t a felon as well as go to a hospital that does international health exams to a get a clean bill of health stating that she’s received all the immunizations and what not that she is supposed to have.
Then you will need to go online and download the immigration visa application forms. Fill out all of this stuff to the best of your knowledge and include any kind of supplemental information that you can to show that your marriage is not some bogus deal just to score a green card. This generally isn’t too difficult to do.
Any serious romantic relationship that culminates in marriage will accrue a certain amount of stuff that is evidence of that relationship: emails back and forth, birthday and anniversary cards, photos of you guys visiting Beihai and all that jazz. When you print photos out, write a simple caption in ballpoint pen on the back stating when and where the photo was taken and who is in it. You may not remember anything, but no one expects you to. You’re documenting a relationship, not a wiretap stakeout on a druglord for the DA. Get in the ballpark and you should be good. Some people say that you should include some kind of written account of how you first met and fell in love, and I suppose you can do this, but it seems like overkill. Also, I don’t really know how I feel about regaling the feds with the story of my life. It’s your call really. Just don’t lie about stuff and you should be in the clear. Unless of course, your wife doesn’t really know you and is just paying ten large in cash to get married so she can move to the US, in which case this advice doesn’t really apply.