Are China's fuss-free weddings a sign of cultural modernity?

As China's wedding costs rise to unprecedented heights, a growing number of couples are looking to more affordable options or, sometimes, no ceremony at all.

Reuters/File
An engaged couple poses for wedding photographs to the theme of "naked wedding," which means young couples get married with no houses, cars, or little bank savings, on a pedestrian bridge on Valentine's Day in Beijing in 2011.

Each year, about 10 million couples in China get married. In the past, it might have cost them hundreds of dollars for a simple family gathering. To get hitched, all you did was have a standard ceremony and buy some furniture or maybe a car for your new family. 

But in recent years, China’s urbanization has driven up prices and standards, creating a boom in the country’s wedding planning industry that now amounts to at least $80 billion, according to Adage.com.

And the market, on pace to expand to $120 billion in coming years, is showing no signs of slowing, according to the China Wedding Industry Development Report.

Nuptials in China were once considered a primarily filial obligation, and have since expanded to keeping up with the nouveau riche. Modern couples now are often expected to stage a big to-do, as well as purchase their own home and car. Some zanier wedding rituals, like taking underwater wedding photos, have even caught the entertainment of an international audience.

But looking at the numbers, putting on a big wedding – even a basic one – appears to be no easy feat. An average wedding in China today can cost anywhere upward of $20,000, not far from the average American wedding, which usually costs around $25,000, CNN reported.

In urban settings, the price for a Chinese wedding can be as high as about $32,000, a wedding planner told the BBC.

But the rise of most incomes in China isn’t keeping pace with the spiraling costs of weddings, according to CNN. The annual disposable income for an average Chinese person is still only around $3,300.

For some Chinese, the obligation to stage a big wedding is coupled with an overall pressure to marry – and to do so by a certain age. Despite the fact that the average age for an urban woman in China to get married is 27 – the same as in America – women past that age are often regarded as “leftovers.”

As a result, some Chinese couples – eager to wed more quickly and simply – are turning to more affordable wedding options, with DIY décor, at-home ceremonies, and casual dress codes regaining popularity and social acceptability. These wedding celebrations are still bigger than intimate family affairs of decades past, but “letting everyone have fun is the most important thing,” a bride told CNN.

Another more rebellious option that’s emerged in recent years has been to participate in “naked weddings,” where couples shun the more traditional notion that they must own a house and a car to before they can seal the deal. For some couples, even wedding rings have become optional.

Zhu Heng and Jia Zhiwei are one couple who had a "naked wedding." They waited years for housing prices to drop in Beijing before deciding to just go down to the registry office.

"Every girl wants a romantic wedding, but happiness is more important than anything else," Jia told the Monitor. "I just want the two of us to be together."  

Despite all the buzz, not all couples that marry in these “naked weddings” are doing so in defiance of social customs, said Zhu, a real estate consultant. 

“I feel pretty guilty about it, but it's a question of reality,” he said about not being able to provide his bride a home of their own. “A lot of my generation understands that it's just not possible."

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