It’s supposed to be a cause for celebration—a wonderful expression of eternal love cemented in traditions and customs, symbolically linking one human being to another. The ritual of marriage in China echoes through the ages, so, the question is, how has it turned into a money pit? Today, weddings can cost millions of RMB, and expectations for that glamorous day are rising not falling—much to the chagrin of the lucky two and the revelers.
It is said that girls plan their weddings from childhood, putting pillowcases on their heads to act as veils. Little do they know that every step along their fairytale—the clothes, flowers, wedding car, the colorful stage, the cake, the champagne—is a wallet-shredding nightmare, and a fairly recent nightmare at that.
A one-hundred-table banquet hall used primarily for weddings in Yunnan Province
According to Time-Weekly, Shanghai ranked first on the wedding spending list, with the average cost reaching 230,000 RMB. And other first-tier cities like Beijing and Shenzhen didn’t fall far behind. Take Beijing as an example, catering for a 35-table banquet will run at about 120,000 RMB, and once you add in the wedding dress, the car, and all the various trimmings of your modern, urban wedding in China, it averages out to around 200,000 RMB. According to the China Wedding Industry Development Report, an average of 12,000 USD is spent on each wedding nationwide. For a young couple starting out, this is a horrific expense.
“We never expected an expensive wedding, but everywhere wanted money, you don’t even know where the money goes. In the end, the only thing left was my wedding dress, everything else was gone,” says Wang Ying, recently married in October of last year. “We were over budget on everything. Even the bridal bouquet cost hundreds.”
A whopping 99,999 roses were used at this wedding in Chongqing, along with 30 wedding cars
This isn’t to say that there aren’t still cheap, traditional weddings throughout the country, but China’s rise over the past few decades has turned the wedding business into a full-blown industry. In the vanguard are the tuhao, China’s famous tacky rich.
In Fujian Province, it’s not all that rare to see a bride adorned with more than five kilograms of gold, a custom but also the tuhao team colors—dozens of bracelets, rings, and jewelry of all kinds. The marriage of a ceramic magnate in Jinjiang involved an eight-day extravaganza, with a dowry valued at more than 100 million RMB. Other weddings seem to exist for the purpose of impressing the revelers; in Ningbo, Zhejiang Province, 81 iPhone 5s were sent as gifts to guests at a wedding. A recent wedding in Wuhan featured a Maserati, an Audi, and a bright-pink Ferrari, all accompanied by models and choreographed dancers.
A promotional deal from a jewelry company displaying a bride wearing 3.5 kilograms of gold in Fuzhou, Fujian Province
While everyone seems to have a good time, it’s important to take a break and realize that things weren’t always like this. In the 1960s, the must-have items for a wedding were called the “36 legs” (三十六条腿), meaning that newlyweds should prepare wood furniture before a wedding—beds, tables, chairs, wardrobes—all this with the expectation that the total number of furniture legs would add up to a predetermined lucky number. And that was largely it, even dinner with close friends and family was optional in the halcyon days of 1960s China.
As with everything in China, things changed after the Reform and Opening Up, and the wedding industry began to take hold. This began with the “Three Big Items” (三大件) essential for a wedding—a watch, a sewing machine, and a bicycle. Later, a radio was added and it was collectively called “Three Revolve, One Sound” (三转一响). The estimated cost for this, together with the “36 legs”, would be about 420 RMB.
This Wenzhou wedding features four Ferraris, four Lamborghinis, eight Rolls-Royces, and ten Bentleys
By the 1980s, the “Three Big Items” ballooned again: a refrigerator, a color television, and a washing machine, adding up to about 3,000 RMB. Wedding dinners began to become a normal occurrence, but certainly not extravagant ones. And, ten or 20 RMB in a red envelope was a generous enough gift.
It may not sound like much, but, considering income levels at the time, those must-haves were not as cheap as they sound. As the economy developed, expectations for weddings skyrocketed. Those “Three Big Items” have been relegated to history, giving rise to the weddings we know today—Western-style wedding gowns, luxury cars, exquisite bridal make-up, and wedding photos all took hold—and the wedding industry with all of its facets and niches took hold with it.
This wedding in Harbin features sports cars, vintage cars, two Hummer limos, 12 Lincoln limos, and a fleet of 20 Benz vehicles in their massive procession
These niches evolved into specialized sectors: master of ceremony services, venue decoration, photography, tailoring, hairdressing, and many more…
“Money and Matromony” is a feature story from our latest issue, “Startup Kingdom”. To continue reading, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the iTunes Store.