Chinese wedding portraits

Awhile back, I was sent this Jezebel post on Foreign Policy photo essay "Beautiful Me!", about the business of wedding portraits in China.

Chinese wedding photography is a parade of excess and ambition, an elaborate and expensive rite of passage, and often more prized than the ceremony itself.
The whole production can cost from $450 to more than $15,000, a huge expense in a country where the average per capita income is roughly $3,000 (about $10,000 in Beijing). But it's increasingly seen as a must-have for China's image-conscious middle class, now some 430-million strong.
For those who can afford them, these tokens are a constant reminder that they've made it in modern China, and an affirmation of who they aspire to be.
"At popular wedding photo locations, such as this beach on Hainan Island, couples line up every several yards to pose for their romantic photographic keepsakes."

It's an interesting piece, but as with many controversial items on the internet (WSJ's "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior" essay, anyone?), the comments start getting repetitive pretty quickly. People going back and forth judging the couples who do this, judging the author for judging these couples, making accusations of the pot calling the kettle black given the state of the American wedding industry as a whole (not just limited to photography), etc.

On the one hand, if you've ever opened an American wedding magazine at all, then yes, the following statements are a bit rich:
In China, unlike in the West, wedding photographs are often as important as the ceremony itself…Both bride and groom are caked with make-up; for any accidental blemishes, there's always Photoshop. The aspiration is not to document a real event, but to look perfect.
As Robin's Brides magazine by the numbers posts show, the American WIC begs to differ. You also have to keep in mind that most modern Chinese wedding celebrations consist of just throwing a big banquet dinner, no elaborate dinner/dancing/decorated venue kind of reception.

But, I do think there's slightly more to this than than just "WIC-induced fever spreads wherever there's an increase in the middle class." I think there's an element of modern Chinese culture that just cares about having a perfect image of things, rather than substance. My parents live in a town where the Asian population is pretty high, and sometimes they'll talk about how they've been to some of the other houses that look magnificent and enormous from the outside but only have plastic furniture inside. Or are empty.

Or, my mom will tell me after her trips back about how Shanghai has been developing so rapidly, where there is now a whole block of skyscrapers used to be just a field when she went to school there, but everything looks surprisingly old and worn for being so new. She says the Chinese can build and develop, sure, but they don't really bother with upkeep of existing structures, and she predicts that all the shiny new arenas they put together for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing will get gross unbelievably quickly.

Shrug. I don't really have a conclusion here. When I first saw that photo-essay, I indulged in a bit "oh man that's crazy!" but ultimately, just as with American wedding excess, my position is that if this what people really think they want, so it goes. Just don't expect me to help bail anyone out if they go into debt pursuing it.


Love Your Way said...

g-damnit! i just typed out a SUPER long comment and it got EATEN.

anyways - i'll have to shorten it now, grr...first, interesting reads, for sure - both your post and those articles.
i had read the chinese mothers one before, the comments and discussion got a little out of hand, no?

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