A pictorial feature in the official China Daily left one stunned. Couples in their 70s and 80s were seen togged out in bridal finery, striking romantic poses against a backdrop of blue skies and green meadows. They had decided to mark their wedding anniversaries with the kind of celebration that would not have been possible at their own weddings, for at that time Chairman Mao ruled.
While their desire is perfectly understandable, the manner in which they chose to celebrate was astonishing. The women wore white bridal gowns that are in fashion at present — that is, with thin or no straps, low necks and tight waists. All of them were portly, senior citizens. The display of ageing flesh did not make for a pleasant sight. The romantic poses they struck for the camera did not help, either. Two brides looked distinctly grumpy, while one groom looked embarrassed.
Pre-wedding photo shoots are a must in China. The bride dresses in a white, Western-style bridal gown (though nowadays, red and even black gowns are in); the groom in a suit. The photographer and his entourage spend hours on the bride — first the make-up, then carrying her long trail as she flits from locale to locale. All this while, the groom bides his time, sweating in his outfit and getting very bored. He is finally called to strike romantic poses for the lens, most of which are taken from Hollywood classics. The man has to kneel at the bride’s feet and even carry her in his arms. With the heavy bridal gown and its long trail, it is obvious that the man gets the worst end of the deal.
Yet, they all go in for it. This diarist talked to one poor groom waiting inside the Workers’ Cultural Palace in Beijing one hot afternoon. It turned out that the couple, who worked in Singapore, had come back home to marry. The boy only smiled good-naturedly when asked if he was tired of waiting. (Incidentally, the name given to this site, which is tucked away in a corner behind the Forbidden City, is totally misleading. The only trace of workers in this huge, serene park which houses the 14th century Supreme Temple where the Ming dynasty emperor used to pray, are photographs of workers’ teams with various dignitaries.)
In Shanghai, the Bund is a favourite spot for photo shoots, be it against the old imposing colonial buildings during the day, or against the glittering river-front in the evenings. Shamian Island, the historical French and English quarter in Guangzhou (Canton), is another popular spot. At a little distance from Shanghai lies a make-believe old English town, complete with Tudor buildings and cobbled pathways. Its only function seems to be to provide a backdrop for wedding shoots. Those who can afford to, travel to Hainan Island — which hosts many international beauty pageants — just for the shoot. One such couple ended up posing in swimwear. In fact, some bold brides opt for one set of bikini wedding photographs, not shown to their families. Photographers report that the grooms, who have to pose in only swimming trunks, are not too taken up with the idea.
These photo shoots, done three months before the wedding, cost anywhere between 4,000 to 1,00,000 yuan. The clothes are normally hired specially for the shoot. In fact, as she walks from one scenic backdrop to another, the bride’s own clothes — jeans and sports shoes — are clearly visible under her long gown.
Is it possible for youngsters to break away from this expensive world of make-believe? It is difficult. The 27-year-old Jinhe, for instance — who has held low-paid jobs since she was 17, and is all too aware of the value of money — is torn between badly wanting the entire experience and feeling guilty about making her fiancé shell out the cash for the shoot. But despite her boyfriend’s reluctance, Jinhe might just succumb to this one extravagance.