The sky's the limit in China's increasingly outrageous, over-the-top weddings, with the ceremony of one popular celebrity costing some $31 million USD, nearly the same amount spent on Prince Henry's royal wedding earlier this year. It's another sign of China's staggering wealth and it's something communist officials in Beijing want to put an end to—with officials calling these extravagant ceremonies a sign of the country's "declining morality" and "rampant money worship."
That makes ritzy weddings the latest in a growing list of things officials in Beijing see as a threat to the country's social fabric. In the past year alone, Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials have targeted hip-hop, barring artists of "low moral character," from television, banned quiz shows, over their "mammonism, extravagance, or sensationalism," and cracked down on a trend of hiring strippers to perform at funerals, calling them "obscene, pornographic, and vulgar performances."
It's pretty easy to see that a single thread runs through all the Ministry of Culture's bans this year—outward displays of incredible wealth (and pop culture that leans into people's dreams of being rich themselves). Chinese officials are obsessed with the delicate balancing act between the country's communist ideologies and its rising fortunes.
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When former leader Deng Xiaoping ushered in the market-based economic reforms that created the China we all know today, he knew that not everyone was going to benefit equally. "Let some people get rich first," he famously said to address the concerns that income inequality, and well, economic classes, weren't exactly in line with the CCP's Leninist beginnings. Since then, China's wealth gap has grown to a level where the top 1 percent own a third of all wealth, while the bottom 25 percent own only 1 percent, according to a survey by Peking University.
“It’s apparent that the wealth is increasingly being accumulated by the rich, who are taking fat gains from capital markets,” Lin Caiyi, the chief economist for Guotai Junan Securities, told the South China Morning Post.
All this money has made China one of the richest, and most-powerful, nations on Earth. It's also making the CCP pretty nervous. So as China's rich get richer, so do their tastes. And in a world where the scions of powerful families are getting paid to flex on Instagram, where there are Hermes, Prada, and Cartier outlets within a 30 minute walk from Mao's tomb, and "mistress" is one of the most-coveted jobs in rural China, it's not all that difficult to see why Beijing is so concerned.
“The government is facing a conflict,” Michael Ouyang, of the World Luxury Association in China, told the Washington Post. “They don’t want to promote luxury because they are worried people who cannot afford it will see the advertisements. But they don’t want to limit luxury products because it’s good for the economy. So they’re facing a dilemma.”
So why weddings? Wealth has always played a role in Chinese weddings, with the practice of grooms paying a bride price, money to the family of the bride, existing for more than a century. In big cities like Shanghai, the bride price, or pinjin, can be in excess of $16,300 USD, according to one national survey conducted by two real estate companies.
It's so expensive to get married in China that it has given rise to a market of women kidnapped from poorer Southeast Asian countries who are sold into marriages in rural China.
Then there's all there's the cost of just proposing. Today, young men in China prefer to propose to their girlfriends in very public, and very expensive ways. This guy bought 99 iPhones, stacking them in the shape of a heart to proposed to his girlfriend. (She said no.) This rich kid parked 11 brand new luxury cars in the shape of a heart for his proposal. (She said yes.) This guy just made a bouquet out of cash. (Another yes.)
So, when the proposals themselves are this over-the-top, you better believe the weddings are some next-level, special effects-laden shit. And while destination weddings, globe-trotting announcement photos, and guest lists in the the thousands aren't exclusively the domain of China's rich and famous—India and Indonesia have some pretty outrageous weddings too—these kinds of lavish displays of wealth mean something different there.
But can communist officials rein-in something that's so ingrained in Chinese culture? Experts aren't so sure. It's easy to ban rappers from appearing on television, or prosecute mourners who hire some strippers to pole dance at a funeral. It's a lot harder to change people's traditions, even when they take the form of a three-meter-tall wedding cake in the shape of an ornate carousel that took a month to create.
“These traditional rites, having been practiced for so many years and which have become more and more popular, cannot simply be banned by an administrative order,” Xu Anqi, of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, told the South China Morning Post.
So, yeah, probably not.