No frills? Chinese say 'I do' to creative -- and cheaper -- weddings

Chinese say 'I do' to no-frills weddings
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Story highlights

  • Average Chinese wedding now costs $20,000
  • But some young Chinese don't want to shoulder the expense
  • Instead, they favor simpler "naked marriages"

Beijing (CNN)Shiny rings, white gowns and luxury cars filled the mammoth national convention center, next to the Chinese capital's Olympic Bird's Nest stadium, one recent weekend.

Armed with balloons, teddy bears and goody bags filled with coupons, throngs of salespeople stood outside their booths, shoving free gifts into the hands of visitors in an attempt to turn them into clients.
    Spread across two floors, more than 200 vendors competed at Beijing's Olympic-sized wedding expo for the attention -- and, more importantly, the wallets -- of thousands of young couples.

    Ballooning burden

    A woman poses for a wedding picture at the Bund in front of the financial district of Pudong in Shanghai on a sunny day on March 19, 2015.
    Everything was on sale at a discount, but even a rough calculation on site pointed to the soaring cost of getting married in China.
    The total bill could easily exceed $20,000 -- an unimaginable sum just a few years ago -- counting a pair of rings, a bridal gown, a banquet, a photo shoot and a professional planner.
    In the United States, the average cost of a wedding -- excluding a honeymoon -- has a similar price tag of $25,200, according to the latest figure released by the Wedding Report, a market research firm.
    Although rapid economic growth has brought rising incomes, the average Chinese still makes only a fraction of their American counterpart.
    Government statistics show the annual disposable income for 2014 was only $3,283 per person in China.
    The ballooning cost of weddings has spurred a multi-billion-dollar industry, but also put a heavy burden on the more than 10 million couples marrying every year in the world's most populous nation, especially those who already feel financially strained trying to buy their first home and car.
    Faced with a deep-rooted cultural preference for marriage, however, young Chinese preparing to tie the knot admit that cutting back is not always an option.
    "It's a once-in-a-lifetime event -- so I have to show my commitment to her and her parents through the wedding," explained Wang Di, 23, who was looking for good deals at the expo even though he and his girlfriend don't plan to walk down the aisle for another two years.
    "We may not care that much about the ceremony -- but the parents and other relatives do."

    Naked marriages

    Frustrated with family pressure, some rebellious Chinese couples have chosen to enter so-called "naked marriages" with no houses, no cars, no weddings -- and sometimes no rings.
    While the public seems to appreciate the philosophy of true love trumping everything else, most respondents in repeated surveys still reject the notion of disavowing all traditional trappings of marriage.
    Increasingly, though, less radical -- but more creative and affordable -- ideas are gaining popularity in big cities.
    Zhang Yueyue (center), a marketing manager at an arts magazine, didn't want her wedding to be about flaunting wealth.
    At a courtyard house in suburban Beijing one recent Saturday, the dress code was casual, but everyone appeared to be having some serious fun at the bride and groom's "do-it-yourself" wedding. On stage, the bride had already kicked off her high-heels.
    The venue was the couple's home -- rented for only $2,500 a year from a local farmer. The decoration that emphasized fresh flowers and entertainment -- featuring a DJ and a band -- were both courtesy of their artistic friends.
    Adorning the brick walls were various home-made movie-style posters starring the bride and groom, including one showing them laughing in bed with the phrase "mad love" in bold yellow lettering splashed across the red duvet covering their bodies.

    Same old drill?

    "Almost every wedding now goes through the same drill and I don't want that," said bride Zhang Yueyue, a marketing manager at an arts magazine.
    The happy couple made a mock movie poster to celebrate their special day,
    "I think letting everyone have fun is the most important thing. Many Chinese weddings now are more about flaunting wealth and letting parents have 'face' through extravagance."
    Counting catering and tailor-made traditional Chinese dresses, Zhang and her artist husband spent less than $2,000 on their big day.
    With their modest incomes, the newlyweds agreed that saving from the wedding meant more money to start their married life together.
    Amid loud cheers and applause in the courtyard, some of the couple's guests already felt inspired.
    "My budget won't be high either," said Zhao Mengsha, a colleague and friend of the bride who is planning her own summer wedding. "I just want a big party with some entertainment -- and most importantly lots of alcohol."
    That definitely sounds like a winning formula for a special occasion.