Confessions of a 'naked' bride
One day back in 2002, university graduates Leon Han and Yvonne Feng made the decision to walk down the aisle “naked.”
Although they did don clothes, the union -- called a "naked marriage" ("裸婚") -- lacked some of the other finery that usually accompanies a Chinese wedding: a house, a car, a banquet, a lavish honeymoon or even a ring. They chose to be bound in matrimony but not by material things.
“Looking back, our decision was a bit of a gamble,” says Feng. "Thankfully it paid off.”
Getting married is as easy as buying movie tickets
Perhaps it was because the couple had known each other since high school and got along well, or because the French majors had both planned to migrate to Quebec after graduation, or maybe even because they were both overwhelmed by impulsiveness. So when Han asked Feng “Why don't we get married?” her answer was a simple “Why not?”
Obtaining a marriage certificate was no big deal, according to Feng. She does not rank it as one of her life’s more important moments.
- More on CNNGo: Shanghai’s ultimate matchmaker -- Gong Haiyan
“If you do away with all the rituals and big gestures, marriage does not fundamentally change who you are,” explains Feng, who is now mother to a one-year-old boy.
“If I can buy a movie ticket because I feel like watching a movie, why can’t I get a marriage certificate because I feel like getting married?”
We did not force ourselves or others to act in a certain way. We just stayed true to ourselves.— Yvonne Feng
The couple had no intention of holding a wedding ceremony, not back then and not any time soon. Feng chalks this up to trepidation, and a tinge of cowardice.
She says she feels that with no large wedding ceremony, no obligation to wear a wedding band and no pressure to refer to each others’ parents as “Mom” and “Dad,” their relationship feels as fresh as when they first fell in love.
To Feng, getting married in China is like a transaction -- once you’ve accepted red packets from the other party’s parents, you are obligated to acknowledge them as your own, which she wasn’t and isn’t ready to do.
Wedding ceremonies in China also tend to make you feel like you have gatecrashed your parents’ party, says Feng.
The majority of the guests are friends of the bridal couple’s parents, rather than their own.
“If I held a wedding ceremony,” says Feng, “I’d probably wouldn't know most of the people but I’ll still have to smile and drink with them and get quizzed onstage by the MC about when we had our first kiss and other nonsense. I’d rather not be someone’s stage prop.”
And so Feng and Han continued until 2009, when both parties’ parents insisted that they inform their friends and family they were in fact already man and wife. The couple then reluctantly held a gathering to break the news of their marital status to a small circle of close kin.
- More on CNNGo: Conquering China's young-love taboo
But even then, they did not wear a gown or suit, nor was there any wedding ring.
“It was too cold to wear a wedding gown in the winter,” says Feng.
“Besides, we were not looking to hold an exclusive red carpet event. We just wanted to show our relatives what we were usually like as a couple. To get all dolled up in an expensive wedding gown would feel too unnatural.”
Married life in a rented apartment
When they got married, both Han and Feng were just entering the work force and learning to be self-reliant. Unwilling to borrow money from their parents to buy an apartment, as many newlyweds do, the couple rented an old studio apartment in Hongkou, in northern part of Shanghai.
“In today’s society and at my current age, it would be unthinkable for a girl to live in such conditions after marriage,” says Feng. “But we had just graduated and were both struggling to establish our careers, it felt like the right thing to do. I didn’t feel that anything was amiss.”
- More on CNNGo: A Shanghai couple struggle to shake marriage traditions
After two years in their studio, Feng and her husband were able to afford to rent a two-bedroom condo. And in 2008, the couple finally bought and moved into a new apartment they could truly call "home."
Looking back on the past nine years makes the couple somewhat sentimental.
Thanks to the “naked” marriage, life was much simplier.
Unlike other couples, their relationship was spared the strain of having to discuss sensitive and potentially contentious matters relating to the wedding such as the dowry, gifts, venue rental costs and whose family should pay what. With man and wife both sharing the burden of starting a new life together, the relationship got an added dimension of equality.
The couple also found that holding such an open-minded and laid-back approach to married life has helped to reduce any friction. or avoid it altogether.
According to Feng, men can all be shaped, and the less you compel them to fulfill your material demands, the more sensitive and attentive he will be.
The honeymoon that never happened
In July 2009, they decided to take a holiday in Thailand to make up for the honeymoon that they had put off for so long. Feng was so excited that she spent a month planning the trip.
Two weeks before the departure date, they were hit with a pleasant surprise -- Feng was pregnant. For the sake of the baby, the couple decided to forego their long-awaited honeymoon.
“We had no car, no house, no diamond ring and no wedding dinner,” says Feng. “I guess not having a honeymoon made us the prototype ‘naked’ couple after all.”
Regrets over their missed honeymoon have since been replaced by a new desire to see the world with their son, who is now a year old.
Though not entirely free of regret when looking back on her choices in life, Feng says she is happy with what she and her husband have achieved.
- More on CNNGo: Shanghai's bikini brides and Speedo grooms
“Most people achieve their material aims eventually, though they might not do it in the same order,” she says. “And sometimes when you let go of some things, you end up gaining more. At least we were young then and able to take hardship.”
“We did not force ourselves or others to act in a certain way -- we just stayed true to ourselves.”