You might have seen this article in yesterday’s Washington Post. Titled “For Wedding Photos, Chinese Couples Strike a Western Pose” the article focuses on the “Western” garb adorned in Chinese bridal photography:
With names such as Paris, Love in New York and Rome Style Life, the mostly Taiwanese owned studios that dominate one of Beijing’s busiest shopping districts have capitalized on a Chinese obsession with Western-style wedding pictures.
For the equivalent of $375 to $750, packages include at least five costume changes and a trip to pose in front of a nearby Roman Catholic church, even though most couples aren’t Christian. “It fits the Western style of the dress,” said Huang Ling, 23, director of the Miracle Love Marriage studio.
Before we go any further, I encourage everyone to look at some of the photographs online. I bookmarked these for my students when I was teaching Bonnie Adrian’s Framing the Bride: Globalizing Beauty and Romance in Taiwan’s Bridal Industry last year. (Bonnie informed me that she had wanted to include more in her book, but it would have made the cost prohibitive.)
There is no denying that there is something “Western” about these images, just as there is something “Eastern” about Yoga. But women in designer paisley outfits doing yoga at the local gym are as separated from the “Eastern” origins of Yoga as Chinese brides donning dress after dress at Taiwanese run salons. These photographs represent a Taiwanese notion of “glamor” and “romance” that is rooted in the global fashion industry, but takes a very particular East Asian form.
Most importantly, this particular kind of wedding photography is very much a Taiwanese product. Even Taiwanese I know in the United States go back to Taiwan to get their photographs done there because they feel that the Taiwanese industry is more up to date with the latest fashions than Taiwanese-run studios in the States.
It is a competitive industry as well. One of Bonnie’s biggest challenges was convincing her informants that she wasn’t planning on stealing their “secrets”:
Even with Xiao-lan to introduce me as an anthropologist, salon owners and photographers continued to assume that I intended to open a bridal salon of my own once I finished by doctoral degree. many anthropologists have been suspected of being CIA agents, development workers, or missionaries in disguise. That the bridal salon owner’s worst fear is industrial espionage by an American posing as an anthropologist is telling. It speaks to the self-confidence that some people in Taiwan can enjoy in globalizing processes, including the one that this book presents.
I find it unfortunate that Maureen Fan felt it necessary to spin this story as a Chinese obsession with the West, when it is the role of Taiwanese in shaping Chinese popular culture which strikes me as the real story here.