Fake relative service for wedding ceremonies in Shenyang
In China, a wedding is extraordinary significant. It is a sign of grown up and a mark for a new phase of life. Almost all relatives of the bride and groom will attend the ceremony, witness their happiness and send hopes for the young couple. In Shenyang, a metropolis in Northeastern China, I attended a wedding ceremony.
A moving wedding ceremony
At Shenyang Wedding Hall, a wedding ceremony is in progress. On the stage, an emcee congratulated the bride and groom. Guests were elegantly dressed, happily taken photos with the newly-weds.
At the peak of the ceremony, the bride’s father was about to deliver a speech. The man, in his 60s, recalled the growth of his daughter from a new-born baby, a child of a toddle, a primary school girl right away to this young woman in her wedding dress now, every important moment in her life. His shaking tone and shining tears made guests deeply moved.
“When the bride’s father gave her hand to the groom, I cried.” A woman guest, Li Xiang, said it was a very emotional moment. All guests applauded and gave their regards to the newly married.
However, on this occasion, many guests, including Li Xiang, were fake relatives. The bride’s father never met the bride before the ceremony, he is an actor. The detail of the bride’s life-as in “her father’s” speech – is written by the girl herself and gave to a wedding agency she commissioned. The wedding agency hired actors and actress specifically for this day to play the bride’s relatives. Shortly before the wedding, actors were instructed on how to play their roles.
“I learnt to treasure what I’ve got in my own life by acting as others”
Li Xiang, 23, works routinely as a teacher in a kindergarten. She played as the bride’s fake sister, and cried for the couple in the ceremony. Was the tear she shed for the bride true or acting skills? I asked.
“This is the first time I’ve played others. Before the ceremony, I had to get well-prepared. I had to understand what my behavior should be as a younger sister, I contemplate this person’s character and personality, such as which attitude I should take when speaking to her; I have to memories all the trifle information of both hers and mine, like her nickname, how many years she is older than me, her education information, etc, it is tiring but interesting.”
Li Xiang said that at first, she was nervous, fearing that any mistake would sell her out. But as the wedding went on, she gradually forgot nervousness and was buried in the excitement and happiness in the wedding hall. When the “father” recalled every little detail of the girl’s growth, she suddenly thought of her parents, being caring and nice all the time, standing on her side no matter what happened.
“That moment I just realized how happy I am with my parents’ love. In this sense, I have learned a lesson from this experience, which is worthwhile. I think other guests had also learnt something because not only me, many cried, both the real and fake relatives.
Li Xiang told me her involvement in this fake relative service was not for economic reason, because what I earned from that was trifle that she couldn’t make a living from it. At first she applied out of curiosity but as time went by she benefited from it. “Playing others, makes you feel like one of those charming actresses on TV. But when I actually knew more about this activity, I can better understand the meaning of life by getting to understand others’ life. This experience made me treasure my parents, friends and what I’ve got in my own life.”
“I did it to help people achieve their happiness.”
Li Xiang told me the company hiring her is run by a young man called Chen Chen. Once a newspaper journalist, he found great demand for fake relatives in wedding ceremonies during his experience. Three years ago, he launched this firm providing faking relative service for newly- weds.
In his small office inside a flat, Chen accepted my interview request quite willingly. He told me why many new couples need fake relative to appear in their wedding.
“One of the reasons is that nowadays the life pace for young people is too fast. In the highly competitive working environment, young people usually have to work extra times to prove their value and diligence. After work, there’s little time for relax and social life, generally, more and more people lost contacts with relatives, classmates and friends. Until getting married, they suddenly recognized few people are attending the ceremony, which is quite an embarrassment. That’s why they have to hire actors and actress to play as their relatives to attend the wedding.”
Chen also said an alternative reason is that people want to hide shameful aspects inside a family from others. As an old Chinese saying puts: “Do not wash your dirty linen in public”.
“Here is one impressive case, my client was a young man. Before marriage, he was introduced to his girlfriend’s parents. They quite liked him but asked to meet his parents talking about the preparation of the wedding ceremony. This put him in predicament because from an early age, his father has dumped this young man and his mother and married to another woman. They haven’t contacted each other since then.”
“The young man considered it a shame and wouldn’t mention this to others. He was also concerned that her girlfriend’s parents would marry their daughter to a man from an incomplete family. He asked us to help him. I chose one of our agents with a similar appearance and almost the age of the young man’s father. He memorise all the young man’s personal information and prepared suitable answer for any possible questions. The meeting turned out to be satisfactory, the agent even attend the young man’s wedding, as his father, of course.”
I asked Chen if he feels sorry for the bride he has deceived. Hesitated for a while, he answered that there is an element of deception that always made him uncomfortable. But he would rather put his activity in another way – to help those in need.
“All I have been doing is non profitable, not for my own interest. We just want to help people in desperate need, help them to achieve their happiness otherwise they would miss at such a close distance. Imagine how disappointed they will be if their happiness just slip out of their hands. Therefore I believe what I did.
“I was guilty to my boyfriend but I cared more about my respect.”
In the case in the beginning of this article, the bride hired fake relatives in her wedding. In a café, She accepted my interview request secretly, under condition that her name unwritten.
“All my families are farmers; I would also have been a farmer if I hadn’t made my way to university and found a job in Shenyang. I couldn’t tell my boyfriend’s family because both his parents are high-ranking government official. I fear that his parents would not accept a daughter-in-law with farmer background. I love my boyfriend, I have to eliminate every factor that can ruin the wedding. In order to get married to him, I had to have proper parents. That’s why I contacted this agency and asked for help.”
The bride confessed that she employed Chen’s agency. Chen provided angents to act as guests to attend the wedding. Five the agents acted as her parents, her sister and her one uncle and two aunts. They were all convinced.
“I was guilty to my boyfriend but I cared more about if I can receive respect from him and his family.”
I asked her if she will finally confess to her partner and his family, she replied instantly that she would confess for sure “if the timing is good” because “lies could never become the truth”.
Analyzing the Cause of “fake relative service”
Chen Chen told me, he has helped over 300 clients so far. Besides his company, there are almost 20 firms doing the same business in Shenyang. Reports say that “fake relative service” is also present at other parts of China. It’s wise to consider it as a significant social phenomenon, or recent social problem, as Cheng Jin, the assistant professor for sociology in Liaoning University, pointed out.
Cheng explains the “fake relative service” is an extension of the “face” issue, a desire for recognition from others, which is deeply rooted in the Chinese culture.
“The Chinese take “face” seriously. Unlike the individualism in the western world, Chinese people care more about what people around judge them. In an early age, Chinese kids are taught that other people are watching, they really dread bad remarks from others.
“In this case, a wedding is a social, family event rather than a personal event, where a good social representation has to be completed. Therefore, if you don’t have “proper”, “respectful” parents or relatives at the wedding, or the failure to hide your family shame will cause neighbors talking or teasing behind your back – a shame for both families; even worse, it will make families of your partners loath you, possibly cause damage to post-marriage life.”
The Chinese people are quite sensitive about how they present themselves in public. The sense of “protection of face” constantly gives people so much pressure that they have to consort to fake ways.
On the other hand, due to the economic and social development, fast-paced lifestyle and heavy pressure from work make many young people isolated, social and family bonds are withering, the relationship between relatives are becoming weak.
The two factors give rise to the phenomenon of “fake relative service”, which may seem weird and ridiculous in elsewhere in the world. However, the cause of it – an increasingly social disconnect – seems a universal problem worldwide.