Shangri-La witnessed the celebrity wedding of the year yesterday, an extravagant feast that showed just how China's new rich live. After dating for four years, Xie Na, the country's most famous television presenter, married the up-and-coming pop star Zhang Jie in a lavish ceremony – with the government footing the bill.
The state administration in Yunnan province stumped up the 30 million yuan (£3m) needed to cover the wedding costs, local media reported, prompting outrage among those who felt the money could be better spent in the impoverished region.
The government paid for everything from the wedding photos to the banquet, on the condition that Ms Xie, 29, and her husband became tourism ambassadors for Shangri-la, an area in Yunnan renamed after the mythical kingdom. Online commentators pointed out that the money lavished on the pair could build scores of new schools, or train thousands of teachers.
"This is a province where students don't have meat with their meals, but [it] gave 30 million to a wedding for a couple of entertainers -- the tragedy of a country, the sadness of its people," wrote one commentator on Sina Weibo, China's version of the banned Twitter social network.
"So this is how stars spend their money," pondered another, named Vage1931. "I wonder how much they spend on real philanthropy."
Others, however, were suitably gushing. "When I watched, I was so moved, especially when Xie Na thanked her husband for loving her when she needed it most," wrote one of Ms Xie's 9.8 million followers on Sina Weibo.
The bride, who hosts some of the most popular TV shows in China, wore white for the 90-minute ceremony. "I will work very hard to be your good wife," she told her husband, 28, who is still finding his feet in the world of showbiz, before the couple kissed in a nature park.
Among the celebrities attending the event was Zhao Benshan, a comedian who reportedly gave a wedding gift of 660,000 yuan (£67,000). All the betrothal gifts were worth an estimated 37 million yuan (£3.75m).
Shangri-la, the fantasy kingdom of the English writer James Hilton's novel Lost Horizon, is a mythical place of enlightenment in the eastern Himalayas. The Yunnan government, however, was keen to build on the tourism potential of the legendary destination and officially declared the town of Zhongdian as Shangri-la a few years ago. It has has pumped millions of pounds into a huge development programme.
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