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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 July 2006, 22:50 GMT 23:50 UK
China wedding boom fuelled by big spenders
One hundred and fifty thousand couples are expected to get married in Shanghai in 2006.

Jiang Min and Dai Lixia's wedding
Many Chinese couples are willing to spend a lot

That is 50% more than last year.

A wedding craze sweeping China is causing a boom for the country's retailers.

Hotels and restaurants are booked up months in advance, while florists and cake makers are busier than they've ever been, and all because 2006 is considered a lucky year in the Chinese lunar calendar.

Walking up the aisle to the familiar tones of Mendelssohn's Wedding March, Jiang Min and Dai Lixia got married at precisely 6.18pm on the 18th of the sixth month of 2006.

In Chinese culture, the number 6 means everything will go smoothly, while the number 18 means the couple will get rich soon, but, most importantly, 2006 is considered a fortuitous year because there are two spring times in the lunar calendar.

A year with a double springtime only comes around every 60 years.

Well worth it

Couples are tripping over one another to get married this year and many are stretching themselves financially in order to do so.

Wedding preparations
Preparing for a wedding can take a long time

This couple spent $17,500 on their wedding and honeymoon - more than their combined annual earnings.

Luckily, they both have savings.

"According to Chinese tradition weddings are large scale, extravagant affairs," the bride says.

"It's only once in a lifetime.

"Although we spent many years of savings to make our wedding memorable and impressive, we feel it's worth it."

The groom agrees.

"If our guests feel that the wedding is unforgettable then we have achieved our goal," he says.

The couple treated their 220 guests to a five-course banquet followed by games with prizes, champagne and a slice of their four-tier wedding cake.

The wedding was held at the four star Intercontinental Hotel in Shanghai, which has raised its rates by 10% in response to this year's high demand.

Even so, all the weekend wedding dates in 2006 are already booked out.

Great demand

A combination of more couples choosing to get married in 2006, more 1980s baby-boomers reaching marrying age and the growing affluence in China's cities is causing an all time boom in the wedding industry.

Wedding planning agencies are on the front line.

Bride gets fitted with a wedding ring
Wedding rings, a Western tradition, are becoming popular

There are more than 1,000 wedding planning firms in Shanghai but there's plenty of business to go around.

According to Han Yong, the general manager of Shanghai Jingcai Wedding Consultancy,

"This year we have received requests from 200 couples to plan their weddings compared with 80 requests by this time last year," he says.

"I've had to employ three times as many staff to meet demand."

Good year

Wedding planners are not the only ones benefiting from the current boom.

Paris Bride photo salon is one of several hundred wedding photography studios in downtown Shanghai.

Jiang Min and Dai Lixia's wedding
Next year is not considered a good year for marriages

In modern Chinese culture, it is common practice for a couple to spend an entire day prior to the wedding itself having their picture taken.

At this salon, it is currently necessary to book your photo shoot half a year in advance, with some couples even booking before they have set a wedding date, according to deputy general manager, Qiu Yujuan.

"What we are doing to accommodate the current wedding boom is offering a range of new themes including our most popular, Queen Katherine - where the couple have their photos taken in period costume against an ancient royal background."

Others have themselves superimposed on false backgrounds to make it look as though they have visited faraway shores.

Another trend, this time adopted from the West, is the buying of wedding rings.

Both men and women get an engagement ring and the woman also gets a diamond ring to mark the marriage.

At Splendia Jewellery in Shanghai's old town, revenues are up 30% on last year.

General manager, Lu Ai Zhu, is expecting growth to continue until at least the latter part of this year.

"Last year was dubbed 'the year of widow' as there was no springtime in the lunar calendar.

"This year has two springs, hence is a good year for marriage.

"It is also the Year of the Dog and in Chinese the word for a dog's bark sounds like the word for prosperity. That's important. Next year, according to the lunar calendar, is another 'bad year. that's why there are so many people who still want to get married this year."

The Year of the Dog is supposed to bring good fortune to your marriage. But if young couples continue to spend beyond their budgets, it will not be too long before reality bites.

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