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The Marriage Business 

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Dress rehearsal for the big day

Spring is in the air.  A young “bride” – one of more than 10 million young ladies who will tie the knot this year in China – poses for a wedding photographer in Beijing's Chaoyang Park.  Except that she's not yet married.  In China, the official wedding photographs are taken before the wedding, and are displayed – poster size – at the wedding reception.

 

  Despite the downturn in the economy, the country's wedding photographers are struggling to keep up with the demand.  In fact, at this time of year, you have to be careful where you tread when you go for a walk in China's public parks.  Not because of anything a dog has left behind (dogs aren't allowed in), but because of the profusion of wedding dress trains that are seemingly everywhere you turn.

 

  Couples from the “no siblings” generation that have been planning to get married, are not, it seems, letting the economic downturn affect their plans.  This group of people, born in the decade following the 1979 introduction of the jìhuà shēngyù zhèngcè (the mostly one child "family planning policy") have, over the years, not enjoyed a very good press.  They have been variously described (not by me I hasten to add) as “China’s spoiled generation”, or “Little Emperors [or Empresses]”.  According to the stereotype, they are used to getting their way.

 

  My view is that the vast majority of those among this generation who have “got their way” have done so not because they were handed it on a silver platter – but by striving for it.  And, funnily enough, when you’ve worked so hard for something, you can’t help but feel that there are certain things that you bloody well deserve.  A good wedding is, and will always be, high on that list.

 

  But there is another, far more positive reason why people are continuing with their plans to get married: Wedding statistics tend to reflect the optimism or otherwise of a nation’s young people.  That being the case, China’s future is looking bright.  In 2008 – despite the equivalent of three trillion US dollars being wiped off the Shanghai stock exchange – 10.6 per cent (more than a million) more couples married than in 2007.

 

  That optimism is, not surprisingly, also shared by the people associated with China’s wedding industry, which (according to the latest figures available from the Ministry of Commerce and the China Wedding Industry Investigation and Research Centre) is worth something in the order of 13 per cent of GDP.

 

  If the mood at last week's wedding expo in Beijing is anything to go by, then the industry’s contribution to 2009 GDP is likely to be greater.  More than one thousand companies associated with the industry attended the three-day wedding-fest and – if press reports are anything to go buy – most were very pleased they made the effort to exhibit.  According to the China Daily, the 34,000 couples who attended spent 29 million yuan there – 30 per cent more than was spent last year.  One of the most successful companies, Perfect & Decorated, a wedding gown and makeup chain, took 1.2 million yuan worth of orders.

 

  That’s not to say that couples (and their parents who support them) are spending money like confetti.  The harder times have made soon-to-be-weds more cost-conscious than ever.  It’s a matter of prioritisation though – the things that will be most memorable tend to get more of the budget.

 

  At the expo, the China Daily spoke with Sun Jingjing, a 26-year-old human resources assistant at a local company in Beijing, who is getting married in October.  Ms Sun cancelled the wedding motorcade, but not to “save” money.  Instead, she used the "saving" to have a wedding dress designed and hand made.  "I didn't cut my budget, but I will spend the money on the right things," she told the China Daily.

 

  As well as the right wedding dress and a picture-perfect set of photographs, the right things also include a honeymoon (France is doing particularly well); wedding sweets (a traditional gift for the guests); and of course the wedding ring.  And, in China, the ring that’s being slipped on the finger is far more likely to be made of platinum than of gold (last year, according to an industry report, China accounted for 68 per cent of global platinum sales).

 

Marriage, it seems, is a joyous occasion not just for the happy couple. 

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