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Rushing to wed in Year of Tiger in costliest marriage city

THE "golden Year of Tiger" 2010 is auspicious - bringing good fortune and happiness - so it's an ideal time to wed. Add World Expo 2010 and there's all the more reason for Chinese young people to tie the knot.

Many couples are rushing to get married and throw their wedding parties next year (the Year of Tiger begins on February 14), but they have to act fast to book banquet space in pricey Shanghai. Many have already started.

Shanghai is the most expensive Chinese city in which to wed because Shanghainese are especially concerned with "face" and impressing people by putting on a grand show, wedding planners say. It's said that the grander the wedding, the stronger will be the couple's bond.

It costs an average of 170,000 yuan (US$24,894) to get married in the city, according to a wedding industry report in 2007 revealed at the China Wedding Exposition. That's generally considered low for middle-class people - and it doesn't include the new flat and the car.

This compares with 140,000 yuan in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, and 120,000 yuan in Beijing, All these figures are low and prices have gone up. Many people spend far more.

All in all, the total expense for a couple in Shanghai is probably 2.5 million yuan, including flat and car, according to Shanghai Daily calculations.

Once upon a time, it was easy and inexpensive to get married in Shanghai. The love birds signed their marriage register in the department of civil affairs and got a marriage license.

Then they went back home, celebrated by making some simple dishes and received best wishes from family and friends.

No fuss (though traditional weddings in "old China" were elaborate and costly).

But today getting married is cause for extravagant (whenever possible) celebration. Getting a marriage license is just the first step in a marathon, usually acquired long in advance because two names are needed on the deed to the new residence.

Preparations begin at least six months, or one year, before the wedding banquet day.

It's the banquet and party that count, a grand show to make everybody happy. The couple are the stars in the show.

And the show is expensive, economic downturn or no.

Requirements include a new furnished apartment, appliances, a new car - plus wedding preparations, banquet and wedding trip.

In the 1980s, a wedding banquet in Shanghai often cost no more than 5,000 yuan and in 1990s the expense was about 20,000 yuan. In 1999 the average was 80,000 yuan.

The annual total expense of Shanghai weddings exceeds 16 billion yuan, industry insiders said at the China Wedding Exposition.

The wedding business forms an integrated industry chain, including wedding planning, real estate, decoration of flats, furniture, household appliances, jewelry, cosmetic treatments, hairdressing, wedding photography, wedding gowns, wedding catering and honeymoon trips.

Shanghainese are known for extravagant weddings.

"Each aspect of the wedding party in Shanghai is more demanding than in other cities," says Chang Minghai, a manager of a wedding service agency in Zhabei District.

"Shanghai people are very conscious about face-saving, they are fussy and sensitive about their reputation," he says.

"And they also have many complicated customs and traditions to follow. Nothing can be overlooked."

Beijing people, compared with Shanghainese, pay more attention to the wedding banquet and atmosphere.

"They spend large sums for a well-known master of ceremonies, while other things can be simplified," Chang says. "In Beijing, wedding banquets costing no more than 10,000 yuan are common."

Shanghai weddings are also more costly because Shanghai people are more family-oriented.

"The traditional idea is that the grander the wedding party is, the more the couple is committed to the marriage," Chang says.

Each weekend, there are lines of fancy cars decorated with flowers and paper cuts of the character xi (happiness) in front of many star hotels to pick up the couple.

If you want to throw the bash in a hotel, you need to book at least six months in advance.

Weddings, apartments and big-ticket items are usually financed by the couple's parents. Few couples can afford it.

"I've spent all my savings on my wedding, about 70,000 yuan, since I started working three years ago," says Zha Junyan, a civil servant in Minhang District. "My parents and my husband's parents paid for most of it.

The 27-year-old woman held her wedding party - with a luncheon and evening banquet last month in a three-star hotel on the outskirts of Minhang District. There were 50 tables and around 500 guests.

The banquet alone cost them more than 200,000 yuan. The cost per table was 1,200 yuan for the luncheon and 3,000 for the evening.

"It was the only place we could find in Minhang to provide a feast for so many people at a reasonable price," she says.

To cut costs, Zha asked a former colleague to be the makeup artist and bought boxes for the wedding candies on the Internet. The candies were separate.

On the night before the wedding day, the bride was busy folding the paper into candy boxes and stuffing them with chocolates.

"I tried my best to save every coin," she says.

Zha was also thrifty on the wedding planning. She bought flowers herself and borrowed limousines on the big day from her father's friends. Renting cars from a wedding service agency (sometimes just an ordinary car) costs an average of 2,000 yuan for six hours.

Her wedding gowns - several are needed for ceremony, luncheon, banquet, and so on - cost around 4,000 yuan, purchased in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province.

"They are much cheaper in Suzhou. With this amount, I could only rent wedding gowns in Shanghai," she says.

Amanda Zhang, who works at Hongqiao International Airport, wanted everything to be perfect and didn't cut corners on her big day.

Her luxurious wedding party was held this September in a famous seafood restaurant. There were 500 guests. Each of the 50 tables cost 4,000 yuan, not including drinks.

"It is a thing I have to do, so why not do it well?" says Zhang, who is 26. Preparations took more than eight months.

The wedding service agency was paid 20,000 yuan for the venue set-up, decoration, makeup for the bride, photography, filming, and an MC. The average agency fee in the industry is around 12,000 yuan. Additional wedding photos cost another 13,000 yuan.

Liz Wu's wedding party was less extravagant. She spent 2,700 yuan on wedding gowns purchased in Suzhou, 4,000 yuan on wedding photos and 12,000 yuan on the wedding planners.

Small gifts cost about 600 yuan after time-consuming bargaining in the City God's Temple.

The couple had 15 tables in a four-star hotel, which cost 60,000 yuan.

"My wedding party was sweet and simple, but it was enough. It's exactly what I wanted," says Wu.

Bride Zha feels the same, but her parents insisted on a gala.

"It's not necessary to invite so many people and many of them I've never seen before, but our parents insisted on it," she says.

"I just wanted a simple wedding with some close friends and relatives without too much complicated tradition and etiquette."

Marriage by the (low) numbers


An apartment (100 sqm): 2 million yuan/US$292,930 (20,000 yuan per sqm on average)

Decoration: 150,000 yuan. Many apartments are raw space and need flooring, bathroom fixtures, closets, lighting, draperies and painting etc.

Furniture: 70,000 yuan

Household appliances: 60,000 yuan

Total: 2.28 million yuan

Car: 100,000-200,000 yuan


Wedding gowns: 4,000 yuan on average. Shanghai brides like to shop in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, because prices are lower.

Bridegroom's tailor-made suit/tux: 5,000 yuan

Wedding photos: 4,000-13,000 yuan

Rings: 20,000-30,000 yuan

Candies: 5-7 yuan for a small box of four to eight candies or chocolates. A paper box is around 1 yuan and well-decorated boxes can cost 4 yuan. Each candy or chocolate inside is about 0.5 to 0.7 yuan. Hundreds of boxes are needed. 200-1,000 yuan

Total: 33,200-53,000 yuan


Banquet: 70,000 yuan on average: 3,500 yuan per table with 12-14 dishes, desserts and fruits, drinks not included, so alcohol is a huge added cost. Around 20 big round tables (each seating 10). In four- and five-star hotels, the price can reach 4,500 yuan per table, plus 15 percent service charge.

Venue design and set-up: 6,000-10,000 yuan, including wedding flowers, centerpieces, sound equipment, stage lighting, smoke machine, the red carpet, the flower-decorated entrance and many others.

Makeup artist: 1,200-2,500 yuan

Photographer: 300-2,500 yuan.

Cameraman: 1,500-2,500 yuan

Ceremony MC: 1,200-3,500 yuan

Total: 80,200-91,000 yuan

Grand total: 2.49 million-2.62 million yuan

(calculated by Shanghai Daily based on several wedding service Webistes)


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