Double happiness, the traditional byword for weddings in China, now extends from the bride and groom to the companies cashing in on an annual US$22 billion (182.11 billion yuan) industry.
Fuelling this boom in wedding-related goods and services are couples ready to splash out between two and three years' savings on their celebrations.
"It will be the most costly day in my life," admits bride-to-be Gao Lei of her October 8 wedding in Beijing. "But I don't care, as long as it's perfect. It's the most important day in my life."
Officially, Gao and her fiance Lin registered their union on September 28. But as a Chinese tradition, a couple is not considered married until they have survived a series of blowout wedding-day banquets.
Given the cultural predilection with food, meals have long dominated Chinese marriage celebrations. Yet, many of today's urbanites are looking beyond the banquet for more unusual memories.
Western-style celebrations are fast becoming the new tradition in China's major cities, where couples usually spend US$2,420-6,040 (20,000-50,000 yuan), and sometimes even more, on their special day.
Hoping to gate-crash the double-happiness party, Stanford University-educated publisher Mini Kuo founded Xiyan Wedding Company to launch the super glossy Hunli (Weddings) magazine, China's first nationally distributed wedding magazine.
Kuo had been struck by the lack of bridal magazines in China, despite the number of couples she knew who were disappointed by predictable, expensive celebrations.
"In the US, a bride-to-be can flick through 150 bridal magazines to look for inspiration," she said. "Here in China, there is little information available."
It is potentially a huge market, said Kuo, anticipating strong demand for her publication.
"The Chinese wedding industry remains loosely segmented, with no market leaders," she said.
Rival publishers are also trying to fill the niche. French bridal magazine Oui, published by a Chinese partner, hit Shanghai newsstands shortly before Hunli. Other titles, such as Shanghai Bride and Beijing Guide for Newlyweds, are due out soon.
The Shanghai-based group 51jiehun.com - the Chinese name sounds like "I want to marry" - backed by US$1 million (8.28 million yuan) from Japan's Softbank Corp, runs a website, magazine and one-stop wedding service shop.
"The competition will be intense," Kuo conceded, "but there should be enough space for everyone in Shanghai, since the wedding industry is far from mature, unlike other Chinese-speaking regions such as Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong. With rising living standards, the market will only grow stronger in the future."
Besides the magazines, hosts of wedding ceremonies are growing popular for wedding ceremonies.
Shi Kangning is one of Beijing's most popular emcees. He was first invited to host a wedding by friends and relatives 11 years ago.
Gradually, he became a full-time emcee, at around US$242 (2,000 yuan) per banquet, with a reputation of being able to make people laugh and cry.
Now Shi has his own wedding company, named after himself, which boasts it can provide everything, apart from the bride and groom.
(China Daily 10/03/2001)