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A Once-and-for-all Splurge
The approaching National Day Holiday is going to be special for Jason Li.

The 28-year-old is finally ending his bachelorhood. Also coming to an end are his bank savings, accumulated over the years.

"I had never thought marrying would be so dear," Li said.

The studio wedding photos alone cost him 5,000 yuan (US$602). "But it is indispensable, as my fiancee firmly believes that a woman becomes most beautiful when she wears the wedding gown, so that moment must be captured and kept forever," Li said, forcing a smile.

The Price Tag

Both Li and his future wife are from traditional families, which determine that a lavish wedding banquet is a must.

Li chose the three-star New Garden Hotel to hold the grand feast. Taking all the necessary guests, including relatives, colleagues, friends and former classmates into account, Li found that they have a total of 250 guests. That is 25 tables.

"When the restaurant showed me the final price after several rounds of bargaining - 35,000 yuan (US$4,217), I couldn't help drawing a cold breath," Li said.

There are still many other expenditures involved in the wedding ceremony. A rough account for the sweets and cigarettes to be handed out at the wedding party is about 6,000 yuan (US$722), plus a further 600 yuan (US$72.2) for photographs and a video recording.

The rent of suits to be worn at the wedding party (two dresses for the bride and one for the groom) is 300 yuan (US$36). "She still bought a 3,000 yuan (US$361) wedding gown," Li added.

Renting the car and then decorating the car with flowers and hiring a make-up girl for the bride, all these take money.

Li figures out that the overall cost of the wedding ceremony is at least 60,000 yuan (US$7,229). Earning 2,500 yuan (US$301) a month, Li has withdrawn all his savings for the big day.

Yet according to Yu Jian, manager of Shanghai Hao Yun Matchmaking Agency, the cost of Li's wedding ceremony is quite typical for the city.

The General Trend

Yu has recently taken a survey of some 300 newlyweds who have entrusted his company to host their wedding ceremonies. Over 80 percent of the couples were prepared to spend around 60,000 yuan on the wedding. About 5-8 percent of people would spend more than that, and this percentage is steadily rising.

"A trend for higher standards and more expensive wedding ceremonies has emerged," Yu said, and his remarks won immediate agreement from Tony Wang from the Four Seasons Hotel.

"Just take a look at our hotel's thriving wedding banquet business," Wang said.

The five-star hotel's so-called super luxurious wedding banquet of 588 yuan (US$70) per person plus 15 percent surcharge is fully booked, despite the fact that at least 10 tables must be reserved.

The same thriving business can be seen at the Hotel Nikko Pudong Shanghai, whose "wedding" business is expected to show a 60 percent increase over the same period last year.

What Luxury Entails

For those who are determined to hold an impressive wedding ceremony, the party can't be limited to just eating and drinking.

It also requires a band to play up the atmosphere, an experienced host to make the whole ceremony smooth, and numerous roses to add more romance to the party, which means extra costs of at least 6,000 yuan (US$722).

This is all a radical change from the pre-economic reform period of the 1970s when restaurants were rarely mentioned when talking about weddings, let alone five-star hotels or bands. Wedding banquets were mostly held at the couple's own home, and dishes were prepared by parents and close relatives.

If account is taken of the new apartment, house appliances and the honeymoon, all of which have now been included among the city's new marriage essentials, the cost of getting married is really tremendous.

The recently revealed statistics show that the average cost of getting married in Shanghai is at least 150,000 yuan (US$18,000) if these essentials are taken into account.

Who Pays the Bill?

Compared with 20 years ago, when a couple amassed a bicycle, a radio and some furniture then had their union rubber-stamped at a local government office, the changes are great.

Yet is the locals' salary increasing at the same speed as the wedding costs?

Relevant government bureaux say the average urban worker earns 1,530 yuan (US$184) a month. That is to say that getting married in Shanghai actually costs eight years' salary for an average Chinese worker.

Although many young people find spending too much on the wedding is actually unnecessary, most of them are also finding it hard to resist.

Part of the pressure comes from the parents. Over 95 percent of local parents strongly support the idea of a lavish wedding ceremony involving several hundred guests.

Novel ideas such as a "traveling wedding", which saves money for the prolonged honeymoon, although agreeable to the young, are firmly objected to by their parents.

Then there is peer pressure. When more and more young people are striving for a luxurious wedding ceremony, it is easy for the newlyweds to feel embarrassed if their wedding is too simple.

Such an increasingly lavish wedding situation doesn't exist in Shanghai alone, although the wedding expenses in Shanghai are among the highest in the country.

Statistics show that last year the country's overall marriage-related expenditures reached 150 billion yuan (US$30.12 billion), ranking it top among all types of domestic spending.

(Shanghai Star September 1, 2002)

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