`999' sets off wedding fever in China

Ulhas Joglekar ulhasj at bom4.vsnl.net.in
Thu Nov 25 17:41:51 PST 1999

25 November 1999 `999' sets off wedding fever in China BEIJING: Although it is already downright cold in Beijing, on the weekends many dark, flower-bedecked limousines can be seen on the streets. Inside the cars, ladies dressed in not-so-warm white silken dresses are smiling, while in the car up ahead, a cameraman with a video is recording the moment. Wedding fever has broken out in China. This is because the year 1999 is taken as a good omen because it has three nines in it. Couples are rushing to take advantage in the remaining weeks in the hope of a long and happy marriage. The chances for happiness are supposed to be doubled by the fact that babies will be born in the year 2000 under the sign of the dragon, a creature regarded in China as heavenly and bringing luck. Yuan Wu, 23, made her wedding vows to Tang Xi at a luxury hotel in Beijing. The ceremonies were not conducted by a justice of the peace, but rather by the couple's employers after the authorities had examined and approved the marriage licence documents. The formalities were quickly taken care of, and afterwards around 150 guests were invited to a sumptuous banquet. But before the newly-weds can go around to the tables of guests and offer them a cigarette each as a welcoming gesture, the bride and groom first bow before their parents -- showing their respect and gratitude for the support which their families had provided them. ``For us, the wedding is a big step,'' Yuan says. ``Amid all the joy, my parents today are also very sad, because for a woman it means marrying away from her family. The next time I come to visit (my family), it will be as a guest.'' In a country which is moving forward and opening up, social values in China are now in for scrutiny. Given a population of 1.2 billion, China with its 300,000 divorces each year, is far behind western figures. But the number is three-fold what it was 20 years ago and is still rising. Society as a whole reacts in differing ways to this trend. But it tends to make a new start so difficult for separated couples that women in particular either try to keep their divorce secret or look for a new place to live and work. Some of them radically throw out the old traditions, while others hold firmly to them. Many combine old Asian ideas with things they have learned from friends or western media in order to create a view of life tailor-made to their own needs. For example, although Yuan and her husband Tang lived for a long time abroad and now work for western companies, they did not live together before their wedding, in keeping with Chinese tradition. For them, more important than a tryout period living under one roof together was the fact that the years of their birth were compatible. Among the wedding guests is 24-year-old Zhang Ling and her friend, who have been living for three years together without being married. The break with tradition has been easier for them because their families do not live in Beijing, reflecting the fact that many couples, out of respect for their parents, do not dare live ``in sin.'' ``We do wish to get married,'' Zhang says, as the Yuan-Tang wedding is in full swing. ``Marriage is the most important thing in the life of a person, something sacred.'' The young woman adds: ``Both marriage partners, as a sign of their affection, make a kind of sacrifice. The wife, for example, must see to it that her husband has a pleasant life. At the moment I still feel pretty much free, and I occasionally stay out all night with friends.'' Living outside of marriage is something inconceivable for Zhao Mei, who married now for nine years calls Zhang ``courageous''. ``Just imagine, after this living together there is no marriage after all -- this would be terrible for the girl, and a traditional-thinking Chinese man would not marry her,'' Zhao says. The newly-wedded Yuan and Tang have no time right now for such serious thoughts. After the banquet, the guests are waiting for a chance to carry off some pranks to make the couple look silly. ``Our friends are trying to get us to drink as much alcohol as possible,'' Yuan says. ``When we are drunk, they hope we will then betray the secret story of our love. I have asked them to show us some mercy.'' (DPA)

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