Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Double Spring Year

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal printed an article called "Marry This Year" talking about how the zodiac and lunar calendars converge this year for a very lucky year. While the WSJ version is not available yet, I found a (likely unauthorized) version of it here.

When I first saw this article, I thought - "I wonder if my mom knows about this."

The next thought that went through my mind was - "Thank goodness my parents aren't superstitious."

[sigh] Well, I've pretty much missed every milestone I ever unofficially set for myself when it came to marriage and family:

- get engaged at 28-29
- get married by 30
- get married around the same age as my cousin, Chris (who was about to turn 32)
- get married by 35
- get married with my grandma present
- get married before my brother (technically possible and would lead to many a wild rumor)
- have my first child before 32
- have my first child by 34
- have three kids before 40 (okay, technically still possible but really crazy)
- if still single at 35, adopt from China (hmmm, somehow that came up a little too fast for me... I'll wait)

Needless to say, I try not to plan anymore.

It depressed me for about 30 minutes and then I let it go. I have a Chinese friend who is getting married next month and will probably start trying for a baby soon. I guess she'll fit this success story perfectly. :)

What I've heard is that the dog year is a lucky year for marriages. I've also recall mention of people scheduling their weddings so it occurs when the moon is waxing. I had no idea that having a pig baby was such a good omen. I certainly don't feel I'm lucky given that I'm a pig and am still single. But I suppose in other aspects of my life, I do well.

Asian, and particularly Chinese, superstition is entertaining. Sometimes it's fun to incorporate it if you can, but I think it's crazy to go out of your way to accommodate for it. Besides, those Chinese businesses will probably try and milk you for every cent if they know there's more demand than supply.

The Wall Street Journal
Marry This Year: In China, All Signs Point to Wedded Bliss
Zodiac and Lunar Calendar
Smile on Happy Couples;
'We Can Have a Pig Baby'

June 19, 2006; Page A1

SHANGHAI -- Sun Lidong and Liu Weijia had been dating for about 18 months when they first heard that this year would be an especially auspicious time to get married. They decided to take the plunge.

"Getting married at the right time will bring you more happiness and more luck in the future," says Ms. Liu, 24 years old, a customer-service manager. "It's very important."

(Liu Weijia and Sun Lidong, seen here in one of their wedding photos, believe that a 2006 union bodes well for a successful marriage. Photo: wsj.com)

Liu Weijia and Sun Lidong, seen here in one of their wedding photos, believe that a 2006 union bodes well for a successful marriage.

A rare quirk of the lunar calendar -- and its alignment with the 12-year cycle of the Chinese zodiac -- has set off a wedding frenzy in China, as brides and grooms try to harness the forces of cosmic fortune to strengthen their marriages.

During the first three months of this lunar year, which began in late January, 44,000 couples registered their unions with the city authorities here. That is twice the number who registered during the same period in 2005. Couples often line up outside the city's marriage-registration centers on weekends and holidays by 5:30 a.m. so they can beat the rush when the doors open at 9.

The wedding mania is rippling across China and through the Chinese diaspora. Chris Chen, co-owner of wedding planner Dynasty Weddings in New York, which caters to the area's Chinese community, says his business has doubled from last year. "Everyone's just getting married like crazy," Mr. Chen says.

Yan Guiying is intent on finding a husband for her 27-year-old daughter. For more than two months, she has turned up every Saturday at People's Park in Shanghai for what is essentially a bustling market of parents trying to find mates for their children.

Clutching a hand-lettered sign with her daughter's vital statistics -- she's five-feet-three-inches tall, weighs 105 pounds, has white skin and earns $560 a month as a fashion designer for an Italian company -- Ms. Yan joined hundreds of other mothers and fathers trading their children's pictures and statistics.

"I'm very anxious," said Ms. Yan, a retired bank clerk. "Everyone wants their kids to get married this year."

Behind the boom: This lunar year, 4703 in the Chinese calendar, will last a longer-than-usual 385 days and contain two lunar springs. The advent of spring, or li chun, is considered especially propitious for starting a family. So, having two springs in a single year is doubly lucky.

[Yan Guiying (center, with glasses) is among the parents who gather at People's Park in downtown Shanghai hoping to find spouses for their children. Ms. Yan's sign touts the attributes of her daughter, a 27-year-old fashion designer.]

The extra-long year is a very uncommon event, tied to the complicated system used to keep lunar timekeeping roughly in sync with the solar calendar. The last one occurred in 1944, five years before the Communist Party took control of the country. People seem to have decided that the rarity will magnify the good fortune of the double spring.

Adding to the pressure, the years on either side of 2006 are considered exceptionally unlucky since they have no lunar spring. They are known as "widows' years." Many people believe women married in those years will lose their husbands at an early age. Marriage registrations in Shanghai were down nearly 20% last year.

Then there is the zodiac, which in Chinese culture holds that one's birth year helps determine his personality and prospects. This is the year of the dog, which is widely viewed as good for marriage. Next year is the year of the pig, which is seen as a time when fortune smiles on newborn babies.

The upshot of all the signs is that China is facing a demographic jolt as marriages that would have been spread over three years are being concentrated into one. At the same time, a significant spike in births is expected next year. Nielsen Media Research says it has already detected a surge in advertising for diapers and baby food on Chinese television and in magazines and newspapers.

"I've never seen anything like this," says veteran wedding planner Xu Hongliu, who has handled more than 100 weddings so far this year. "It's causing severe shortages" of everything from disc jockeys to photographers. Prices for roses and lilies have climbed as much as 30% in Shanghai's markets as demand has increased, she says.

Sociologists say that the wedding boom this year is part of a broader resurgence in traditional beliefs suppressed under Communist rule. They say it is fueled by the uncertainties of China's shift to a free market economy. "People feel like they are not in control," says Xu Anqi, a sociologist at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, and they "want to get help and blessings from [supernatural] forces for a good life."

Ms. Liu and Mr. Sun were married last month in a Shanghai hotel before hundreds of their friends and family members. In a short ceremony conducted by the DJ, the pair re-enacted their engagement -- with Mr. Sun on one knee -- before exchanging vows and rings. After Mr. Sun's boss made a toast, bubble machines were turned on as the DJ led the crowd in a rousing rendition of "If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands."

"Of course, this is a good year. It's a year of the dog and a double spring," said Mr. Sun. "It's even better that we can have a pig baby" -- since 2007 is a year of the pig. Explained Ms. Liu: "Pigs are fat, they live a comfortable life. My pig friends are all doing quite well."

Seated to one side was Rei Wang, 25, and his new wife, Eva Chu, also 25, who were married on May 1. "I wanted to hold off for a couple of years," confided Mr. Wang. But, he said, "Our parents ordered us to get married this year."

The aunt of Ms. Liu, the bride, however, said she didn't understand what all the fuss was about. Weng Xiuzheng, 64, spent her career in the People's Liberation Army and didn't consider lucky dates when she got married in 1962.

"When the army decided it was OK, we moved to be together" in the barracks at a military hospital, she said. "People didn't worry too much about the timing in the old days, and we're all still doing OK."

Many young Chinese aren't taking any chances. Tang Yihuan and his then-fiancée, Cheng Ting, were all set to get hitched last year. The couple bought an apartment and filled it with furniture. They picked out rings and hired a photographer. Then, they found out about "the widows' year," and preparations screeched to a halt.

The wedding was put on hold until this past March. In the meantime, the couple lived with Ms. Cheng's parents to "keep everything new," says Mr. Tang. "If we got married last year, it would have been a disaster," he says.

Mr. Tang says the delay is already paying off. Shortly after his wedding, he says, he was offered a new job, with higher pay, at a public-relations company that handles big multinational clients.

That's the kind of story that inspires parents. "I want my son to get married this year," says Zhang Yongfang, who started coming to the People's Park matchmaking gatherings in February.

But, she says, she's worried. It's already June and she hasn't found any takers so far. She holds out photos of her 27-year-old son in a green vinyl portfolio. "We are running out of time," says Ms. Zhang. "He can't get married next year. That would be horrible. He'll have to wait until the year after that."

--Ellen Zhu contributed to this article.


No li chun ("widow" year, or not good for marriage): 1956, 1959, 1962, 1964, 1967, 1970, 1972, 1975, 1978, 1981, 1983, 1986, 1989, 1991, 1994, 1997, 2000, 2002, 2005, 2008, 2010, 2013

Two li chun (good for marriage): 1995, 1957, 1960, 1963, 1966, 1968, 1971, 1974, 1976, 1979, 1982, 1984, 1987, 1990, 1993, 1995, 1998, 2001, 2004, 2006, 2009, 2012, 2014

Dog years with li chun: 1958, 1982, 1994, 2006

Astrologers warn people not to take these dates too seriously, because there are a number of other factors, including feng shui, zodiac compatibility, and element compatibility, that are considered when making matches; they also say those married in widow years should not think that all marriages in those years are doomed.

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