Time Zones: Beijing, China

For Wedding Photos, Chinese Couples Strike a Western Pose

Sheng Yue, a telephone equipment manager, and his fiancee, Liu Ting, who sells cosmetics, are taken by minibus to St. Joseph's Church in Beijing for a photo shoot.
Sheng Yue, a telephone equipment manager, and his fiancee, Liu Ting, who sells cosmetics, are taken by minibus to St. Joseph's Church in Beijing for a photo shoot. (By Maureen Fan -- The Washington Post)

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By Maureen Fan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, July 26, 2006

BEIJING When the Miracle Love Marriage photography studio opened at 8:30 a.m., the attentive young women who ensure that love in modern China is neatly packaged and saved for posterity were already at the front door practicing their calisthenics.

But it was Liu Ting, who sells cosmetics, and her fiance, Sheng Yue, a telephone equipment manager, who should have been stretching. Both 24, they were about to spend one month of Sheng's salary and more than nine hours of their time on wedding photos that, according to the studio, would convey "a passion which consumes all thought and deed" and fill their lives "with ecstasy."

As the couple waited for makeup -- three mobile phones and a boxed lunch before them -- other wedding photo studios on North Xidan Street opened their doors.

Their storefronts were filled with white angel wings, confetti-filled balloons and red hearts. Their model albums displayed pictures of the imaginary worlds that the couples could enter -- themed sets including French boudoir, jungle love and steamy bathroom, all complete with costumes and recommended poses.

With names such as Paris, Love in New York and Rome Style Life, the mostly Taiwanese-owned studios that dominate one of Beijing's busiest shopping districts have capitalized on a Chinese obsession with Western-style wedding pictures.

For the equivalent of $375 to $750, packages include at least five costume changes and a trip to pose in front of a nearby Roman Catholic church, even though most couples aren't Christian. "It fits the Western style of the dress," said Huang Ling, 23, director of the Miracle Love Marriage studio.

Even if most couples prefer Western wedding fashions, the big day itself often still features at least one Chinese outfit, a Chinese banquet and an auspicious wedding date. It is an especially busy time now because, in an unusual quirk, this lunar year twice includes the day that marks the beginning of the lunar spring.

"It stands for a lucky year, for them to have more children," Huang said. "Last year if you wanted to make an appointment, you waited less than a week. This year it's two weeks. We have 20 couples a day on the weekends."

By 10:30 a.m., Liu's hair was curled and her eyelids were bright blue. Sheng's face was smoothed with foundation. Other young women picked out billowing white, Cinderella-style gowns.

A few feet away, another couple peered at a computer screen, trying to choose the most flattering shots from their marathon photo session last week.

"I prefer the natural shot," said Xu Quan Zhen, 27, examining a studio-created image of himself and his bride-to-be, Chen Ying, 26, on a Hawaii-like beach in front of a crystal blue wave. An assistant assured the couple that their teeth could be digitally brightened.

Makeup complete, Liu and Sheng climbed into a 16-seat minibus with another heavily made-up couple bound for St. Joseph's Church in the Wangfujing district. "I prefer to get married next year, but his parents prefer this year. It gives them a good psychological feeling," Liu said. "For us, we are just worried about how expensive it will be."


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