Chinese fall hard for imported holiday of Valentine's Day

Updated: 2008-02-14 19:34

BEIJING - Pictures of young couples in Mao suits, holding the little red book with quotations from the paramount leader and carefully keeping each other at arm's length, were the stereotypical images of China as a land without romance.

Thirty years later, the stereotype is no more. Young Chinese spend lavishly on roses, chocolates and candlelight dinners with their sweethearts.

A week into the Year of the Rat, the imported holiday of Valentine's Day has again spurred discounts at department stores and helped hotels, restaurants and flower markets to prosper.

"Buy a paper, get a rose," a popular Beijing metropolitan newspaper offered at every newsstand on Thursday morning.

In the booming eastern city of Wenzhou, young couples rushing to get married on this special day led a downtown registry office to open 30 minutes early on Thursday morning -- and to stop accepting divorce applications for the day.

Even old couples want to try the Western holiday: 60 years into their marriage, a couple in Xi'an in northwestern Shaanxi Province decided they, too, wanted to celebrate Valentine's Day.

The news was published on a local newspaper on Tuesday and by 6 p.m. on Wednesday, about 1,500 people had put up Internet postings, 90 percent of which voiced support.

Though most young Internet users suggested a candlelight dinner for two with chocolate, roses, perfume and whispered "sweet nothings", Li Baoshan, 82, said he would just browse through their photo album with his wife Li Guiyun, 80, and have a grand family dinner.

"Theirs was a marriage arranged by their elders and they never even met each other before they were wed," said Li Jingwen, one of the old couple's many granddaughters. "But they are very much in love and never blow up at each other. I really envy them."

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