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'Naked marriages' on rise in China

As costs soar in the cities, more couples in China are opting for 'naked marriages' - those without the once-required trappings of a house, a car, and other goods.

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Zhu and Ms. Jia say they are not yet ready to have children, though they had been engaged for six years before they finally tied the knot last month.

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The trouble was that not long after proposing in 2005, Zhu fell ill. By the time he recovered six months later, the price of housing in Beijing had rocketed beyond his reach. "We just couldn't afford to buy an apartment," he recalls. An average Beijing apartment costs 32 times the annual salary of an average middle-class employee.

In Chinese tradition a groom would bring his bride to his family home, where she would eventually become matriarch. In modern cities, that tradition has morphed into an expectation that the man will buy his own home – often with his parents' help – to share with his wife.

After years of waiting fruitlessly for the housing market to cool, Zhu and Jia decided to get married this year, prodded by their friends and parents and conscious of passing time.

The couple dispensed not only with the house and car that would normally come with a wedding but with the traditional ceremony, too. They paid just 9 renminbi ($1.50) for a marriage license, got their papers together, and went to the registry office. "Every girl wants a romantic wedding, but happiness is more important than anything else," says Jia. "I just want the two of us to be together."

'It even has a name - naked marriage.' 

"More and more people are getting married without a car or a house," adds Zhu. "There are so many doing it; it even has a name – 'naked marriage.' "

Naked marriage is a rising phenomenon, especially in big cities such as Beijing and Shanghai where property prices have risen nearly fivefold in the past decade.

"A house and a ceremony are very important," acknowledges Li Xin, a 20-something customer service agent who married her husband, Li Lian, without either earlier this year. "But when he first said he loved me he told me all about himself, including how much he earned. I could do the [math]. I knew he would not be able to afford an apartment."

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It didn't matter, though. "We both believe it's more important to find the right person than to find the right house," says Ms. Li. "We don't ask for anything more."

Mr. Li, a software engineer, says that like Zhu he feels guilty at not being in a position to meet his traditional obligations.

His wife, though, is matter-of-fact. "My parents could not help us buy in Beijing, neither could his parents, and we do not earn enough," she says bluntly.

"We solved the problem with a naked marriage. We accepted reality. There's nothing wrong with that."


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