Valentine's Day with a Chinese twist

Other than red roses and a candlelit dinner for two on Valentine's Day, nothing in Beijing says 'I love you' (vaguely, in Chinese) like an investment offering an annual return of 5.2 percent.

A couple takes a photograph with a mobile phone in front of a red heart decoration on Valentine's Day in Wuhan, Hubei province, Tuesday, Feb. 14.

You don’t need a lover to get something out of Valentine’s Day in China.

Even the lonesome can drop into the Shanghai Pudong Development Bank today and sign up for an investment product offering an annual return of 5.20 percent, which in Chinese sounds (sort of) like “I love you percent.”

But in a country that has latched on fast to the commercial opportunities presented by Western festivities such as Christmas or Valentine’s Day, the bank’s initiative is only one of the more innovative ways in which young romantics are relieved of their cash on Feb. 14.

Red roses are as popular here as they are in the US, and their price on the streets of Beijing this morning reflects that: a single bloom could cost you 20 RMB (upwards of $3.00), almost 10 times the regular price.

Candlelit dinners for two, meanwhile, are all the rage at the capital’s fancy international hotels; supermarkets have set aside shelving piled high with chocolates, cakes, flowers and wine; cinemas all over the city this week are screening a new romantic comedy, “I Do” released to coincide with Valentine’s Day, and online stores such as Taobao are promoting special offers on electric shavers, necklaces, watches and perfume.

When you type “Valentine’s Day” into Baidu, the biggest Chinese search engine, 90 percent of the results are advertisements.

Some traditionalists are worried that the Valentine’s Day celebration of innocent love has been lost in translation into Chinese. “Hotels are booked up around Valentine’s Day and florists, sex shops, and jewelry stores are booming, but few people spend Valentine’s Day with their spouse,” frets Xia Haixin on the website of the NGO he founded to protect family values.

Xia has paid to install billboards on a highway in Hebei Province, not far from Beijing, urging drivers, “Don’t have an affair on Valentine’s Day. Bring your love home.”

The craze for Valentine’s Day has largely eclipsed the Chinese calendar’s own Lovers’ Day, the seventh day of the seventh month of the year, which recalls an ancient legend.

Zhinu, the fairy daughter of a goddess, and Niulang, a village cow-herd, fell in love. Zhinu’s angry mother ordered her back into the heavens, and Niulang followed, whereupon the goddess drew her hairpin across the sky to create the Milky Way (known in Chinese as the Silver River), forever separating the two lovers.

Today they can be seen as two bright stars on either side of the Milky Way; but on the seventh day of the seventh month all the magpies in the world fly up to create a bridge across the galaxy, allowing the two lovers to spend a night together.

A charming tale, but not one that gets told very often any more. Where’s the money in it?

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