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China's answer to Valentine's Day

By the CNN Wire Staff
Zheng Nannan and her fiancÚ Zhang Hao cross-dress to pose for their pre-wedding photos.
Zheng Nannan and her fiancÚ Zhang Hao cross-dress to pose for their pre-wedding photos.
  • China celebrates the equivalent of Valentine's Day with the Qixi Festival, this year being on August 6
  • The date promises to be a big wedding day across the country
  • Many couples pay for pre-wedding photo shoots in addition to taking photos on wedding day
  • Pre-wedding photos are popular despite being costly and need to be booked months in advance
  • Valentine's Day
  • China

(CNN) -- In the West, Valentine's Day is celebrated on February 14, but in China couples celebrate their love during the Qixi Festival, which this year falls on August 6th -- a date that promises to be a big wedding day across the country.

Couples in China preparing to tie the knot have an additional wedding preparation to make: taking romantic wedding photos several months before the wedding itself.

"This year, Qixi Festival falls on a weekend, whereas in the past few years it has not," said Mei Zi, who along with her husband runs Lanmi Wedding Dress & Makeup, a pre-wedding photo shop in Beijing. Since it won't interfere with work, she says, many couples are planning to have big weddings on that auspicious day.

Read more of CNN's China coverage

Although Chinese couples also take photos on the wedding day, their most cherished photos are often ones taken before the wedding, with the couples captured in romantic poses against lush backdrops and "photoshopped" to perfection.

Mei said that couples must spend a lot of money for these photo shoots. In Beijing, they will pay up to 10,000 yuan (around US$1,550) for 50 to 80 photos, and couples often need to reserve a time slot with the studio half a year in advance.

Despite the cost and hassle, Mei says that about 90% of Chinese people find a way to take these wedding pictures. Originating in Taiwan as a practice of the wealthy, pre-wedding shoots have become a tradition in the mainland.

The practice is much the same out in the Shandong countryside, where Huang Qin helps her husband run another photo shop for couples wishing to take lavish pre-wedding photographs.

"Even when the guy's family cannot afford it, they will still decide to take wedding photos," said Huang.

"We want to get special photos of ourselves so that after I've had kids and grown fat, I can remember how pretty I was back then," said Zheng Nannan, a young Beijing client of Mei Zei who had her wedding photos taken a few weeks ago in preparation for her October wedding.

One of the most special moments for Zheng was taking photos of herself and her future husband in an unusual practice of cross-dressing. When asked if it felt strange wearing his wife's wedding dress, Zheng's fiancé Zhang Hao responded that it could be the best moment of their lives.

"The time when you are loveliest is when you get married," said Zhang Hao. "So using clothes and makeup, you want to make yourselves the prettiest you can be."

Although pre-wedding pictures are a distinctly Asian tradition, Mei said that most couples do not choose a traditional venue for the pictures; many Chinese couples prefer a "modern feel."

Chen Yan, a customer of Mei Zi, said she most likes photos in which she and her husband are doing things together, making them more memorable. The photo shop she and her fiancé used took pictures of them naturally interacting, and Chen believes she will cherish these photos more because of that.

"That way I'll think of what I was doing with my husband," she said.

At most Chinese weddings, the couple will not know all of their wedding guests, with many being family friends. Therefore, Zheng says, good wedding photos with stories attached give both the couple and guests something to recall.

"It lets people you don't know understand your love," she said.

Xiaoqin Liang and Michelle Phillips contributed to this report.