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Beijing couples rush to tie knot on lucky 08-08-08

Aug. 08, 2008, 2:20 p.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) For over a year, Zhao Gang and Liu Rui had hoped to get married at 8:08 a.m. on China's auspicious triple-eight date Friday. Problem was, so did more than 16,000 other Beijing couples.

The couple ended up having to settle for a slot later in the day, but that didn't diminish their joy.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said Zhao, 30, after he and his bride received their marriage certificate at the Chaoyang District registry office in eastern Beijing.

The couple, who wore simple silver wedding bands, handed out red boxes of candy to well-wishers and office workers. A photographer snapped away as the couple posed, proudly holding up their certificates on which "8-8-08" was printed.

The number eight has long been considered fortuitous in China, and after Beijing organizers chose Aug. 8 as the day for the Olympics to begin, many couples found an extra reason to get married Friday.

Zhao, an accountant, and his 29-year-old bride, who works at an international trading firm, picked the date last year.

"We cannot think of a better day to celebrate the beginning of a happy new family and the happiest moment for our country - these two things should go hand in hand," Zhao said.

He said he was planning to watch Friday's Olympic opening ceremony at his family's home with his new wife.

For locals, the number eight, "ba," rhymes with "fa," which means prosperity and wealth. Chinese favor the number for marriage dates, giving birth, a home address and telephone numbers. The opening ceremonies began at 8 p.m. on 08-08-08.

The couple had initially planned to wed at 8:08 a.m., but had to settle for an afternoon slot at the office where dozens of other beaming newlyweds were posing for photographs with friends, family and other well-wishers.

State media reported that 16,400 couples registered for marriage certificates in Beijing on Friday, nearly four times as many as on the same date last year. Offices began processing wedding certificates at midnight Thursday to meet the demand.

Chinese couples traditionally obtain marriage certificates at their district registry office prior to holding a lavish wedding ceremony and banquet with family and friends. They are considered legally married as of the certificate's date.

Zhao said the couple had yet to choose a date for the actual wedding, which they were planning to hold next year.

Among other couples registering their marriage at the same office were Liu Xianwu, 35, and his wife Shang Yan, 28, who stood out in their matching blue T-shirts with cartoon faces.

They gathered with friends outside to take photos in front of a backdrop of red-and-gold banners and balloons.

"We will always choose a lucky date for important events, such as giving birth in the year of the pig or getting married or starting a new business venture on a prosperous date," said Shang, a Beijing engineer.

"If it weren't for today, we would have chosen Valentine's Day to get married," she said.

Some Chinese have noted, however, that No. 8 actually seems to be bringing some seriously bad luck this year.

The worst snowstorms in half a century, which blanketed much of southern China and ruined the Chinese New Year's holiday for hundreds of thousands of families, struck on 1-25. The numbers added together: 1 plus 2 plus 5 equals 8.

Riots in Tibet that ended in a violent crackdown and global criticism of Beijing's communist government, broke out on 3-14: 3 plus 1 plus 4 equals 8.

The earthquake that hit Sichuan province and claimed nearly 70,000 lives hit on 5-12: 5 plus 1 plus 2 equals 8. And Friday marked 88 days since the May 12 earthquake.

"Chinese people always believe in the lucky number eight, but there have also been many tragedies in 2008," said Wang Lichun, a shop owner who works near the registry office.

"I wish good luck to China for the remainder of 2008 - because fate is something that we cannot escape."