BEIJING Hundreds of Chinese twins and triplets flocked to Beijing this week for a festival to celebrate multiple births in a country where the one child policy means siblings are a rare blessing for many young urbanites.
Dressed in matching outfits, trios and matching couples ranging from babies to grandmas danced, sang, did calligraphy and joined in a huge domino rally.
In some countries parents may fear the simultaneous arrival of multiple children, but in China they are lucky exceptions to strict family planning rules that limit many couples to one son or daughter unless both parents are themselves only children.
Introduced in the late 1970s, the one child policy forbids most urban residents from having a second child, although rules are more relaxed for ethnic minorities and rural residents whose first child is a girl.
But the desire to have a second child is such that some have turned to fertility drugs to try and beat the system.
Having twins means children grow up with a companion and gives parents the prospect of a more comfortable old age, as in a country with weak social security nets, children are often the main source of support for their ageing mother and father.
State run Xinhua News agency quoted local media from several regions in China as saying that the birth rate of twins recorded in several hospitals had risen in recent years.
One Nanjing paper said a local hospital had seen 100 pairs of twins and 3 sets of triplets in 2006 as compared with just 45 pairs of twins in 1995, a phenomenon doctors there put down to fertility drugs.
Song Binying, a 37-year-old mother of twin daughters from southwestern Sichuan province, said she knew a couple who had used the practice, and could sympathise with them.
"Perhaps they just think that twins are very cute, and they really like them. But I think no matter whether they were conceived naturally, or if their parents had injections or something, they will bring their families the same happiness."
Organisers said around 500-600 sets of twins and other multiples attended the annual Twins' Cultural Festival, the sixth of its kind to be held in Beijing.
Middle-aged twin Yuan Dali said he and his brother Yuan Xiaoli wished every child in China could grow up knowing the companionship of siblings.
"If you have twins it's not against the (one child) policy and you still get the benefits, plus the child will have a companion. It's great for a child's development. People should know what it's like to have siblings," he said.
(Editing by Emma Graham-Harrison and Miral Fahmy)