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Illustration: Peter C. Espina/GT

"I take you to be my lawfully wedded husband/wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part." For many, this is what marriage is - eternal love and companionship. However, have you ever imagined marrying someone for a license plate? Absurd, isn't it? Sadly, this is why many people struggling for space in first-tier Chinese cities get married.

"Many of my friends got their plates in this way," a man surnamed Liu was quoted as saying by the media. After failing to apply for a license plate in Beijing for three years, Liu posted an offer online to pay for a sham marriage with a girl who already has a license plate, which, for many, is the quickest way to have permission to drive their cars in big cities.

While the license-plate lottery system is known for its high odds, approximately 0.1269 percent in the latest round in February, a plate is transferrable between wife and husband. And therefore, many people like Liu offer to trade their marriage for a plate at the cost of 80,000 yuan ($11,608).

It seems that marriage, previously a sacred word for love, is increasingly becoming a tool for material gains. The fake marriage, in essence, is a way to distribute the limited resources in big cities.

With better job opportunities, advanced healthcare facilities and more education resources, first-tier cities have long been attractive and appealing to migrants. But the influx of migrant workers also means intensified competition for resources.

While educational, medical and other resources were readily accessible in the past, people in China's metropolises, especially Beijing and Shanghai, have to vie for a place even in a primary school for their children, queue up for two hours to make an appointment with specialists, and go through a cruel lottery system to license a car after migrants flooded in.

In the meantime, the government is taking measures to address the rising population, imposing stricter migrant policies in big cities and setting higher threshold for outsiders to obtain hukou (residence permit), property, license plate and other resources.

However, it has made urban dwellers more anxious, and, as a result, has indirectly escalated the battle for resources. Under these circumstances, marriage, an easier and more sufficient way to obtain resources, is exploited by some to gain an edge in the competition.

Some may argue that people's attitude toward marriage was pure and simple in the past when the living conditions were worse than today. This is true. It is an interesting phenomenon that people today, with more access to better resources, are more eager for material well-beings than before. The widening gaps between the rich and the poor may explain this.

While in the past agrarian society, the differences may not be prominent between the rich and the poor, the wealth gap is increasingly widening and more noticeable in today's materialistic world. Thus, people's eager desire to have equal access to resources is understandable.

The unfair advantage given to marriage "cheaters" will make it more difficult for others to access the resources they need. Battling to get ahead, people are not gaining an advantage, but damaging the very system that everyone relies on.

"I'll marry you for your license plate" is absurd but a sad reality in China. "Material life" has gradually replaced "love" as the subject that is sung, honored and celebrated. "I take you to be my lawfully wedded husband/wife … for richer, for poorer … until death do us part" should be a vow that guides us all the way through our marriage.

The author is a reporter with the Global Times. Follow us on Twitter @GTopinion