China Singles’ Day Posted by Ayana on Nov 7, 2016 in Culture
Every November 11th, China celebrates Singles’ Day. Although modern and not nationalistic, Singles’ Day is a genuine Chinese holiday. Among a calendar full with traditional feasts, communist festivals and western celebrations, Singles’ Day is a pretty unique holiday. It was created and shaped up by Chinese youngsters, and promoted by local commercial companies.
Chinese celebrate Valentine’s Day like westerns do. That includes flowers, chocolate, balloons, and romantic dinners. February 14th isn’t the only opportunity to spread love: there’s the Qixi Festival as well. The festival, also known as the Chinese Valentine’s Day, originated from a romantic legend about two lovers, and has been celebrated in China since the Han Dynasty.
With two Valentine’s Days a year, no wonder some university students felt the urge to act. Somewhere during the mid-1990s they announced November 11th as Singles’ Day. They called it 光棍节Guānggùn jié. 光棍儿, which literally means bare branch, and is a Chinese expression for a unmarried person or a bachelor who hasn’t borne children. And this day is dedicated for such people. On November 11th single people all over China organize activities together and buy presents for themselves. It is not meant to undermine love, it’s about acknowledging people who are still on the search for their other half.
The founders of Singles’ Day didn’t use the traditional Chinese lunar calendar to pick a date. They chose one according to the Gregorian calendar. But that isn’t the only sign of modernity features the holiday. The need to dedicate a whole day for people without spouses is an outcome of life in modern China. The students maybe conceived the idea of a Singles’ Day as a joke, but the Chinese demography, influenced by the One Child Policy, is no joke. The historical preference of having a son, with the help of nowadays medical devices, led to a widespread abortion of female fetuses in the last few decades. It had resulted in a demographic imbalance: Chinese men outnumber Chinese women excessively. The gender gap is measured in millions. And many of those lads are having difficulties finding a wife. Surprisingly the girls are too. One of the latest Chinese slang is an expression for women who are over the age of 25-30 and aren’t married yet: 剩女Shèngnǚ (literary means leftover woman).
For about a decade 光棍节 had belonged to the people, but its purity was disturbed in 2009 by retailers. One of China’s biggest e-commerce websites, Alibaba.com, chose Singles’ day 2009 to create an online sale. It was such a success that rival sites start offering discounts as well during Singles’ Day in the following years. In 2013, Chinese shoppers spent billions of US dollars on the internet during 光棍节, exceeding the sales of Cyber Monday Sales. In 2014 Alibaba.com didn’t settle for the Chinese market and went global. Alibaba searched to extend the bonanza, and in order to do so spread out Singles’ Day all over the world.
Nowadays Singles’ Day is better known as the world’s biggest online shopping day. But no matter what the commerce websites are planning for this year, my Chinese friend Xiaobai is still going to buy 筷子 kuàizi (chopsticks) as holiday gifts; go out to eat 油条 Yóutiáo (deep-fried twisted dough sticks) with her girlfriends; and hope to find the love of her life until the next November 11th.
Singles’ Day = 光棍节 Guānggùn jié
Valentine’s Day = 情人节 Qíngrén jié
Qixi festival = 七夕节 Qīxì jié
Chopsticks = 筷子 kuàizi
Deep-fried twisted dough sticks = 油条 Yóutiáo
Unmarried man [an expression] = 光棍儿 Guānggùn er
“Leftover woman” [a slang] = 剩女 Shèngnǚ
November 11th = 11月11日 Shíyī yuè shíyī rì
February 14th = 2月14日 Èr yuè shísì rì
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