Seen as the antithesis of Valentine’s Day (for which the Chinese also have their own celebration with the Qixi Festival), Singles’ Day is a modern event that was created to celebrate the ‘unattached’ and as an escape from the pressure to get married that many young Chinese people often face from their families.
The date of 11th November (also referred to as ‘Double 11’ or ‘11.11’) was chosen for how the numbers line up on the page. The numeral 1 is thought to look like a bare stick (光棍), which is Chinese slang for an unmarried man who does not add ‘branches’ to the family tree.
The unofficial holiday was originally started in 1993 by undergraduates in the all-male dormitories at Nanjing University. Known at first as ‘Bachelors Day’ and a celebration of male singledom, the idea eventually spread to other institutions and into mainstream culture and is celebrated by men and women alike. Like Valentine’s Day, individuals buy gifts for Singles’ Day – with the exception that rather than buying gifts for romance, the idea is that people buy gifts for themselves to celebrate self-love and independence.
In 2009, Jack Ma – co-founder of Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant – drew inspiration from the traditional mega-discounts after US Thanksgiving and launched the first major discounted shopping event to mark Singles’ Day. In 2012, Alibaba trademarked the term as shuang shi yi – 双十一 (‘Double Eleven’) and the event has since become a highly commercialised 24-hour sales period, with more goods sold than Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined. In 2020, over $75 billion was generated from Singles’ Day sales.
But Singles’ Day isn’t just about consumerism – the event is also a marked occasion for partying and for single people to meet one another. On the flipside, the day can be seen as an occasion to celebrate personal independence and self-care. As the global population gradually becomes more eco-aware, will we see a decrease in Singles’ Day sales?