Here in America, November 11th is Veteran’s Day, but elsewhere 11/11 is a very different holiday indeed. China celebrates November 11th as Singles’ Day AKA 光棍节 or “bare sticks holiday” (a sad metaphor for flowerless & fruitless family tree branches). The day is an opportunity for Chinese singles to party and hang out together…and buy crap online (more about that in a moment).
China has ancient romantic holidays with roots stretching back thousands of years into the mythic past. Singles Day is not like that at all—it was invented in 1993 as “Bachelors’ Day” at Nanjing University when some guys without girlfriends realized the calendar date consisted of four ones. They decided to go out and try to meet women, or, if that failed, to at least treat themselves to fancy dinners and little luxuries. The holiday gradually spread to the sprawling cities of the Chinese coast and then was popularized by Alibaba, an online merchant. The hallmark of the holiday is a giant orgy…of consumption (sigh). People spend a ton of money on online deals and at karaoke clubs, bars, and restaurants
Perspicacious readers may be starting to note that this seems a lot like other lame contemporary holidays such as “Cyber Monday” &“Black Friday”(which it to say not really a holiday, but an excuse for selling stuff that nobody needs). That seems about right: the main holiday tradition of Single’s Day (other than bemoaning one’s singleness or buying discount goods online) is eating fried dough sticks in the shape of the number 1.
This is disappointing. The Chinese are not prudes—they have no trouble with freaky sex stuff, and I was hoping to highlight some of that in this entry, but alas, everything I have found out about Singles’ Day emphasizes online sales numbers and the potential buying power of China’s vast middle class. It’s too bad, I have “The Carnal Prayer Mat” right here on my shelf (a hilarious and horrifying bawdy Chinese novel from the 17th century), but I guess I need to write about online shopping at Alibaba instead.
Speaking of which, I have found things I like online on Alibaba, but I have never been able to figure it out—it seems like a wholesale site where one could buy multiple 2 ton stone garden fountains or a shipping container of paper lanterns (?). But it must be a lot different in Chinese, since Alibaba sold 4 billion dollars worth of goods in the first hour of 11/11/15 alone. However, I am not a toymaker anymore…I have no skin in marketing and sales. I don’t really care about how much junk sells online…not here and certainly not in China.
If you Chinese ladies get sick of buying discount hotpots and eating sticks of dough, give me a call. I’ll be right here in my luxurious pajamas reading “the Carnal Prayer Mat” [opens book, reads sentence, and blushes]. *Cough* Splutter* Oh my goodness! Then and again, I guess I could use a shipping container of paper lanterns….or maybe I’ll just give up on Singles’ Day and reminisce about the heroic sacrifices of America’s proud military veterans or about the end of World War I. This is a strange day worldwide.