The origins of China’s Double 11 Day

E-purchases form the overwhelming bulk of Singles’ Day earnings for Chinese retailers. (Photo: 123RF)

China’s Singles’ Day on 11 November – also known as Double 11 Day – is the world’s biggest online shopping event. Its also popular among Chinese youths who want to celebrate their happy, carefree bachelor/bachelorette life. Dr Xiang Gao explains how a festival celebrating singledom grew into a shopping carnival generating billions of dollars in sales.

The Arabic number ‘1’ looks a lot like a stick.

In Chinese, a "smooth stick" (光棍 guānggùn) historically referred to an unmarried man, but today it can refer to either a single man or woman. While no one is quite sure how the holiday idea arose, legend has it that Double 11 Day, a date that includes four "sticks" (11/11), was invented by four single university boys in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, in the 1990s.

Since then, Double 11 Day has gradually become a part of dynamic campus culture in Chinese universities. Thanks to growing internet and media coverage (and of course, those university boys who have graduated and may still be single), Double 11 Day has spread from campuses to the wider Chinese public.

Here is your Double 11 Day guide if you are in China:

Go on a blind date

Chinese couple on a blind date. (Photo: Pixabay)

There are many opportunities for two to become one on 11/11. (Photo: Pixabay)

If you are currently single and ready to mingle, there are a lot of blind-date events on 11 November in China. Just check out the social section of your city's local website. For example, there's a mass blind-date event in Harbin, the Ice City, this year. You can either meet a date on the spot, or select an ‘information card’ of your love interest and ask a staff member for contact details.

Say I do

Chinese wedding Photo 123RF

Some choose to bid goodbye to singlehood on Double 11 Day. (Photo: 123RF)

If you are fortunate enough to have already found your significant other and are considering a date to tie the knot, Double 11 Day could surprisingly be a good time to schedule your wedding.

Young people in China are increasingly deciding to get married on 11 November. This is because the four ‘ones’ in the date can also be interpreted in Chinese as "one heart, one mind; one life, one generation" ("一心一意、一生一世" yixīn yiyì, yishēng yishì). 

How romantic it sounds to end your bachelor/bachelorette life on this special day that signifies your loved one would guide you through life and for eternity!

Shop till you drop

Shopping rack Asia Pixabay

Young urban singles drive Double 11 Day sales. (Photo: Pixabay)

If neither of the scenarios above interest you, worry not because Double 11 Day is essentially for everyone.

Retail businesses in China have noticed that single urban people with stable incomes and a zest for living possess high purchasing power. This situation is not unique to China. According to the Economist, well-educated, single urban professionals in their 20s and 30s are the main consumers and producers of the creative economy. Young urban singles are shaping our city culture, lifestyles and economies. Responding to this huge business opportunity, Chinese online retail platform Taobao (now called Tmall), held the first successful Double 11 Day sale in 2009.

Since then, Alibaba-owned Tmall and many other Chinese retail businesses have offered various promotions on 11 November, and therefore have transformed this day into a shopping carnival. 

Sina Technology reported that Tmall’s total business transactions across the globe on Double 11 Day was 102.7 billion yuan (NZ$22.3 billion) in 2016. E-business took 81.87 percent of the total transactions and approximately 657 million electronic orders were processed on the day. Many retail outlets have already announced their promotions for the Double 11 Day this year, and Tmall will again sponsor the annual gala to which celebrities and performers from home and abroad are invited.

Alibaba has recently announced it is taking its Double 11 sales offline, too.

So, singles, lovers and shoppers in China, hope you are ready for this weekend. Happy Double 11 Day!

Xiang Gao is Lecturer at Eastern Institute of Technology, Auckland.

– Asia Media Centre