Today is Singles’ Day or Guanggun Jie ( 光棍节) literally: “Single Sticks’ Holiday, in China, a holiday popular among young people that celebrates their pride in being single. The date, 11/11, was chosen because the number “1” resembles an individual who is alone, so 11.11 represents many singles together. The holiday has also become a popular date to celebrate relationships, with over 4,000 couples being married in Beijing on this date in 2011.
Singles’ Day, or Bachelors’ Day, originated at Nanjing University in 1993. Singles’ Day celebrations spread to several other universities in Nanjing during the 1990s. There are several speculations explaining the creation of the Singles’ Day festival.The most widely accepted is that the holiday grew out of Nanjing University’s dormitory culture. One origin story is that in 1993, four male students of Nanjing University’s Mingcaowuzhu (“All single men”) dorm discussed how they could break away from the monotony of being single and agreed that November 11 would be a day of events and celebrations in honor of being single. These activities spread through the university and eventually made their way into wider society. The spread increased with social media use, and the event has become increasingly popular within contemporary Chinese culture and society.
Another speculation is based on the apocryphal love story of a Nanjing University student called Mu Guang Kun, known as Guang Gun. The story goes that his girlfriend was diagnosed with cancer during his second year at the university and eventually died. The distraught Guang Gun took to placing candles on nearby rooftops in memory of his lover, and on his birthday in the subsequent year, his roommates joined him to keep him company. After this, the day became a holiday at the university and grew to become the national, commercialized festival that is celebrated today.
Singles’ Day serves as an occasion for single people to meet and for parties to be organized. The holiday was initially only celebrated by young men, hence the initial name “Bachelors’ Day.” However, it is now widely celebrated by both sexes. Blind date parties are popular on this day, in an attempt to alter the single status of the participants. Some universities organize special programs to gather singles together for the celebration. Singles may take on an annoyed or self-deprecating attitude in response to remaining single as a university student, but university initiatives have helped curb that negativity. Although this date is meant to celebrate singleness, the desire to find a spouse or partner is often expressed by young Chinese people on this date, while other love-related issues are discussed by the Chinese media.
The event is not an officially recognized public holiday in China, although it has become the largest offline and online shopping day in the world. Sales in Alibaba’s sites, Tmall and Taobao, had reached US$5.8 billion in 2013, US$9.3 billion in 2014, US$14.3 billion in 2015, US$17.8 billion in 2016, and over US$25.4 billion in 2017. JD.com also achieved a sales record of US$19.1 billion in 2017. As more people join in the celebration of this holiday many companies have taken the opportunity to target younger consumers; including businesses such as restaurants, karaoke parlors, and online shopping malls. For example, the Chinese online shopping mall Taobao sold goods worth 19 billion CNY (about US$3 billion) on November 11, 2012. On Singles’ Day 2017, Alibaba set a world record for most payment transactions during the festival. Its mobile wallet app Alipay processed 256,000 payment transactions per second. A total of 1.48 billion transactions were processed by Alipay in the entire 24 hours, with delivery orders through Cainiao (Alibaba’s logistics affiliate) reaching close to 700 million, breaking the previous record set in 2016. The event is now nearly four times the size of the US’s biggest shopping days, Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
2011 marked the “Singles Day of the Century” (Shiji Guanggun Jie) as this date had six “ones” rather than four (11.11.11), increasing the significance of the occasion. In 2011, an above-average number of marital celebrations occurred in Hong Kong and Beijing on November 11.
In addition to meaning “single”, the Chinese pronunciation of 11/11 sounds similar to the pronunciation of the expression “one life, one lifetime” ( 一生一世, yi sheng yi shi), a basis for the date’s popularity for celebrating relationships among couples as well.
Singles’ Day has since been popularized through the internet and is now observed at several places outside of China as well. The holiday has particularly grown in Southeast Asia, with customers in the Lazada’s Southeast Asian marketplaces ordering 6.5 million items in 2017. This is in part thanks to heavy promotions by the Lazada group in this region.
Mediamarkt, a German company, promotes Singles’ Day in their stores. Belgian Mediamarkt also participates, but reactions have been negative because the 11th of November is the anniversary of the Armistice that ended World War I, and the day is especially associated with somber commemoration of the war dead in Belgium, because Flanders was a major battleground.
I am classified in Asia as “single” even though I am a widower, and I am not in a relationship. You won’t find me celebrating or mourning on this day, however. Every day is Singles’ Day for me. I revel in my ability to live alone without commitment to anyone else. For singles on 11.11 here is 1,1,1,1 cake – a reference to the equal proportions of 4 ingredients. It is very easy – even singles with no cooking skills can make it.
1 cup self-raising flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup coconut
1 cup milk
Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C.
Grease a loaf pan and/or line with baking paper.
Spoon the cake mix into the loaf pan.
Bake for 40 min and test for doneness with a toothpick inserted in the center.
Cool in the pan on a wire rack, then turn out on to a plate.