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China's Singles Day Is About Sexism and Shame

The world’s largest shopping day capitalizes on the pressure China’s "leftover women" feel to get married.

Brittany Holloway-Brown / Racked

The dreary concentric roads that encircle Beijing are one of the last places you’d expect to find love. But when I hopped aboard the dating bus “Love on the Third Ring” a few years ago, that’s exactly what was promised. As the vehicle careered down the highway, earnest young professionals chatted, moving from seat to seat, hoping to find a date — and, if they got lucky, a wife or husband. Zhang Jingjing, an unattached 28-year-old office clerk, hadn’t met anyone yet. But she told me she had already set her wedding day: Nov. 11, otherwise known as Singles Day.

Every year on Nov. 11, thousands of people across China celebrate Singles Day, some championing their independence with parties, many more trying to find a mate through matchmaking events. They also shop — a lot. The holiday was started by university students in the early 1990s, and by 2009, the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba had spotted an opportunity: A Singles Day sale. Since then, it has grown to become the world’s largest online shopping splurge.

Unlike Hallmark holidays such as “Grandparents Day” or “Bosses Day,” which are glibly manufactured for profit, Singles Day has become wildly successful because it taps into resonant issues around gender and marriage in China, which are exacerbated by generational shifts.

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