Alex Ahlstrom
I am in love with travel, culture and finance around the world. After working in international real estate finance around Asia and America, I want to share some of my experiences.

Chinese Consumer Culture has 4 Valentine’s Days and a Shopping Holiday Larger than Black Friday

China has had its own Valentines day, “QiXi 七夕,” for more than 2600 years. But, in the past few years, Chinese consumer culture has really come into a world of its own, adding and transforming both new and old holidays. In fact, what used to be known as “Chinese Singles’ Day,” on November 11th, because 11/11 is all ones symbolizing single people, has eclipsed the combined total of American Black Friday and Cyber Monday as the highest grossing sales day of the year.

Valentine’s Day #1 – QiXi 七夕

“七 Qi” means “seven” and “夕 Xi” means “night.” Once a year, on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month, two lovers, a woman named Zhinü, and a man named Niulang, were reunited after a flock of magpies formed a bridge to reunite them. Over thousands of years this holiday has come to have meaning for marriages, wisdom and even the ability to sew fabrics under a half-lit moon.

Zhinü and Niulang meeting in the sky on the day of Qixi
photo by qixifestival.com

In modern China, it is a holiday that needs to be recognized, but, in terms of all of the romantic holidays, QiXi is surely not the main event. In fact, this might be the only Valentine’s Day of the four that doesn’t have a focus on spending.

Valentine’s Day #2 – Western Valentines Day

It is hard to say when China started to adopt Western Valentine’s Day, but most likely around the 1990s. And, as many things in China, the holiday started in the international cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong and started to work its way into smaller cities. Today, most cities above 1 million in population, of which china has more than 100 cities of this size, will celebrate Western Valentine’s Day to some degree.

The K11 Shopping Mall in Shanghai preparing for Western Valentine’s day
photo from China Daily

Unlike some metropolises in America that have a special Valentine’s Day menu in every restaurant, only some Western Restaurants in China will have special Valentine’s Day Offerings. Though these restaurants only make up a small percentage of the overall restaurants, the prices per person for Valentine’s Day Dinner is around USD $100 – $200 in Shanghai.

Don’t Think That Just Any Gift Will Do

It is really bad luck to give your lover an umbrella in China, because the word san伞 is a homonym for breaking up, san 散。Homonyms are very common in Chinese culture where one way to say a word, for example “ma” can have dozens of meanings ranging from “horse” to “mother” to question mark or “number.”

Also, if gifts are given in sets, it is better to be in sets of 9, because the Chinese word for “nine”, jiu九, is also the way to pronounce “longevity,” jiu 久. Interestingly enough, jiu is also the way to say “alcohol,” so maybe a gift of wine would show a Chinese loved on that you are in the relationship for the long-haul. And, to round out homonyms, amongst the 27 characters pronounced as “jiu,” jiu can also mean 舅=uncle, 究=research,韭=leek (like the food) and 旧=old.

To confirm, all of these characters 臼韭救九旧久就阄酒揪舅纠究玖鸠灸鹫啾厩咎疚桕蹴鬏赳柩僦 are pronounced as “jiu.”

Valentine’s Day #3 – White Valentine’s Day

Celebrated exactly a month after Western Valentine’s Day, on March 14th, this holiday actually was started in Japan in the late 1970s and seeped into nearby Asian countries. If there wasn’t enough pressure on the boyfriend or husband to perform already, the man is supposed to gift to his girlfriend or wife 2-3x the amount that the woman gifted to him on Valentine’s Day. In fact, if the man only gives the same amount of gift that the woman gave him on Valentine’s Day, then he is meant to be showing that he wants to break up with her. What a sign of consumerism that the same amount is never enough.

This holiday is celebrated across China. Somehow, in my time in China, this holiday was not marketed with the same flare as Western Valentine’s Day. Restaurants weren’t having the special menus, but there were flower shops marketing the holiday and it seemed like a nice day to buy flowers for a loved one, without (hopefully) being dumped for not outdoing Valentine’s Day.

Valentine’s Day # 4 – May 20th

520 = 我爱你 = I Love You

Remember that the Chinese love homonyms? Yes, this entire holiday is based on the pronounciation of May 20th sounding similar to “I love you.” I personally think that this is a bit of a stretch, May 20th is Wu Er Ling, and “I love you” is Wo Ai Ni. Maybe the wu = wo, but er=/=ai, and ling definitely isn’t ni. Nonetheless, 520 became popular in only the past decade from internet users using 520 as shorthand. But, consumerism around this holiday is strong. Imported roses will sell for USD $50 per rose, and local flower prices will even jump more than 6-fold. This is at the same time that some government offices are breaking records for most marriages in a day on May 20th.

What if Someone is Single? 11/11 November 11th

This used to only be known as Singles’ Day in China. Single people would get together and have large groups for dinner, ostensibly to enjoy their time being single or maybe it was to find a way out of being single. November has 2x 1s and the 11th is also 2x 1s, and the Chinese thought that all the 1s together symbolized singles. Until Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, came and turned it into the largest shopping day in Human History. Similar to shift from Thanksgiving to Black Friday, Singles’ Day is no longer a time to meet with people, it is a time to shop and get those great deals.

Jack Ma, Chairman of Alibaba and Main Reason Behind Singles’ Day Success
Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images

The best deals to be had on Singles’ Day are overwhelmingly from Chinese electronics brands like Huawei, Meizu and Xiaomi. Due to proximity and logistics, shipping times for products bought from China on Singles’ Day can be as much as a month to the states. But, Singles’ Day shopping specials have started popping up in Europe and America anyways.

So, there you have it. China has a total of four Valentine’s Days, with a strong emphasis on consumerism for three of them, and a Singles’ Day that got morphed into the largest shopping day in the world.

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