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Celebrating Singles’ day

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This is the 1510 Digest, a weekly roundup of recent essays and articles published on the Chinese web, with links to translations on the Marco Polo Project.

On November 11 – 11/11 – China celebrated ‘Singles’ day’. The origins of the festival are somewhat obscure – it allegedly started within a group of friends on the Nanjing campus in the early 90s – but it has since become a popular celebration. The festival has grassroots origin, and its fame spread over the internet, though business has also encouraged this festival, seeing urban singles as an attractive consumer group. A form of ‘bachelor pride’ for unmarried young people, singles’ day is an occasion for them to come together and indulge, or – for others – it is a day to get married and say goodbye to single’s life.

This festival also reflects changes in contemporary Chinese relationships and families, which this week’s digest will focus on. Li Yinhe’s post looks through the causes for the growing number of single-person households in China; Peng Peng reflects on the reasons why Singles’ day turned into an e-shopping festival; and Wang Feng’s more melancholy piece, ‘Chinese lonesomeness’, gives us insight into the spiritual life of a single Chinese urbanite.

Li Yinhe discusses why more and more people choose to remain single
By Li Yinhe, 09 November 2012

In this article published shortly before Singles’ day, famous sociologist Li Yinhe, specialist of gender and sexual questions, discusses the reasons for the increase.

There has been a global increase in the number of single-person households, which is extending to China – with an estimated over 1 million young people of marriegable age living alone in Shanghai and Beijing, and over 10 million across China. This marks a significant change with traditional sociological descriptions of Chinese society, where family interests were said to dominate.

Li Yinhe sees four main causes for this change. First, the rise of individualism that has accompanied urbanisation and modernisation – so that many people now choose the lifestyle. Second, gender equality, giving women the possibility to become economically independent, has also given them the possibility to choose a single lifestyle. Third, and more complex, the increase in life expectancy is a cause. With longer life, the idea of a life-long partner has taken on a different meaning, and this accounts partly for the increased divorce rate. In turn, some people choose to not get married due to the high cost of a divorce. And finally, the end of the worship of fertility, as ancestor worship declines as a religious practice, and pension systems reduce the pressing need for offspring to look after the elderly, has led to a decrease in the necessity of marriage for reproduction.

Li Yinhe encourages not to think of this wave of single life along moral lines, as a good or bad thing – morality changes over time, the choice of a single lifestyle is in line with the rights of people, and we should rejoice to live in a time of such freedom and personal choice.

The piece finishes with a short interview in which Li Yinhe proposes her views on turning a passionate relationship into a stable marriage, the possibilities of negociating free love within a marriage instead of divorcing, and the importance of sex education in light of a growing trend of premarital sex.

Marco Polo translation: Li Yinhe discusses why more and more people choose to remain single
Original link: 李银河谈为何越来越多人选择单身

How did Singles’ day become online shopping day?
By Peng Peng, 13 November 2012

In this article published in the Southern daily, blogger Peng Peng describes the way the online shopping economy took over singles’ day.
Acknowledging the importance of the festival – a grassroots celebration developed from China – though inspired by Western festivals such as Valentine’s day, Mother’s day and Halloween. It is quite common for festivals to become occasion for shopping, but this year saw a new phenomenon: Singles’ day became a special day for online shopping, with discounts offered to singles. This is part of the shift towards new models of retail and consumption: in 2013, China is expected to become the largest online retail market globally, and Guangdong is leading the way in China. The use of Singles’ Day by electronic businesses in turn led to promotions in other retail sectors.
This taking over of Singles’ day by electronic commerce, argues Peng Peng, is not incidental: singles spend an increasing amount of time online, including on dating sites – ironically, Peng Peng shows how the desire to ‘lose you single status’ by online dating leads to a shift to online commerce – where they buy gifts for prospective partners. The discount is also appealing, 11 November is a good date to buy clothes for the winter, and is just between Autumn Festival and Christmas.
He concludes by seeing the economic and sociological importance of that celebration, and envisaging the possibilities of this Chinese social innovation spreading to the world.

Marco Polo translation: Li Yinhe discusses why more and more people choose to remain single
Original link: 光棍节缘何变成了网购节?

Chinese lonesomeness
By Wang Feng, 12 July 2012

In this melancholy post, blogger Wang Fend describes a certain sense of lonesomeness pervading contemporary China – a . In spite of all the material progress China has made, yet there has been a spiritual change for the worse, a loss of values and grounding, and a sense of loss. This, he also connects to migration: many dynamic and enthusiastic Chinese people are leaving the country, aspiring for a better life the new context has given them the desire for – but this, he also attributes to a general sense of anxiety, sadness, and lonesomeness.
He distinguishes two feelings, loneliness – a weakness, a gap to be filled – and lonesomeness, a much stronger, relentless emptiness that does not want to be filled. This sense of lonesomeness, he relates to the growing materialism – a ceaseless, bottomless desire for material goods, that can never be satisfied, and has taken the place of love. Meanwhile, the successes of China, or moments of patriotic coming together – like aid for the Sichuan earthquake – alleviate this lonesomeness somewhat, but only temporarily. The joy is gone, the sparkle is gone, only anxiety remains.

Marco Polo translation: Chinese lonesomeness
Original link: 孤独的中国人

All articles in this digest and a large range of other Chinese readings are accessible at Marcopoloproject.org. Some are available in English, French and Spanish translation. (You can join the project if you’d like to help with translations.)

Danwei is an affiliate of the Australian Centre on China in the World at The Australian National University. This posting is a result of one project that is part of that on-going collaboration.

The China Story, China Heritage Quarterly and East Asian History are publications of the Australian Centre on China in the World.