Five Most Interesting Unconventional Holidays in China

8 min read 

“Hey, help me choose a color for this down jacket,” a friend texted me around midnight on the magical day of November 11, the carnival of e-commerce and Single’s Day, when the internet on Taobao experienced a massive server failure due to the tens of millions of connections.

Chinese people have always been creative when it comes to inventing holidays from special industrial holidays like Journalists Day to the internet Valentine’s Day May 20 and May 21. Here we have a list of five of the most interesting non-traditional holidays in China.

March 7, Girls’ Day

Girls’ Day emerged during a period of rising feminism, back in the late 1980s. It was created by female college students to distinguish themselves from the older population. The thing is, while the International Women’s Day (IWD) is celebrated on March 8 every year, the day is translated in Chinese as “Funv” Day, which literally means “middle-aged women” day. The term “funv” is usually used to refer to middle-aged women, or in ancient times young women who have married. Thus, for the younger generations who are not yet ready to let the term define them, but still want to celebrate Women’s Day, they’ve come up with the idea to celebrate it one day ahead, and call it Girls’ Day. And that’s how March 7 came to be known as Girls’ Day in China officially.

The trend started spreading and gaining popularity around China, especially in some Chinese colleges of sciences where girls were regarded as “rare species”. So on Girls’ Day, boys would hang up all sorts of banners, expressing their love and affections for their muses.

Girls’ Day banner (source: ChinaVisual)

However, some of the banners got a little out of control sometimes and included messages that range from humorous blessings to outspoken and even vulgar slogans that insinuate sex, like “the gentle spring breeze is nothing compared to a night with you”, or “let’s enjoy today and please forget about me tomorrow”. A holiday designated for feminists thus became tainted by such disrespectful remarks towards college girls.

A 24-year old feminist Xiao Meili wrote for the Chinese Financial Times about Girls’ Day:

“Celebrating this so-called “girls’ day” is essentially the same thing as giving aphrodisiacs to lesbians. The two may seem wildly different, but their nature is the same. Girls that fall in line with masculism views of how girls should act, usually suggesting vulgar or indecent behavior, are accepted, while those who don’t are treated as “leftovers”. Therefore, when you look at it this way, Girls’ Day is really just another holiday for boys. It gives little to no respect for girls and reap them from the benefits and interests that the day originally entailed.”

Later, with the spirit of gender equality, November 10 became known as Boys’ Day in Tsinghua University. It comes just one day before Bachelor’s Day, ever since 2002. On that day, flattering banners for boys went flying across the campus with slogans like, “The most romantic thing I could possibly imagine is slowly becoming bald with you.” (This is an allusion to a running joke in China that engineers or programmers often experience a more severe problem of hair loss compared to those studying in other fields) See, teasing could work both ways.

May 20, the Internet Valentine’s Day

May 20, or the Internet Valentine’s Day in China, is one of the earliest holidays that were invented, which stands as a stark contrast against the double eleven. However, the two share some similarities in that they are all good news for e-commerce vendors.

520, Valentine’s Day (source: CBS Sacramento)

The pronunciation of May 20 and May 21 in mandarin sounds similar to “I love you”, which gives Chinese couples another reason to celebrate their lovey-dovey occasions. There are way too many Valentine’s Days in China, besides the International Valentine’s Day on February 14, Christmas and New Year’s Eve. May 20 and the traditional seventh of July in the lunar calendar are also widely celebrated. In Chinese, there’s a typical saying that goes, “the world is especially unfriendly to ‘single dogs’”, which really just means the world is cruel to single people.

It has already become a standard ritual for boys to send red packets through WeChat to their girlfriends on this day and set the amount to 520 yuan, or at least 52 yuan. But then if you love your girlfriend 365 days a year, you are never short of reasons to express your love, right?

September 13, Programmers’ Day

As to which country has the best programmers, a report in 2016 from California-based HackerRank says it is China. “Chinese programmers outscore all other countries in mathematics, functional programming, and data structures challenges, while Russians dominate in algorithms.”

the Programmers’ Day (source: Exception Not Found)

The internationally recognized Programmers’ Day is September 13, which is originally an official Russian holiday. However, the Chinese version of the day is on October 24, because 1024 is equivalent to 2 to the 10th power. According to Baidubaike, the essence of this holiday is for “saying no to working overtime”, which is hilarious because it has become a widely recognized norm for programmers to work overtime. Pretty much everyday.

In China, programmers have a cute nickname called “Ma Nong”, which literal means “coding peasants” in Chinese. The process of debugging can be more than a tedious and taxing mission, just like ploughing through a barren land. The nickname has a sense of self-mockery in it. With the fast growing internet ecosystem in China, programmers are like the last Jedis of the cyberworld, protecting and maintaining order on the cyberworld. They are often described as calm and composed individuals, who can separate themselves from distracting societal affairs, anxiety, and strong desires for taking a shortcut to success.

There is a stereotypical joke running in China about programmers often working overtime, getting bald easily, and having a hard time finding girlfriends. They are often teased by girls for their bad taste in clothing, or acting nerdy on dates. But the fact is that, usually born into a working class family, they earn a pretty good salary, and lead a stable life later on, which most people in first-tier cities dream of.

Programmers’ Day is not only a celebration of “saying no to working overtime”, it celebrates the revival of a low-profile personality, paying tributes to those who are at the core of technologies without a self-important attitude.

October 10, Moe Day

the Moe Day

October 10 in China, is also known as Moe Day, due to the combination of Chinese characters for October 10 as “萌”, which is “moe” in Japanese. The character for “moe” came from the ACGN culture in Japan. It is originally used to describe a genuine non-erotic affection for lovely characters in animations or games. On that day, netizens will post their collections of the cutest pictures or their lovely selfies on social platforms.

On October 10, 2015, the most popular ACGN short video platform in China Bilibili.com celebrated its first Moe Day, inviting 10 stars, 21 uploaders, and eight voice actors to upload their moe videos.

November 11, Single’s Day and Shopping Festival

The original Double 11, or Singles’ Day, is a non-official, unconventional holiday that has its roots in the campus of the University of Nanking. In 1993, four single college students came up with the idea of celebrating Bachelors’ Day during their daily bedtime conversations. Later, it gradually evolved into a campus culture, which spread from the University of Nanking to other universities around the country.

Later, with the boom of e-commerce, the day is now a newly invented excuse for spending money. Many people are armed with an immeasurable purchasing power. Consumption drives economy, while credit cards and Ant Financial drive consumption. We have arrived at an era where we no longer feel the need to brag about our savings anymore. It is “carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero”. Now or never!

the double eleven

For me personally, I barely felt a thing when the event was happening. I told myself that I was going to simply get cozy in bed and fall asleep before being seduced into the evil trap of shopping without control once again.

“Are you kidding me? Just buy something! Anything, come on! It’s Double 11! You will not get a similar bargain again afterwards.” My friend almost yelled at me upon hearing what I have planned for the evening before the big day.

I really don’t know what to buy, especially when the system is designed to advertise millions of products that you might be interested in. Big Data and artificial intelligence can accurately target the right items and advertise them to you after gathering months or years of previous browsing histories. The problem is, after a while, you just don’t feel the impulse, the urge to spend anymore. You begin to grow out of your old self when you used to lose yourself in the idea that everything before you is worth buying.

Everyday can be a holiday if you give it a proper reason. Last Thursday was the National Journalists Day. When I asked a friend from the Xinhua News Agency, the largest state-run press agency, how she would celebrate this holiday, she replied, “work harder on writing reports!”

(Feature photo credit to Alibaba Group)

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