Before the craziness begins at midnight for China’s annual 11.11 Global Shopping Day, a.k.a. Singles Day (guānggùn jié 光棍节), a.k.a. Double Eleven Day (shuāng shíyī 双十一), there is the insanity of Alibaba’s Tmall Double Eleven Gala (双十一天猫晚会), a.k.a. Maowan (猫晚). This year, SupChina is hosting a liveblog for those who want to gawk along at this pageant to consumerism.
On Saturday, November 10, starting at 7:35 pm China time (6:35 am EST in the U.S.), join us as we celebrate the 10th anniversary of an astronomical shopping phenomenon and blog along, as fast as our little fingers can carry us, to whatever shows up on stage.
What is the Singles Day Shopping Festival?
Back in the early aughts, Singles Day was just a joke festival started by some university kids in Nanjing who identified with the lonesome-looking 11.11 “bare branches” of November 11. Think of it as the precursor to “diaosi” culture — stressed out students who decided to take a sardonic view on their inability to move up socially ascribed ladders.
Then in 2009, Alibaba came along in what would become one of the Greatest Moments of Marketing History, welding its eCommerce shopping channels to empower and commercially weaponize this satirization of inferiority complexes. Treat yourself, said the big black digital cat, because no one else will.
And boy, did China treat itself.
Last year, the company generated $168.2 billion RMB in sales (roughly $25 billion USD), which means in one day it made the equivalent of what Macy’s makes the entire year.
Okay, so what is the Singles Day Gala?
A little while after it had revolutionized the concept of mobile shopping, Alibaba decided the next area it wanted to hype up was shopping as entertainment.
In 2015, it took its cue from the time-honored Chinese tradition of elaborate hours-long gala events and created its own televised variety show, complete with weird musical acts, bizarre skits, and random foreign celebrities popping up here and there. Daniel Craig came one year to sell some Cadillacs. Scarlett Johansson showed up another year to watch Jack Ma perform magic tricks.
And whatever it was that Alibaba thought it was doing, it worked. The four-hour pre-festival show now generates several billion yuan in revenue in its own right, with allegedly over 400 million shopper-watchers competing over interactive flash deals built into the entertainment.
And you’re liveblogging this why?
Back before Singles Day was even a twinkle in Alibaba’s eye, a devoted group of China watchers had an annual tradition of tweeting along to the extravaganza of the country’s annual Spring Festival Gala. Since the austerity drive of Xi Dada, however, the Spring Festival has become much less into topping its own ridiculous glamour year after year, and has become much more of a chore to watch.
Last year, realizing they had nothing to do on a Friday night and intrigued by the gazillions of Jack Ma-featuring kung-fu-themed advertisements everywhere advertising the 11.11 Gala, two former China bloggers decided to revisit the old days of liveblogging the Spring Gala. It’ll probably be boring, they thought, but maybe they’d find at least one thing to smirk about.
Their assessment of Maowan was very, very off. It was not boring. In fact, it was such a firehose of spectacle that even one year later, they are still trying to process it.
(Those two bloggers were myself and Jessica Colwell, who’ll be with me again for this year’s liveblog. Let’s take a look at last year’s highlights, shall we?)
Top Three Moments of Maowan 2017
1. When Jessie J kicked off the night’s anthology of foreign guests by singing “Price Tag.”
Yes. Price Tag.
2. When Pharrell showed up to not-rap with Kris Wu for the lamest earworm dedicated to shopping in China anyone has ever heard.
3. When we realized that Jack Ma’s career was all one big scheme to become rich enough to fight Jet Li as the star of his own Kung Fu movie.
No joke, we think he’s retiring next year because he has reached the zenith. And isn’t it all kinds of adorable that at least one tech billionaire’s childhood dream was nerdy wish fulfillment rather than say…world/space domination?
This year, SupChina has offered us a space to geek out at Maowan again, just in time for Singles Day’s 10th anniversary.
To be honest, we’re not sure what to expect. Unlike previous years, there are no advertisements plastered all over subways, and we have yet to be given any tastier name than Miranda Kerr. And yet, Alibaba just launched its own satellite into orbit to allegedly “enhance customer experience” during the gala, and Youku (hired to produce this year’s gala) has given one interview saying that this will be the biggest year yet.
Will the fourth gala top last year’s star-studded monstrosity? There’s really only one way to find out.
Follow along with us starting 7:35 pm Beijing time on November 10!
Elaine Chow, Jessica Colwell, and Fan Huang are former editors at Shanghaiist.com who all, despite no longer blogging for a living, maintain a deep love for and fascination with the spectacle and absurdity of Chinese gala culture. The liveblog on Saturday will be done with a healthy dose of lighthearted irreverence and, if we’re being honest, alcohol.