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How Singles’ Day Became Biggest Shopping Spree Ever: QuickTake

Now starring.

Now starring.

Photographer: Dave Hogan/Getty Images 

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In just over a decade Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. turned Singles’ Day, a quirky celebration of Chinese singlehood, into the world’s biggest shopping event, drawing in hundreds of millions of people across the globe. This year’s extravaganza will be closely watched by investors keen to gauge how willing Chinese consumers are to spend in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic -- and how eager U.S. merchants are to return amid Washington’s escalating drive to curb Chinese technology giants.

When Nov. 11 is written numerically -- 11/11 -- the four digits evoke “bare branches,” a Chinese expression for the unattached. On Chinese university campuses in the 1990s, 11/11 evolved into a celebration of being single in a culture where young people face heavy parental pressure to get married -- an antidote to Valentine’s Day. The country’s rising middle class turned that into a phenomenon.