This year I didn’t plan to partake in “Double 11”, a crazy online shopping festival organized by Alibaba in China, this year as in previous years. During the festival a limited quantity of goods is offered with a huge discount, so it’s like a shopping race. The discount rule grows more complicated year by year, in an apparent move by Alibaba to confuse consumers.
I’m not here to tell you some shopping strategies, which I obviously have no knowledge about, since I haven’t bought anything in previous years. Given the fact that the algorithm that decides who gets the discount when everybody hits the “Pay” button at the same time is unknown, I don’t think I’ll ever be that lucky one. In my entire lottery life, which ceased years ago, when I became aware of my forever unluckiness in this mysterious business, I have never won a soap, the symbol of the cheapest and the easiest-to-get prize in lottery history. For other goods with relatively lower discount rate, I don’t see the need to stock them for long term considering the time value of money.
But, that’s all my personal opinion. Everybody else I know is busy planning what to buy at least a week before “Double 11”. Despite my unenthusiastic attitude towards shopping during “Double 11”, I do like talking with friends about what they plan to buy, how much they think they’ll save, how the discount rule works. I’m always skeptical about businessmen’s tricks, trying to figure out where and how every cent is saved, whether the discount advertised is delivered without deviation. It’s strange to me that people actually think they save a lot by spending a lot.
During the beginning years of “Double 11”, it was truly the considerable discount that attracted people to buy loads of things. But like every business, the discount rate got lower and lower as the reputation of “Double 11” grew. I don’t think I’m the only one who has realized this change, but the people’s passion for this shopping event seems not to have faded at all. I didn’t understand why until recently.
I was reading news online—Americans talking about mid-term elections, British people talking about Brexit, where politics is the common topic that everyone can discuss. Suddenly I realized that “Double 11” is the only contemporary topic that truly involves everybody in China, since politics is not allowed to be discussed by us normal people. “Double 11” has become a ceremony to end the calendar year and prepare for Chinese New Year. People are even more jubilant about this than about any traditional festival.
“China is an authoritarian state prone to overreaction” is how The Economist puts it, which I as a Chinese think is quite right. We are prohibited not only from posting unregulated things on the internet, but also saying something rebellious in real life. There are giant slogans with rich red backgrounds everywhere reminding people to report any “improper” speech. Websites like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, which the Chinese government has no power over, are banned in China. I remember that Instagram was not prohibited in China until Occupy Central with Love and Peace (OCLP) in 2014, a campaign organized by Hong Kong residents aiming to pressure the PRC government into election reforms in the Hong Kong Chief Executive and Legislative Council. I guess Instagram had been on the Chinese government’s whitelist because it was only known for sharing the shallow surface of shiny lifestyles, nothing political. Everybody seems on endless vacations on Instagram. But during OLCP, Hong Kong residents started posting live photos, and then Instagram was banned along with other international mainstream social media platforms.
I happened to be in Hong Kong during OLCP, and after seeing it in person, I actually found the campaign to be nonsense. Since the main road was occupied, traffic was paralyzed, disturbing the daily life of local people; conflicts arose between local people who were against this campaign, and those who were for it. I believe if we had been given the whole picture of OLCP, most of us would have come up with the reasonable conclusion ourselves. I don’t like the Chinese government’s policy to prevent us from knowing anything. It feels like they don’t believe in us citizens making unbiased judgment ourselves, or maybe they just fear so much that we’d make our own unbiased judgement. Of course politicians hide things from the public, but we’d find out one way or another. The hiding attitude only makes the ugly truth uglier, and even makes the innocent look guilty, although they are guilty in most cases. I’m not saying western politics is better, I just appreciate their openness with their citizens. One credit that can be given to the Chinese government is that they do keep our daily life safe by conducting this strict political strategy.
With long-time pressure on free speech, people seem not to care about sensitive subjects that much, but the desire to express is not any less. In these circumstances, celebrity-worship, a legal form of focusing public attention, is gaining much more popularity than ever. Fans commonly operate more than one account on Weibo, a Twitter-like platform, to support their idols by replying, reposting, making trending topics and buying multiple copies of their idols’ works, or products represented by their idols, which gives them the feeling of contributing tremendously to their idols’ success. It’s not illegal or immoral, but it’s not healthy either. Celebrities should earn recognition through outstanding skills, rather than fans’ mad broadcasting. There is one conspiracy theory that it is America behind this, to distract Chinese people from the things that truly matter. Although indeed America is behind many international schemes, I doubt their part in this one. If there was someone manipulating the public order, it is more likely to be our own people. Entertainment agencies encouraging fans to do so for profit is one part. Government not regulating, because it’s not politically dangerous, is another.
It is natural that people long for the feeling of belonging to something. Isolation is seldom wanted. As for me, I am neither able to be involved in political discussion, nor am I interested in feverish fan culture. What is the platform for people like me to shore ourselves up then? Suddenly “Double 11” came into my mind. Why not enjoy the national shopping happiness and contribute to GDP? I thought to myself. Therefore, I joined the consumer army this year. I spent the whole evening discussing with my friends what to buy and browsing online, and finally added some beverages and toiletries to my cart, waited until 0:00 11 November to click the pay button. Minutes later, I heard the news that we broke last year’s record again despite the negative effect caused by the tariff war with the US. Celebration articles, pictures and videos were already flying online. Alibaba is happy. The government is happy. We are happy. Had I saved? How much had I saved? It doesn’t matter anymore. Pinning significance to normal things makes ordinary life less ordinary. I slipped into my bed contently and had a good sleep, spending the following week waiting for my packages.