Veterans’ Day/Armistice Day/Singles’ Day: Evolving Traditions for November 11
—by Jinny Batterson
Tomorrow will be a holiday throughout much of the world—this time of year seems to fill with more holidays, as the end of the calendar year approaches, and as, in the northern hemisphere, days shorten and weather chills. Which holiday is celebrated tomorrow, though, will vary in different places.
In the United States of America, November 11 is celebrated as “Veterans’ Day,” honoring all veterans, living and dead, who’ve served in the American military throughout its history. In much of Europe and much of the English-speaking world, tomorrow will be observed either as “Remembrance Day,” or as “Armistice Day.” The original basis for the holiday is the armistice that was signed at the end of the “great war,” a nearly global conflict of the early 20th century. More than four years of hostilities that resulted in nearly 10 million combat deaths and tens of millions of both military and civilian casualties officially ceased at 11 a.m. on November 11, 1918. Celebrations in many places have evolved to include later conflicts which approached or surpassed that “war to end all wars” in ferocity, casualties, and damage. Survivors and descendants want an occasion to remember their loved ones who died.
November 11 is not associated with veterans in the People’s Republic of China, where veterans instead are honored on “Army Day,” which occurs on August 1 each year. That holiday marks the anniversary of the 1927 organization of one of the groups that gradually coalesced into the People’s Liberation Army as China’s civil war evolved during the late 1920’s, the 1930’s and then the 1940’s, finally resulting in victory and the creation of the P.R.C. in 1949. China’s military currently includes the largest ground force in the world, of roughly 1.6 million soldiers. Its forces also include a navy, an air force, and an “artillery” branch, which controls its strategic nuclear missiles. China’s military budget has been increasing in tandem with its economic growth over the past decade or so, with estimates for its 2014 military budget at a little less than the U.S. dollar equivalent of $150 billion. (The U.S. military budget, by comparison, is a little over $570 billion for 2014.)
China’s November 11 celebration has little to do with soldiering. Instead, it is “Singles’ Day,” honoring those not married, on this eleventh day of the eleventh month—11.11, or one, one, one, one. The number of singles in China is growing for a variety of reasons, including increased longevity, which results in more widows and widowers. Also, many younger people are delaying marriage, either because they relish the single lifestyle or because they want to have more savings and better prospects in advance of marriage. One of the most important factors, though, is the surplus of young men (or, put another way, the shortage of young women). Since the beginnings of China’s “one child” policy in the 1970’s, the gender ratio of Chinese births has increasingly skewed in favor of boy babies. Chinese society has a longstanding patriarchal tradition, and many Chinese parents still long for a son—if only one child is allowed, that had better be a boy. Estimates of China’s population in 2014 show just under 1.4 billion people (not counting Taiwan, Hong Kong, or Macau), with about 50 million fewer females than males.
While pundits and futurists debate what this imbalance may mean for China’s economic and global prospects (and for China’s young men and women of marriageable age), Chinese online retail giant Alibaba has for the past several years tried turning “Singles Day” into a marketing opportunity, with splashy advertisements and special offers for China’s estimated 360 million online shoppers. So take your pick—spend a quiet moment honoring a war loss, thank a living veteran, or shop online until your fingers and your credit card are worn out. Happy November 11…