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黃澄《賣花聲》 “To the tune Maihuasheng (Flower peddlers’ sound)” by Huang Cheng









People walk the boulevard

In the dawn hue, with red and purple on their shoulder poles.

Bamboo baskets are filled to the brim

With waves of petals and pistils.

[She] wakes up [behind] the patterned curtains,

An expanse of autumn water in [her] eyes.

Hearing the new song

At once hurries [her] up.









Chants for the red, cries for the white -

Has the news reached bees?

West and east

Linger voices of tenderness and beauty.

Competing to buy at the gate

Tilts [her] high hairdo soon -

To add to [her] spring delicacy,

The rouge scent under her curtain.

* From Huacao cuibian 花草稡編, edited by Chen Yaowen 陳耀文 (1524?-1605?), Yingyin Wenyuange Siku Quanshu 景印文淵閣四庫全書 edition (Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1987, vol. 1490), 21a-21b.

[1] Coloured characters rhyme.

Details showing three ladies with fresh flowers in their hairdos from the "Zanhua shinü tu" 簪花仕女圖 (Court Ladies Wearing Flowered Headdresses) by Zhou Fang 周昉 (c.730-800); picture source

Details showing peddlers who are selling flowers on the street; from the "Qingming shanghe tu" 清明上河圖 (Along the River During the Qingming Festival) by Zhang Zeduan 張擇端 (1085-1145); picture source


To commemorate my first self-conscious participation in the major midyear shopping festival on 18 June in China, I found this nice little poem from the 15th century. I enjoy the interesting contrasts in the poem between the girl before and after hearing the peddlers’ sound and between the languorous tone typical of such a ci poem and the potentially fierce competition it actually depicts. There is also something timeless in this poem: enthusiasm for shopping.

Although I’ve been back in China for over a year, I only realised recently that I happened to have escaped the two major shopping festivals last year: 618 (18 June) and Double 11 (11 November). I was busy re-discovering my hometown last June and travelling around in the second half of the year. The 618 festival may have existed for quite a few years, but I never really paid attention to it until this year, after I was introduced to the new world of e-commerce live streaming.

Everything started with something that I needed. A friend of mine told me that a live streamer often has great offers for this kind of goods. Just as you can’t ignore the book sitting next to the book you are looking for in the library, I also watched the live streamer’s introductions to other products and found it surprisingly helpful for my translation work about skincare, makeup, perfume, and fashion, some fields that I’d really never ventured into until last year.

Gradually it became my habit to watch live streaming on Taobao when I have a moment in the evening, and it didn’t take long before I was marked as a big fan of the live streamer. From time to time, I brought home things like an anti-bacteria chopping board, a diatomaceous earth bath mat, a sun protection hat, disposable toilet brushes, facial cleansing towelettes, etc. Meanwhile, I found myself spending a lot of time checking out science videos, studies, and books to counter the temptation to purchase those endless skincare products that always sound great, or even essential.

What makes it worse is that the offers in live streaming are indeed insanely good. After a few failed attempts to buy what I wanted (with a bit of hesitation), I came to accept the fact that I am probably competing with a million people who are also sitting alone in their room, clicking the shopping link as soon as it’s made available. Although I have experienced the competition several times, it still hasn’t ceased to amaze me how tens of thousands of products can be sold out in the blink of an eye. I might be luckier than the 15th century girl in the sense that I don’t have to mess up my hair, but the competition in 21st century online shopping is definitely crueller.

And then came the 618 promotions. The campaign in live streaming started in late May, releasing long lists of (seemingly) fantastic products and offers that are bound to be “greater than ever”. Live streaming also helped me notice the presence of similar big promotion elsewhere. Wading through the “chants for red, cries for white” across several online shopping platforms, I tried very hard to restrict my shopping list to a few items that I absolutely need in the short term. Another friend of mine, who, like myself, is not yet fully immune to the power of excellent marketing skills, stocked up with serum on the “buy 2 get 2 free” offer. She said the live streamer made her feel like she would not be able to live the rest of the year with a peaceful mind if she missed the offer.

When I walked in the convenient pickup point near my place on Friday, I found heaps of parcels in the storage space that is usually tidy and well-organised. I suddenly recalled that I had seen something similar last November near my friend’s place in Shenzhen, but I was just watching from the sidelines back then. Last Friday was more memorable because it was the first time that I had to find my own parcels in those heaps. My mother told me that my cousin had to use a big trolley to pick up her parcels, so I guess my attempts to curb my desire to buy buy buy took reasonable effect.

So that was my first actual engagement with the 618 festival. Not an experience that is very friendly to the balance on the bank account, but still an interesting one to have, even just for the sake of witnessing the purchasing power of Chinese netizens around me. Now my next challenge is of course overcoming the addiction to live streaming and all the struggles resulting from it and developing perfect immunity against the shopping mania...


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