520: China's Unofficial Valentine’s Day
May 18, 2023
Every year on May 20th, couples all over China celebrate their love for each other. For lovers in China, this holiday is yet another occasion to take a break from the daily grind and spend some quality time together.
In this article, we will talk about what the 520 festival is in China, where it comes from, and how the Chinese celebrate 520, before finally giving you some good 520 gift ideas.
What is the “520” festival (May 20th) in China?
May 20th , commonly referred to as “520 wǔ'èr líng”, is one of China’s several Chinese Valentine’s Days, in addition to the Qixi Festival and the Lantern Festival.
The date May 20th corresponds to the Chinese slang number 520 which sounds similar to 我爱你 wǒ ài nǐ, meaning “I love you” in Chinese.
What’s the origin of China’s 520 holiday?
Unlike most Chinese holidays that draw their origins from folk legends, the 520 Chinese Valentine’s Day found its roots in the 2000s Chinese internet culture.
The number 520 has long been associated with the phrase “I love you” in China, but it gained momentum among Chinese netizens thanks to the rise of the internet. Over the years, 520 evolved into a more mainstream way of saying “I love you”, especially among the younger generation.
In 1998, 520 became even more popular when the singer Fan Xiaolan released the song dubbed “Digital Love” in which the phrase “I love you” was replaced with the number 520.
Businesses in China decided to capitalize on this trend and started running campaigns on the corresponding date, May 20th (5/20), turning it into today’s unofficial Chinese Valentine’s Day, a day for lovebirds to celebrate love and romance.
How do Chinese people celebrate 520?
Although not an official holiday, 520 is celebrated by many couples in China to express their love for each other.
Generally, men would shower their girlfriends or wives with gifts and take them out on romantic dates. Since the 520 holiday is all about romantic love, many Chinese couples also choose this special date for their engagement or wedding.
In recent years, there has also been an increase in the number of women choosing to offer a token of love to their significant other the next day, on May 21st, because the number 521 is pronounced as wǔ'èryī, which sounds similar to “我愿意 wǒ yuànyì”, meaning “I am willing” or “I do” in Chinese.
Nowadays, the 520 festival has become rather commercial as many businesses see it as an opportunity to boost their sales, with Chinese e-commerce giants such as Taobao or JD.com running marketing campaigns targeting shoppers looking for gifts for their loved ones. Moreover, most restaurants are overwhelmingly busy, and bookings usually need to be made weeks in advance.
What are some popular gifts for the 520 Chinese Valentine’s Day?
Chocolates, flowers, jewelry, perfumes, and clothing accessories all make good 520 gift options. In certain cases, men may also get a bit more creative if they really want to wow their companion.
Just steer away from shoes or watches as that would be inappropriate according to Chinese gift-giving etiquette. In case you’re not sure about the dos and don’ts of Chinese gift-giving, be sure to read this guide to Chinese gift-giving etiquette before gift shopping.
In summary, the Chinese 520 festival is one of many Valentine's Days celebrated in China. Originating from Chinese internet culture, it is an unofficial holiday celebrated annually on May 20th. Today, the Chinese 520 festival is an occasion for couples to go on dates, offer each other special presents, get engaged, or even married.
We hope you enjoyed learning about China's 520 Valentine's Day. If you wish to learn more about Chinese culture and language, consider taking Chinese classes with Culture Yard. Sign up for your free trial Chinese course here.
About the Author
Juli Mboty has called China home for over 12 years where she became passionate about the Chinese culture, language, and history.