- Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba is known for extravagant events and displays.
- Every year, the company holds an event called “Ali Day” to celebrate its employees and their families.
- The day features a lavish mass wedding celebration, presided over by founder Jack Ma.
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Alibaba is a Chinese e-commerce giant, and its founder Jack Ma is the richest man in the country.
It is often compared to Amazon, but Amazon doesn’t hold a candle to the extravagance of Alibaba’s events. Its annual shopping extravaganza “Singles Day” outstrips Amazon’s Prime Day for sales, and last year it featured a Mariah Carey performance and a Cirque du Soleil act.
We went to Alibaba’s 24-hour shopping extravaganza that is like nothing in America, featuring a Mariah Carey performance and an online-shopping-themed Cirque du Soleil act. Here’s what it reveals about the future of retail.
This kind of ceremonial spectacle isn’t just part of Alibaba’s marketing, it’s ingrained into its corporate culture. Every year the company celebrates “Ali Day” to honour the company’s employees and their families.
Some of the celebrations resemble a typical company day out, with playgrounds for employees’ children and sports games for staff. But the centrepiece of the day is the mass employee wedding, which Jack Ma himself officiates.
Here is a snapshot of what it’s like inside Alibaba’s group weddings.
“Ali day” has been running for 15 years, and the company claims it came into being because of SARS.
According to an Alibaba press release, the origins of Ali day sprung from the outbreak of SARS in 2002, an acute respiratory illness that killed 774 people in total.
After an employee started displaying symptoms, all of Alibaba’s employees were sent home to be quarantined. Some 400 Alibaba staff reportedly worked from home for eight days.
“A year later, an employee suggested a day to commemorate the way all Aliren, as Alibaba employees are known, and their families came together during that time,” the press release reads.
CEO Jack Ma designated May 10 as “Ali Day.”
It was the date when Alibaba managed to launch a new consumer shopping site in the middle of the SARS outbreak.
Ma announced Ali Day in an email to employees in which he said: “Adversity is a necessary ingredient in the making of great men and companies.”
“Every 10th of May, we will host a series of activities to acknowledge and inspire the spirit of Alibaba in every Aliren. You will see, hear and feel the corporate values of Alibaba in stories of people around us. You will know how these values have worked miracles in ordinary life,” Ma wrote.
The employee group wedding takes place at Alibaba HQ in Hangzhou.
The wedding isn’t an official ceremony, but rather a celebration of all the Alibaba couples who have got married over the past year.
At least one half of the couple has to work for Alibaba.
They walk down a red carpet to the ceremony.
The grooms present the brides with flowers.
102 couples take part, and the number 102 is symbolic.
In 2014 Jack Ma explained the significance of 102 to Alibaba, as reported by Forbes’ Heng Shao.
Ma believes that Alibaba will last 102 years. “The length of our marriage is 102 years, and we have 87 years left. After 87 years you can marry some else. But within these 87 years, you cannot change your mind,” Ma said at the 2014 event.
This year’s event was live-streamed on Youku, a video-sharing service owned by Alibaba.
The broadcast lasted almost two and a half hours, and featured aerial shots of the couples arriving.
Some of the participants were interviewed live on the stream.
Jack Ma often officiates the wedding.
Jack Ma gives the couples his blessing, although in 2017 he had to patch in via video link.
Jack Ma drew criticism for this year’s Ali Day wedding ceremony, when he encouraged the couples to have lots of sex and bear children.
Ma made a pun on Chinese tech’s gruelling “996” workweek, which stands for working 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. six days a week – and which Ma has vehemently defended.
“At work, we emphasise the spirit of 996. In life, we should follow 669,” said Ma. “What is 669? Six days, six times, with duration being the key,” he said, making a pun as the word for “nine” sounds like the word for “long” in Chinese.
The couples wear traditional robes.
But they haven’t always been decked out in traditional dress. In this 2013 photo, a couple attends the ceremony in soccer shirts.
The number of couples also hasn’t always been 102. Some 688 couples attended the 2013 Ali Day wedding, according to Getty, and spelt out “I love you.”
And like a lot of weddings, the newlyweds finish proceedings by marching through a shower of confetti.
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