With November 11 around the corner – in China, a Cyber Monday-like online shopping festival – ecommerce giant Alibaba saw its share price surge. The firm says that this year it will focus on sustainability and inclusiveness, amid exhortations from Beijing for companies to work for “common prosperity”.

The Chinese ecommerce shopping extravaganza, known as Double Eleven or Singles’ Day, officially started its pre-sale on Wednesday. Soon after the opening ceremony, many netizens noted that the Taobao app, one of Alibaba’s ecommerce platforms, crashed following a surge in traffic. Meanwhile, Alibaba’s share price rose as much as 9% on Wednesday.

The company stated that this year, it would issue 100m yuan ($US15.6m) worth of “green vouchers” to encourage purchases that “contribute to an environmentally friendly lifestyle”. Alibaba’s logistics arm, Cainiao, also announced it would start recycling packaging materials across 10,000 distribution stations in 20 Chinese cities beginning November.

In addition, Alibaba also said it would introduce a function enabling sellers to donate a portion of their sales to efforts supporting senior citizens living alone, “left-behind children” in rural areas and low-income workers. It is also pledged to donate one yuan for every social media share mentioning its “Goods for Good” purchases.

The initiatives come at a time when Chinese regulators are urging tech companies to contribute to more to society. During a national speech in August, President Xi Jinping said that “common prosperity is an essential requirement of socialism and an important feature of Chinese-style modernisation,” highlighting that China had to adhere to a “people-centred concept of development”.

Soon after, Alibaba pledged to set aside 100bn yuan (US$15.5bn) to foster “common prosperity”. The allocation will be distributed before 2050 to promote investment in technology, support small businesses, advance development in rural areas, help the overseas expansion of small businesses and improve welfare among gig economy workers.

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Other major Chinese tech companies, including Tencent, Pinduoduo and Xiaomi, have made similar pledges.

Companies have also been called upon to focus on sustainability. Last year, Xi pledged that China intended to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.

“This year’s festival marks a new chapter for 11.11,” Chris Tung, chief marketing officer of Alibaba said, as reported by the South China Morning Post. “We believe we must leverage the power of 11.11 to encourage sustainable development and promote inclusiveness to consumers, merchants and partners across our ecosystem.”

Sighted in Spain

In addition to the upcoming shopping festival, another factor that may have added to Alibaba’s share price success was the resurfacing of the company’s founder, Jack Ma, who made an appearance in Spain. The South China Morning Post reported on Tuesday that Ma was on a “study tour” of Spanish agricultural regions and businesses.

This was the first international trip the billionaire made since his run-in with Chinese financial regulators last year, when the hotly anticipated IPO of Alibaba’s financial arm, Ant Group, was torpedoed at the eleventh hour.

Investors and analysts have suggested that China’s Communist Party made the last-minute move to silence Ma, who had often publicly criticised the Chinese government.

Singles’ Day

November 11, colloquially known in China as Double Eleven or Singles’ Day, has become an unofficial holiday and shopping season that celebrates people who are not in a relationship.

For the event, Alibaba’s ecommerce websites, such as Tmall and Taobao, offer steep discounts and exclusive offers. Other Chinese online retailers have also jumped onto the bandwagon offering similar deals.

The event was first introduced by Alibaba in 2009 and has since become the largest shopping day in the world, surpassing Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales combined. Last year, the ecommerce giant’s sales exceeded $US74bn, setting a new record for the company.

In recent years, the shopping carnival has been kicked off weeks in advance with pre-sales and events. Alibaba has also introduced various Double Eleven-related tv shows and music festivals featuring Chinese celebrities promoting the various platforms and their products.

Following Alibaba’s immense success with its Double Eleven campaign, domestic competitor introduced its own cyber shopping festival on June 18, marketed as 618.

The date November 11 is said to be representative of singledom because the numeral one resembles a bare stick, which is Chinese slang for an unmarried person who does not add “branches” to the family tree.