Three years after eight commercial firms were granted permission by the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) to start their pilot programmes in operating personal credit systems in 2015, none of them have received a license.
Instead, they’ve now become shareholders and active contributors to a new unified platform that has access to an enormous number of personal credit data. At the so-called ‘trust alliance’ (信联) Baihang Credit (百行征信), state level and commercial organizations join forces in further developing China’s credit systems.
How they can share data without harming Chinese recent laws on privacy, however, remains vague.
An important moment within this development started over twelve years ago (to be precise: on March 20 of 2006), when the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) began operating its own independent Credit Reference Center. The goal of the brand-new center was to set up the reliable credit checking platform which China was still lacking at the time.
At its core, it was tasked with managing a national commercial and consumer credit reporting system, to enable financial institutions to assess borrowers’ creditworthiness.
In November of 2013, during the Third Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Congress, new plans were adopted to also “establish and improve a social credit system to commend honesty and punish dishonesty” (USC 2013), putting more pressure on the formation of a solid credit checking system in China.
Months later, in 2014, the Chinese State Council issued an official notice concerning the construction of a nationwide Social Credit System that was to be rolled out by 2020 (Creemers 2014).
Three Years of the “Credit Leap Forward”
It is perhaps no coincidence that not too long after the formal announcement of these plans, that would lead to a more credit-based Chinese society, the PBOC Credit Center opened its doors to eight Chinese companies to work on trial programmes to prepare for operating their own personal credit information businesses.
At the time, in 2015, the PBOC’s Credit Center had been around for nearly a decade, yet still ‘only’ covered 25% of the Chinese population, leaving ample risks in the control process of Chinese financial services (Yang 2017).
You could say that 2015 was an important year in which competition for China’s multi-billion personal credit investigation market really began, along with the flourishing of China’s Internet population and the growing demand for personal online data information (Jun 2015). A recent Caixin column by Xinhai Liu (刘新海), associate researcher at the Credit Reference Center, even calls the 2015-2018 period the “Credit Great Leap Forward” (“征信大跃进的三年”).
Besides that new personal credit rating tech firms started to pop up, the year 2015 was also the year when misconceptions arose in foreign media regarding these existing credit systems.* ACLU called it “nightmarish,” falsely claiming that all Chinese would be “measured by a score between 350 and 950, which is linked to their national identity card” and that “the government has announced that it will be mandatory by 2020.”
As explained in our recent article about this issue, these discussions – that continue in foreign media to this day – often blur the lines between the national Social Credit system and a number of private programs. (To understand more about the difference between the government’s Social Credit system and the commercial ones, please read the previous article we featured on this topic.)
These misunderstandings partly come from the fact that both the government’s plans on introducing their ‘Social Credit System’ (社会信用体系) and the Central Bank’s endeavors to build a stronger personal credit industry (个人征信行业) were major developments in the period from 2013-2015 up to the present.
The Eight Programmes
With such a strong demand for solid credit rating systems, why have none of the eight approved tech firms received their license, over three years after starting pilot operations?
One of the main problems with commercial services such as the well-known ‘Sesame Credit’ is, according to PBOC spokesperson Wan Cunzhi, that they are all “isolated islands” (“信息孤岛”) of non-shared data, that they are lacking in independence, and that their data management is not strong enough (Yang 2017).
The coming-together of these “islands” solves this problem and forms one solid platform under the ‘Baihang’ label. Which eight companies does this concern? An overview:
1. Sesame Credit (芝麻信用)
This is the best-known commercial personal credit score programme, implemented by Alibaba’s Ant Financial. Sesame Credit already had 520 million users as of 2017.
Sesame Credit was launched in 2015. Because it is part of the Alibaba family, Sesame Credit has an enormous amount of data at its disposal, from e-commerce sites to finance products (Taobao, Tianmao, Alipay, etc), through which it compiles users’ own scores, going from 350-950, for those who have opted into the program. The scores are based on a number of things, including people’s payment history, their contacts and network, and online behavior.
2. Tencent Credit (腾讯征信)
Since the Tencent company currently hosts 55% of China’s mobile internet usage on its platforms (Marr 2018), it has also an enormous amount of data at its disposal. Similar to Sesame Credit, Tencent Credit works with a 300-850 score system. It officially launched a trial of its score programme in January of 2018, but then took it down shortly after.
3. Kaola Credit (考拉征信)
Koala Credit is an independent third-party credit company established by the Shenzhen-based Lakara (拉卡拉) financial services company. Koala Credit was launched in May of 2015, around the same time as Sesame Credit launched its program. Lakara has strategic and powerful partnerships with China Unionpay, five major banks, and hundreds of other financial institutions. Lakara and Koala Credit jointly founded a pioneering lab in China that focuses on big data models. The University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences is involved in this project (Zhuo et al 2016, 299).
4. Pengyuan Credit (鹏元征信)
Established in 2005, Pengyuan Credit is amongst the oldest personal credit investigation firms of the eight selected by the PBOC. The company states on its website that its main goal since 2005 has been to “create a credit reporting ecosphere on the Internet,” shifting from traditional credit rating systems to online credit rating methods.
5. Sinoway Credit (华道征信)
The Beijing Sinoway Credit was established in 2013 by four large financial companies. As explained by BJReview (2016), Sinoway is among those companies (such as Zhima and Tencent) that accumulate data from their business rather than using traditional algorithms to collect financial and public data. They have exclusive access to enterprise data (Zhuo et al 2016, 299).
6. Qianhai Credit Service (深圳前海征信)
Another company established in 2013, Qianhai Credit is based in Shenzhen. It was launched by financial giant Pingan. The current CEO is the female big data specialist Qiu Han (邱寒).
7. China Chengxin Credit (中诚信征信)
The Beijing-based China Chengxin Credit company was founded in 2005, established by the China Chengxin Credit Management group. The firm provides personal credit information and companies and market research services. As described by the China Money Network, its database is connected to local administrations for industry and commerce, police, courts, telecom service providers to provide comprehensive credit information.
8. Intellicredit (中智诚征信)
Intellicredit is a Beijing-based independent, third-party credit registry. CEO Li Xuan (李萱) has previously expressed the company’s goal to handle any loopholes that let scammers get away with fraud in China’s online financial environment. The company is experienced in credit industries both in China and abroad, and its team has also worked on the establishment of the credit reporting system of the PBOC (Zhuo et al 2016, 299).
Baihang & Allies: An Abundance of Personal Data
The formal launch of Baihang Credit (百行征信), the “first unified personal credit information firm” of China, has become big news in Chinese media, with some calling it a personal credit industry game changer.
Baihang Credit is a joint establishment of the aforementioned eight and the China Internet Finance Association.* It received its license in February of this year. The firm officially opened for business on May 23rd of 2018.
While the China Internet Finance association reportedly holds 36% of the Baihang firm, the other eight shareholders each hold 8% (Zhang & Liu 2018).
The eight companies are not just financial investors, but also active contributors and sharers of technology, resources, and data for the Baihang firm. The launch of this joint establishment means that both state-level institutions and commercial enterprises combine their efforts in building a strong personal credit investigation and service platform; the new system now links data collected by these powerful firms such as Tencent to the state-level China Internet Finance Association, which in itself is an initiative by the People’s Bank of China.
Besides basic data including personal information, education level, salaries or employer, companies such as Sesame Credit or Tencent also have access to a rich collection of consumer data, ranging from social media, e-commerce purchases, online travel data, to location, phone records and even social connections.
The eight firms will also play an important role in Baihang’s management. Sesame Credit, Tencent Credit, Qianhai Credit, Sinoway and Koala Credit have all entered the company’s board of directors. The other three companies will join the board of supervisors (Sina Finance 2018). The 57-year-old Zhu Huanqi (朱焕启) will be Baihang’s CEO and president; he previously worked at Huida Asset Management.
The PBOC told Caixin Global that all parts of the eight companies that previously dealt with personal credit ratings will now be incorporated into Baihang. The other parts can continue to operate as data service providers. In the future, Sesame Credit, for example, will continue to research commercial credit services.
Many Questions Linger
While the recent alliance has received ample attention in Chinese media as an important moment in China’s transforming alleged ‘credit-based’ society, many questions still linger.
One Nanjing research institute writes on Weibo: “The joining of these companies means they can share big data. This also means that if a person is behind [in payments] on one platform, they will also have no access to loans on any of the others.”
But is it all about sharing personal financial credit information, or is this about the sharing of other data as well? What are the legal implications of Baihang operations? And to what extent, if at all, will the system link to the upcoming nationwide Social Credit System?
Caixin Global noted that Baihang Credit will face challenges regarding Chinese Cybersecurity Law, which imposes strict limits on ‘secondary uses’ of data beyond its original purpose, and requires individual authorization when personal data is transferred from one institution to another (Sacks 2018; Zhang & Liu 2018).
In this Caixin article, the PBOC’s spokesperson would not elaborate on how Baihang will collect and use personal data. He was only quoted in saying only that contributions to Baihang will be handled “according to market rules.”
“Personal Credit Era has Arrived”
Despite the many articles about Baihang in Chinese media, it has not become a much-discussed topic on social media; netizens discussing Chinese credit systems seem more concerned with the height of their Sesame Credit score.
One Weibo user, however, did write about the Baihang alliance, commenting: “The personal credit era has arrived” (“个人信用时代到来”).
Other people worry about the impact of this alliance, saying: “You’ll see that if you have a negative balance on your bank account, you won’t be able to use the public bathroom anymore.” (Recently, various cities in China are upgrading their public toilets, integrating AI features such as facial recognition for people to receive free toilet paper.)
Some commenters simply call the companies that have joined under Baihang “a pile of trash.”
Although Sesame Credit will not receive a license to operate its personal credit investigation business, it is highly probable that users of their credit programme will still be able to enjoy the perks of, among many other things, entering libraries for free or riding rental bikes without deposit with a high score.
“I’ve just arrived in Hangzhou and can do many things for free,” one person wrote: “I feel like my Credit Score is omnipotent.”
Baihang’s recent alliance is about to make Chinese personal credit scores even more omnipotent – the ‘Credit Leap Forward’ is well underway.
* In an article from December of 2015, for example, The Independent suggested that “China has created a social tool which gives people a score for how good a citizen they are,” describing how “China” had put forward “a concept straight out of a cyberpunk dystopia” named Sesame Credit.
* The Chinese Internet Finance Association, also known as the NIFA (National Internet Finance Association) was established in March of 2015 upon approval by the Chinese State Council and Ministry of Civil Affairs. It is a state-level organization.
References (others linked directly within text)
Creemers, Rogier. 2014. “Planning Outline for the Construction of a Social Credit System (2014-2020).” China Copyright and Media, 14 June China https://chinacopyrightandmedia.wordpress.com/2014/06/14/planning-outline-for-the-construction-of-a-social-credit-system-2014-2020/ [10.6.18].
Creditchina. 2018. “百行征信入场,8家股东剥离个人征信业务.” CreditChina.gov, 4 June http://www.creditchina.gov.cn/gerenxinyong/gerenxinyongliebiao/201806/t20180604_117132.html [10.6.18].
Huang, Zhiling. 2016. “Six Obstacles to Producing Reliable Big-Data Credit Reports.” BJ Review, 15 December http://www.bjreview.com/Business/201612/t20161212_800074419.html [9.6.18].
Jun, Wang. 2015. “Road to Credit.” Beijing Review, 3 August http://www.bjreview.com.cn/business/txt/2015-08/03/content_698269.htm [9.6.18].
Marr, Bernard. 2018. “Artificial Intelligence (AI) In China: The Amazing Ways Tencent Is Driving It’s Adoption.” Forbes, 4 June https://www.forbes.com/sites/bernardmarr/2018/06/04/artificial-intelligence-ai-in-china-the-amazing-ways-tencent-is-driving-its-adoption/#5130d54b479a [10.6.18].
Sacks, Samm. 2018. “New China Data Privacy Standard Looks More Far-Reaching than GDPR” CSIS, 29 January https://www.csis.org/analysis/new-china-data-privacy-standard-looks-more-far-reaching-gdpr [9.6.18].
Sina Finance. 2018. “百行征信揭开面纱 芝麻信用腾讯征信等五家入董事会.” sina Finance, 4 January http://finance.sina.com.cn/money/bank/bank_yhfg/2018-01-05/doc-ifyqinzs8775295.shtml [10.6.18].
USC. 2013. “Decision Of The Central Committee Of The Communist Party Of China On Some Major Issues Concerning Comprehensively Deepening The Reform, November 12, 2013.” USC, 12 November https://china.usc.edu/decision-central-committee-communist-party-china-some-major-issues-concerning-comprehensively [10.9.18].
Yang, Felix. 2017. “Is Xinlian the answer to the Individual Credit Checking System in China?” Kapronasia, 25 Aug https://www.kapronasia.com/china-banking-research-category/item/886-is-xinlian-the-answer-to-the-individual-credit-checking-system-in-china.html [10.6.18].
Zhang, Yuzhe, and Liu Xiao. 2018. “Launch of Unified Platform Boots Private Firms From Personal Credit Business.” Caixin Global, May 28 https://www.caixinglobal.com/2018-05-28/launch-of-unified-platform-boots-private-firms-from-personal-credit-business-101258187.html [10.6.18].
Zhuo Huang, Yang Lei & Shihan Shen. 2016. “China’s personal c>edit reporting system in the internet finance era: challenges and opportunities.” China Economic Journal (9:3): 288-303.
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Full Translation of Peng Shuai’s Weibo Post and Timeline of Events
On the night of November 2nd of 2021, a Weibo post by the 35-year-old Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai (彭帅) sent shockwaves across social media. In her lengthy post, the three-time Olympian describes details surrounding an alleged affair she had with the 75-year-old Zhang Gaoli (张高丽), who served as China’s senior Vice-Premier (2013-2018) and was also a member of China’s highest ruling council, the Politburo Standing Committee (2012-2017).
Here, we will give you a short timeline of the things that unfolded from the moment Peng Shuai’s story was published on Weibo, as well as providing the full text of her post and a translation.
Timeline of Events
November 2nd, 2021
On the night of November 2nd of 2021, 35-year-old tennis player Peng Shuai posts her story on her Weibo account, where she has over 590,000 followers. The post comes online at 22:07 and is sent through a mobile phone.
Although Peng’s post was only online for about twenty minutes before it was deleted, its impact was irreversible. Peng Shuai’s Weibo account remained online, but the name ‘Peng Shuai’ started to be censored on Weibo and other Chinese social media platforms, where online discussions about the tennis player and Zhang Gaoli were soon silenced. Peng Shuai’s post and the ensuing silence triggered a wave of global concern about her wellbeing and whereabouts.
November 3, 2021
Peng Shuai’s story makes headlines in the international media, with many Western media outlets describing the issue as a “#MeToo allegation.” within the context of the global #MeToo movement, suggesting Peng’s post was a “MeToo post.” The tennis star did not mention ‘#Metoo’ in her own writings.
November 16, 2021
Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka attracts more international attention for Peng’s whereabouts when she posts the #WhereisPengShuai hashtag on Twitter. Two days later, tennis star Serena Williams also writes on Twitter: “I am devastated and shocked to hear about the news of my peer, Peng Shuai. I hope she is safe and found as soon as possible. This must be investigated and we must not stay silent.”
November 17, 2021
While the issue is still completely silenced in Chinese (social) media, the English-language state media outlet CGTN addresses the commotion on Twitter on November 17, when they share a screenshot of an email allegedly sent by Peng to WTA Chairman Steve Simon, saying she was not actually missing and not unsafe.
November 19, 2021
While many people still raised their concerns on Twitter – and a White House spokesperson even said the Biden administration was ‘deeply concerned’ about the reports alleging that Peng Shuai had gone missing – photos of Peng Shuai in her home showed up on November 19th, posted on Twitter by Chinese journalist Shen Shiwei (沈诗伟) claiming the tennis star posted them on her WeChat moments herself.
November 20, 2021
One day later, a video was also shared on Twitter by the same Shen, showing Peng enjoying dinner with friends and having conversations in which it was clearly indicated that the date was November 20, 2021.
November 21, 2021
During that very same weekend of November 20-21, Peng also reappeared in public when she attended the Junior Tennis Finals in Beijing. This was also the very first time in 19 days that she ‘reappeared’ in mainland China’s online media spheres, where photos of her attendance at the games were also shared online.
On that same day, it was announced by the Olympics governing body that International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach held a 30-minute long video phone call with Peng Shuai. Chinese sports official Li Lingwei and the Chair of the Athletes’ Commission, Emma Terho, reportedly were also on the call, during which Peng explained that she was safe and well at her home in Beijing, but would like to have her privacy respected.
November 22, 2021
A Weibo post published by the French embassy in Beijing marks the first time for Peng Shuai’s case to be addressed on Chinese social media.
In their post, the French embassy expresses concerns about the lack of information surrounding Peng Shuai, and reiterates its belief in promoting freedom of expression, equality between men and women, and combating sexual and gender-based violence. The post receives many replies, but its comment section is heavily censored.
December 1st, 2021
The WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) announces the suspension of all tournaments in China amid concerns about the safety of Peng Shuai.
In a statement by Steve Simon, WTA Chairman & CEO, the immediate suspension of all WTA tournaments in China, including Hong Kong, was said to also be related to concerns about risks that all players and staff could face if the WTA were to hold events in China in 2022.
Due to the Covid19 situation, there were no WTA events scheduled for China in the near future.
December 7, 2021
The US announces a “diplomatic boycott” of the 2022 Winter Olympics in China. American athletes will still compete at the Winter Games. Although this boycott was not necessarily directed linked to Peng Shuai, many media outlets did connect it to concerns over the tennis player.
December 19, 2021
In an interview with Singapore-based media outlet Lianhe Zaobao (联合早报), Peng Shuai claims she did not accuse Zhang Gaoli of sexually assaulting her.
A video issued by Lianhe Zaobao shows a reporter asking Peng questions during a skiing competition event in Shanghai, where Peng could be seen talking to Chinese basketball player Yao Ming. When the reporter asks Peng if she is free, she answers that she has always been free and is not being monitored.
When the reporter addresses the allegations of sexual assault, Peng says:
“First and foremost, I must emphasize. I have never said or written about anyone sexually assaulting me. That’s a very important point. On the Weibo post, that’s my personal issue.”
Peng also confirms that the English email that was screenshotted and published by CGTN on November 17 was written by her in the Chinese version, but that it was translated into English for her since her English language skills aren’t good enough to write such an email herself.
Full Text Translation of Peng Shuai’s Weibo Post
In a previous post, What’s on Weibo gave a partial translation of Peng’s Weibo post. Here, we will provide a full translation. Please note that this is a translation provided by What’s on Weibo and not an official translation issued by any other party.
“I know I can’t say it clearly and that it’s useless to say. But I want to say it anyway. I’m such a hypocrite. I’ll admit I’m not a good girl, I’m a bad bad girl. About three years ago, Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, you had retired and asked Dr. Liu from the Tianjin Tennis Center to contact me again to play tennis at the Kang Ming Hotel in Beijing. After we finished playing in the afternoon, you and your wife Kang Jie took me with you to your home. You then took me to your room, and like what happened in Tianjin over ten years ago, you wanted to have sex with me.”
“I was very scared that afternoon, I had not expected things to go this way, someone was guarding outside, because nobody would believe that a wife would allow this. Seven year earlier we had sexual relations once, and then you – promoted as a member of the Standing Committee – went to Beijing and never contacted me again. I had buried it all inside me, and since you were not planning on taking responsibility at all, why did you come and look for me again, take me to your house, and force me [逼 = force, press for] into sex? I have no proof, and it would be impossible for me to keep any evidence. You denied everything afterward, but it is true that you liked me first, or otherwise, I wouldn’t have had a way to come into contact with you.”
“That afternoon I originally did not agree and cried the whole time, and I still had dinner with you and auntie Kang Jie together. You said the universe is so big, that the earth is just a grain of sand in the universe, and that we as mankind are not even a grain of sand, and you said a lot more to alleviate the load on my mind. After dinner I still did not want to, and you said you hated me! You also said that in these seven years, you never forgot me and that you would be good for me etc etc. I was afraid and panicked and carrying the emotions of seven year ago, I agreed…yes, we had sex.”
“The feelings between two people can be very complicated, I can’t clearly explain, [but] after that day I again began to open up to your love. In the days I interacted with you afterward, purely from how we got along, you were a very good person and also treated me well. We would talk about anything from modern history to ancient times, you spoke to me about so much knowledge and talked about economic philosophy, [we had] endless talks about topics. We played chess together, sang songs, played ping pong, billiards, and, including tennis, we could always have a good time. Our personalities got along well together, it looked like we were a great match.”
“Since I left home early in my childhood, I felt a lack of love in my heart. Facing everything that was happening, I never thought I was a good girl. I really hated myself, hated why I had to come into this world and experience this disaster. You told me that you loved me, very very much, and that in the next life you hoped to meet me when you are 20 and I am 18 years old. You said you were very lonely, that you felt miserable, we had days of endless chats, endless talks, you said there was no way for you to divorce in your position, that if we’d met while you were in Shandong, you could have still divorced, but that there was no way now. I thought about staying with you like this without attracting public attention, which was okay in the beginning, but the days slowly started to change, and there was too much injustice and insult. Every time you let me go, your wife would say many offensive insulting words to me behind your back, [giving me] all kinds of sneers. When I said I like to eat duck tongue, auntie Kang Jie would go and say ~ ugh, how disgusting. During Beijing’s winter smog, I said sometimes the air is not very good, and auntie Kang Jie would tell me ‘that’s just your suburbs, we do not notice a thing here.’ And so on, there were many of such talks, but she would never do it when you were there. It was similar to when we were together – when it was just the two of us you’d be this way, when there were others there you’d act that way. I told you that these kinds of words were really painful to hear.”
“From the first day I met you up to today, I’ve never used a penny of yours, and I’ve never used you for any personal benefits, but a person’s status is very important. I deserved all of this, I courted disaster. From beginning to end, you have always asked me to keep my relationship with you secret, let alone tell my mother that we were in a relationship. Every time she brought me to the Xishiku cathedral, I would have to change to your car to be able to enter the courtyard. She always thought I was going to your place to play mahjong and cards. We were transparent individuals in each other’s lives. Your wife seemed like the Empress in Empresses of the Palace (甄嬛传), and I can’t describe how bad I felt, and how many times I wondered if I was still an actual person myself. I felt like a zombie, I was pretending so much every day that I didn’t know who the real me was anymore. I shouldn’t have come into this world, but I didn’t have the courage to die. I wanted to live a simpler life, but things turned out contrary to what I wanted.”
“There was a big dispute on the night of the 30th [October], and you told me to come to your place on the afternoon of the 2nd [November] so we could talk things over. Today a phone call came that something had come up and you’d contact me again. Evading everything, with the excuse that we would get in touch another day ……, this is the same “disappearing act” as seven years ago, getting rid of me after you’re done playing with me. You said there were no transactions between us, that’s true, with all the feelings and money between us, it had nothing to do with power and wealth. But I have nowhere to leave my feelings of the past three years, it’s very hard to face. You were always afraid that I would bring some kind of recorder and leave evidence or something. Apart from myself, there is indeed no evidence left, no recordings, no videos, only my distorted real experiences. I know that for someone of your status, Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, you’ve said that you’re not afraid. But even it’s like striking a stone with an egg, and courting self-destruction like a moth to the flame, I will tell the truth about you. With your intelligence, I’m certain you will deny it or you can blame it on me, or disregard it. You always said you hoped your mother in heaven could bless and protect you. I am a bad woman who doesn’t deserve to be a mother, but you are a father with both a son and a daughter. I have asked you this before: if it was your adopted daughter, would you have forced her to do this? Do you still have the courage to face your mother after everything you’ve done in your lifetime? We sure all like to pose as people with high morals…”
By Manya Koetse
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Mainstream, Underground, and Online: Electronic Dance Music in China
A peek into China’s electronic dance music scene, from Jean Michel Jarre to the country’s post-covid club scene.
This is the “WE…WEI…WHAT?” column by Manya Koetse, original publication in German by Goethe Institut China, visit Yi Magazin: WE…WEI…WHAT? Manya Koetse erklärt das chinesische Internet.
More DJs, more festivals, more fans, more online communities. Over the past few years, China’s dance music scene has seen enormous growth in popularity, and electronic music now appears wherever people go, both online and offline, from live music events, night clubs, and fashion shows to reality shows, movies, and social media.
Following the continued explosion of electronic music culture in China’s major cities, DJMag, a renowned UK-based platform dedicated to electronic dance music, even launched a special China Awards section in 2021. In this year’s Top 100 DJ list there are eight Chinese DJs, the highest number ever since a DJ from China first made the list in 2017.
As an unexpected consequence of the pandemic, China’s local dance community has seen heightened popularity of local DJs. While Covid19 has seriously affected the global dance music scene, it has been an ongoing opportunity to shine for local talents in mainland China.
Just five years ago, China-based DJ Spencer Tarring discussed the huge potential of China as “the rising promised land for electronic dance music.” But what’s the status quo of China’s dance and DJ culture? Here we’ll explore China’s electronic music scene, from mainstream to underground and the online community.
From ‘EDM’ to ‘Haoshi’
Let’s first explain some terminology. ‘Electronic dance music’ is actually a huge umbrella term for percussion-based electronic music produced primarily for nightclubs, raves, and festivals, and performed/presented by DJs. In Europe, electronic dance music is often simply called ‘dance’ or ‘dance music,’ with subgenres including techno, house, trance, and many others (deBoni 2018).
There’s also the acronym ‘EDM.’ Although it literally stands for ‘Electronic Dance Music,’ it is not the same as the overarching ‘electronic dance music’ genre, as it was adopted in the US to label commercial dance music. It has since been commonly used to solely describe the mainstream electronic dance music that is represented by world-famous DJs such as Tiësto, Martin Garrix, Armin van Buuren, or David Guetta (see Androids 2017; Jori 2021; Magnetic 2021).
In Mandarin Chinese, the term Diànzǐ yīnyuè (电子音乐), often abbreviated as Diànyīn (电音), literally means ‘electronic music’ and is used as a catch-all term for any music made using electronic instruments or involving electronic processing.
EDM is translated as Diànzǐ wǔqǔ (电子舞曲) (‘Electronic Dance Music’), and also refers to commercial dance music. House is generally translated as Hàoshì yīnyuè (浩室音乐), techno as Tiěkènuò yīnyuè (铁克诺音乐), and trance as Chūshén yīnyuè (出神音乐).
Rewind: A Very Short History of Electronic Music in China
The history of electronic dance music in China brings us back to the early 1980s. In the decades and years before, there was strict music censorship under Mao’s rule and the influx of Western music was limited. After Mao’s death and the start of the Open Door policy, modern music from outside of mainland China became increasingly popular among young Chinese, inspiring local musicians to start writing and recording their own pop, rock, and modern music (Holm 1983; Latham 2007: 336).
China’s ‘New Wave’ movement was partly triggered by ‘The Concerts in China‘ by the French electronic music pioneer Jean Michel Jarre in 1981, who performed in Beijing and Shanghai in October-November of that year for a combined audience of 150,000 people (Billboard 1982).
Following the Jarre concerts, the New Wave movement also became visible at conservatories and music schools across China in the early 1980s when Chinese composers started to experiment with electronic music. While influenced by Western music, many examples of Chinese electronic music created in these years featured Chinese traditional musical elements (Li 2018).
Many Chinese people became more familiar with modern Western music in the 1980s and 1990s through cassette tapes that were shared and copied hundreds of times, and the so-called dakou culture which emerged in the mid-90s.
Dakou (打口) CDs were dumped by Western countries and imported into China as plastic garbage, intended to be recycled, but then flowed into Chinese cities and became available for listeners to buy from black markets.
Dakou CDs (and tapes) have a cut-out, a punch hole, or crack in them to mark them as waste and prevent them from being resold, but people were still able to restore them and listen to most of the music. The dakou culture greatly influenced China’s music scene.1
Proper nightclubs first started to open up in big Chinese cities in the early 1990s, a time in which many people in the electronic music scene were more focused on the music rather than the money.
This is also when Ben Huang, who would become one of China’s most well-known DJs, started his career. The Shanghai-born Huang was a student of modern dance and fine arts before he became active in the Beijing music scene and kick-started China’s club culture.
Other big names emerging around this time are the so-called “godfather of Chinese dance music” Mickey Zhang, DJ Youdai (Zhang Youdai), Yang Bing, and famous electronic musician Weng Weng. They later also started organizing dance parties or setting up their own labels.
Although illegal rave parties emerged in various cities across the country since the mid-90s, China’s first big rave party took place in the late 1990s at the Great Wall, organized by the Swiss collective ‘Cheese’ (Grefer 2016; Yiu & Charrieras 2021: 233). Vice China (2019) writes:
“What was most magical about China’s party culture in the 1990s, is that it miraculously united all participants of any subculture. The people coming to these rave parties could come from completely different communities, from doctors to lawyers, from hoodlums to diplomats, local punks and sightseeing exchange students (..), on the dance floor surrounded by electronic music, nobody would talk about ideals and doctrines, actions and problems, everyone put all their conflicts aside and danced.”
Nevertheless, much of the scene remained underground and many people in China had not been exposed to electronic dance music yet or did not understand it.
When the renowned British-Canadian electronic musician Richie Hawtin performed in Shanghai at some of the city’s earliest techno events in the 1990s, some people wondered if the CD was stuck and if the mixer needed to be fixed.2
The Mainstream Scene: “Tuhai” and Rock Music Envy
Starting in the 2000s, more money-driven clubs started to open and the electronic dance music scene in China started to develop into two separate worlds; the underground with its underground scene and the mainstream with its mainstream scene.
“And there I am in the middle,” DJ Ben Huang said in a 2009 interview.
Huang’s comment is telling for a market where electronic music has become the second most popular music genre, while the ‘real’ Chinese fans of electronic dance still complain that there has been too little progress in the scene in recent years.
Online discussions indicate that many think that electronic dance music in China has become too commercialized too quickly and has become all about the money rather than the music – leaving little space for the underground scene to flourish, and lacking breeding ground to boost a stronger development of the local electronic music scene.
In 2016, Jiangsu television aired China’s first-ever variety show featuring Electronic Dance Music (EDM) titled Heroes of Remix (盖世英雄remix). The show introduced international electronic dance music genres to a mainstream audience, mixing it with Chinese traditional influences. Two years later, the talent reality show Rave Now (即刻电音) premiered on Tencent Video, further promoting the popularity of EDM in China.
Against the backdrop of an ever-growing EDM industry in China with numerous nightclubs opening up all over the country, the release of the 2021 movie Upcoming Summer (盛夏未来), which focuses on electronic music, further assimilated dance music into China’s mainstream pop culture. A hashtag dedicated to the movie on Chinese social media received over 650 million views (#电影盛夏未来#). (Note: the movie can now also be viewed through Netflix.)
While electronic music is divided into many genres, commercial EDM is by far the most popular type of electronic music in China. Some of the music played by Chinese local DJs that is deemed to be of lower quality than ‘legitimate’ EDM is also called ‘Tuhai’ (土嗨), a wordplay on ‘too high’ that refers to unoriginal bounce music with whistles and repetitive melodies.
The more the popularity of electric dance music is growing among the masses, the more music fans speak out, saying that China’s mainstream electronic music does not represent authentic electronic dance music, even arguing it that it negatively influences the development of the entire genre; excessive commercialization has neglected the music itself.
The recent surge of Tuhai in Chinese clubs is also a side-effect of the pandemic, during which clubs have started booking far more local DJs with little experience to keep the shows going. To counter the so-called ‘Tuhai virus’, China’s top DJ Carta launched the ‘Chinese Bounce Mafia’ alias together with trance DJ Luminn and DJ/producer Unity to mock the repetitive music genre.
In an interview with MixMag (Wycech 2020), Carta says:
“We started Chinese Bounce Mafia after seeing the number of shows these guys were doing and what was happening to the market. We all hated the music, so we said ‘fuck these guys, if they can get all these shows, so can we’. So Chinese Bounce Mafia is our stand against what we see as a problem within the market. The name is a troll because people thought we’ve all sold out and given into bounce but we actually play anything from house to trance to big room to techno.”
It is not easy to counter the Tuhai trend, which is not just ubiquitous in China’s clubs but is also everywhere in the Chinese online music environment, triggering online discussions on how the low-standard music is negatively impacting the overall music quality in the online libraries of platforms such as QQ Music, Kugou, and Tencent Music.
Some Chinese electronic music fans even say they envy China’s rock music scene. One article by the Music Economy Official Weibo Account (@音乐财经官方微博) on Sina said:
“As a fan of electronic music, I feel envious [of the rock music scene]. I envy their music festivals, I envy their good musicians, I envy their good fans, and this isn’t the first time for me to admire China’s rock scene in this way.”
The Music Economy author argues that although it’s been a bumpy ride for rock music in China, the genre has come a long way over the past four decades and has since been embraced by the general public.
One of the reasons why the author argues that China’s dance music community has reason to envy the rock music scene is that there is an alleged pure love for music that draws people into the rock scene, while many people coming to the DJ culture enter the market for the money, not for the music. Because people are prioritizing money over music, too many compromises are often made, resulting in low-effort productions or mediocre festivals.
Another difference between China’s dance and DJ culture compared to the rock scene, is that many rock music fans have grown up listening to the music and have followed their favorite musicians for years. China does not (yet) have a greater electronic music history to build on.
The author writes:
“I know it’s not very scientific to compare rock to electronic music, but they are both imported products and when I see how rock is finally flourishing after having been through so much, I can’t help feeling envious. Electronic dance music and electronic music in China still need to build on more experience. I hope more musicians can stop worrying about income and focus on the music, following their own dreams. I also hope more people will really start caring about electronic music and dance, and that they will start spending money on tickets and records to support their organizers and favorite musicians.”
What also plays a role in this, is that DJ culture mostly takes place inside nightclubs and entertainment venues, where drinks and socializing are often considered more important by Chinese clubgoers than whoever is standing behind the DJ table. China’s current commercial club culture is not a fruitful breeding ground for the further development of China’s electronic dance music scene, the author claims.
Underground & Online Electronic Dance in Post-Covid China
Despite all negative consequences of Covid19 for the music industry, the pandemic has also had an unexpected positive influence on China’s dance culture. With no international DJs allowed to travel into China, local DJ talents are getting increased recognition and there is more interest in the domestic dance scene.
As clubs were shutting down across the world in the spring of 2020, China entered its post-lockdown phase and nightclubs came back to life, with more people ready to explore the club scene.
Despite those voices expressing concern about the lower-quality EDM that is dominating China’s club scene, there are also those who think it is not necessarily bad for electronic dance to go mainstream this way because it also indirectly creates more acceptance for non-mainstream sub-genres and electronic music at large.
In recent years, new underground nightclubs, festivals and independent labels have mushroomed in China. There is now a flourishing club music scene in various cities across the country: Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Hangzhou, Wuhan, Kunming, and Guangzhou have all played a pivotal role in the development of China’s electro dance music culture, with Chengdu leading the way (Neocha 2021).
Among Chengdu’s many electronic music clubs, there’s .TAG (‘To Another Galaxy’). The club, located on the 21st floor of Chengdu’s Poly Centre, was founded by a small group of Chinese and Dutch music lovers and entrepreneurs, taking inspiration from clubs in Amsterdam and Berlin. TAG has become a city hotspot for underground house and techno, with local DJs such as Cora and HAO attracting a young and free-spirited clubbing crowd.
TAG was founded in 2013, the same year in which renowned record label SVBKVLT was established in Shanghai. SVBKVLT has pushed works from many local talents, including the Beijing-based electronic music duo Zaliva-D and Shanghai producer and artist 33EMYBW (Wu Shanmin).
Chengdu’s .TAG and Shanghai’s SVBKVLT are just some examples of China’s thriving underground scene, as there are many other important players, including Beijing’s underground techno club Zhao Dai, Shanghai’s 3NTRY, club Elevator and ALL, or OIL in Shenzhen, featuring Chinese DJs and electronic music artists such as Slowcook, Yang Yang, Temple Rat, Knopha, Chuan, Max Shen, Luna Li, and many, many more.
China’s electro music culture goes beyond clubs and festivals – the online environment is a big part of it. Although the 2021 shutdown of the Xiami Music app from the Chinese market created a vacuum for online electronic music streaming, other online music libraries such as QQ Music, Netease Cloud Music, Kuwo and Kugou are now competing over listeners.
On social media platforms Weibo and Wechat, there are various electronic music blogging accounts with thousands of followers but there are also hundreds of festival accounts, club accounts, label accounts, and DJ/creator accounts.
More in-depth discussions on China’s electronic music scene can also be found on Chinese Q&A platform Zhihu.com, the social networking sites QQ and Douban, and on Bilibili. Over the past few years, other smaller online communities, from Moresound to Abletive, have also arrived at the scene for people to discuss the development of Chinese dance music.
Although many online discussions about the state of China’s electronic dance music scene are quite critical of how the scene is evolving, it could still be seen as a sign of how the industry and its audience are maturing – growth comes with growing pains.
Despite all hurdles, new China-based talents are gaining traction and electronic music labels are popping up one after another. Covid has posed a major challenge to the scene but has also injected new energy into the domestic market.
Electronic music in China has come a long way since Jean Michel Jarre first made waves in the country, and after all these years, the genre is entering a new era. The next few years will show which direction Chinese electronic music is moving in, but one thing is certain: electronic music is part of China’s music scene today and, whether or not everyone agrees on the quality of the beats that are booming, the music is here to stay.
On one online discussion page about Chinese electronic music, someone asked how others feel about Chinese DJ PantaQ arriving in the DJMag Top 100 DJ list. One commenter answered: “This is only the beginning. Chinese electronic music will start to shine on the international stage.”
1 Professor Jeroen de Kloet did extensive research into China’s dakou culture. For more on China’s dakou generation, we recommend reading: Jeroen de Kloet, China with a Cut: Globalisation, Urban Youth and Popular Music (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2010).
2 This scene was described by Chinese DJ / producer Ma Haiing (MHP) in the book by Matthew Collin, Rave On: Global Adventures in Electronic Dance Music (London: Profile Books, 2018), Chapter 6.
– Androids. 2017. “An Idiot’s Guide to EDM Genres.” Complex.com, October 13: https://www.complex.com/music/an-idiots-guide-to-edm-genres/ [Oct 11, 2021].
– Billboard. 1982. “Jarre Fame Spreads – Even to China.” Billboard Magazine (March 13): page 22.
– Collin, Matthew. 2018. Rave On: Global Adventures in Electronic Dance Music, London: Profile Books.
– De Boni, Luka. 2018. “The Rise of China’s Electronic Dance Music Scene: From Underground Culture to Online Communities.” What’s on Weibo, August 26
https://www.whatsonweibo.com/the-rise-of-chinas-electronic-dance-music-scene-from-underground-culture-to-online-communities/ [Nov 1, 2021].
– De Kloet, Jeroen. 2010. China with a Cut: Globalisation, Urban Youth and Popular Music. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press
– Grefer, Philipp. 2016. “Disco(s), Techno and the EDM Storm: A Brief (and Personal) History of Electronic Music in China.” The Beijinger, Nov 16 https://www.thebeijinger.com/blog/2016/11/04/discos-techno-and-edm-storm-brief-and-personal-history-electronic-music-china [Nov 12, 2021].
– Holm, David. 1983. “The Difficulty of ‘Walking on Two Legs.’” Index on Censorship: 12 (1): 34-37.
– Jori, Anita. 2021 “The Meanings of ‘electronic dance music’ and EDM.” In: The Evolution of Electronic Dance Music , edited by Ewa Mazierska, Tony Rigg and Les Gillon, Chapter 1. New York: Bloomsbury Academic.
– Latham, Kevin. 2007. Pop Culture China! Media, Arts, and Lifestyle. California: ABC-CLIO.
– Li, Qiuxiao. 2018. “Characteristics of Early Electronic Music Composition in China’s Mainland,” Contemporary Music Review 37:1-2.
– Magnetic. 2021. “STOP CALLING EDM EDM – HERE IS A PROPER DEFINITION.” Magnetic Magazine, Jan 13 https://www.magneticmag.com/2015/10/stop-calling-edm-edm-here-is-a-proper-definition/ [Oct 12, 2021].
– Music Economy Official Weibo Account 音乐财经官方微博.2020. “电音圈有什么资格羡慕滚圈.” Sina News, August 20 https://k.sina.com.cn/article_5255791141_13945022501900poao.html [Nov 27, 2021].
– Neocha. 2021. “Sleepless in Chengdu.” July 5, https://neocha.com/magazine/sleepless-in-chengdu/ [Nov 27, 2021].
– Yiu, Alex and Damien Charrieras. 2021. “On the Fence: Electronic Dance Music Cultures in Hong Kong and Shenzhen.” In: Sébastien Darchen, Damien Charrieras, John Willsteed (eds), Electronic Cities – Music, Policies and Space in the 21st Century, 223-243. Singapore: Palgrave Macmillan.
– Vice China. 2019. “触电中国 EP1：从荷东到锐舞，中国电音的起源与脉络.” Tencent News, July 30 https://new.qq.com/omn/20190730/20190730A0CTCB00.html?pc [Oct 12, 2021].
– Wycech, Olivia. 2020. “An Edm Club In Taipei Has Unabashedly Banned Bounce Music…But What Even Is Bounce Music?” MixMag, October 20 https://mixmag.asia/feature/what-is-chinese-bounce-music [Nov 17, 2021].
Featured image by Ama for Yi Magazin.
This text was written for Goethe-Institut China under a CC-BY-NC-ND-4.0-DE license (Creative Commons) as part of a monthly column in collaboration with What’s On Weibo.
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