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Chunwan Is Here! The CCTV Spring Festival Gala 2019 Live Blog

The CCTV New Year Gala is here! We’re live-blogging and keep you updated with the highlights and the low points.

Manya Koetse

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It is time for China’s biggest TV event of the year! Chunwan (春晚) aka the CCTV Spring Festival Gala is celebrating its 37th edition and kicks off the Year of the Pig. Watch the festival together with What’s on Weibo, as we’ll keep you updated with the ins & outs of the Gala here.

It is that time of the year again. The Chinese New Year, better known as Spring Festival, is about to start. The annual CCTV Gala celebrates the start of the festival with its 4 hours long live televised show. After live-blogging this event in 2016, in 2017, and in 2018, we’re here this year again to keep you updated throughout the show on what’s going on.

A live-streaming of the Gala is embedded in this post and will be live on Monday, February 4, 20.00 pm China Standard Time. If you have any difficulties watching, check out this YouTube link, livestream from Weibo, or watch straight from CCTV. We will be live-blogging on this page here (NOTE: this liveblog is now closed, the event is over. We’ll provide you with the entire text of the liveblog below this article!)

About the show

The CCTV New Year’s Gala (中国中央电视台春节联欢晚会 or Chunwan 春晚) is an annual live television event that is broadcasted by the national television station CCTV on New Year’s Eve. It first aired in 1983, and is watched by millions of people. In 2012, it broke the Guinness records for being the “most watched national network broadcast in the world” when it had over 500 million viewers. Last year, the show drew more than one billion viewers (Gao 2012; Jing 2019).

Despite the common criticism on the show, it is still much anticipated every year. The Gala features different acts, including singing, dancing, and comedy. It is a tradition for families to gather around the TV to watch the Gala before the New Year comes at midnight. It has also become a tradition to comment on the show and complain about it, something that is especially visible on Chinese social media, where the show inevitably becomes a trending topic every year. Criticism on the Gala is actually so commonplace that the sentence “there’ll never be a ‘worst’, just ‘worse than last year‘ (央视春晚,没有最烂,只有更烂) has become a popular saying over the years (Wang 2015, 192).

Although the Gala is a live broadcast from CCTV’s No.1 Studio, every year’s show has a taped version of the full dress rehearsal. As described by Scocca (2011), the tape runs together with the live broadcast, so that in the event of a problem or disruption, the producers can seamlessly switch to the taped version without TV audiences noticing anything.

 

Liveblog CCTV Gala 2019 (in order of appearance)

 

It is time for China’s biggest TV event of the year! Chunwan (春晚) aka the CCTV Spring Festival Gala is celebrating its 37th edition and kicks off the Year of the Pig. Watch the festival together with What’s on Weibo, as we’ll keep you updated with the ins & outs of the Gala.

 

(13:30) Six Hours To Go before the CCTV Gala, And Already Sparking Controversy

Just some six hours to go before the annual biggest live televised event in the world, the Chunwan, kicks off, and already the program’s timetable is sparking controversy: one of China’s biggest comical actors, Feng Gong (1957), will not participate in tonight’s event after performing there for 32 years.

Feng Gong’s ‘xiangsheng’ crosstalk sketch apparently did not meet the requirements of the show’s strict screening, meaning his act will not come up tonight. Thousands of Chinese netizens are disgruntled, saying that Feng Gong’s appearance during the show has a certain nostalgic meaning to them. The topic has hit Weibo’s top trending lists, already hitting 130 million views earlier this afternoon. Read more about this during our live blog later today.

 

(19:15) The “Real” Very First Spring Festival Gala

The CCTV Gala was first aired in 1983, a year that is thus marked as the start of the Spring Festival TV Gala. But before this time, as early as 1956, Beijing Television’s also had irregular New Year’s Eve broadcasts. Trending on Chinese social media now is the hashtag “The Real First Chunwan” (#真正的第一届春晚#), with footage going viral of the 1956 edition (link) – receiving 250 million views at time of writing.

Beijing opera master Mei Lanfang participated in this event, along with other renowned names, such as Chinese novelist/dramatist Lao She and famous scientists.

“That [Gala] was better then than it is nowadays,” many commenters write. “We’re at a historical low,” others say, suggesting that the CCTV Gala as it is now is focusing too much on popular celebrities rather than on intellectuals, artists, and scientists.

The complaining has already started, and the Gala is yet to begin!

 

(19:55) It’s starting! What can we expect tonight?

If you’ve previously seen the CCTV Gala, you probably know the sort of things you can expect tonight. The Spring Festival spectacle is always a mix of Chinese culture, commerce, and politics.

The show is notorious for carrying official propaganda and clearly emphasizing the themes that matter to the Party. However, no CCTV Gala is exactly the same, and there are always some noteworthy things about every annual show – in a rapidly changing China, the show always has certain changing features or styles that highlight a specific image of China and Chinese society, which can be telling for the official strategies on Chinese domestic and international affairs that lie beneath this constructed narrative & image.

Last year, for example, it was quite remarkable that although the show had many political underlying themes, such as China’s military expansion and the One Belt One Road initiative, there were no performances explicitly focusing on Chinese leaders, such as in previous years, nor were there obvious Party-focused songs such as “Without the Communist Party, There is No New China.”

Tonight might see a similar trend as last year; the various acts and clips might not necessarily focus on the Communist Party and its leaders, but instead focus more on society, the people, ‘coming together,’ ethnic unity, and traditional Chinese culture.

There will be plenty of singing, dancing, and comical skits as well as ‘crosstalk’ sketches, some magic, opera, and acrobatics. Some 40 performances will take place over the next four hours.

There will also be a few short clips, ‘public service announcements,’ that usually focus on family values and socio-cultural unity. And we’re likely to see Jackie Chan again with a patriotic song.

 

(20:02) Dreamy Opening Dance

The opening act is titled “Sea of Spring’ (春海), led by, among others, Wang Qian, Song Yulong, Li Xiang, Yan Dingwen, Li Rongzhi, and Lin Qingjing. Various dance troupes are on stage, including that of the Shandong Art School and Shandong Normal University.

On social media, some netizens think the dance looks like a cake…

 

(20:06) Chunwan Social Media Buzz

The ‘Chunwan’, the CCTV New Year’s Gala, is all the talk on Chinese social media.

The hashtag “Chunwan” (春晚) has been dominating top trending lists on Weibo since Saturday, and has been a topic of discussion on Chinese social media for weeks.

“Fake schedules” of the program were leaked, hyped, and recalled. The real program was only shared by various Chinese state media one day before the start of the event, making the hashtag “CCTV Chunwan Programme” (#央视春晚节目单#) one of the biggest trending topics on Weibo right away.

For this year, the hashtags “2019 CCTV Gala” (#2019央视春晚#) and “CCTV Year of the Pig Gala” (#央视猪年春晚#) are particularly used to discuss the variety show on Weibo. Just days ago, the hashtags were already viewed millions of times, going up to 600 million views before the Gala even started.

Many netizens are anticipating to see top Weibo star ‘Angelababy,’ as well as famous actors Ge You and Cai Ming. The members of the super popular pop group TFBoys have also become a topic of discussion.

One noteworthy aspect of tonight’s Gala is its new cooperation with Baidu. Since 2015, one important feature of the CCTV Gala that links it to social media platforms is the exchange of hongbao, red envelopes with money, which is a Chinese New Year’s tradition.

Over the past few years, viewers were able to receive ‘virtual hongbao’ by shaking their smartphones – this has drawn in a lot of young viewers who’d like to get a chance to win some money. This year, instead of cooperating with Tencent’s WeChat or with Alibaba, some RMB 900 million (around $133 million) worth of hongbao is promised to be given to viewers by the Baidu Wallet app during the show. The show will have various moments where this Baidu activity will be promoted.

 

(20:10) The Presenters introducing themselves..

As you just saw, the presenters briefly already said hello to the audience. We’ll see them throughout the night tonight.

The top five presenters are all familiar faces. In fact, the exact same five hosts also presented the 2018 CCTV Gala. They are Kang Hui (康辉), Zhu Xun (朱迅), Ren Luyu (任鲁豫), Li Sisi (李思思), and Nëghmet Raxman(尼格买提).

The two ladies: Zhu Xun (1973) is a well-known presenter and actress from Suzhou, who is presenting the Gala for the 6th time now. Li Sisi (1986) is a Chinese television host and media personality most known for her role as host of the Gala since 2012.

The three gentlemen: Kang Hui (1972) is a Hebei-born influential CCTV news anchor who has hosted the Gala since 2015. Ren Luyu (1978) is a Chinese television host from Henan, who has also presented the Gala multiple times (2010, 2016, 2018). Nëghmet (1983) is a Chinese television host, born and raised in Ürümqi, Xinjiang, who also is not a newcomer; this will be the fifth year in a row that he hosts the gala.

The presenter who is not here on stage is Zhu Jun (朱军), one of the most well-known CCTV faces. He was involved in a ‘metoo’-like scandal in 2018 when he was accused of sexual harassment by a former intern, something which Zhu has denied. If the case goes to court, might become the first-ever civil sexual-harassment lawsuit in China, Quartz reported in January of this year.

Although probably, it is unsure if Zhu Jun’s absence tonight has to do with this case. Another familiar face, CCTV hostess Dong Qing (董卿), is also not here tonight, although she hosted the CCTV Gala since 2005.

 

(20:10)  DRAGONS!

Ok, so now we’ve really started. Next up is a dragon dance led by male dancer Liu Jia (刘迦). The Nanjing-born dancer is 28 years old and was trained as a dancer in the People’s Liberation Army Art and Drama College.

The dragon dance is a form of traditional performance that is particular to the Chinese New Year. The dragon is believed to bring good luck. Did you know that the Beijing Aquarium even holds underwater dragon dances?!

Some netizens think that the strips falling from the air look like “sausages falling from the air.” Oh, the creativity!

 

(20:15) Tonight’s Venues

Since 2016, the CCTV Gala has adopted a “multi-venue plan,” meaning that apart from the main Beijing CCTV no1 studio there are other ‘subvenues’ from where the show will be broadcasted. In 2018, these were locations in Guizhou, Guangdong, Shandong, and Hainan. The years prior, both in 2016 and 2017, there were also four other locations.

This year, there are three sub-venues: Jinggangshan (Jiangxi), Changchun (Jilin), and Shenzhen (Guangdong). Each venue also has its own hosts, different from the Beijing main studio presenters. Each sub-venue has two hosts, equally divided between male and female presenters.

(Noteworthy: there are two presenters with the name of ‘Yang Fan’: both in Jilin’s Changchun (female), as Shenzhen (male), something which many netizens seem to find quite funny..)

 

(20:18) Here comes the first crosstalk, but one VIP is missing..

Wonderful words, interesting talk” (妙言趣语 ) is the name of this comical sketch, that features Yue Yunpeng and Sun Yue (岳云鹏、孙越). Xiangsheng (相声), or ‘crosstalk,’ is a dialogue between actors with rich puns and word jokes, that usually sees two actors with one playing the “joker” and the other playing the “teaser. ”

Together with well-known Beijing-born comedian Sun Yue (1979), we see Chinese actor Yue Yunpeng (1985), who is particularly known for his xiangsheng performances.

One of the topics that people on social media are discussing is the absence of Feng Gong. Feng Gong (冯巩) is one of China’s most renowned xiangsheng performers. He is best known for his performances in this CCTV New Year’s Gala and has made more appearances on the show than any other major performer. “But where is Feng Gong tonight?” is the question many netizens were asking on Sunday: “This is the first time in 32 years he’s not there, what happened?”

Today, the topic received even more attention, with the hashtag “Feng Gong Not Appearing the Chunwan” (#冯巩无缘央视春晚#) ending up in the top trending lists with 160 million views on Weibo.

Earlier today, Chinese state media reported that Feng Gong was supposed to perform with a traditional ‘xiangsheng’ act that continued last year’s theme, titled ‘I love memorizing verses 2’ (我爱记诗词2), but that it did not pass the final screening of the show because it allegedly was “not funny enough” (“笑果不足”).

On Weibo, many netizens are disgruntled with the decision, writing: “Honestly, I didn’t think he was that funny last year, but I still want to see him – it’s not about being funny, Feng Gong means more to me than that.” Others are wishing him a happy Chinese New Year, saying: “At least he’ll be able to celebrate it at home with his family tonight.”

As for this act, some people online are joking about it, saying that left is how you look before the Chinese New Year, and right is how you look after (stuffing your face with dumplings..)

 

(20:26) “The single dog” and the lipstick

As first jokes on the Gala are going viral, some people think five presenters might not be the right number. Kang Hui here seems to be the “single dog caught between two couples” – something that many people experience during Chinese New Year.

Meanwhile, other viewers are more occupied with the color of the lipstick worn by the presenters. They’ve already been identified as Yves Saint Laurent and Armani brand lipstick colors, 405 and cpb311 respectively.

 

(20:36) “China’s Happy Event”

This performance, titled “China’s Happy Event” (中国喜事), was joined by Chinese singer Zhang Yixing (张艺兴), popular actress Zhou Dongyu (周冬雨), Hong Kong actor Wallace Chung, Dilraba Dilmurat (迪丽热巴), and Phoenix Legend (凤凰传奇), a Chinese popular music duo consisting of female vocalist Yangwei Linghua and male rapper Zeng Yi. The duo was also part of the CCTV Gala in 2016 and in 2018.

Chinese singer Lay Zhang aka Zhang Yixing (张艺兴) debuted as a member of the South Korean-Chinese boy group Exo and he is quite popular on Weibo.

Is it the sound here, or did that sound very strange? The colors were very very bright though..

 

(20:38) “Youth Jumps Up”

This is one of the acts that was quite talked about before tonight. It features Chinese actor and singer Li Yifeng, together with the popular actor Zhu Yilong.

It was rumored before that the retired professional basketball player Yao Ming would also be a part of this act. (2.29 m (7 ft 6 in) tall). Don’t see him yet.

It is quite obvious that this act is lip-synced, something that is discussed annually. It is often claimed that as long as it’s the singer’s own voices that are used to lip-sync to, it is allegedly “justified.” Because the show is live and so big, singing “live” might be too much of a risk, as some performances in the past have shown. Lip-syncing, however, is also not without dangers, as some singers can really be quite off.

Various fan clubs of these artists don’t care about lip-syncing, though. Screenshots of fans going ab-so-lu-tely crazy over this performance are making their rounds on Wechat.

 

(20:48) “Platform”

First skit of the night!

These sketches are called ‘xiǎopǐn’小品 in Mandarin, which basically is a Chinese comedic performance in the form of a short skit between two or more performers. It is similar to xiangsheng or crosstalk. Both are often performed together in Lunar New Year galas. The main difference between the two forms is that xiaopin often involves the use of stage props and physical actions of the actors, similar to western comedic skits, while xiangsheng is closer to stand up comedy, relying primarily on speech and word jokes.

This sketch is titled “platform” and is performed by various well-known actors, who are all playing people waiting for their train. An elder couple where the man has called the wife “honey” for a long time (before he actually forgot her name), and then there’s a young man whose wife left on a train with his jacket and mobile phone. He is worried about leaving his wife with his mobile phone since he transferred 10,000 rmb to his parents before Chinese New Year, something she was not supposed to know about. When he manages to get in touch with her via the guard’s phone, it turns out she just transferred 20,000 rmb to both parents. Meanwhile, another couple is fighting about whose home to visit for the Spring Festival. This sketch clearly touches upon the issue of love issues among various generations. Of course, it all ends with a happy ending, where all couples find a solution for their problems they’re all happy with.

A special role in this sketch is the train that comes. It is the “Revival” (Fuxing) train, which first started running in 2017 and was further developed in 2018. The train is promoted for being “made in China.”

 

(21:04) Home, home, home, from Hong Kong to Taiwan and beyond

This year is clearly about “home,” “going home,” as stressed by the presenters. This song is titled “Mum, I’m home.” There’s a political message in the selection of singers. This song is sung by Taiwanese singer Terry Lin, the Hong Kong singer Joey Yung, and the overseas Chinese singers Sha Baoliang and Han Zi.

 

(21:08) Moving over to Jiangxi province

We’re in Jinggangsheng (井冈山) now, the first sub venue of the night, which is also known as the “cradle of the communist revolution” or the “holy land of China’s revolution” in the southeastern province of Jiangxi.

Two songs are performed here, along with a recital. One of the stars here is Chinese actress and singer Liu Tao, who is from Jiangxi herself. She sings together with actor Huang Xiaoming.

Jike Junyi (吉克隽逸) sings the other song. She won third place in the first season of the reality talent show The Voice of China in 2014, which is when she became instantly famous.

 

(21:13) Peking Opera

Time for some Traditional Opera by Yan Wei, Yuan Huiqin, and others, who perform “Beautiful Pear Garden” (锦绣梨园). This is the 9th act of tonight, of some 35+ acts in total. This is the only opera act, as far as I now know.

The Peking Opera actress Yuan Huiqin, whom we see here, previously expressed her love for Peking Opera in an interview with The Telegraph, saying: “Love and hatred, vulnerability and fearlessness, life and death: Peking Opera can communicate raw emotions with sophisticated body language that no words can match.”

Some people joking with this scene: “Don’t stand in front of people when they’re trying to make a selfie.”

 

(21:17) Meanwhile, in the audience..

A guy spotted in the audience with his phone is generating some jokes on Weibo. “This is me [on my phone],” some say, while the rest of the audience is “my family.”

 

(21:23) “Year of the Pig”

We’ll update you soon with the sketch that’s currently airing, but didn’t want you to miss out on this image that’s going around social media currently. It’s the year of the Pig, it’s the year of Peppa, but for many people, Spring Festival is all about the food. This image shows all the different dishes you can make with pork…

(21:26) The CCTV Gala Theme

Every year, the CCTV Gala is themed around a certain topic. This topic, obviously, is in accordance with the official state ideology and is quite telling on what specific aspects the Party would like to propagate for the upcoming year.

As said earlier in this liveblog; although the CCTV Gala is also a commercial event (the station is state-owned but also profit-seeking in a highly competitive media environment), it is also still highly political, and carries official propaganda along with consolidating political centralism.

The central theme of 2018, for example, was “Chinese values, Chinese power.” Other previous themes are “National Unity” or “Chinese Dream.”

This year, the Gala is themed around the idea of “New China.” The full theme, as described by CCTV, is: “Advancing the New Era, Celebrating a Happy Year” (奋进新时代、欢度幸福年).

The past two years, the Gala has been directed by Yang Dongsheng. This year, Liu Zhen (刘真), Deputy Director of CCTV arts channel, is in charge of the program. He is known for previously directing the 2009 anniversary night of the Great Sichuan earthquake.

 

(21:31) Office Time

This office skit is performed by Chinese actresses Yan Ni and Ya Hailong, together with actor Zhou Yiwei.

The skit evolves around a rehearsed marriage proposal going wrong, with one worker accidentally proposing to the company director. The boss walked in when they were practicing, and misunderstood the gifts and cakes they prepared, thinking they were for her instead. Later on in the act, the secret is revealed, but the boss responds surprisingly ok when the office worker revealed he was always working overtime, having no time for these personal matters. Work pressure is a recurring theme on social media too, a theme incorporated in this sketch.

 

(21:42) Dance/song “The Distance of Time” (with flying drones)

Two ‘kings’ of Mandopop, Sun Nan and Zhang Jie (also known as Jason Zhang) perform on stage here.

Sun Nan has performed at the CCTV Gala several times before. His 2016 performance with 540 robots, all dancing simultaneously, was quite spectacular.

They are accompanied by the Zhongnan Minzu University Music Dance Troupe, and you can see drones flying all around them.

 

(21:46) “The Spirit of Shaolin”

The first martial arts performance of the night, really quite spectacular, performed by members of the Shaolin Tagou Martial Arts School from Henan.

This is also the first big Chinese flag we spotted tonight, and it’s HUGE!!!

 

(21:54) “‘Son’ is here” sketch with Cai Ming

The third sketch of the night features an all-star cast with actors Ge You, Cai Ming, and Pan Changjiang.

Cai Ming (1961) is known for performing sketch comedy in CCTV New Year’s Gala since 1991. She is known for her sharp language. Cai is quite active on Weibo. Earlier this week, she posted a ‘selfie’ of her and Dilraba Dilmurat, the singer of Uyghur heritage who appeared in the show earlier tonight.

Pan Changjiang (潘长江, 1957) is a famous skit actor who has regularly appeared in the Gala since his younger years. His colleague Ge You (also 1957) is one of the most recognizable acting personalities in China. He plays a man who is selling “health products,” conning older people out of their money.

 

(22:04) “Me Watching the Gala vs Me Watching Weibo”

This post is making its rounds on Weibo now, saying “Me watching the CCTV Gala versus me watching Weibo.”

It really seems that the Gala has turned into a social media craze, where people are more interested in the jokes going around Wechat and Weibo than the actual event itself. This also means that the Gala is becoming more popular among young people, who are creating their own traditions from the classic ‘Spring Festival ritual’ of gathering around the TV with the family to watch the Gala together.

 

(22:07) About that Shaolin Act…

It was the most spectacular act of the night thus far. But were those real people or were they Minions? This is the joke that’s going viral now.

 

(22:09) TFBoys here!

This is one of the most anticipated acts of the night, since it is performed by members of the hugely popular TFBOYS. This act is titled “We’re All Pursuing Dreams” (我们都是追梦人), and is likely hinting at the “Chinese Dream.”

This is the fourth time that members of TFBoys are making their appearance at the show since their first performance at the 2016 CCTV Gala.

(22:13) A bit of magic

Taiwanese magician Lu ‘Louis’ Liu (刘谦, 1976) is at the center of this magic act. He is known as the only Taiwanese magician to perform in Hollywood’s ‘Magic Castle,’ and is commonly referred to as ‘Taiwan’s most renowned magician.’ He previously performed at the CCTV Gala in 2009.

 

(22:25) “Seizing a seat”

This sketch is called “Seizing a seat,” and I’d actually expected it to be hinting at two separate incidents on Chinese high-speed trains in 2018 that became huge trending topics. In late August of 2018, one rude man from Shandong who refused to give up the seat he took from another passenger became known as the “High-Speed Train Tyrant” (高铁霸座男 gāotiě bà zuò nán) on Chinese social media. Later, a woman from Hunan was dubbed ‘High-Speed Train Tyrant Woman’ (高铁霸座女 gāotiě bà zuò nǚ”) by Weibo netizens, when a video of her bizarre behavior also became trending; she had taken a seat assigned to another passenger while riding the train from Yongzhou to Shenzhen and refused to give it up.

But this particular sketch now seems to be focused on “seizing a seat” in a classroom instead, with parents during a parent’s meeting fighting over who gets the best seat at the school. The story focuses on parents who are not involved in their kid’s education, leaving the responsibility to the school, with the moral behind the story allegedly being that parents should be more involved in their child’s education.

“This is my life,” some online commenters are saying, posting the meme below (the speed in which Gala-related memes are spreading on Weibo and Wechat is incredible!).

 

(22:35) The sellers who are making money through the Gala

Throughout the Gala, there are smart people who are tracing down the clothes and shoes worn by the performers, which are also for sale.

(22:41) All over the place!

After a brief public announcement, we’re now watching the dance “Looking for Friends.” This dance is performed by the ‘Air Force Blue Sky’ children’s dance troupe (空军蓝天幼儿艺术团) and it is all over the place!

(22:43) Sleepless night

The song “No Sleep Tonight” (费玉清) is brought by Fei Yu-ching. This Taiwanese singer recently became a topic on Chinese social media with a video featuring his cool dance moves during his younger years. After 46 years in showbiz, his Farewell Tour is taking place this year.

He is joined on stage by Kelly Chen, a Hong Kong Cantopop singer and actress. She is also known as the “diva of Asia.”

 

(22:46) The Baidu sponsor

Now it is time for the aforementioned Baidu activity. At this year’s event, China’s search giant Baidu, has the exclusive right to interact with the huge audience of the CCTV Gala via red packets interactive activity. The audience can get red packets through shaking, searching and watching video clips on Baidu app.

 

(22:49) Xiaopin “Show you the drill”

On stage, we see the award-winning (stage) actor Lin Yongjian, together with Sun Tao and Ju Hao, a well-known comedian.

Usually, the sketches performed during the Gala can be quite controversial. Sometimes for the way they depict women, last year specifically for the Africa blackface skit. It seems that this year, the sketches are quite safe and aren’t triggering any controversy, yet. But the night is still young!

 

(22:57) Air Jordan Craze

Many of the clothes and shoes and other items featured in today’s Gala are becoming hot selling items. Right now, people are going crazy over the Air Jordans that were worn in one of the acts earlier tonight.

 

(23:04) Moving over to Changchun

Moving over to the second sub-venue of the night now, where we see Aska Yang (Yang Zongwei) singing on stage. Aska Yang had his debut in Taiwan as a contestant on season one of Taiwanese TV singing contest One Million Star.

He is joined by Angela Yeung Wing, better known by her stage name Angelababy, a Chinese model, actress, and singer based in Hong Kong, who is one of the Weibo stars with the most followers.

The second Changchun act is performed by Chinese actors Liu Ye and ‘Johnny Bai.’

Fireworks! Drones! And one of the cars turning into a ‘Transformer’! So far, the sub-venues offer some of the most spectacular performances of the night.

The focus on cars here relates to Changchun as one of China’s ‘car cities’ as it is home to the brand that produced the first national auto brand (长春一汽), last year was the 65th anniversary of the factory’s founding.

 

(23:09) National Ballet of China

This is yet another dance, there are supposed to be four big dancing acts tonight. The dance is titled the “Dunhuang Flying Asparas” (敦煌飞天), and is performed by the National Ballet of China, also known as the Central Ballet Troupe, which employs over 70 dancers.

 

(23:13) The Legends are Here! “My Motherland and I”

This song, titled “My Motherland And I” (我和我的祖国), is one of the acts that has received quite some attention in Chinese media prior to the Gala because of the very special reunion between some of China’s older legendary musical artists.

This special reunion also shows that this year, the Gala wants to pay extra attention to China’s elderly, something that contrasts with last year’s Gala, that was very much focused on young people and new talent.

One of the performers here on stage is Guo Shuzhen, who is 92 years old and is a famous “legend” within China’s music education.

All artists here are very famous ‘legends’; Li Guangxi (1929), Hu Songhua (1931), Liu Bingyi (1935), Yu Shuzhen (1936), De Dema (1947).

Also on stage is Yang Hongji (杨洪基, 1941), a Chinese national-level actor and one of China’s most outstanding baritones.

And there’s Guan Mucun (关牧村,1953), a female Chinese mezzo-soprano singer from Henan province who is known for developing her own musical style by blending Western and traditional Chinese melodies.

They all perform together with Chinese artists of the younger generations.

 

(23:25) Xiaopin “Don’t Know Whether to Laugh or Cry”

Chinese xiangsheng performer, actress and comedian Jia Ling (1982) stars in this comical skit together with Zhang Xiaofei and Xu Juncong.

The story features a young man who ordered a cleaning lady to clean his apartment, but the woman (in red) has an injured shoulder so she can’t really do it. She ordered another service to do the cleaning for her (in yellow) instead. That young woman then thinks the lady in red is actually the wife in the house who refuses to clean the house – all the confusion between the people is creating a chaotic and comical situation.

 

(23:39) Here comes Jackie Chan!

Jackie Chan (成龙) has become an annually returning performer at the CCTV Gala. Although his performances are always much-anticipated, they’ve also been pretty cringe-worthy. In 2017, the song performed by Jackie that was simply titled “Nation” was met with criticism for being overly political. Last year, the Hong Kong martial artist sung a song that was called “China.”

This year, the title of the song is a bit deeper than in previous years: it is titled ‘My Struggle, My Happiness’ (我奋斗我幸福), and is sung together with Hong Kong singer and actor William Chan and with Deng Lun.

Deng Lun (邓伦) (1992) is a Chinese actor who gained widespread popularity with the family drama “Because of You”, an adaptation from the 2014 Korean drama “Jang Bo-ri is Here.”

Also on stage are performers from Bapaweilai, a children’s art education group based in Hong Kong.

 

(23:44) Meanwhile backstage…

While “Together towards Happy China” is being performed on stage by Zhang Ye and Lu Jihong, famous Chinese actor Ge You is all the talk on Weibo for a photo that has popped up of him backstage, showing the actor tired on the couch.

A famous meme in China also shows the actor in a similar position.

 

(23:45) “Hero Flight Sichuan Flight 3U8633”

As every year, this is the part of the show where some ‘exemplary persons’ get honored for their accomplishments. Noteworthy is that the crew of Sichuan Airlines is honored tonight.

In May of 2018, pilot Liu Chuanjian on Sichuan Airlines 3U8633 made an emergency landing in southwest China after a broken cockpit window sucked his co-pilot halfway out of the aircraft. He braved the intense cold and blasting wind to land the plane in about 20 minutes, and in doing so, rescuing all 128 people aboard the Airbus A319.

 

(23:48) “Thumbs up for the New Era”

This song really resonates with the Gala’s “New China” theme. The singer is Wulan Tuya (乌兰图雅), who is also known as the “Flower of Mongolia.” She was born and raised in Inner Mongolia, and now combines elements of Mongolian traditional music with electronic beats in her music.

This is one of the spectacular performances of the night, that is joined by a number of artists who were selected through a special CCTV Gala contest.

The other performers come from various performance groups from Beijing, Shandong. Harbin, Sichuan, etc.

 

(23:50) Last sub-venue of the night: Shenzhen

The last sub-venue of the night is Shenzhen, which is often also called China’s “Silicon Valley” or the “tech capital of China.” This venue features two different acts, both songs, titled “Let youth Be Free” and “Friends.”

 

(23:58) Some old-school propaganda

“Together With my Homeland,” sung by Lei Jia and Han Lei, is the last song before the 0.00 countdown moment.

Lei Jia is a Chinese folk soprano and ‘national class one performer.’ Han Lei is a singer-songwriter of Mongol descent who is also known as Senbor. He rose to prominence in 1997 on the CCTV New Year’s Gala. The screen behind the artists shows some old-school flag raising and China’s urban skylines.

 

(0:00) Time for the Countdown!!!

 

(0:05) Building Together on the Chinese Dream

Fireworks everywhere, firecrackers everywhere. Time to sing about building on the Chinese Dream together, a theme that has been consistently featured in the Gala over the past years. Singers: Cao Fujia, Xian Zi, A Yunga, Ju Laiti, and ‘Xingguang Dadao’ talent show winner Ang Sa.

 

(0:14) Acrobatics

We’re reaching the final acts of the night. This performance shows acrobatics by various renowned acrobatic groups from Henan, Guangxi, Dalian, and other places.

Thus far noticeable tonight: the skits have been very ‘safe’ and there has been no *excessive* display of straightforward political (Party) themes compared to other shows in earlier years; the images of Mao, Deng, Xi, and others that would usually make their way into the show have not been there (or I haven’t noticed them). Although there’s usually a very clear focus on unity in bringing together various ethnic groups, that has not popped up in this show as much as it has in the past. Instead, there has been more focus on ‘old’ and ‘young’ uniting, with “China’s New Era” being the clear theme of the night.

The acrobatic performance is followed by a special segment that shows water ballet. The act is titled “Burst into Bloom” (绽放).

 

(0:19) “Love Substitute Driver”

‘Daijia’ is a service that is provided by various companies in China, where one can hire a substitute driver to drive them home in their own vehicles. This is what this last skit of the night focuses on.

The service is encouraged because it decreases the risk of people drunk driving. The driver will usually arrive by bike, then drives the person home in their own car, with the bike in the back, and then cycles on to the next customer from there -quite convenient and safe (for the people who’ve been drinking and can no longer drive)!

In this sketch, with Guo Donglin and Shao Fenghe, the drunk man actually has no money and just called the driver because he is lonely, lovesick, and needs some companionship. The moral of the story? No matter how low you are, you can always get back up.

 

(0:38) “Outstanding Beauty”

After the song “The Brightest Star in the Sky,” we’ve now arrived at the final of the night, featuring the dance performance “Outstanding Beauty” with lead dancers Li Yanran, Wang Jiaxin, and Hu Tulan.

A noteworthy moment before this segment is that the presenters of the night asked the viewers when they’d get married and have a (second) baby…(啥时候结婚啊?啥时候要二胎啊). Perhaps it’s mocking the pressure many young people at home are facing.

 

Unforgettable Night!

The last song of this night is “Unforgettable Night” (难忘今宵). It is sung by the 74-year-old singer and dancer Li Guyi (李谷一), who became famous with the song ‘Homeland Love’ (乡恋) around the time of China’s Reform and Opening Up – the singer and her songs are nostalgic for many viewers.

Li Guyi also appeared at the very first version of the Gala in 1983, and became the singer that sang the most at the event.

Li Guyi sings the same song every year at the end of this show. The last song ends with all performers of the Beijing venue on stage. The song repeats the phrases 共祝愿 祖国好: let’s all wish together that the country will be good, that is will last long and be prosperous. The hosts wish everyone a happy new year. It’s a wrap!

Thank you all for watching the CCTV Gala with us and happy new year to you.

 

– By Manya Koetse & Miranda Barnes

References

Gao, Yuan. 2012. “Constructing National Idenitiy through Media Ritual: A Case Study of the CCTv spring Festival Gala.” Master’s Thesis, Media and Communication Studies, Uppsala University.

Jing, Meng. 2019. “Baidu seeks to play catch up in mobile app race with bet on world’s most-watched TV show.” South China Morning Post, 18 January https://www.scmp.com/tech/big-tech/article/2182616/baidu-seeks-play-catch-mobile-app-race-bet-worlds-most-watched-tv-show [2.2.19].

Scocca, Tom. 2011. Beijing Welcomes You: Unveiling the Capital City of the Future. New York: Riverhead Books.

Wang Ge. 2015. “Popular Spring Festival Gala language: Sociocultural Observations.” In Linda Tsung and Wei Wang, Contemporary Chinese Discourse and Social Practice in China, 185-200. Amsterdam/Philadelpia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

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Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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  1. Avatar

    Henana

    February 6, 2019 at 1:42 am

    Thank you for breaking down the CCTV Spring Festival Gala! This was a great read, very helpful and appreciate the context!

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China Celebs

“A Good Day” – Kris Wu Sentenced to 13 Years in Prison

The first woman who came forward to accuse Kris Wu in 2021 celebrated his sentencing in a livestream.

Manya Koetse

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The Chinese-Canadian fallen celebrity Kris Wu, better known as Wu Yifan (吴亦凡) in China, has been dominating Chinese social media discussions after a preliminary court ruling came out in the criminal case in which Wu was accused of rape and other sex crimes.

On November 25, the Beijing Chaoyang district court found Wu guilty of raping three women in his home in 2020 and of “gathering people to commit adultery.” He was sentenced to 13 years in prison followed by deportation.

Kris Wu is a 32-year old rapper, singer, and actor who was born in Guangzhou and moved to Vancouver with his mother at the age of ten. Wu also spent a part of his high school years in Guangzhou, but he holds a Canadian passport. He became famous as a member of the K-pop band Exo and later started a solo career.

As an actor, he starred in several award-winning movies. He also starred in Sweet Sixteen, a movie in which Wu ironically plays the role of someone getting jailed for shooting a rapist.

The 19-year-old student Du Meizhu (都美竹) was the first to accuse Wu of predatory behavior online in 2021, with at least 24 more women also coming forward claiming the celebrity showed inappropriate behavior and had pressured young women into sexual relationships. As the scandal unfolded, various hashtags related to the story received billions of views on Weibo. Wu was formally arrested on suspicion of rape in mid-August 2021.

On Friday, Meizhu posted “Finally [I’ve waited for this]” on her social media account. She also briefly joined a livestream in which she celebrated the sentencing and played the song “A Good Day” (“好日子”).

On Weibo, the hashtag “Wu Yifan Gets 13 Years” [13 years prison sentence in preliminary ruling] (#吴亦凡一审被判13年#) received nearly 1,8 billion views on Friday.

Noteworthy enough, the Kris Wu hashtag was also being used by netizens to discuss the tragic Urumqi fire which was also a major trending topic on the same day.

Some speculated that the media attention for the Kris Wu case was being used to overshadow the Urumqi news. Others condemned social media users for turning to celebrity news instead of focusing on the tragic fire in Xinjiang’s capital.

At the same time, there was also a running joke on social media in light of China’s ongoing ‘zero Covid’ policy, with people saying: “Who will come out first, Kris Wu or us?”

By Manya Koetse 

Featured image: Kris Wu starring in Sweet Sixteen movie.

 

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China Brands & Marketing

China’s XR Development 101: How Chinese Tech Giants are Navigating Towards the Metaverse

Chinese tech giants are massively investing in virtual reality and in the technologies that are building up the Chinese metaverse.

Jialing Xie

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Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Reality technologies are blurring the lines between the real and digital worlds and are powering the metaverse. Chinese tech giants are at the forefront of the latest developments on the mainland market, including XR, that are making the metaverse possible. Time for a round-up of what China’s key players are focusing on and which virtual initiatives are already live.

2021 is the year in which the concept of ‘metaverse’ has blossomed. In March of last year, the hugely successful online multiplayer game and game creation system Roblox went public with a market value of over $41 billion at the time, earning its reputation as the world’s first metaverse IPO.

Following the release of the 2021 sci-fi comedy Free Guy – which is set in a fictional metaverse-like video game, – and Facebook’s rebranding to ‘Meta’ last fall, ‘metaverse’ became one of the hottest buzzwords on the internet.

The term metaverse is actually decades old. In the 1981 novel True Names, the American computer scientist Vernor Steffen Vinge already envisioned a virtual world that could be accessed through a brain-computer interface, and the term ‘metaverse’ was first mentioned in the 1992 Snow Crash science fiction novel by Neal Stephenson.

Now, 5G, AI, VR, Blockchain, 3D modeling, and other new technologies converged on the concept of the metaverse industry are seeing an explosive growth in China.

At the recent 20th Party Congress, it became clear once again that the digital economy is key in China’s long-term strategies, with Chinese leader Xi Jinping promoting digitalization as one of the new “engines” of future growth.

 
About Metaverse (元宇宙) in China
 

In Chinese, ‘metaverse’ is referred to as yuányǔzhòu (元宇宙), which is a literal translation of ‘meta-verse’ – meaning ‘transcending universe’ (超越宇宙). Chinese tech sources also describe the year 2021 as “the metaverse year” (元宇宙元年).

Metaverse is a collective, shared virtual realm that can interact with the real world and where people can interact with each other and the spaces around them. There is not just one single metaverse – there can be many digital living spaces referred to as the ‘metaverse.’

Metaverse is a fluid concept or virtual experience that is still developing and due to the differences in cyber regulations, digital ecosystems, and strict control on online information flows, the Chinese metaverse will unquestionably be very different from the metaverse spheres that companies such as Facebook are working on.

The metaverse is made possible through a wide range of technologies including AI, IoT, Blockchain, Interaction Technology, computer games, and network computing. XR is key to the rise of the metaverse. XR, or Extended Reality, is an umbrella term for a range of immersive technologies including VR (Virtual Reality 虚拟现实), AR (Augmented Reality 增强现实), and MR (Mixed Reality 混合现实). A 2020 Deloitte report suggests that the global XR market consists of mainly VR technologies (48% of market share), followed by AR (34%) and MR (18%).

In December of 2020, Tencent’s CEO Ma Huateng (马化腾) announced the concept of the “All-real Internet” (全真互联网) in a special internal publication regarding the company’s growth and major changes. Ma proposed that the deep integration of the virtual and real world, the “All-real Internet,” is the future opportunity to focus on as the next stage of the (mobile) internet. Although there are some subtle differences, Ma’s idea of the “All-real Internet” overlaps with the concept of the metaverse.

The metaverse, XR, and related technologies are not just a hot issue for Chinese tech companies, they are also an important theme for Chinese authorities. The 20th Party Congress was by no means the first time for China’s leadership to stress the country’s focus on the latest digital innovations. In October 2021, President Xi Jinping also spoke about evolving China’s digital economy during the 19th CPC Central Committee. He asserted that one of the focal points within the development strategy of China’s digital economy is the further integration of digital technologies and real-world economies.

This idea was further clarified in the outline of the 14th Five-Year Plan issued by the State Council at the end of 2021, which listed VR and AR as one of the seven key industries of China’s digital economy along with cloud computing, IoT, AI, and others.

Subsequently, many local governments incorporated metaverse (“元宇宙”) and related relevant terms into their respective 14th Five-Year Plans. For example, Shanghai authorities stated it will focus on the further developments of industries related to quantum computing, 3rd-gen semiconductors, 6G communications, and metaverse.

Here, we will provide an overview of XR industry development in present-day China, going over the key players Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent (BAT) along with the younger Chinese tech giant ByteDance. We provide an overview of what they are investing in, what their respective strategies are when it comes to XR, and give examples of the kind of initiatives that they have already launched. To limit the scope of this article, we have left out Netease, Huawei, Bilibili, and some other relevant Chinese players for now (we might still make a part two later on!).

 

Key Players and Strategies

 

 

▶︎ BAIDU

 

As one of the leading artificial intelligence (AI) and internet companies in the world, Baidu specializes in internet and AI-related products and services. Baidu is mostly known as China’s number one search engine, but its ambitions go far beyond that. “We want to be like Amazon Web Services (AWS) for the metaverse,” Ma Jie (马杰), vice president at Baidu, recently said.

The company has taken a special interest in building the infrastructure to support metaverse-related projects, deviating from the strategies that focus more on the XR-related content development and distribution that you see at Tencent or Bytedance.

 

What’s Happening?

 

Investments

◼︎ iQiyi (爱奇艺), one of China’s top media streaming platforms (sometimes also referred to as the ‘Chinese Netflix’), released its all-in-one virtual reality headset ‘Adventure Dream’ in December 2021 powered by Snapdragon XR2. Baidu owns 53% of iQiyi and holds more than 90% of its shareholder voting rights.

 
Research & Development

◼︎ Baidu launched the ‘Baidu VR Browser’ on July 15, 2016, becoming China’s first browser powered by webVR technology.

Xirang

◼︎ In 2017, Baidu launched ‘Baidu VR’ platform, which is now offering a wide range of VR-related software and hardware products and services, including the Baidu VR Headset, VR Creation Center, AI app, and XiRang (希壤), which is referred to as China’s “first metaverse platform.”

 

What’s Live?

 

 
Retail

◼︎ In 2018, Baidu VR and UXin Limited, a Chinese online used car marketplace, jointly developed VR 360° interior panoramas that put viewers in the driver’s seat to see how interior details come together and to better understand the details of each vehicle such as scratches, wheels and engine models.

◼︎ Baidu’s ‘Meta Ziwu’ (元宇宙誌屋Meta ZiWU), a virtual space within XiRang, hosts various fashion shows for international brands. In August of 2022, Italian luxury fashion house Prada livestreamed its Fall 2022 collection within the interactive realms of ‘Meta Ziwu,’ and so did Dior, the French fashion house which has also launched its first-ever metaverse exhibition “On the Road” (在路上) via Meta Ziwu.

 
Social Networking

◼︎ In late 2021, Baidu launched its metaverse project XiRang (希壤, ‘the land of hope’) as “the first Chinese-made metaverse product.” In December, Baidu held ‘Baidu Create 2021′, a three-day annual developers’ conference in a virtual world generated by the XiRang platform, hosting 100,000 people on one set of servers at the same time. Baidu’s Vice President Ma Jie, also Head of the Metaverse XiRang project, shared that the main goal behind this project is to lay the infrastructure of the metaverse by providing developers and content creators with the tools to build their metaverse projects.

Chinese architect Ma Yansong (马岩松), founder of MAD architects, also works together with Meta Ziwu as a virtual architect.

 

▶︎ALIBABA

 

Founded in 1999, Alibaba is one of the world’s largest e-commerce and cloud computing companies in Asia Pacific. Its massive success in e-commerce also established Alibaba’s leading position in artificial intelligence and other key technologies that have supported e-commerce, as well as in the future of metaverse.

As one of the biggest venture capital firms and investment corporations in the world, Alibaba struck several deals with prominent XR companies including Magic Leap and Nreal to gain footing in the Extended Reality industry.

As for R&D, Alibaba’s ambition in becoming the world’s fifth-largest economy led to a strong emphasis on technological research and XR-focused innovation and the founding of DAMO Academy.

Within the field of XR, Alibaba primarily focuses on two aspects: underlying technology solutions (e.g. cloud computing) and XR application in its own core business model (e-commerce).

 

What’s Happening?

 

Investments

◼︎ In February 2016 and October 2017, Alibaba led the investment rounds in Magic Leap, an augmented reality firm headquartered in Florida.

◼︎ In March of this year, Alibaba led a $60 million investment round of Beijing-based augmented reality glasses maker Nreal. Nreal, founded in 2017, has since launched two AR glasses for the Chinese market: Nreal X for developers and content creators and Nreal Air for regular consumers. Nreal Air glasses have been released in Japan and the UK in February and May of this year. In addition to AR glasses, Nreal also cooperated with iQiyi, China Mobile Migu, Weilai, and Kuaishou to develop AR content.

 
Research & Development

◼︎ In March 2016, Alibaba announced its own VR research lab, GM LAB ( ‘GnomeMagic’ Lab), which aims to power its e-commerce platform and other subsidiary businesses such as the VR content production for its film and music platforms.

◼︎ Alibaba registered several metaverse-related trademarks, including “Ali Metaverse.”

◼︎ In 2021, Alibaba’s DAMO Academy, a global research program in cutting-edge technologies, launched ‘X Lab’ that focuses on research in key areas related to the metaverse industry, including quantum computing, XR, and xG Technology. Tan Ping (谭平), the former Head of XR Lab, shared several of their ongoing projects at the time. One example he mentioned is the virtual character Xiaomo (小莫), who is very versatile and can, among other things, convert textual information into sign language to enable smoother communication for the hearing impaired.

Xiaomo by Alibaba can turn spoken text into sign language.

‘X Lab’ is also experimenting with making history come alive through virtual initiatives. Recently, Alibaba’s cloud gaming platform Yuanjing made it possible for visitors at their Alibaba Cloud’s Apsara conference to virtually visit the Xi’an Museum and check out its artifacts via mobile phone or laptop, or to have an immersive experience of the Tang dynasty’s imperial palace complex, powered by automatic 3D space creation and visual localization technology.

 

What’s Live?

 

eCommerce

◼︎ In November 2016, Alibaba launched the Mobile BUY+ feature in Taobao mobile apps in light of its annual Single’s Day Global Shopping Festival. With VR headsets and the app, China-based Taobao shoppers could experience shopping in-store at Target, Macy’s, or Costco in the US and other malls located in countries such as Japan and Australia.

◼︎ As Alibaba constantly keeps innovating its e-commerce landscape, its research institute DAMO Academy, in collaboration with its licensing platform Alifish, rolled out an XR-powered marketplace on Alibaba’s e-commerce platforms Tmall and Taobao for its November 2022 Single’s Day festival that allows consumers to visit virtual shopping streets and shop for merchandise as their own customizable avatars.

Entertainment

◼︎ In 2021, Alibaba led a $20 million Series A financing round of DGene, a virtual reality and immersive entertainment developer. Among others, DGene creates digital influencers or can even recreate historical figures based on its AI-driven technologies.

Dong Dong was launched as the first virtual brand ambassador for the Winter Olympics in 2022.

◼︎ For the Olympic Winter Olympics in 2022, Alibaba launched Dong Dong, a digital persona developed by Damo Academy using cloud-based digital technologies. Dong Dong was able to engage with fans and online viewers through livestreams, respond to questions in real time, and she even hosted online talkshows.

 

▶︎TENCENT

 

As a multinational technology and entertainment conglomerate with the highest-grossing revenue in the world, Tencent has the financial resources to gain an upper hand in technological innovation through acquisition and investment. In 2021 alone, Tencent made a total of 76 investments in Gaming, accounting for 25.2% of Tencent’s total investment throughout the year – a 9.3% increase compared to 2020. Tencent is now the biggest gaming company in the world.

Tencent also ramped up the company’s total headcount working in R&D department by 41%, accounting for 68% of its total workforce in 2021.

Although XR is used to create immersive experiences in different industries including healthcare, manufacturing, or education, its primary fields are still gaming and social – which just so happen to be Tencent’s main focus areas. It is therefore perhaps unsurprising that Tencent, as the country’s Gaming & Social giant, has made XR part of its core business.

 

What’s Happening?

 

Investments

◼︎ In 2012, Tencent made an investment in Epic Games, the owner of Unreal Engine which powers well-known video games such as Fortnite, purchasing approximately 40% of the total Epic capital, making it the second largest shareholder. Epic Games’ major businesses span across RT3D game engine (Unreal), in-house developed games (Fortnite), and platform games. This investment is one of the reasons why Tencent conquered a leading position in the metaverse realm when it comes to games.

◼︎ As early as 2014, Tencent already tapped into the VR market by investing in social VR platform AltspaceVR, which was later acquired by Microsoft in 2017.

◼︎ In May 2019, Tencent and Roblox announced a joint venture in which Tencent holds a 49% controlling stake.

◼︎ In September of 2021, Tencent became the new investor behind Beijing-based VR game developer Vanimals (威魔纪元), known for its flagship games Undying and Eternity Warriors VR.

◼︎ In November 2021, Tencent joined the $82M Series D fundraising of Ultraleap, the world leader in mid-air haptics and 3D hand tracking. Ultraleap’s hand-tracking platform has been built into multiple platforms including Qualcomm’s XR and VR devices.

◼︎ In March 2022, Tencent invested in the Chinese AR glasses manufacturer SUPERHEXA (蜂巢科技) holding 7.3% of its shares.

 
Research & Development

◼︎ In 2015, Tencent announced its avant-garde VR Project ‘Tencent VR,’ a plan consisting of building its own VR games and releasing Tencent Virtual reality software development kits (VR SDKs) to support other VR game developers.

◼︎ As of September 2021, Tencent applied for registration of nearly 100 trademarks related to the metaverse, including “Tencent Music Metaverse” (腾讯音乐元宇宙).

◼︎ In June 2022, Tencent officially set up its XR department led by its Interactive Entertainment Division (IEG) game developer NExT Studios. During Tencent’s annual gaming conference SPARK 2022, the Head of IEG, Ma Xiaoyi (马晓轶), shared Tencent’s ambitions in charting all segments of the VR industry in the next 5 years, from developer software tools and SDKs to VR hardware, to consumer-facing content.

◼︎ NExT Studios, which is the youngest studio within the Tencent Games family, has partnered with the Shenzhen-based FACEGOOD, a 3D content generation technology company that is focused on building metaverse infrastructure.

 

What’s Live?

 

Gaming

◼︎ At ChinaJoy 2019, the largest gaming and digital entertainment exhibition across Asia, Tencent launched its cloud gaming solution on its WeGame client, allowing users to play several games instantly without a download. In December of that year, Tencent Games and global leader AI hardware & software leader Nvidia announced a new partnership to launch the START (云游戏) cloud gaming service for PC and console titles.

◼︎ Following the Sino-American joint venture with Roblox in May 2021, Tencent officially launched the Chinese version of Roblox (罗布乐思) topping the App Store free game list in July of 2021.

 
Social Networking

◼︎ In November 2021, Tencent led a $25 million Series A funding in the British developer Lockwood Publishing best known for the metaverse app Avakin Life, which allows users to create 3D characters and socialize in the virtual community.

◼︎ During the Lunar New Year in February 2022, Tencent’s instant messaging software QQ launched a new feature called “Super QQ Show” (超级QQ秀), which is an upgrade of its ‘QQ Show’ service that’s been running since 2003. Super QQ Show allows users to create their own 3D avatars and use them in an interactive context. It added AI face recognition and rendering. The platform is an interesting one for brands. Fast-food chain KFC even has its own restaurant in this virtual world.

Visiting KFC in the Super QQ Show.

◼︎ In the summer of 2022, the Tencent-backed app developer company Soulgate Inc., which operates the social networking app Soul, applied to be listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. Tencent is the largest shareholder holding 49.9% of the shares. Soul is a virtual social playground with the mission of “building a ‘Soul’cial Metaverse for young generations” where users can connect with other users through the virtual identity they develop in the app. The majority of its users, nearly 75%, belong to Gen-Z.

 
Entertainment

◼︎ On New Year’s Eve of 2021, Tencent Music Entertainment (TME) Group launched China’s first virtual social music platform TMELAND, where users can create their own avatars and interact with each other through their “digital identity.” It’s worth mentioning that TMELAND was powered by the ‘Hybrid Edge-Cloud Platform Solution’ developed by XVERSE (元象科技), which was founded by a former Tencent executive committed to building a one-stop shop for 3D content development.

Coca Cola zone in TMLAND.

Recently, Coca-Cola partnered up with TMELAND to open a new metaverse zone, accessible via the TMELAND mini-programme on WeChat.

 

▶︎BYTEDANCE

 

Known as “the world’s most valuable startup,” the Bytedance success story started with the algorithm-powered Toutiao (头条 ‘Headlines’) in 2012, a news and content platform that personalizes content for each user based on their own preferences. The Bytedance app TikTok (Douyin in China) conquered the world as one of most successful Chinese apps internationally.

Bytedance is a social networking leader, but is also focused on its in-house development in VR/AR. By 2021, Bytedance had completed at least 76 investment events, more than the previous two years combined.

From ByteDance’s activities in the XR industry, the company seems to have its strategy primarily focused on hardware, content development, and distribution across gaming, social networking, and entertainment industries.

 

What’s Happening?

 

Investments

◼︎ As early as 2018, Toutiao (Bytedance’s core product) acquired VSCENE (维境视讯) a Beijing-based solution provider for VR Live streaming.

◼︎ In July 2020, Bytedance participated in Series A funding of Seizet (熵智科技), an industrial automation company that provides a 3D industrial camera and software.

◼︎ In February 2021, Bytedance invested in Moore Threads (摩尔线程), a company that specialized in visual computing and artificial intelligence fields. In November last year, Moore Threads announced it has developed China’s first domestic full-fledged graphic processing unit (GPU) chip. Along with 5G communications, Wi-Fi 6, cloud computing, and chip technology, GPU is considered one of the main infrastructure technologies of the metaverse.

◼︎ In August 2021, ByteDance acquired Chinese VR hardware maker & software platform Pico for approximately $771 million to support its long-term investment in the VR ecosystem. By the end of Q1 2022, Pico is estimated to hold a 4.5% share of the global VR market, following Meta which is the dominant global player (90%). This year, Bytedance has set a higher sales target for Pico headsets to reach 1.6 million device output. To meet its VR industry goals, Bytedance is investing more into promotion and hiring more staff for Pico to catch up with or even surpass Meta’s Quest.

◼︎ In June 2022, ByteDance acquired PoliQ (波粒子), a team specialized in making virtual social platforms that allow users to interact with one another using their self-invented avatars in the virtual world. Jiesi Ma, the founder of PoliQ, is appointed to lead the VR Social department at ByteDance.

 
Research & Development

◼︎ To boost its entire VR ecosystem, Pico is engaging in more partnerships with Hollywood’s major film studios and leading streaming media companies in China (iQiyi, Youku, Tencent Video, Bilibili, and so on). In July 2022, Pico hosted Pico WangFeng@VR Music + Drifting Fantasy concert which leveraged 3D 8K VR Live Streaming technology to create a “magical” and immersive visual musical experience. By wearing Pico’s VR headsets, the audience can enjoy Wang’s performance from 5 different angles and as close as a meter away.

 

What’s Live?

 

Gaming

◼︎ On February 22, 2021, Bytedance released its game development and publishing brand Nuverse (朝夕光年). To date, Nuverse has launched several successful games through APAC and the western markets including “Burning Streetball” (热血街篮), “Houchi Shoujo” (放置少女), “Ragnarok X: Next Generation” (RO仙境传说:新世代的诞生), “Mobile Legends: Bang Bang”, and “Warhammer 40,000: Lost Crusade.”

◼︎ In April 2021, Bytedance put another US$15 million into Chinese Roblox competitor Reworld (代码乾坤), a platform for creating game worlds and playing games using the company’s own simulation engine.

 
Social Networking

◼︎ In September 2021, Bytedance launched its avatar app Pixsoul in Southeast Asian markets and Brazil. Users can create personalized avatars and use them to socialize.

◼︎ In January 2022, Bytedance launched a beta version of its virtual social app “Party Island” (派对岛) where users can make friends with people sharing similar interests and hang out with avatars in various virtual settings such as parks and movie theaters. However, the app was reportedly removed from app stores again and its date of relaunching is unknown.

 
Entertainment

◼︎ In September 2021, TikTok introduced its creator-led NFT collection titled “TikTok Top Moments” where TikTok will feature a selection of culturally-significant TikTok videos from some of the most beloved creators on the platform. Powered by Immutable X, users can ‘own’ a moment on TikTok that broke the internet and trade the TikTok Top Moments NFTs.

Li Weike, image via Pandaily.

◼︎ In January 2022, ByteDance bought a 20% stake in Hangzhou Li Weike Technology Co., Ltd. (Li Weike, 李未可). The company aspires to build China’s first AI+AR-powered glasses that connect users with the virtual idol Li Weike, a digital character built by the company to help users with various tasks and essentially provide users with social and emotional support.

 

By Jialing Xie and Manya Koetse

 

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