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Digital Diplomacy: These Foreign Embassies Are Most (Un)Popular on Weibo

‘Weiplomacy’ is here; Weibo and other social media platforms are a tool for government public diplomacy purposes. What’s on Weibo gives an overview of Weibo’s most (un)popular foreign embassies.

Manya Koetse

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As social media has become an increasingly common tool for government public diplomacy purposes, a large number of foreign embassies in China now has a presence on Sina Weibo to engage with local audiences. As Weibo diplomacy a.k.a. ‘Weiplomacy’ is becoming more important, What’s on Weibo gives an overview of Weibo’s most (un)popular foreign embassies.

Digital diplomacy is a hot topic. Embassies all over the world increasingly use social media as a low-cost and convenient tool to promote their countries, inform people about their latest activities and engage with their followers.

Many embassies can be found on Facebook, Twitter or Youtube, but also on China’s Sina Weibo or WeChat, changing the way foreign embassies engage with with local audiences in China.

E-Diplomacy: Up & Downsides

Foreign embassies on Weibo have recently been getting more scholarly attention. In “Social Media and E-Diplomacy: Scanning Embassies on Weibo” (2017), Ying Jiang writes that social media is an effective way for embassies to communicate to target groups, more so than conventional (offline) public diplomacy.

However, Jiang also points out that the presence of foreign embassies on Weibo has its downsides, as web users can vent their anger and post negative comments to embassy pages if they are against the policies of those countries.

This is especially apparent on embassy pages such as that of the Japanese embassy in China, where people often leave anti-Japanese comments and pictures related to the Sino-Japanese war.

Comments on the page of the Japanese embassy in China related to WWII.

Comments on the page of the Japanese embassy in China related to WWII.

But there are also countless negative comments on pages of other embassies. On the Weibo page of the German embassy in China, for example, Weibo users have posted many critiques on the country’s refugee policies after a post about new visa announcements. One netizen says: “If Germany doesn’t solve its refugee problem, the country has zero attractiveness anymore.”

On the USA embassy page, netizens leave comments such as: “The US truly is an evil country. You’re the world’s biggest terrorist organization.”

But visitors also often leave words of praise to embassy accounts. On the Danish embassy’s account, for example, some call Denmark “a magical place”, with the “land of fairytales” seemingly captivating the minds of many Chinese netizens.

When Thailand’s king passed away in October 2016, the Thai embassy page on Weibo was filled with condolences from Chinese expressing their grief and stressing the friendship between the Chinese and Thai.

Ying Jiang’s research calculated the number of reactions to every post on Weibo’s embassies with the most followers and found that even if an embassy had the most followers, it was not necessarily most influential based on their received comments and amount of post shares.

According to Ying Jiang’s data, which was collected in the first half of 2015, the Canadian embassy had the largest following on Sina Weibo, followed by the USA, Cuba, UK and South Korea, with the latter being most influential based on its interactions with its followers.

It seems that things have changed over the past two years, as the following list of foreign embassies collected and compiled by What’s on Weibo shows a different order of popularity.

Weibo’s Top 5 Embassies

Although the Canadian, Cuban, US and South Korean embassies are still popular in terms of followers on Weibo, the Brazilian, Japanese, and especially Israeli embassies now have the highest number of fans on Weibo.

The popularity of the Canadian embassy on Weibo can undoubtedly partly be attributed to the strong promotion of China-Canada friendship, the popularity of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and perhaps even the great popularity of the Canadian doctor Norman Bethune, who is honored in China for his role as a battleground surgeon during the Second Sino-Japanese War.

But most importantly, Canada’s success on Weibo is a result of its own endeavors on Chinese social media. In a DiploFoundation interview with Mark McDowell, Counsellor of the Canadian Embassy in Beijing, McDowell stresses the importance of the so-called ‘weiplomacy’ (微郊外 Weibo diplomacy) to the Canadian embassy, that has boosted its efforts in using social media as an efficient form of public diplomacy.

McDowell says the Canadian embassy in China posts about 20 to 30 Weibo messages per week, on topics varying from business news to visa issues, the ways Canada measures air pollution, or information about studying in Canada – all topics that interest their large group of followers on Weibo.*

But the current most popular embassy on Weibo is not Canada, nor Cuba or any of the biggest embassies mentioned in Ying Jiang’s 2015 research; it is the Embassy of Israel, that currently has over 1.9 million fans on its Weibo page, where it has posted a total of 3590 posts at the time of writing (in comparison: the Canadian embassy had posted 6979 posts at this time).

Top five according to What’s on Weibo, December 2016:

1. Israeli embassy (@以色列驻华使馆) – 1.913.384 followers
2. Canadian embassy (@加拿大大使馆官方微博)
– 1.131.700+ followers
3. US embassy (@美国驻华大使馆) – 1.035.300+ followers
4. Brazilian embassy (@巴西驻华大使馆) – 522.310+ followers
5. Japanese embassy (@日本国驻华大使馆) – 480.500+ followers

Why is Israel so popular on Weibo?

What makes the Embassy of Israel so popular on Weibo? Overall, Chinese netizens seem to have a positive attitude towards the country. It is, among others, shared memories of the history of WWII that have contributed to the present strong relations between China and Israel.

In 2015, the Consulate General of Israel in Shanghai published a video that featured hundreds of Israelis holding “Thank you” signs in Chinese as a sign of gratitude for Shanghai helping the Jews during WWII. It also included a message from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressing thanks to the Chinese people.

Shimon Peres, former President of Israel.

Shimon Peres, former President of Israel.

In 2014, late Israeli president Shimon Peres became a trending topic on Weibo when he registered for an account and met with Chinese president Xi Jinping. The “handsome old president” was warmly welcomed by Weibo users. One netizen said: “Israel really has been very good to China. During World War II, China took in a lot of Jewish refugees helping them avoid the disaster of war, and now this ethnicity truly knows how to be thankful. This is the kind of country that China should foster good relations with, and whether it be Israel or Pakistan, these are the true brothers of China. Anyway, this president is truly so adorable, and I just love adorable uncles [older men]” (China Smack 2014).

In 2014, the Australian reported that Israeli president Shimon Peres was one of the few Western leaders maintaining a social media presence in China, and that he had over 450,000 followers. When Peres passed away in September 2016, many web users visited the Israeli embassy account to share their condolences, praising the former president as a friend of China.

Web users lighting digital candles for Peres and posting their condoleances on the Israeli Embassy Weibo site.

Web users lighting digital candles for Peres and posting their condoleances on the Israeli Embassy Weibo site.

According to Robert Lakin (@LakinTLV), founder of Analytika Research, Israel’s popularity on Weibo is a case of cause and effect.

“The Israel Foreign Ministry has really stepped up its game on social media,” Lakin tells What’s on Weibo: “The Israel Defense Force’s has also boosted its use of social media. As the country puts out more buzz-worthy content, the effect is a jump in social followers. This includes lots of peripheral, one-off activity, too.” Lakin also mentions the influence of the Times of Israel‘s Chinese language website, which might have contributed to the Israeli success on Weibo.

What About the ‘Unpopular’ Foreign Embassies?

With countries such as Israel and Canada having a relatively positive image among Chinese people – which also reflects in their popularity on social media – does this mean that the lowest-ranking foreign embassies on Weibo also are of those nations that have a less positive reputation in China?

Not necessarily so. According to What’s on Weibo, the embassies of Estonia, Monaco and Indonesia have the lowest number of followers on Weibo, but this also has to do with the low activity on the concerning accounts; Estonia last posted in 2012, Indonesia in 2014, whereas Monaco has just posted its 75 first posts on the social media platform.

List of Foreign Embassies on Weibo

This is the list of foreign embassies currently present on Sina Weibo, from most popular to less popular in terms of followers. The great majority of these accounts have all been verified by Sina Weibo as the official embassy of their country (‘V’ status); if not, it has been noted.

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1. Israeli embassy (@以色列驻华使馆) 1.913.384 followers

2. Canadian embassy (@加拿大大使馆官方微博) 1.131.700+ followers

3. US embassy (@美国驻华大使馆) 1.035.300+ followers

4. Brazilian embassy (@巴西驻华大使馆) 522.310+ followers

5. Japanese embassy (@日本国驻华大使馆) 480.500+ followers

6. South-Korean embassy (@韩国驻华大使馆) 396.960+ followers

7. Cuban embassy (@古巴驻华大使馆) 358.950+ followers

8. British embassy (@英国大使馆文化教育处) 289.280+ followers

9. French embassy (@法国驻华使馆) 255.240+ followers

10. Russian embassy (@俄罗斯驻华大使馆) 167.539+ followers

11. Australian embassy (@澳大利亚驻华使领馆) 165.240+ followers

12. German embassy (@德国驻华大使馆) 147.230+ followers

13. Embassy of Myanmar (@中缅胞波兄弟情) 146.000 followers

14. Danish embassy (@中缅胞波兄弟情) 丹麦驻华大使馆) 139.760+ followers

15. Thai embassy (@泰国驻华大使馆) 104.570+ followers

16. Swiss embassy (@瑞士驻华大使馆) 99.190+ followers

17. Swedish embassy (@瑞典驻华大使馆微博) 68.310+ followers

18. Dutch embassy (@荷兰驻华大使馆) 68.070+ followers

19. Mexican embassy (@墨西哥驻华大使馆) 50.160+ followers

20. Belgian embassy (@比利时驻华使馆) 49585+ followers

21. Italian embassy (@意大利驻华使馆) 46.330+ followers

22. Polish embassy (@波兰使馆文化处) 39185+ followers

23. Nepal embassy (@尼泊尔大使馆官方微博) 37.177+ followers

24. New Zealand embassy (@新西兰驻华大使馆) 37.140+ followers

25. Mauritanian embassy (@毛里塔尼亚驻华大使馆) 36.545+ followers

26. Zimbabwean embassy (@中国驻津巴布韦大使馆) 35.450+ followers

27. Costa Rican embassy (@哥斯达黎加驻华大使馆) 34.930+ followers

28. Peruvian Embassy (@秘鲁驻华使馆) 33.507 followers

29. Portugese embassy (@葡萄牙驻华大使馆) 28.380+ followers

30. Maldives embassy (@马尔代夫驻华大使馆) 22.460+ followers

31. Indian embassy (@印度使馆文化处) 22.225+ followers

32. Irish embassy (@爱尔兰驻华大使馆) 20.191+ followers

33. Spanish embassy (@西班牙驻华大使馆官方微博) 16.030+ followers

34. Austrian embassy (@奥地利驻华使馆) 15.960+ followers

35. Norwegian embassy (@挪威驻华大使馆) 11.800+ followers

36. Turkish embassy / official tourism board (@土耳其旅游局) 67.430+ followers

37. Kazakhstan embassy (@哈萨克斯坦驻华大使馆) 12.670+ followers

38. Ukranian embassy (@乌克兰信使) 9960+ followers

39. Iranian Embassy (@伊朗驻华大使馆) 6166 followers [not verified]

40. Rwandan embassy (@卢旺达驻华大使馆) 5480+ followers

41. Lithuanian embassy (@立陶宛驻华大使馆商务处) 3170+ followers

42. Chilean embassy (@智利驻中国大使馆) 2540+ followers

43. Sri Lankan embassy (@中国驻斯里兰卡大使馆) 2109 followers

44. Egyptian embassy (@埃及驻华大使馆) [account not verified] 910+ followers (Note: the account of the official Egypt tourism board on Weibo has 28392 followers).

45. Estonian Embassy (@爱沙尼亚驻华大使馆) [account not verified] 540+ followers

46. Embassy of Monaco (@摩纳哥公国大使馆) 450+ followers

47. Indonesian Embassy (@印度尼西亚驻华大使馆) [account not verified] 350+ followers

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With Sina Weibo currently seeing a revival and WeChat being China’s number one app, the use of these social media platforms in digital diplomacy is essential for foreign embassies wanting to engage with millions of Chinese – not just for the sake of providing information about traveling, arranging visas, or studying abroad, but also for the mere purpose of boosting their nation’s image in China.

With China’s online population growing as we write, and its social media features getting more versatile by the day, this might just be the beginning of China’s digital platforms being used as a diplomatic tool for foreign embassies.

Please follow us to stay up-to-date on more articles on this topic in the near future.

– By Manya Koetse
Follow on Twitter or Like on Facebook

*According to Globe and Mail, not all of the Canadian embassy’s followers are actually ‘real’; in a 2014 article, the website alleged that nearly 87% of the Canadian embassy account fans are ‘zombies’; fake accounts that do not represent actual persons. The Canadian government, however, stated it had never paid for the alleged fake followers and that it does not know where they come from. Note that for this article, we have not done any research into ‘fake followers’ and do not know if the top-ranking embassies have fake followers, and if so, how many there would be.

References

Bjola, Corneliu and Marcus Holmes (ed). 2015. Digital Diplomacy: Theory and Practice. Routledge: London and New York.

Cai, Peter. 2014. “How Israel is winning the social media war in China.” The Australian, September 2 http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/business-spectator/how-israel-is-winning-the-social-media-war-in-china/news-story/08fb25d94b34b3036616c0334531ddc6 [20.12.16].

Jiang, Ying. 2017. “Social Media and E-Diplomacy: Scanning Embassies on Weibo.” In: Naren Chitty, Li Ji, Gary D. Rawnsley, Craig Hayden (ed), The Routledge Handbook of Soft Power. New york: Routledge: New York.

Rugh, William A. 2014. Front Line Public Diplomacy: How US Embassies Communicate with Foreign Publics. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

What’s on Weibo is an independently run news blog. We accept donations to help us keep the site going. Donating is possible via www.paypal.me/whatsonweibo.

©2016 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Bjorn

    December 21, 2016 at 1:32 pm

    You forgot to add the EU Delegation to China to the list: 150 000+ followers 😀

  2. Avatar

    James

    December 24, 2016 at 3:40 pm

    Is the Chinese 微郊外 correct? Should be 微外交 no?

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China Digital

Twitter Is Trending: Elon Musk’s ‘Extremely Hardcore’ Work Schedule Is ‘Soft Version’ of China’s 996 Work Culture

Some on Weibo joke that Elon Musk is “promoting Chinese culture” through his new approach to Twitter.

Manya Koetse

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Twitter is a hot topic on Weibo this week, with many Chinese commenters thinking Musk’s new strategy for Twitter must have been inspired by China’s strenuous 996 work culture.

The future of Twitter is a big topic of discussion all around global social media platforms. Although Twitter is officially blocked in mainland China, recent Twitter developments have also become a topic of interest on Weibo.

Twitter, an American social media platform founded in 2006, was acquired by the business magnet Elon Musk on 27 October 2022 for $44 billion. Ever since, discussions have been ongoing regarding the changes the platform is seeing – and might see – in the near future.

One of the new features that attracted a lot of attention is the idea of making Twitter users pay for their Twitter ‘blue check’ verification marks. At the same time, Musk received tons of criticism for firing about 3700 people, half of Twitter’s workforce, soon after he became the company’s new owner.

Now, Elon Musk is under fire again for setting new standards for employees to stay with the company, demanding they commit to an “extremely hardcore” working culture or otherwise quit. Soon after, resignations started to roll in.

Musk previously already got rid of remote working, telling workers they are expected in the office 40 hours per week at a minimum.

When the Twitter office buildings were temporarily closed and employee badge access was disabled until Monday, the hashtag “RIPTwitter” went trending on the platform. Many users announced their departure from the platform and predicted that Twitter will soon be shutting down.

At one point in this chaos, projections at the San Francisco Twitter headquarters building played a loop of spiteful comments against Musk (#推特公司员工大规模辞职#).

On Weibo, where Elon Musk is commonly referred to as 马斯克 (Mǎsīkè), the hashtag “Musk warns Twitter staff: they can beat it if they can’t work overtime” (#马斯克警告推特员工不能加班就走人#) received over 95 million views.

Some wondered about the new Twitter working conditions and compared them to the notorious ‘996’ work schedules in Chinese tech companies (996 = work from 9am to 9pm, six days per week).

Others joked that Elon Musk is “promoting Chinese culture” through his new approach to Twitter.

 

“If you join Alibaba, you should get ready to work 12 hours a day, otherwise why do you come to Alibaba?”

 

The current labor law in China bars employees from working more than 44 hours a week, and any overtime work must be paid. Although the 996 practice is technically prohibited by law, many companies still enforce the hours informally.

Many Chinese netizens blame Alibaba’s Jack Ma for praising the ‘996’ work system. In 2019, Ma called the 12-hour working day a “huge blessing,” causing much controversy online. During his talk at Kyiv International Economic Forum, Ma said: “(..) ‘996 is the spirit that I encourage Alibaba people to follow. If you want to have a bright future, (..) if you want to be successful, you have to work hard.”

On another occasion, the tech mogul reportedly said: “If you join Alibaba, you should get ready to work 12 hours a day, otherwise why do you come to Alibaba? We don’t need those who comfortably work 8 hours.”

In 2021, Chinese authorities announced a nationwide crackdown on 996 working schedules.

Although Musk’s words reminded many of 996 and Jack Ma’s speech on such work systems, some commenters noted that Twitter’s working schedules are still far more relaxed than those at some ‘996’ tech companies in China.

“Musk’s request for ‘high-intensity work’ is to work 40 hours a week at the office, it’s still far removed from the 996 schedule, if they can’t make this work, then it shows how badly Twitter really had more hands than needed before,” one commenter wrote.

“Surely, nobody believes that their high-intensity work schedule is the same as our overtime? For them, it means working eight hours every day and getting two days off, for us, the high-intensity overtime is the kind that might make you drop dead in the end.”

“If they work overtime, they actually get paid for it,” another person wrote.

“If working 40 hours a week is the requirement, then how many hours did they work before this?”

Meanwhile, an older viral video showing ‘a day in the life’ of a Twitter employee made its rounds on Weibo.

Waking up at 6:30, the male employee first goes to the gym until 7:45, gets ready for the day and heads to work at 8:40. He then starts his work day by having breakfast at the canteen and then arrives at the desk at 9:20. At 12:00, he enjoys the company’s lunch buffet and catches some sun. After some afternoon meetings, there are snacks and fruit. After some work from the office sofa, he concludes his working day at 16:30 and heads home to meet friends for dinner and drinks.

“Perhaps Musk also saw this video,” some commented, with others saying: “No wonder he laid off staff,” and “Not surprised Twitter wasn’t making money.”

Many commenters on Weibo understand Musks’s choice to fire so much employees from a business point of view, with reduced labor costs being an easy way to make the platform more profitable.

However, some commenters think Musk is trying to bring the ‘Chinese model’ to America, and that this is the road to failure for Twitter due to the different work culture.

Musk previously already expressed hopes of turning Twitter into a platform that is similar to Tencent’s WeChat, China’s most popular ‘superapp.’

“It looks like they are looking to us for inspiration,” one Weibo blogger wrote.

“Why do we care about them at all?”, one reply said: “This topic actually shows how lamentable Chinese workers are. Their single sentence of ‘working long hours at high intensity’ is translated as ‘if you don’t work overtime you can leave’ by us. Why? Because Chinese workers have already incorporated the idea that if the boss asks you to work at high intensity it means working overtime hours.”

One person wondered: “When will Musk buy Weibo?”

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

 

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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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