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Hu Angang: Digital is Key in China’s 13th Five-Year Plan

China’s 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020) is underway. Renowned Chinese economics professor Hu Angang (胡鞍钢) talks about its main focuses, Chinese women consumers, and why digital is key for China’s future.

Manya Koetse

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China’s 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020) is underway. Renowned Chinese economics professor Hu Angang (胡鞍钢) talks about its main focuses, Chinese women consumers, and why digital is key for China’s future.

The 13th five-year plan is China’s latest policy blueprint for the 2016-2020 period. The influential state theorist and Dean of the School of Contemporary China at Tsinghua University (国情研究院) Professor Hu Angang (胡鞍钢) talks about the future plans of China as laid out in this blueprint during a special lecture in the National Library of China as part of the Visiting Programme for Young Sinologists (青年汉学家研修计划) [attended by author]. Digital innovation and developments play a major role in China’s future, according to Professor Hu. A special note: especially women play an important role in China’s (digital) growth.

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China launched its first five-year plan (中国五年计划) in the 1953-57 period, aimed at rapid industrial growth. Its current 13th five-year plan is still fixed on growth, but with different characteristics. According to Professor Hu Angang, there are five different concepts within this period’s five-year plan, on which he also expanded in his recent 2016 work China’s New Theory: 5 Great Developments (中国新理念–五大发展).

The ‘big five’ include ‘innovation’, ‘harmonization’, ‘green’, ‘openness’, and ‘sharing’, Hu says – promoting more interaction between the government and the people, and between theory and concept.

 

DIFFERENT REVOLUTIONS

“In China, 1% of the population is equivalent to a middle-sized country – not even 1% can be left behind.”

 

According to Hu, the ‘big five’ development concepts are all about innovation-driven development – focused on people. The idea that ‘people are at the heart of the 13th five-year plan’ is something Hu also emphasized in earlier lectures this year.

China’s bold promise to end the country’s poverty by 2020 is one important part of the plan’s ‘people mission’ (“by the people, for the people, of the people” – as Hu puts it). The plan might be ambitious, but Hu is positive it will succeed: “China will lift all people out of poverty by 2020; 20 years ahead of the UN schedule.”

“How can we show that people are at the heart of the five-year plan?”, Professor Hu asks: “In western countries, they often talk about the majority ‘middle class’. But in China, just 1% of the population is equivalent to a middle-sized country. So our policies should cover and include all people – not even 1% can be left behind.”

Narrowing the rural-urban gap is part of the five-year plan mission, and as poverty-stricken rural areas often suffer from poor transportation, Hu states that improving the infrastructure of China’s more remote regions is a top priority. China already has the world’s longest HSR network with over 19,000 km, but this will have grown into a 50,000 km long HSR network by 2020.

Hu also mentions that high-speed metro rail systems will start operating between megacities, like the high-speed line that was opened in Shenzhen in late 2015. More subways, small-scale airports and long-distance large-capacity trams (as built in Jerusalem) are also part of the plan: “It will be a revolution of the transport system,” Hu says.

It is not the only revolution taking place in China in the coming few years according to Hu Angang – China’s digital revolution is in full force, and will go on for the years to come. Hu emphasizes that digital innovation development will also make an important contribution to ending poverty in China.

 

SMALL INVESTMENT, HIGH RETURNS

 “In the digital age, the strongest countries are those that can master the digital space and manage digital users.”

 

Hu Angang tells that a recent visit to the mountainous southwestern province of Guizou, known for its rural villages, made him realize how tangible China’s rapid digital developments have become: “Residents used to live together with their pigs. Now they have local restaurants with fast wifi services. Those restaurant owners are very willing to provide these wifi services because it will attract more customers to come. For them, it is a small investment with a high return.”

That digital development has become increasingly important for China’s countryside is also visible through the rise of China’s so-called “Taobao villages” phenomenon – referring to rural villages that profit from local e-commerce businesses.

Because rural areas are now catching up with China’s digital developments, the ‘digital divide’ has become smaller. In 2015, China’s 688 million internet users formed the world’s largest online population. The 859 million mobile phone user group of 2010 has now increased to a staggering 1.3 billion, leading to a high digital penetration rate in the PRC.

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These numbers are highly relevant according to Hu: “In the digital age, the strongest countries are those that can master digital space and manage digital users. As the country with the world’s most mobile phone and Internet users, China is now situated at the very center of the international digital era.”

China File recently reported that the state has already introduced a number of policies that specifically favor the development of rural e-markets, that is worth 460 billion RMB (±$70 billion US$) according to analysts – who predict that the next five years will be a “golden era” for rural e-commerce (China File 2016).

 

PUSHING IT TO THE NEXT LEVEL

 “Innovation is the key word.”

 

In the next five years, Beijing wants to push China’s digital developments to the next level, further closing the urban-rural digital divide, boosting Chinese economy, and improving society efficiency. The promotion of China’s so-called ‘e-government’ is also part of this idea; making it possible for citizens to do much more online.

Last year, Alibaba’s Alipay and Sina Weibo launched a new ‘online city services platform’, where paying traffic fines, handling immigration issues or scheduling marriage registration no longer requires hourlong queuing at the Public Service Hall; instead, netizens can arrange it all from behind their mobile phones or computer screens: “E-government is already changing our lives,” Hu says –  and according to him, we can expect China’s ‘e-government’ system to further develop in the coming five years – also suggesting that the ties between companies such as Alibaba, Tencent, Sina Weibo, and the government will deepen.

Professor Hu stresses that ‘innovation’ is the key word of the 13th five-year plan, which means that government spending on research and development will increase (“making China the second largest spender on R&D after the US”), and that the role of technology will also be strengthened through education.

 

THE FEMALE CONSUMER & ENTERPRENEUR

“Alibaba’s active buyers are totaled at 430 million – most of them being female consumers.”

 

Education is crucial to China’s further digital developments and (digital) economy in multiple ways, Hu explains, especially stressing the importance of promoting job opportunities, education and entrepreneurship for women.

Hu ties this subject to China’s flourishing e-commerce, mentioning the success of Alibaba, where active buyers are totaled at 430 million – most of them being female consumers. And in terms of sellers, it is also the women who have a major share: “So you can see if women are well-educated and actively employed, we can see the growth of an active new economic sector,” Hu says, connecting China’s female education and entrepreneurship to its booming e-commerce economy.

Emblematic of China’s e-commerce success is so-called “Single’s Day”, November 11, that has been marketed as a shopping spree day by Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba. Last November, Alibaba reported that its single’s day sales had skyrocketed to $14.3 billion.

Professor Hu mentions that creating more education and job opportunities for women is also relevant after they have given childbirth, stressing the importance of continuing education possibilities at different stages in life.

 

WORK IT OUT

“Each student should at least do one hour of exercise every day.”

 

The idea of investing in people at different stages throughout their life is a red line throughout Hu’s lecture, dividing it into the dimension of age and the dimension of capability: not only should people continue education at various levels throughout life, maintaining a lifestyle that contains health insurance and regular exercise is also key.

In the promotion of health-building programs, Hu refers to the focus on improving rural health proposed by Mao Zedong in the 1980s. The promotion of exercise is a low-cost measure to improve the overall health of citizens: “Just take a look at Beijing parks in the evenings and you will see that citizens are walking and exercising – this is an important idea for us. Each student should at least do one hour of exercise every day,” Hu says. China’s life expectancy currently is set at 75 years, an 1.5 year increase from previous years. In the new plan, it is expected to increase to 77.

Libraries organise special classes for senior citizens, like this example from the National Library of Beijing that teaches elderly how to work with Excel, amongst other topics.

Libraries organize special classes for senior citizens, like this example from the National Library of China (Beijing) that teaches elderly how to work with Excel, amongst other topics.

In light of people’s continued learning, Hu mentions that more Chinese universities now provide post-college education for elderly people. In the weekends, many libraries and public cultural institutions provide courses aimed at senior citizens – the idea that learning does not stop after college is valued in China’s five-year plans.

 

TOO AMBITIOUS?

“In the past China used to be the country that copied products from other countries. In the future, China will be the inventor.”

 

Overall, Hu calls the 13th five-year plan a “blueprint of modernization”. By highlighting China’s technological and digital innovations, it does not just aim to benefit China’s economy and society – it also hopes to make China a nation of original inventions. Hu is confident: “In the past China used to be the country that copied products from other countries. In the future, China will be the inventor.”

According to the SIPO, China received 928,000 invention patent applications in the year 2014, accounting for 34% of the total global applications. Increasing public awareness about Intellectual Property was a focus issue in China’s previous five-year plan, and will remain to be one in this one. Earlier in 2016, the 16th nationwide publicity campaign of a “China Intellectual Property Week” helped draw public attention to IP.

With the revolution of China’s transport system and digital environment, and an increasing focus on green development, Hu foresees a reshaping of China’s economic landscape, which will also impact that of the world: “Is it too ambitious? No, it is not,” Hu states: “In the long run, China wants to contribute to bettering the world. It may not have contributed much over the past century – but it will in the next.”

– By Manya Koetse

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©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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China Digital

U.S. Embassy Launches WeChat Stickers Featuring Cartoon Eagle

A Weibo hashtag about the eagle stickers, that feature some phrases previously used by China’s Foreign Ministry, has now been taken offline.

Manya Koetse

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On January 30, the American Embassy in China announced the launch of its very own series of social media gifs, a special ’emoticon collection’ (表情包), featuring a little, somewhat silly cartoon eagle.

The U.S. Embassy launched the eagle series on WeChat and also announced the series on their Weibo account, writing that the eagle made its first public appearance in light of the festivities surrounding the Chinese New Year.

The eagle is called “Xiaomei” or “Little Mei” (鹰小美). The ‘mei’ is part of 美国 Měiguó, Chinese for the ‘United States,’ but měi also means beautiful and pretty.

The American embassy issued a total of 16 different animated stickers, and they’re intended to be used on Tencent’s WeChat, where users can download all kinds of different emoticons or stickers to use in conversations.

WeChat users often use many different animated stickers in conversations to express emotions, make jokes, or increase the festive mood (by sending out celebratory New Year’s or birthday etc gifs). Users can download new and preferred sticker packages through the app’s sticker section.

One sticker shows Xiaomei with a festive decoration with 福 () for blessing and prosperity, wishing everyone a happy start to the Chinese Lunar New Year. There are also stickers showing the texts “happy winter,” “hi,” and “thank you.”

Another sticker in the series that has triggered some online responses is one that shows the eagle with a surprised look, wiping its eyes, with the words “wait and see” written above. The Chinese expression used is 拭目以待 shìmù yǐdài, to eagerly wait for something to happen, literally meaning to wipe one’s eyes and wait.

This same expression was often used by the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian (赵立坚) during press conferences, and he also used it in 2022 when responding to questions related to Nancy Pelosi’s controversial visit to Taiwan and how the Chinese military would respond (e.g. he first used “wait and see” in the context of waiting to see if Pelosi would actually dare to go to Taiwan or not). But Zhao also used “please wait and see” (请大家拭目以待) when foreign reporters asked him how China would respond to the announced U.S. boycott of the Winter Olympics in 2021.

The Little Mei emoji triggered the most responses as some netizens felt it was meant as a sneer to the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

One of Little Mei’s quotes is also “remain calm” (保持冷静 bǎochí lěngjìng), which was – perhaps coincidentally – also often used by Zhao in the context of the war in Ukraine and to refer to other international conflicts or tensions (“all parties should remain calm”). The animated sticker also has olive branches growing behind the eagle.

It recently became known that Zhao, who became known as the ‘Wolf Warrior’ diplomat, was removed as the Foreign Ministry spokesperson and was moved to the Department of Boundary and Ocean Affairs.

Especially in the context of Zhao leaving his post, some wondered why the U.S. Embassy would use phrases related to his press conferences for their new emoticons.

Although some people suggested the WeChat stickers were not launched in China with good intentions, others appreciated the humorous visuals and felt it was funny. Some also joked that America was infiltrating Chinese social media with its cultural export (“文化输出”), and others wondered if they could not also introduce some other stickers with more Chinese Foreign Ministry popular phrases on them.

A hashtag related to the topic made its rounds on Weibo on Tuesday (#美驻华大使馆上线鹰小美表情包#), but the topic suddenly was taken offline on Tuesday evening local time, along with some of the media reports about the remarkable WeChat series.

The WeChat stickers are still available for downloading by scanning the QR code below through WeChat.

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

 

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China and Covid19

Video Shows Real-Time “Departure” Information Board at Chinese Crematorium

From “cremation in process” to “cooling down,” the digital display shows the progress of the cremation to provide information to those waiting in the lobby. The crematorium ‘departure’ board strikes a chord with many.

Manya Koetse

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A video showing a live display screen announcing the names and status of the deceased at a Yunnan crematorium has been making its rounds on Chinese social media, from WeChat to Weibo, where one version of the video received over 1,7 million views.

Somewhat similar to a real-time platform departure display on train stations, the screen shows the waiting number of the deceased person, their name, gender, the name of the lounge/room (if any) for families, the name of the crematorium chamber, and the status of the cremation process. Below in the screen, it says “the final journey of a warm life” (温暖人生的最后旅程).

For example, the screen displays the names of a Mr. Chen and a Mr. Li; their bodies were in the process of being cremated (火化中), while other cremations were marked as “completed” (完成) or “cooling down” (降温中).

Through such a screen, located in the crematorium lobby, family members and loved ones can learn about the progress of the cremation of the deceased.

The video, recorded by a local on Jan. 7, received many comments. Among them, some people commented on the information board itself, while others simply expressed grief over those who died and the fragility of life. Many felt the display was confronting and it made them emotional.

“It makes me really sad that this how people’s lives end,” one commenter said, with another person replying that the display also shows you still need to wait in line even when you’re dead.

“I didn’t expect the screens [in the crematorium] to be like those in hospitals, where patients are waiting for their turn,” another Weibo user wrote. “It would be better if the names were hidden, like in the hospitals, to protect the privacy of the deceased,” another person replied.

Others shared their own experiences at funeral parlors also using such information screens.

Another ‘departure display’ at a Chinese crematorium, image shared by Weibo user.

“My grandfather passed away last September, and when we were at the undertaker’s, the display was also jumping from one name to the other and we could only comfort ourselves knowing that he was among those who lived a relatively long life.”

“Such a screen, it really makes me sad,” another commenter from Guangxi wrote, with others writing: “It’s distressing technology.”

Although the information screen at the crematorium is a novelty for many commenters, the phenomenon itself is not necessarily related to the Covid outbreak and the number of Covid-related deaths; some people share how they have seen them in crematoriums before, and funeral parlor businesses have used them to provide information to families since at least 2018.

According to an article published by Sohu News, more people – especially younger ones – have visited a funeral home for the first time in their lives recently due to the current Covid wave, also making it the first time for them to come across such a digital display.

The online video of such an information board has made an impact at a time when crematoriums are crowded and families report waiting for days to bury or cremate their loved ones, with especially a large number of elderly people dying due to Covid.

On Jan. 4, one social media user from Liaoning wrote:

I really suggest that the experts go to the crematoriums to take a look. There is no place to put the deceased, they’re parked outside in temporary containers, there’s no time left to hold a farewell ceremony and you can only directly cremate, and for those who were able to have a ceremony, they need to finish within ten minutes (..) At the funeral parlor’s big screen, there were eight names on every page, and there were ten pages for all the people in line that day, I stood there for half an hour and didn’t see the name of the person I was waiting for pop up anymore.”

As the video of the display in the crematorium travels around the internet, many commenters suggest that it is not necessarily the real-time ‘departure’ board itself that bothers them, but how it shows the harsh reality of death by listing the names of the deceased and their cremation status behind it. Perhaps it is the contrast between the technology of the digital display boards and the reality of the human vulnerability that it represents that strikes a chord with people.

One blogger who reposted the video on Jan. 13 wrote: “Life is short, cherish the present, let’s cherish what we have and love yourself, love your family, and love this world.” Among dozens of replies, some indicate that the video makes them feel uncomfortable.

Another commenter also wrote:

I just saw a video that showed an electronic display at a crematorium, rolling out the names of the deceased and the stage of the cremation. One name represents the ending of a life. And it just hit me, and my tears started flowing. I’m afraid of parting, I’m afraid of loss, I just want the people I love and who love me to stay by my side forever. I don’t want to leave. I’m afraid I’ll be alone one day, and that nobody will ever make me feel warm again.”

One person captured why the information board perhaps causes such unease: “The final moments that people still spent on this earth take place on the electronic screen in the memorial hall of the funeral home. Then, they are gone without a sound.”

 

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By Manya Koetse 
with contributions by Zilan Qian

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2023 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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