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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 editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Digital

Chinese E-Readers: The Best E-book Devices in China

Overview of the top 10 e-readers in China in 2021.

Manya Koetse

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From Onyx to Xiaomi, these are the top selling e-readers in China right now.

Ereaders have become booming business over recent years. Some people prefer an e-reader because it is easier on their eyes than reading from phone screens, others want a distraction-free digital reading style, and some just like the idea of carrying their own mini-library with them with a battery that lasts much longer than those of tablets or smartphones.

While Amazon’s Kindle is the biggest brand name in the American and European e-book reader market, the Chinese e-reader market also has several domestic brands topping the popularity lists.

Here is an overview of the top 10 brands currently dominating the lists in China. This list is based on the rankings of Zol.com, one of China’s leading IT information and business portals.

The devices mentioned in this list are all devices with E Ink (“electronic ink”) display technology, which gives them that low-power paper-like display. Devices using E Ink technology are usually in grayscale, but color e-paper technologies are now also available.

 

1. ONYX BOOX (CHINESE BRAND)

BOOX, also known as Onyx Boox (文石BOOX), currently is China’s top e-book reader brand, produced by Onyx International Inc., which mostly produces E Ink (ePaper) devices. Onyx Boox was founded in 2008 by a team from IBM, Google, and Microsoft. It is headquartered in Guangzhou.

What sets Onyx apart from many other e-book reader brands is that they offer devices from 7.8 to 13.3 inches that can also function as digital note-taking tablets, equipped with a pen that allows users to pen down their notes as they would in any paper notebook.

The latest Onyx devices such as the Max Lumi (13.3 inch), Onyx Boox Note Air (10.3 inch), the Note 3 (10.3 inch), and the Nova 3 and Nova 3 Color (7.8 inch) all have a wide variety of functions. Besides the common e-reading functions and digital note-taking possibilities, these devices run Android, handle many different file formats, and allow an install of Google Play, Kindle, OneDrive, and more, which really make them “like a tablet unlike any tablet” (which just happens to be their slogan).

Currently, the Boox Nova 3 is the brand’s most popular model in China. Priced at ¥2480 ($377), it is also among the pricier models in the markets due to its multifunctionality. It has 32GB of storage, E Ink Carta Plus (the latest generation of screens made by “electronic paper” technology) and also has a screen front light system, allowing users to keep on reading in the dark.

At ¥2780 ($423), the Onyx Boox Note S, which features a 9.7-inch screen, is also rising in popularity. Then there is also the Nova 3 Color 7.8-inch color E Ink tablet with a new Kaleido (Kaleido Plus) screen.

The Onyx is also sold outside of China, check it out here on Amazon.

 

2. AMAZON

The American Amazon brand is also popular in China when it comes to its e-reader devices. While compiling this list, the Onyx and Amazon brands actually competed over the number one spot, so there is not much difference there in terms of ranking.

Along with the entry-level Kindle Migu X, the 4th generation (2018) Kindle Paperwhite (6 inches, 1448x1072px) is among the most popular e-reader models in China, priced at ¥998 ($152). Like the Onyx Nova 3, it is also available with 32GB storage, but keep in mind that the screen is smaller.

The Kindle e-book devices are much more affordable than the Onyx ones, and their functionality is more straightforward as an e-book reader. They are known for their great battery life, and since the first Kindle was introduced in 2007 it has become the world’s most famous dedicated e-reader. Kindles are designed to interface seamlessly with Amazon’s online store, which makes them perfect for Amazon fans and less appealing for those who have no desire to use the Amazon ecosystem.

The Paperwhite model has an extra advantage to it, as it allows to keep on reading while taking a bath or sitting by the pool since it is water-resistant. The Paperwhite is currently the no.2 best-sold e-book reader on Chinese major shopping platform JD. It is sold through Amazon here.

 

3. iFLYTEK (科大讯飞) (CHINESE BRAND)

iFlytek is a partially state-owned Chinese AI firm established in 1999 that also produces e-book readers. The company made headlines in 2019-2020 when it was blacklisted in the US for allegedly using its technology for surveillance and human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

Its iFlytek Smart Office X2 (科大讯飞智能办公本X2) is the e-book reader that is currently in the top 5 list of most popular ink screen devices in China (it even scores no 1 on e-commerce platform JD.com at the time of writing), and it is also among the most expensive (¥4999/$762). The X2 is a 10.3-inch E Ink device.

Similar to the Onyx Boox devices, it is much more than an e-reader alone; it is also a note-taking device (comes with the Wacom stylus) and incorporates fingerprint authentication, Wifi/4G, (offline) voice recognition, and transcription functions; it probably is the smartest e-reader around.

The iFlytek also has a whopping 64GB storage, which can be expanded to 128GB. GizTechReview did a review of the Smart Office X2 here.

 

4. IREADER / ZHANGYUE (掌阅) (CHINESE BRAND)

Ebook reader Zhangyue (掌阅) made headlines in late 2020 when it was announced that Tiktok owner Bytedance would invest $170 million in the company.

Zhangyue, founded in 2008 in Beijing, is not just a producer of e-readers, it is also the online literature publisher behind the iReader platform (掌阅书城). Its most popular ebook reader in China at this time is the 6-inch Zhangyue iReader Light (掌阅iReader Light青春版), which is priced at ¥638 ($97) and comes with 8GB storage.

A much pricier model is the Smart X (¥3499/$539), which has 32GB storage and a 10.3 inch 1872×1404 resolution screen, making it just as big as the Onyx Boox Note Air and the iFlytek Smart Office X2. The iReader Smart X also comes with a Wacom pen for note-taking. There’s a review of this device on Gearbest.

The iReader Smart 2 is popular on shopping site JD.com, priced at ¥2299 ($353). It came out in 2020, and also is a note-taking device with 32GB storage and a 10.3 inch screen. The difference with the Smart X device mainly lies in its screen quality.

 

5. XIAOMI (CHINESE BRAND)

Beijing-brand Xiaomi is mostly known for being one of the world’s largest smartphone makers, but the tech company does so much more, from watches to earphones, TVs, scooters, and e-readers.

Priced at ¥599 ($92), the Xiaomi MiReader (小米多看电纸书), released in November 2019, is among the more popular e-reader devices in China at the moment. Mainly marketed for the Chinese market, it is Xiaomi’s first ebook reader which comes with a 6-inch e-Ink screen and 16GB storage. With its 1024×768 pixels at 212 PPI screen, it might not be as crisp and fast as other devices in this list, but its price is also much lower. This review at Goodereader was not positive at all, calling it “super slow and plodding.”

The MiReader also has a Pro device (小米多看电纸书Pro) available in China, which is ¥1299 ($200) and comes with a 7.8-inch 300 PPI screen and 32GB storage. The Xiaomi e-readers allow access to the WeChat Library, which is a great advantage for Chinese consumers (Kindle doesn’t allow access to the WeChat Library).

 

6. HANVON (汉王) (CHINESE BRAND)

Established in 1998, Hanwang is a pioneering company in character recognition technology and intelligent interactive products.

Although Hanvon is in the top 10 of China’s hottest e-book device brands, its Hanvon Gold House 3 model (汉王黄金屋3), priced at ¥799 ($123), is not nearly as popular as other devices in this list. The Hanvon Gold House comes with a 6-inch 1024×758 resolution screen and 4GB in storage. The device is marketed as being simple, stylish, and ergonomic.

 

7. TENCENT (CHINESE BRAND)

Chinese tech giant Tencent is mostly known for its social media and gaming products, but it also produces e-book devices.

The Tencent Pocket Reader (腾讯口袋阅) is small and lightweight with its 5.2 inches 1280×720 eInk screen, it comes with 8GB storage and is priced at ¥889 ($136). The device is centered around the Tencent ecosystem and provides access to the Tencent Library and bookstore.

Its small size makes this device different from other e-readers. It is the size of a smartphone, which is great if you really want an e-reader in your pocket, but less ideal if you are looking for a more comfortable reading experience. The Pocket Reader supports a 4G mobile card and can also make calls and do text messaging.

 

8. BOYUE (博阅) (CHINESE BRAND)

Boyue is a digital reading technology company founded in 2009. Throughout the years the company has released different e-book devices as well as digital note-taking devices.

The Boyue T80 model and its Likebook Mars are its best-sold devices in China. The Boyue T80 is priced at ¥1199 ($184) and has 8GB of storage, features an 8-inches 1024×768 screen, and supports SD.

The Likebook Mars is ¥1380 ($212) and comes with 16GB of storage, a 7.8 inch 1872×1404 screen, and it also has SD card support, which allows you to extend the storage capacity to 128GB.

 

9. OBOOK (国文) (CHINESE BRAND)

Guowen or OBOOK is an e-reader company established in 2010 as what was meant to be the Chinese answer to Kindle.

Its Dangdang E-reader 8 (当当阅读器8) is currently rising in popularity. It features a 6-inch 300 PPI resolution screen and 16GB of storage and is priced at ¥918 ($141).

 

10. SONY

Sony is perhaps not a name you’d expect in this list, since Sony seems to have exited the e-reader business some time ago.

There are only a few e-book devices by Sony that are still popular in China right now, and one of them is the 10.3-inch 1404×1872 screen Sony DPT-CP1 model that is priced at ¥4888 ($750). For this price, you get a lightweight, thin device that also serves as a digital note-taking tablet that syncs with PC or Mac.

The DPT-RP1/WC model is even pricier at ¥5299 ($815), for which you get a 13.3 inch 1650×2200 screen, which is comparable to the Onyx Boox Max Lumi.

 

By Manya Koetse

This is not a sponsored post. This article could contain links to online shops, which might allow us to earn a very small affiliate commission at zero extra cost to you – it helps us in maintaining this site. 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.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Arts & Entertainment

Luo Tianyi and the Booming Virtual Idol Market in China

The virtual entertainment market is exploding in China.

Manya Koetse

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They are featured on China’s biggest TV shows and on the covers of fashion magazines: they’re virtual idols yet their success is very real.

 
This is the “WE…WEI…WHAT?” column by Manya Koetse, original publication in German by Goethe Institut China, see Goethe.de: WE…WEI…WHAT? Manya Koetse erklärt das chinesische Internet.
 

At the Spring Festival Gala of 2021, the Chinese state media’s annual televised event that only invites the country’s top-notch performers, the virtual idol Luo Tianyi (洛天依) made a guest appearance.

It was a big media moment that showed the growing importance of virtual superstars in Chinese pop culture. Luo’s performance was even announced on the show’s promo posters, making this the first time ever for a virtual star to be on the show like this.

Virtual celebrities such as Luo Tianyi are also called ‘vsingers’ and often have an enormous fanbase. What is the story behind Luo Tianyi and the boom of virtual superstars in China, leading to the remarkable appearance of a non-human celebrity in the country’s biggest mainstream TV show?

 
Luo Tianyi: The First Chinese Vsinger
 

Although it was the first time for Luo Tianyi to appear at the Spring Festival Gala, it was not her first big performance. The superstar previously showed up as holograph live at big events such as the Bilibili night, and in 2019 she shared a stage with renowned Chinese pianist Lang Lang.

Promotional poster for the Luo Tianyi and Lang Lang concert.

Such a performance does not come easy. It takes months to design the looks and the moves. The holographic appearance of Luo Tianyi and the spectacular two-hour show took around six months of preparation by around 200 professionals involved in the production of Luo Tianyi.

Luo Tianyi is a so-called ‘vocaloid’ singer – a Mandarin Chinese language virtual character that was originally featured in the voice synthesizer software called VOCALOID developed by Yamaha, using third parties to create the characters. Vocaloid is a commercial product (released in 2004) with the purpose of enabling users to get a singer for lyrics and melodies without needing to hire an actual human singer.

The Shanghai Henian company collaborated with Tokyo-based Bplats in developing Luo Tianyi. The character was based on the winner of a contest that was organized in support of creating the first Chinese Vocaloid. The real-life singer whose voice was used for the creation of Tianyi is Chinese singer Shan Xin (山新).

Luo Tianyi was officially launched in 2012 as a 15-year-old entertainer and vsinger. By now, she has around five million followers on her Weibo account (@Vsinger_洛天依) where she posts about her performances, with thousands of people liking and sharing these posts.

 
Virtual Idol Boom: From Japan to China
 

According to Chinese state media outlet Global Times, 2020 was the year that virtual idols really took off in China, going hand in hand with the growing popularity of livestreaming.

Chinese video-sharing site Bilibili has contributed to the growing success of virtual idols in China. Bilibili is a homebase for many fan communities in China, since it is mainly themed around animation, comic, and games (ACG). It is one of the earliest platforms in China to broadcast virtual idol concerts, and in 2020 it held China’s first concert consisting solely of virtual performers under the title ‘BML-VR 2020’ (link).

The Bilibili concert featured a performance by various virtual entertainers, including the popular Hiseki Erio. Hiseki Erio is not Chinese, but Japanese. So is Hatsune Miki, one of the most famous virtual idols ever.

You could say Japan is the birthplace of virtual idols – a history that goes back to 1996 when Kyoko Date, also known as DK-96 or ‘Digital Kid 1996,’ made her debut as the first virtual talent.

Virtual idols come in various shapes, forms, and subgenres, and they all have their different background stories. Hatsune Miki was released in 2007 as the embodiment of the Vocolaid software developed by Crypton Future, and then there are the popular virtual Youtubers, ‘vtubers’, with virtual talent agencies such as Hololive also thriving in Japan.

The term ‘virtual Youtuber’ came with the arrival of Kizuna AI, who posted her first introduction Youtube video in late 2016. Kizuna, who later became a cultural ambassador for the Japan National Tourism Organization, is still considered one of the most popular vtubers on earth.

With the great popularity of Japanese manga and anime on the Chinese market, Japanese virtual idols also gained a strong foothold in the People’s Republic since around 2017. Hatsune Miki alone already has over 3,4 million fans on Weibo (@初音未来CryptonFutureMedia).

Virtual idols are increasingly popular in China, where Chinese virtual stars are springing up (Luo Tianyi, Ling, Xing Tong, Yousa).

The virtual entertainment market is now exploding in China, where the online ACG culture is flourishing on Bilibili and beyond.

Since Japanese popular culture products began to gain popularity in China in the early 1990s, there have been various developments that have shown the government’s dislike of the ‘Japanese cultural invasion’ in the country. As a counter-reaction, there has been stronger promotion of the production of made-in-China animations and other ACG products.

While China is seeing a steady release of domestic animated films and series, there is now also a wave of new China-born virtual stars, such as the Bilibili idol Yousa (冷鸢), or Xing Tong (星瞳), a virtual idol from Tencent. Chinese gaming company Papergames made the virtual character Nuan Nuan (暖暖) to also live outside of the gaming world; she is now a singer, a stylist, and a popular fashion ambassador.

Ling (right) featured on the cover of Vogue Me.

There is also Ling (翎), the Chinese virtual influencer who loves Peking opera, tea culture, and calligraphy. Ling, who was created by Next Generation studio and Shanghai AI startup Xmov, appeared on the CCTV show Bravo Youngsters (上线吧华彩少年) and was featured on the cover of Vogue Me in February 2021 alongside actual real-life celebrities.

Chinese virtual influencer Ling.

The number of Chinese virtual celebrities is expected to grow along with the growing market. In October of 2020, the Chinese variety show Dimension Nova (跨次元新星) first aired as a talent show scouting new virtual talent.

 
Virtual Commercials and Controversies
 

The growing influence of the virtual entertainment economy and culture in China is becoming more and more noticeable in pop music, commercial culture, and even in the sphere of politics.

Virtual celebrities are so popular that brands are also jumping in on this craze by hiring them as brand ambassadors or by creating their own cyber stars. Tencent’s Xing Tong, for example, modeled for Levi’s and sportswear brand Li Ning. Nuan Nuan, among others, was featured in a commercial for hair care brand LUX. Luo Tianyi appeared in campaigns for Huawei, Pizza Hut and KFC.

In January of 2021, McDonald’s China announced their own virtual idol “Happy Sister” (开心姐姐) as a brand ambassador. They are not the only one: there are over thirty companies in China now using a virtual brand ambassador. The new McDonald’s idol was welcomed by Weibo users, where the news of her launch received 200 million views.

McDonald’s China announced their own virtual idol “Happy Sister” (开心姐姐) as a brand ambassador.

The virtual idol influence also became apparent when Japanese ‘Hololive’ virtual celebrities Akai Haato and Kiryu Coco recently got caught up in a diplomatic row because they referred to Taiwan as a “country” when discussing their YouTube channel analytics during a livestream, leading to controversy among their Chinese fanbase.

In a statement published on Bilibili by Cover (the Japanese company behind the Hololive talent agency that the virtual celebrities in question were under), the agency apologized for what had happened. Nevertheless, both virtual stars involved in the controversy were banned from Bilibili and eventually the entire Chinese Hololive branch was shut down.

This example shows that although virtual idols are generally regarded as a safe option for brands and companies because, unlike real celebrities, they are not likely to get caught up in scandals, it is still possible for them to spark controversy.

Nevertheless, the future looks bright for virtual stars in China with still an enormous market for Luo Tianyi and others to conquer, with plenty of room for growth. From concerts to fashion shows to live streaming channels, from Weibo to Bilibili and beyond, we are bound to see virtual stars increasingly become a part of everyday life in China.

 

By Manya Koetse
Follow @whatsonweibo

 

This text was written for Goethe-Institut China under a CC-BY-NC-ND-4.0-DE license (Creative Commons) as part of a monthly column in collaboration with What’s On Weibo.

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.

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