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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 Brands, Marketing & Consumers

Tick, Tock, Time to Pay Up? Douyin Is Testing Out Paywalled Short Videos

Is content payment a new beginning for the popular short video app Douyin (China’s TikTok) or would it be the end?

Manya Koetse

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The introduction of a Douyin novel feature, that would enable content creators to impose a fee for accessing their short video content, has sparked discussions across Chinese social media. Although the feature would benefit creators, many Douyin users are skeptical.

News that Chinese social media app Douyin is rolling out a new feature which allows creators to introduce a paywall for their short video content has triggered online discussions in China this week.

The feature, which made headlines on November 16, is presently in the testing phase. A number of influential content creators are now allowed to ‘paywall’ part of their video content.

Douyin is the hugely popular app by Chinese tech giant Bytedance. TikTok is the international version of the Chinese successful short video app, and although they’re often presented as being the same product, Douyin and Tiktok are actually two separate entities.

In addition to variations in content management and general usage, Douyin differs from TikTok in terms of features. Douyin previously experimented with functionalities such as charging users for accessing mini-dramas on the platform or the ability to tip content creators.

The pay-to-view feature on Douyin would require users to pay a certain fee in Douyin coins (抖币) in order to view paywalled content. One Douyin coin is equivalent to 0.1 yuan ($0,014). The platform itself takes 30% of the income as a service charge.

According to China Securities Times or STCN (证券时报网), Douyin insiders said that any short video content meeting Douyin’s requirements could be set as “pay-per-view.”

Creators, who can set their own paywall prices, should reportedly meet three criteria to qualify for the pay-to-view feature: their account cannot have any violation records for a period of 90 days, they should have at least 100,000 followers, and they have to have completed the real-name authentication process.

On Douyin and Weibo, Chinese netizens express various views on the feature. Many people do not think it would be a good idea to charge money for short videos. One video blogger (@小片片说大片) pointed out the existing challenge of persuading netizens to pay for longer videos, let alone expecting them to pay for shorter ones.

“The moment I’d need to pay money for it, I’ll delete the app,” some commenters write.

This statement appears to capture the prevailing sentiment among most internet users regarding a subscription-based Douyin environment. According to a survey conducted by the media platform Pear Video, more than 93% of respondents expressed they would not be willing to pay for short videos.

An online poll by Pear Video showed that the majority of respondents would not be willing to pay for short videos on Douyin.

“This could be a breaking point for Douyin,” one person predicts: “Other platforms could replace it.” There are more people who think it would be the end of Douyin and that other (free) short video platforms might take its place.

Some commenters, however, had their own reasons for supporting a pay-per-view function on the platform, suggesting it would help them solve their Douyin addiction. One commenter remarked, “Fantastic, this might finally help me break free from watching short videos!” Another individual responded, “Perhaps this could serve as a remedy for my procrastination.”

As discussions about the new feature trended, Douyin’s customer service responded, stating that it would eventually be up to content creators whether or not they want to activate the paid feature for their videos, and that it would be up to users whether or not they would be interested in such content – otherwise they can just swipe away.

Another social media user wrote: “There’s only one kind of video I’m willing to pay for, and it’s not on Douyin.”

By Manya Koetse

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China Digital

Too Sexy for Weibo? Online Discussions on the Concept of ‘Cābiān’

Delving into the ongoing discussion on ‘cābiān’ and its influence on women’s expression in China’s digital realm.

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Chinese social media is seeing more discussions recenty on the blurred boundaries of Cābiān. This seemingly never-ending discussion raises questions – not just about sexually suggestive content, but also about the evolving perceptions of women’s bodies and freedom in the digital age.

In the fast-moving world of China’s internet, a new term has emerged: Cābiān (擦边). Originally a sports term describing a ball grazing the edge of a table (擦边球), it now primarily refers to the delicate balance in content that may be seen as sexually suggestive, teetering on the line between ‘sexy’ and ‘sexually explicit’ in the context of China’s internet culture.

The term mainly refers to women’s behavior, style, language, and actions that are considered inappropriate or that are pushing the boundaries of acceptability. Cābiān can be understood as borderline sexual content that basically navigates the boundaries of platform rules without actually breaking them. Nevertheless, is generally seen as ‘not in line’ with what is expected of Chinese women in today’s society.

This term has sparked controversy recently, prompting fervent debates surrounding its implications for women’s self-expression.

 
Too Sexy for Weibo? Jingchuan Liyu’s Divisive Pictures
 

Social media plays a central role in the “cābiān” debate. A recent example involves a Weibo post by Jingchuan Liyu (井川里予, @悲伤荷包蛋), a prominent Chinese influencer active on Weibo and Xiaohongshu.

Jingchuan Liyu is known for embodying both innocence and sensuality in her online persona. Mainly by male netizens, she has been labeled as a symbol of “chúnyù” (纯欲). This term signifies a blend of childlike innocence (纯洁, chúnjié) and allure (欲望, yùwàng).

Jingchuan Liyu became a focal point in the cābiān debate when she posted a series of photos during the summer of this year. While these photos didn’t violate any official guidelines, they departed from her typical “innocent yet sexy” style. In these pictures, she was seen wearing thongs and other undergarments, which apparently made some social media users uneasy.

The controversy surrounding the photos intensified when Jingchuan Liyu responded to these criticisms on her Weibo page. While her supporters defended her freedom to dress as she pleases, others viewed her photos as being more about provocative sexual suggestion than about freedom of fashion.

 
Dog-Headed Lolita: Judged, Harassed, and Labeled Cābiān
 

Beyond online debates, the condemnation of “cābiān” is also having real-world consequences. One recent example is the case of the Chinese influencer known as Dog-Head Lolita (狗头萝莉 @我是狗头萝莉).

Despite having a problematic childhood, ‘Dog-Head Lolita’ managed to turn her life around and became a successful streamer. But her reputation suffered a severe blow when explicit videos of her, recorded by her ex-boyfriend, were made public.

This incident and its aftermath damaged her career and, partly due to getting cheated by her manager, was left with a staggering debt of 6 million RMB ($836K). Trying to start an alternative career, Dog-Head Lolita took up selling Chinese pancakes (jiānbǐng 煎饼) at a street stall as a means to make a living and work towards repaying her debts.

In addition to her physical labor, she also posted short videos of herself selling pancakes online and continued to livestream and engage with her followers to generate more income.

While her efforts garnered sympathy and admiration from some netizens, she also faced accusations of using her pancake-selling business as a form of cābiān.

Her choice of attire, which emphasized her figure, became a central topic of discussion. Some netizens raised questions about whether her videos, showcasing her interactions with fans while selling pancakes, carried a sexual undertone. Moreover, there were arguments suggesting that her true business wasn’t selling pancakes but rather producing sexually suggestive content.

Some critics of Dog-Head Lolita went further and turned online criticism into harassment. Some filed reports regarding the hygiene conditions of her business, while others intentionally vandalized her pancake cart and left insulting messages on it.

Facing this harassment linked to accusations of being cābiān, Dog-Head Lolita voiced her frustration on her Weibo page.

She emphasized that her physique was something beyond her control and that selling pancakes shouldn’t be judged in the same way as her previous online presence. She complained that her livelihood was being scrutinized, even in the most ordinary and innocuous settings.

 
Challenging the Concept of Cābiān
 

Defining the precise boundaries of what is and is not cābiān is not easy, as it has become a catch-all term for anything remotely sexually suggestive, erotic, or resembling “soft pornography.”

While the distinction between suggestive and non-suggestive content remains hazy, new voices have emerged to challenge the very idea of “cābiān.”

Some believe that cābiān is a societal construct imposed on women, rather than an intrinsic concept. They argue that before the term “cābiān” gained popularity, suggestive pelvic dances were widespread in China due to the prevalence of K-pop boy groups, and male celebrities could appear shirtless and flirtatious on TV without anyone accusing them of “cābiān.”

But when it comes to women, the standards of cābiān can be unclear and are often unforgiving. This term is used not only to regulate their clothing choices but also their behavior or even facial expressions—essentially, anything a woman might do.

Once a female online influencer is seen as attractive and desireable, she seemingly becomes more prone to be labeled a “cābiān nǚ” (擦边女) – a woman who is seen as flaunting her sensuality within the context of social media and online platforms.

If this trend of labeling people as sexually suggestive continues, “cābiān” might turn into an unclear social rule, resulting in ongoing moral judgments of women, especially female online influencers.

On the other hand, some netizens see the increasing acceptance of women displaying their bodies in a sensual manner as a form of female empowerment.

One notable Weibo by ‘Wang’ede’ (@王饿德) post that gained a lot of attention suggested that there is a distinction between how others interpret women’s bodies and how women themselves perceive it. The post asserts that revealing skin and wearing “sexy” clothing can be a proactive expression of women’s own desires and confidence rather than solely meaning to please a male audience.

This active pursuit is seen as a form of ‘decolonization’ of the traditional patriarchal gaze— it’s described as “a reevaluation of women’s bodies by women themselves that allows us to reclaim ownership of our bodies,” as stated by the author of the post.

 
Neverending Discussions
 

As the debates continue, Weibo users are noticing a deadlock in these online discussions. Conversations about the who, what, and why of cābiān are recurring and appear to be never-ending.

In 2019, a significant debate arose concerning the attire worn by actress Rayzha Alimjan. In 2022, controversies revolved around busty women. There was also a cyberbullying incident involving a mother who had recently lost her son in a car accident and faced criticism for wearing elegant clothing and makeup (read). Most recently, there has been a series of new discussions, ranging from criticizing the latest TV drama starring singer/actress Lai Meiyun and onwards.

Contemplating this phenomenon, some internet users are thinking about the evolution of Jingchuan Liyu’s style. A decade or two ago, her aesthetic might have been categorized as ’emo,’ ‘alternative,’ or just seen as a form of decadent beauty. However, nowadays, it is quickly subjected to examination to determine whether or not it falls into the category of cābiān.

In the eyes of many Chinese netizens, this trend is seen as a discouraging step backward. Influential bloggers repost their previous cābiān-related Weibo posts from years or even just months ago, highlighting the seemingly futile nature of these discussions.

Who will be the next woman to be branded as cābiān? Will she face online insults and offline harassment? On Weibo, some express their exhaustion at being stuck in this repetitive loop, engaging in similar debates time and time again.

Perhaps it is time to reevaluate the term “cābiān” and engage in more meaningful discussions about women’s bodies and their freedom in China. As one netizen put it on Weibo: “Maybe we should redirect this energy toward discussions that genuinely promote progress instead of endlessly revisiting these cyclic debates.”

By Ruixin Zhang

edited for clarity by Zilan Qian & Manya Koetse

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