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Top 8 Scams in China to Watch Out for (2018)

From oldskool scams to WeChat scams – people are still falling for this every single day.

Gabi Verberg

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As times change, so do scams. In an age of smartphones and social media, Chinese scammers are more prone to abandon old tricks and use new technology for their swindling business. But in a time of more digital scams, there are also still scammers who use people’s inexperience and desperation to earn money by simply fooling them on the streets. Here’s a top 8 of 2018 [check out top 10 China scams in 2015 here].

With the rapidly increasing number of online transactions in China, the persisting problem of counterfeit money scams in China may now be less of a problem than it was before. But other scams are on the rise.

Although people are now less vulnerable to scams involving cash money, services as WeChat wallet and Alipay are also not without peril. Over the years, scammers have developed numerous ways to cheat people and steal money from WeChat or Alipay wallets.

From infecting smartphones with viruses, to letting people “voluntarily” hand over their personal information, scammers have found ways to trick people from all ages and all layers of society.

As a follow-up to an earlier top 10 we did on scams in China, What’s on Weibo has compiled a list of 8 scams that are recently trending on social media or in the Chinese newspapers.

 

#1 WeChat Scams: Hacking Accounts

 

With over 800 million users of WeChat Pay in China, WeChat users are a lucrative target for scammers. In recent years, there have been various cases of WeChat scams, in which hackers of private accounts pretend to be a friend or family member, and convince others to send them money.

Last summer, the news went viral of Chinese parents becoming a victim of scammers pretending to be their children.

Image via http://www.sohu.com/a/201988031_689129

These hackers, using the children’s accounts, told ‘their parents’ that they had to attend a special course or lecture, often held by professors from renowned universities such as Tsinghua or Beijing University. Once the scammer convinced the parent to pay for the extra curriculum activity, the scammers send the contact information of the “teachers” in charge of the event.

Once the parents added the “teachers'” to WeChat and transferred the money, the scammers continued to get parents to pay for all sorts of things such as service fees, registration fees, supply fees, etc.

In other more extreme examples, parents were asked to follow a link to complete the payment. The link installed a virus onto the parent’s phone, allowing the scammer to have full access to the victim’s WeChat wallet.

 

#2 Voice Scams: Imitation Champions

 

Another rising problem that China and many other countries are currently facing is the issue of so-called ‘voice scams.’ Often done through WeChat, scammers collect a person’s voice messages and then pretend to be this person by imitating his or her voice.

The scammers will then make a fake WeChat account that is an exact copy of the one they are imitating. They will contact family members and friends of the person they are imitating, and ask to borrow money. Because the voices sound so much alike, they often win the trust of people and get them to send the money.

Image via http://www.sohu.com/a/201988031_689129

In one extreme case, a young man’s voice was imitated so well that scammers were able to convince the man’s mother that her son was abducted. In a complete panic, the mother transferred the demanded ransom.

In all cases, the police advise people to always confirm face-to-face with the other person before sending money. Additionally, they also warn people should be on their guard sharing voice messages or any other form of personal information with strangers.

 

#3 Delivery Scams: Too Many Packages

 

As easy and convenient online shopping might seem, it is not without danger. Just as with WeChat scams, there are many ways in which scammers will try to find weak points within the system.

One of the issues that makes people more vulnerable to scams within the world of online shopping is that many people order so many products online, that they are more likely to believe that a package is theirs – even if they have never actually ordered it.

The most common online shopping scam involves “cash on delivery,” where the courier asks people to pay upon delivery. Once opening the packaging, people discover their package is actually empty.

In another version, scammers will first call the victim pretending to be their neighbor. They will ask them to do them a favor and accept a package, since they are not able to be home on time to accept it themselves. This way, people are even more likely to accept the package.

In yet another scam, often referred to as the “compensation scam,” scammers call customers and pretend to be employees of a delivery company. On the phone, they will tell that one of their carriers accidentally lost or damaged the ordered product and that they want to compensate for the loss. The only thing the victim has to do is to fill out an online “compensation form” for which personal information and bank information is required. With this information, the scammers can easily break into their victim’s bank account.

In some cases, scammers ask customers to add a WeChat account so they can be compensated for their ‘loss’. In the final step, they will require them to scan a QR-code, or click a link, and to transfer a small ‘service’ fee. Once they have transferred the fee, a virus will be installed on their phone, allowing the scammers to access their WeChat wallet.

Delivery companies advise their customers not to accept any package if they are not sure they have actually ordered it. With cash delivery packages, customers are advised to always check the package before sending the courier away.

About lost or damaged packages: delivery companies will never ask you to fill out a compensation form or share any personal or bank information. In case the delivery company loses or damages your order, the company you bought it from will then inform you and transfer the money back to your bank account.

 

#4 Catching Red Envelopes

 

Snatching ‘red envelopes’, qiǎng hóngbāo (抢红包) in Chinese, originated from China’s long-standing tradition of giving red envelopes to children to celebrate the Chinese New Year.

However, as the tradition of giving red envelopes is transforming from offline to online, the new phenomenon of ‘snatching red envelopes’ has also become more ubiquitous.

Through WeChat, people can send red envelopes to a group of friends: the (few) people who are first in opening that envelope will then receive an amount of money. Companies often use this feature as a marketing tool.

Scammers also make use of this red envelope craze. The ‘red envelop scam’ starts with a message via one of one’s WeChat contacts, reading something like: “I just discovered a group and the host of the group is going crazy! He keeps sending red envelopes! Add yourself to the group and snatch some envelopes.” This message will often be followed by a message telling you that you will be rewarded money when you add more people to the group.

Image via http://www.tanmizhi.com/html/4445.html

Within a few minutes, the group chat has added hundreds of people. As members increase, the group owner will encourage people to add more people to the group by keeping on sending red envelopes. In the meantime, the group owner will send out a message saying that the ones who already opened an envelope are registered. In case they do not add ten people to the group within 30 minutes they will be kicked out. As for those who add 20 people to the group within half an hour, they will be rewarded even more money.

This way, people will keep adding contacts to the group. And because it is not allowed to talk in the group, people are also not able to warn each other of its potential dangers, because, at this point, the red envelopes will actually change into QR codes – the group owner will post a message saying that his transactions surpassed the transactions limit of the day and that if people want to continue receiving money, they will have to scan the QR-code and pay the symbolic amount of one yuan ($0.14). If they do so, they are promised to be rewarded with a high amount of money.

Once these people pay the one yuan, they have been scammed: through the QR code, the scammers have installed a virus into their WeChat, allowing them to empty their WeChat wallet. There are many versions to this kind of “red envelope” and “free money” scams. To avoid being scammed, it is best to remember that there is no such thing as getting money for nothing – there’s always a price to be paid.

 

#5 Winning Lottery-Ticket Scam

 

For the “winning lottery ticket scam,” scammers play with people’s minds. And no matter how simple this trick may seem, it is a worldwide phenomenon.

The scam starts with the victim finding a lottery ticket that has intentionally been placed somewhere. Since the owner of the lottery ticket is nowhere to be found, most people finding the ticket then call the number registered on the ticket to find out whether or not the ticket won a price. And, of course, they are told that the found ticket is indeed a ‘prize-winning’ ticket.

Because people, at this point, are so excited about their unexpected ‘luck’, they often no longer keep their mind straight. The scammer on the phone will inform the lucky finder that they only need to pay a handling fee before they can receive their prize money.

In some cases, the scammers even convince the victim to pay an income tax before receiving the prize money. Once the lucky winner paid the handling fee or income tax [via WeChat or Alipay], the connection will be cut off, and of course, the victim will never get the prize.

 

#6 Found Wallet Scam

 

You are walking outside, and suddenly you find a wallet on the streets – the owner is already out of sight. As you stand still with the wallet in your hand, a stranger comes up to you accusing you of stealing money from that found wallet.

It is a scam that frequently occurs in China, and it is easy to imagine that someone who just found a wallet might feel awkward about the situation, especially when accused of trying to steal the money inside of the wallet.

While explaining that they did not intend on trying to steal money, the stranger will intimidate the finder to give him some of the cash inside to settle the matter. Many people will do so in order to avoid a public scene.

But that is not the end of the scam, as the ‘owner’ of the wallet will then suddenly pop up, asking for his wallet, and discovering that some money inside is missing. The ‘finder’ will then compensate for that loss to get themselves out of the humiliating situation.

Obviously, the two men – the ‘bad guy’ demanding the money and the person who lost the wallet – work together in setting people up like this. Police advise people who find a wallet to turn it in at the closest police station.

Netease has reconstructed the scam on a video here.

 

#7 Fake Job Scam

 

One of the most common scams in China nowadays is the so-called “fake job scam.” Scammers will place fake job ads, and meet responders outside a company office for their ‘job interview.’

In most cases, the applicant is ‘hired’ immediately after the job interview. But before they can get to work, they first have to pass a medical test at a designated ‘research center.’ The victim is then told that he has to pay for the transportation and medical fees, and that the money will be reimbursed at the end of the first working month.

In many cases, victims also pay for service costs and forward a deposit for cards that allow them into the office, etc. When all these fees are paid, the ‘company’ can no longer be contacted and is suddenly untraceable.

To avoid people from getting tricked into these fake job scams, police advise to only reply to job ads with a registered phone number and official company address.

 

#8 Trap Loans: A Mountain of Loans

 

The problem of ‘trap loans’ has received much media attention in China over recent years. Earlier this year the story of one woman went viral; she borrowed 2,000 yuan ($292) and ended up with a 150,000 yuan ($21.872) debt two months later.

She is just of among many victims of China’s “trap loans.” In various other cases reported by the media, people end up in such huge debts and depression, that they take their own lives.

Scammers specifically target people who are temporarily short of cash. It often starts with an individual lender offering a quick loan, only for a few days, in the name of a small loaning company (小额贷款公司). Once the person tells the loaning company they need credit, a lender will come up with a contract that has blank spaces in them. The contract is often so long and complicated that people don’t read it through carefully enough.

When the contract is signed, the loaning company will insert extra information into the blank spaces of the signed contract. They will, for example, change the time you are allowed to borrow money, the interest rate, or the name of the lender.

In the next phase, the loaning company will purposely make the borrower breach the contract by, for example, temporarily being out of service or unreachable, so that the borrower is not able to pay off his debts as recorded in the agreement. They will then face the sum of accumulated interest on the borrowed money, and fines for overdue payments.

Around this time, the lender will introduce the borrowers to another loaning company where they can take out more loans to pay off the debts of the first contract. This can go on for many years and many contracts. The borrower will not be able to repay the entire sum of borrowed money, so keeps on paying huge interest rates and fines for overdue payments.

There have been reports of trap loans in various forms such as campus loans, where students are tricked into ‘easy money loans’ by on-campus advertisements; or naked loans, where scammers demand people to send a (partly) nude picture of themselves holding their ID as collateral. Often this photo will later be used to blackmail a person.

Want to read more? Also check out our previous ‘Top 10 Scams to Watch Out For in China‘.

By Gabi Verberg

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

Gabi Verberg is a Business graduate from the University of Amsterdam who has worked and studied in Shanghai and Beijing. She now lives in Amsterdam and works as a part-time translator, with a particular interest in Chinese modern culture and politics.

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1 Comment

  1. Avatar

    David

    June 4, 2019 at 7:21 pm

    Thanks for sharing Gabi! was a very interesting read to see how the scams have been evolving haha. Perhaps to share one shared by the community at https://travelscams.org/asia/china/ a new one that is reported is the QR code scam. In essence it is similar to the “catching red envelopes” scam but done differently.

    For this version, criminals paste their own QR code over the original ones by merchants (shops, bicycle sharing, etc). It is pretty much impossible to detect with the naked eye and in Guangdong alone, an estimated US$13 million was lost this way.

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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

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©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.

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