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The Chunwan Liveblog: Watching the 2021 CMG Spring Festival Gala

We’re here to keep you updated about the CMG Spring Festival Gala, China’s biggest New Year’s TV event.

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Happy Niu Year! The Lunar New Year is here, and that means millions of Chinese families are watching the annual 4-hour-long live Spring Festival Gala as part of the Chinese New Year celebrations. Watch the event together with What’s on Weibo, as we will liveblog throughout the show. (This event had ended, liveblog is now closed!)

In these turbulent times when everything is changing, there is one thing to count on, and that is the airing of China’s Spring Festival Gala. Despite the pandemic, the 39th edition of the festival will go ahead.

A live-streaming of the Gala will be live on Thursday, February 11, 20.00 pm China Standard Time. Check out this YouTube link, live stream from Weibo, or watch straight from CCTV. We will be live-blogging on this page here.

 

What Exactly is the ‘Chunwan’ Gala?

 

China’s CCTV Spring Festival Gala (中国中央电视台春节联欢晚会), commonly abbreviated to chūnwǎn (春晚), is an annual TV gala to celebrate the start of the new year and it is the most-watched show in the world. Although it is known as the CCTV Gala, it is now officially presented as being hosted by “China Media Group” (CMG), the predominant state media company founded in 2018 that holds China Central Television, China National Radio, and China Radio International.

Since its very first airing in 1983, the Spring Festival Gala has captured an audience of millions. In 2010, the live Gala had a viewership of 730 million; in 2014, it had reached a viewership of 900 million, and in 2019, over a billion people watched the Gala on TV and online, making the show much bigger in terms of viewership than, for example, the Super Bowl.

The show lasts a total of four hours and usually has around 30 to 40 different acts, from dance to singing and acrobatics. The acts that are both most-loved and most-dreaded are the comic sketches (小品) and crosstalk (相声); they are usually the funniest, but also convey the most political messages.

As viewer ratings of the CCTV Gala in the 21st century have skyrocketed, so has the critique on the show – which seems to be growing year-on-year. According to many viewers, the spectacle generally is often “way too political” with its display of communist nostalgia, including the performance of different revolutionary songs such as “Without the Communist Party, There is No New China” (没有共产党就没有新中国).

For this same reason, the sentence “There’ll never be a worst, just worse than last year” (“央视春晚,没有最烂,只有更烂”) has become a well-known idiom connected to the Gala.

If you want to know more about the previous editions, we also live-blogged
– 2020: CCTV New Year’s Gala 2020
– 2019: The CCTV Spring Festival Gala 2019 Live Blog
– 2018: CCTV Spring Festival Gala 2018 (Live Blog)
– 2017: CCTV New Year’s Gala 2017 Live Blog
– 2016: CCTV’s New Year’s Gala 2016 Liveblog

 

Liveblog CCTV Gala 2021

 
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The original liveblog was done via a third-party app. The original texts and images are copied below for reference. The timestamp refers to the last moment that post was updated.
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What can we expect?

Feb 11 17:07

The show is starting a couple of hours from now, what can we expect?

The Spring Festival Gala usually always focuses on the themes that matter to Chinese authorities, as the event is an important moment to communicate official ideology. The themes and topic that will matter this year are the following:

– China’s battle against COVID19
– the Chinese Communist Party marks its 100th anniversary
– China’s eradication of poverty
– The upcoming Winter Olympics

These themes are likely to come up in various acts, or in the public service announcement or special moments throughout the show. Tonight, there will be a total of 36 acts including songs, dance acts, skits, acrobatics, martial arts, and some magic.

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What Is Weibo Anticipating Most Tonight?

Feb 11 19:15

Just an hour to go before the Gala will start! On Weibo, there are various hashtags related to the Gala, including “Chunwan Year of the Ox” (#牛年春晚#), which is already up to 270 million views at this point.

People look most forward to seeing the super popular Wang Yibo on stage, which will be in the early parts of the Gala. People also look forward to seeing Chinese top actress Yang Mi, she will be performing together with Chinese actor Liu Ye in one the show’s final acts. Then there’s the appearance of former ‘Supergirl’ star Li Yuchun, who will appear in a fashion show act that many look forward to.

We also look forward to seeing a skit that is titled “Pressured into Marriage Every Year.” Then of course, there will be the inevitable performance by Jackie Chan that always leads to some online discussions. We’re also curious to see that fashion show that highlights Chinese fashion using hologram technology.

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Starting in 5 Minutes!

Feb 11 19:59

Are you ready? Make sure you watch the live stream here or on YouTube here. Turn on the sound – you’ll hear pings coming up when we add an update to comment on the show throughout the night.

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Opening Dance

Feb 11 20:03

And…it’s begun! This first act of the night is a singing and dancing act titles “Best Wishes” (“万事如意” wàn shì rú yì – a Chinese idiom that means ‘may all your hopes be fulfilled.’)

This acts opens with some famous names (although there will be famous names throughout the show). The very pretty Tong Liya 佟丽娅 is an actress and dancer who was born in Xinjiang, she is of the Xibo ethnicity. William Chan Wai-ting is famous a Hong Kong singer, dancer and actor. We also see the actress Jiang Shuying on stage, also known as Maggie Jiang.

Performed by: Tong Liya 佟丽娅, Chen Weiting 陈伟霆 (Hong Kong), Jiang Shuying 江疏影, Du Jiang 杜江, Ouyang Nana 欧阳娜娜 (Taiwan), Long Zilan 龙紫岚 (Macau).

Updated with video link:

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Hosts of Chunwan 2021

Feb 11 20:06

Tonight’s hosts are Ren Luyu (任鲁豫), Li Sisi (李思思), Nëghmet Raxman (尼格买提), Long Yang (龙洋), and Zhang Tao (张韬).

Ren Luyu (1978) is a Chinese television host from Henan, and he has presented the Gala many times before (2010, 2016, 2018, 2019) so he is a very familiar face to the show.

Nëghmet Raxman (1983) is a Chinese television host of Uyghur heritage who also is not a newcomer; he hosted the Gala since 2015.

Li Sisi (1986) is a Chinese television host and media personality most known for her role as host of the Gala since 2012.

Then there are also two ‘newcomers.’ Long Yang (1989) is the youngest presenter tonight. Born in Hunan’s Chenzhou, she’s been working in Chinese state media for years. As a host, she’s done various big events before, but 2021 is the first time for her to host the CMG Spring Festival Gala.

Also for Zhang Tao (1988?) it is going to be the first time to present the show. Zhang currently hosts the CCTV4 China News and previously worked at Chongqing TV.

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Song and Dance “Holiday”

Feb 11 20:12

This act is called Holiday (节日), and includes African, Egyptian, Spanish, Russian, and Chinese influences.

There are some famous people involved in this act, such as the 70-year-old singer Zhu Mingying (朱明瑛) and the Chinese actor Zhang Han (张翰).

Updated with video link:
Link to video of this performance.

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Tech Innovation at the Gala

Feb 11 20:16

The Gala is always a time to showcase China’s innovative digitalization. This year, the Gala is also called a “tech innovation event,” which, for the first time, will use 8K ultra high-tech definition video and AI+VR studio technologies.

The event also features the innovative use of super high definition cloud communication technology to coordinate performances on stage.

As reported by CCTV, some actors who are not in the Chinese mainland and aren’t able to perform live due to the COVID-19 pandemic will still be “on stage”; the cloud technology allows actors who can’t be physically present during the live performances to participate via prerecorded videos while also remotely interacting with the audience.

Chinese state media have been announcing the tech integrated in the show, calling it “a breakthrough in new media communication.” It’s all about 4K, 5G, AR, AI, 3D, and 8K!

This year, the Gala is cooperating with the Douyin app for its ‘hongbao’ (red envelope) activities.

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Yue Yunpeng & Sun Yue Crosstalk

Feb 11 20:26

This is the first xiangsheng of the night. Xiangsheng (相声), or ‘crosstalk,’ is a dialogue between actors with rich puns and word jokes, that usually sees two actors with one playing the “joker” and the other playing the “teaser. ”

On stage, we see Chinese actor Yue Yunpeng (1985), who is particularly known for his xiangsheng performances, together with well-known Beijing-born comedian Sun Yue (1979). This is a famous duo, they’ve previously also performed together at the Gala.

The two are looking back at the songs that have appeared at the festival throughout the years – all songs that the audience can sing together with them.

Updated with video link:
Link to video of this performance.

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Chinese New Year Face Masks

Feb 11 20:22

Today’s event is taking place with an audience attending, as every year. This is also possible due to China’s super strict COVID19 measures and requirements.

What is noteworthy is the masks worn by every audience member – they are special Year of the Ox Spring Festival face masks made by the China Media Group for this occasion. How very 2021.

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Traditional Jokes

Feb 11 20:29

Some jokes just never get old.. like this one, that also surfaced on Chinese social media last year.

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Andy Lau, Wang Yibo, Guan Xiaotong “Niu Qilai”

Feb 11 21:59

OMG! Robot ox, virtual ox, 3D ox – Year of the Ox in China’s digital era!

Here comes Andy Lau, one of Hong Kong’s most famous actors. But it’s probably not Andy that most people are excited about now – it’s Wang Yibo, one of Weibo’s most influential celebrities of the moment.

Talking about the most-anticipated act of this night, it’s actually Wang Yibo according to social media users – there was an online poll on who they want to see most tonight.

Wang Yibo (1997) is a Chinese actor, singer, dancer, and rapper who debuted as a member of the South Korean-Chinese boyband UNIQ in 2014 and starred in the 2019 Chinese TV series The Untamed (陈情令). On Sina Weibo, the celebrity was the champion of Weibo’s ‘Most Influential Celebrity’ charts recently – he really has a huge online fanbase.

Also performing here is Beijing actress Guan Xiaotong (1997), who is also known as the ‘national daughter’ for always playing the daughter roles in tv-series and movies. Remember that time when Weibo servers were down due to a celebrity relationship announcement? That was about Guan and her relationship with Chinese singer and actor Lu Han.

Updated with video link:

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Martial Arts Meet High Tech

Feb 11 20:47

This act is titled “Heroes of Heaven and Earth” (天地英雄) and uses AR technology to integrate nature landscapes into martial arts scenes.

And then there’s this performer who is hanging by her hair that is causing some discussion online:

em>Updated with video link:
Link to video of this performance

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“How come Andy Lau never gets old?!”

Feb 11 20:43

Meanwhile, on Chinese social media, netizens are discussing why it seems that everyone is getting older except for actor Andy Lau, who performed in the act before this. Andy Lau was born in the Year of the Ox and he’s 60 years old!

Fun fact: all of the performers in that act, namely Andy Lau, Guan Xiaotong, and Wang Yibo were all born in the Year of the Ox.

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The 2021 Theme and Director

Feb 11 20:50

While we are into the sixth act of the night, let’s look at the theme and director of this show for a second.

After themes such as “New China”, “Chinese Dream”, “National Unity”, “Family Affinity”, and “Chinese values, Chinese power,” this year’s theme is focused on reflecting the daily lives of ordinary people.

Due to COVID19, this is also a special edition of the festival. Usually, it takes place from various locations with different hosts across China. This year, that is not the case.

This year’s chief director is Chen Linchun (陈临春). After the Guangdong director Yang Dongsheng (杨东升) directed the CCTV Gala in 2017, 2018, and 2020, it’s a different chief director for a change, but Chen is definitely no stranger to the Gala. He previously directed the event in 2008 and 2011 and was also closely involved in the production before.

The Gala is always completely rehearsed multiple times before the live show. The fifth rehearsal of the Gala took place on Tuesday.

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New Social Media Traditions are Born

Feb 11 22:00

Another “new tradition” is online shopping while watching the festival.

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“Running Youth”

Feb 11 21:03

This song is called “Running Youth” (奔跑的青春), performed by many well-known faces.

One of them is the popular Dilraba Dilmurat 迪丽热巴, a young Chinese actress of Uyghur ethnicity.

em>Updated with video link:
Link to video of this performance

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Special Program: “Report to the Motherland”

Feb 11 21:10

This special part of the show invites Chinese space experts to tell the story of spaceflight, and there will be representatives of the “2020 Poverty Alleviation Award” to shortly address China’s anti-poverty efforts.

em>Updated with video link:
Link to video of this performance

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Andy Lau became a meme already

Feb 11 21:08

Meanwhile.. on Weibo, the actor Andy Lau who performed earlier tonight seems to have become a meme, with people sharing this segment of the song that wishes everyone a prosperous New Year. Gōng xǐ fā cái!

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“The Road of Pursuing Dreams,” Performed by Han Hong

Feb 11 21:14

This song titled “The Road of Pursuing Dreams” (追梦之路) performed by Han Hong (韩红), a famous singer and songwriter of mixed Han and Tibetan ethnicity. She became a topic of banter on social media for earlier performances during the Chunwan that were a bit awkward.

Updated with video link:
Link to video of this performance

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Beautiful Jasmine Dance

Feb 11 21:19

This dance is called “Jasmine” (茉莉) with the lead dancer Meng Qingyang and performance by the China Oriental Performing Arts Group.

Updated with video link:

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(Act 10) Skit: “Balcony”

Feb 11 21:38

This skit was among one of the more anticipated performances tonight. It is focused on the early days of the epidemic in China and how to overcome hardships.

The skit is about people during the lockdown who are worried about family members working on the frontlines. Neighbors use drones to pass on food.

The end of the lockdown is then lifted (looking back on April 2020), which is celebrated. The Gala switches to scenes of Wuhan and real frontline workers.

Updated with video link:
Link to video of this performance

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“Tomorrow Will Be Better”

Feb 11 21:46

This song, titled “Tomorrow Will Be Better” (明天会更好) is a clear reference to the pandemic and it is sung by, among others, Jackie Chan! It continues on the same stage and in the same setting as the skit before this.

Jackie Chan (成龙) has become an annually returning performer at the CCTV Gala. Although his performances are always much-anticipated, they’ve also been pretty cringe-worthy. In 2017, the song performed by Jackie that was simply titled “Nation” was met with criticism for being overly political. In 2018, the Hong Kong martial artist sung a song that was called “China” and in 2019 he performed ‘My Struggle, My Happiness.’

We also see Zhu Yilong on stage, a Chinese actor born in 1988. He was voted as one of the actors that Chinese social media users were looking forward to see most at tonight’s Gala.

(Picture above shows performer with “thank you” on this shirt). Many netizens say they are moved to tears by this song and the memory of everything that happened last year during the early days of the outbreak in Wuhan.

Updated with video link:

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The “Tomorrow Will Be Better Song” Moved Many to Tears

Feb 11 21:48

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“China in the Lights”

Feb 11 21:51

The Gala is moving fast! “China in the Lights” (灯火里的中国) preceded the skit that is now on stage, and it was sung by Chinese singers Zhang Ye (张也) and Zhou Shen (周深, also known as Charlie Zhou), accompanied by performers from the Evergrande Folk Song and Dance Troupe and others.

em>Updated with video link:
Link to video of this performance

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Spring Cleaning (大扫除)

Feb 11 21:57

This performance is called ‘Spring Cleaning’ (大扫除), referring to the custom of cleaning the house before the Chinese New Year – a way of driving away the bad luck of the previous year to allow for a new start.

Performing here are Sun Tao (孙涛), Wang Xun (王迅), Qin Hailu (秦海璐), Huang Zitao (黄子韬). The skit makes fun of Chinese bureaucracy.

This skit is especially noteworthy because Chinese singer-songwriter, rapper, actor, and model Huang Zitao is in it. He became super popular as a former member of the South Korean-Chinese boy band Exo and its Chinese sub-unit, Exo-M.

Updated with video link:
Link to video of this performance

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FASHION SHOW

Feb 11 22:20

This fashion show (山水霓裳) takes place around Li Yuchun’s solo performance, and it highlights the beauty of Chinese costumes in a new way. As state media previously reported, the fashion show uses split-screen shooting and hologram technology to show the beauty of Chinese costumes to “demonstrate cultural confidence.”

Around 2013, Li Yuchun was one of the most discussed female artists on the Chinese Internet. She was the winner of China’s ‘Supergirl’ TV show and became a national idol and a cultural phenomenon. Due to her androgynous look, Li Yuchun’s stardom led to online discussions on the tomboy trend and sexuality, as she challenged the conventional Chinese criteria for feminine aesthetics and traditional gender norms. It is the third time for Li to participate in the Gala.

Updated with video link:

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如此家长

Feb 11 22:21

Here is another xiangsheng act now with performers Jin Fei (金霏) and Chen Xi (陈曦). The act is about being parents and children’s education.

Some people on Weibo are joking that it’s good that the audience is wearing face masks so nobody has to pretend to laugh when they think the jokes aren’t funny.

Updated with video link:
Link to video of this performance

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Relatives – Weibo blowing up!

Feb 11 22:28

This song is super popular, social media is exploding, because superstars Zhang Jie and Yi Yang Qianxi (Jackson Yee) are on stage. Jackson Yee became the youngest member of the Chinese boy band TFBoys in 2013 and is also a solo artist and singer, he has an enormous fanbase on social media.

Updated with video link:
Link to video of this performance

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Chinese Opera (盛世百花园)

Feb 11 22:38

In comparison to other acts, there are few Chinese Opera acts in the Spring Festival Gala nowadays, but this is an elaborate act that includes many famous names.

Updated with video link:
Link to video of this performance

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Lay Zhang Is Here

Feb 11 22:45

This act was among the acts that was discussed the most on social media before the Spring Festival Gala began, because it is Lay Zhang (张艺兴) singing “Picture Scroll” (画卷). Zhang is a Chinese singer-songwriter, music producer, dancer, and actor. He debuted as a member of the South Korean-Chinese boy group Exo.

Updated with video link:
Link to video of this performance

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On the Train to Spring

Feb 11 23:07

This performance is called “Towards the Happiness of Spring Days” (开往春天的幸福) and takes place on the high-speed train. The skit has a focus on hard work, duty, and also touches upon China’s rapid developments (the gaotie train, 5G, etc).

One of the performers in this skit is Chinese actress Ni Ni, who is praised on social media for her slim and pretty body figure.

Updated with video link:
Link to video of this performance

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Shepherds of Keketuohai

Feb 11 23:07

This song is called “Shepherds of Keketuohai (可可托海的牧羊人) performed by artist Wang Qi (王琪) and actress Luo Wenbo (骆文博). This song was released earlier in 2020.

Keketuohai is a national park / scenic area in Xinjiang that has many geological wonders.

Updated with video link:
Link to video of this performance

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Pressured to Marry

Feb 11 23:21

“Pressured to Marry Every Holiday” (每逢佳节被催婚) is a skit that focuses on the social pressure many Chinese young people feel, especially during Chinese New Year, when parents and relatives will ask them why they still are not married?! This had led to the phenomenon of people ‘renting’ fake boyfriends or girlfriends to avoid nagging questions, something that is also mentioned in this performance.

Some people on social media actually dread this skit because they are single and pressured, and this doesn’t help!



Performed by: Kaili Zhang 张凯丽, Zhang Guoqiang 张国强, Wan Xi 万茜, Ren Jialun 任嘉伦, Wu Hailong 吴海龙, Zhang Weiwei 张维威

Updated with video link:
Link to video of this performance

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Children’s Song and Dance

Feb 11 23:32

“Listen to me” is the 22nd act of tonight (we’re not there yet.. still 14 more to go OMG!). This dance is performed by the Air Force Blue Sky Children’s Art Troupe.

Also on stage are ‘Sister Moon’ and Wang Yuan (Roy Wang), who is known as one of China’s most influential teens, although he is now 20 years old.

Luo Tianyi was also in this performance, a Chinese Vocaloid released by Shanghai Henian Information Technology Co. in 2012. She is the first Vocaloid Chinese singer.

Updated with video link:

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Crested Ibis

Feb 11 23:36

Zhu Jiejing (朱洁静) is here with the dance performance Zhuhuan (朱鹮), referring to the Crested ibis (a type of bird).

Zhu (1985) is a top dancer in China. She was recruited by Shanghai Dance School at the age of 9 and went on to have a flourishing career.

Updated with video link:
Link to video of this performance

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National treasures returning home

Feb 11 23:41

Chinese actor Zhang Guoli is presenting this segment, which is a special part of the program about cultural relics that “return home”, meaning they returned to the mainland from overseas.

The Buddha head that is introduced here was returned from Japan.

The idea behind this “returning to the motherland” segment is of course also symbolical – stressing the importance of the Chinese nation as the (cultural) home.

Updated with video link:
Link to video of this performance

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“I love you China”

Feb 11 23:47

An ode to China in this piece titled “I love China’ (我爱你中国), with on piano Li Yundi, the famous concert pianist, and dance by Tan Yuanyuan (Chinese American) and Zhang Aoyue.

Updated with video link:
Link to video of this performance

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Meanwhile on Taobao…

Feb 11 23:49

Meanwhile, the Chunyun is flourishing on e-commerce platform Taobao as well. Some Taobao sellers have managed to collect entire wardrobes of performers worn on stage just now.

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“Be Rest Assured, China”

Feb 11 23:55

China’s military power is the focus in this scene, where Lei Jia sings “Don’t Worry, Homeland” with images of the military in the background.

Updated with video link:
Link to video of this performance

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100 Years Communist Party

Feb 11 23:58

This song (唱支山歌给党听) is dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the founding of the CCP.

Updated with video link:
Link to video of this performance

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HAPPY NIU YEAR!

Feb 11 23:59

While people on social media are complaining their parents are falling asleep, it’s 0:00 in Mainland China. The New Year is here!

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The Big Reunion

Feb 12 00:12

An inescapable part of Chunwan is the moment where everyone gets together and all ethnic groups and age groups and types of performances are thrown out on the stage together. That moment is now. This song is called “All People are One” (万众一心).

Updated with video link:
Link to video of this performance

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Silly jokes keep coming

Feb 12 00:12

As we’re entering some of the final acts, some Chinese social media users have found a striking similarity between popstar Huang Zitao and the Buddha head that was just proudly presented on the #SpringFestivalGala as a national treasure returned to the motherland.

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Catching up…

Feb 12 00:18

The final acts of the night are always seemingly going much faster than the first (or we’re getting more tired), so what did we miss? The people you saw earlier were representatives of national medals and national honorary titles, including some people honored in the fight against COVID19.

There was the Peaceful Snow Picture song (瑞雪平安图) featuring Han Xue, Yuan Jiawei, and Wang Junkai – who is hugely popular as a member of the TFBoys.

We have now arrived at the xiangsheng act featuring Li Yinfei and Ye Peng.

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Sun Nan

Feb 12 00:24

Chinese singer Sun Nan is a recurring performer on the Spring Festival Gala. He was also the singer who danced together with 540 robots in an earlier version of the gala.

Updated with video link:
Link to video of this performance

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Andrea Bocelli and Matteo Bocelli Sing “Fall on Me”

Feb 12 00:30

These Italian performers joined via ‘cloud’ performance and were not actually in Beijing.

Updated with video link:
Link to video of this performance

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Burning Snowflakes/Love is Here (Olympic 2022 Song)

Feb 12 00:37

This performance is called ‘Burning Snowflakes’ (燃烧的雪花) and it is among the acts that was discussed a lot before tonight due to the participation of Yang Mi (1986).

This beautiful actress and singer gained fame and popularity through her various roles in Chinese hit TV dramas. Born in Beijing, Yang already started her acting career at the age of 4. Yang is now seen as one of Chinas biggest actresses, and also as one with the most commercial value; she was listed in the Top 10 Forbes Chinese Celebrities of 2020. And with 110 million fans (!) on her Weibo account, she is one of the most popular social media stars in China.

Also on stage is Chinese actor Liu Ye (刘烨, 1978), who is regarded as one of China’s top actors.

The enormous dancing panda on stage perhaps tells us more on what we can expect for the Winter Olympics in China in 2022.

Updated with video link:
Link to video of this performance

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Meanwhile..

Feb 12 00:47

While the show is entering its final phase and Jay Chou is singing Mojito.. (virtual presence via cloud tech, he’s not in the studio)..

..the news that BBC is no longer allowed to broadcast in mainland China is already called the biggest news of the Chinese New Year.

Updated with video links:
Link to video of Jay Chou performance; Link to video of following performance

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The Last Dance

Feb 12 00:30

This is the last dance of the night, a dance for ‘good luck’ featuring lead dancers Wang Haitian and Zhou Xu, with a performance by the China Eastern Performing Arts Group.

Updated with video link:
Link to video of this performance

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Unforgettable Night

Feb 12 00:55

Unforgettable Night! The last song of this night is “Unforgettable Night” (难忘今宵).

It is sung by the senior singer and dancer Li Guyi (李谷一), who became famous with the song ‘Homeland Love’ (乡恋) around the time of China’s Reform and Opening Up – the singer and her songs are nostalgic for many viewers. Li Guyi also appeared at the very first version of the Gala in 1983, and became the singer that sang the most at the event.

Li Guyi sings the same song every year at the end of this show. The last song ends with all performers of the Beijing venue on stage. The song repeats the phrases 共祝愿 祖国好: let’s all wish together that the country will be good, that it will last long and be prosperous. The hosts wish everyone a happy new year, and much luck for the new year. And so do we! It’s a wrap, happy niu year to you!

Updated with video link:
Link to video of this performance

By Manya Koetse and Miranda Barnes

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China Celebs

“A Good Day” – Kris Wu Sentenced to 13 Years in Prison

The first woman who came forward to accuse Kris Wu in 2021 celebrated his sentencing in a livestream.

Manya Koetse

Published

on

The Chinese-Canadian fallen celebrity Kris Wu, better known as Wu Yifan (吴亦凡) in China, has been dominating Chinese social media discussions after a preliminary court ruling came out in the criminal case in which Wu was accused of rape and other sex crimes.

On November 25, the Beijing Chaoyang district court found Wu guilty of raping three women in his home in 2020 and of “gathering people to commit adultery.” He was sentenced to 13 years in prison followed by deportation.

Kris Wu is a 32-year old rapper, singer, and actor who was born in Guangzhou and moved to Vancouver with his mother at the age of ten. Wu also spent a part of his high school years in Guangzhou, but he holds a Canadian passport. He became famous as a member of the K-pop band Exo and later started a solo career.

As an actor, he starred in several award-winning movies. He also starred in Sweet Sixteen, a movie in which Wu ironically plays the role of someone getting jailed for shooting a rapist.

The 19-year-old student Du Meizhu (都美竹) was the first to accuse Wu of predatory behavior online in 2021, with at least 24 more women also coming forward claiming the celebrity showed inappropriate behavior and had pressured young women into sexual relationships. As the scandal unfolded, various hashtags related to the story received billions of views on Weibo. Wu was formally arrested on suspicion of rape in mid-August 2021.

On Friday, Meizhu posted “Finally [I’ve waited for this]” on her social media account. She also briefly joined a livestream in which she celebrated the sentencing and played the song “A Good Day” (“好日子”).

On Weibo, the hashtag “Wu Yifan Gets 13 Years” [13 years prison sentence in preliminary ruling] (#吴亦凡一审被判13年#) received nearly 1,8 billion views on Friday.

Noteworthy enough, the Kris Wu hashtag was also being used by netizens to discuss the tragic Urumqi fire which was also a major trending topic on the same day.

Some speculated that the media attention for the Kris Wu case was being used to overshadow the Urumqi news. Others condemned social media users for turning to celebrity news instead of focusing on the tragic fire in Xinjiang’s capital.

At the same time, there was also a running joke on social media in light of China’s ongoing ‘zero Covid’ policy, with people saying: “Who will come out first, Kris Wu or us?”

By Manya Koetse 

Featured image: Kris Wu starring in Sweet Sixteen movie.

 

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China’s XR Development 101: How Chinese Tech Giants are Navigating Towards the Metaverse

Chinese tech giants are massively investing in virtual reality and in the technologies that are building up the Chinese metaverse.

Jialing Xie

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Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Reality technologies are blurring the lines between the real and digital worlds and are powering the metaverse. Chinese tech giants are at the forefront of the latest developments on the mainland market, including XR, that are making the metaverse possible. Time for a round-up of what China’s key players are focusing on and which virtual initiatives are already live.

2021 is the year in which the concept of ‘metaverse’ has blossomed. In March of last year, the hugely successful online multiplayer game and game creation system Roblox went public with a market value of over $41 billion at the time, earning its reputation as the world’s first metaverse IPO.

Following the release of the 2021 sci-fi comedy Free Guy – which is set in a fictional metaverse-like video game, – and Facebook’s rebranding to ‘Meta’ last fall, ‘metaverse’ became one of the hottest buzzwords on the internet.

The term metaverse is actually decades old. In the 1981 novel True Names, the American computer scientist Vernor Steffen Vinge already envisioned a virtual world that could be accessed through a brain-computer interface, and the term ‘metaverse’ was first mentioned in the 1992 Snow Crash science fiction novel by Neal Stephenson.

Now, 5G, AI, VR, Blockchain, 3D modeling, and other new technologies converged on the concept of the metaverse industry are seeing an explosive growth in China.

At the recent 20th Party Congress, it became clear once again that the digital economy is key in China’s long-term strategies, with Chinese leader Xi Jinping promoting digitalization as one of the new “engines” of future growth.

 
About Metaverse (元宇宙) in China
 

In Chinese, ‘metaverse’ is referred to as yuányǔzhòu (元宇宙), which is a literal translation of ‘meta-verse’ – meaning ‘transcending universe’ (超越宇宙). Chinese tech sources also describe the year 2021 as “the metaverse year” (元宇宙元年).

Metaverse is a collective, shared virtual realm that can interact with the real world and where people can interact with each other and the spaces around them. There is not just one single metaverse – there can be many digital living spaces referred to as the ‘metaverse.’

Metaverse is a fluid concept or virtual experience that is still developing and due to the differences in cyber regulations, digital ecosystems, and strict control on online information flows, the Chinese metaverse will unquestionably be very different from the metaverse spheres that companies such as Facebook are working on.

The metaverse is made possible through a wide range of technologies including AI, IoT, Blockchain, Interaction Technology, computer games, and network computing. XR is key to the rise of the metaverse. XR, or Extended Reality, is an umbrella term for a range of immersive technologies including VR (Virtual Reality 虚拟现实), AR (Augmented Reality 增强现实), and MR (Mixed Reality 混合现实). A 2020 Deloitte report suggests that the global XR market consists of mainly VR technologies (48% of market share), followed by AR (34%) and MR (18%).

In December of 2020, Tencent’s CEO Ma Huateng (马化腾) announced the concept of the “All-real Internet” (全真互联网) in a special internal publication regarding the company’s growth and major changes. Ma proposed that the deep integration of the virtual and real world, the “All-real Internet,” is the future opportunity to focus on as the next stage of the (mobile) internet. Although there are some subtle differences, Ma’s idea of the “All-real Internet” overlaps with the concept of the metaverse.

The metaverse, XR, and related technologies are not just a hot issue for Chinese tech companies, they are also an important theme for Chinese authorities. The 20th Party Congress was by no means the first time for China’s leadership to stress the country’s focus on the latest digital innovations. In October 2021, President Xi Jinping also spoke about evolving China’s digital economy during the 19th CPC Central Committee. He asserted that one of the focal points within the development strategy of China’s digital economy is the further integration of digital technologies and real-world economies.

This idea was further clarified in the outline of the 14th Five-Year Plan issued by the State Council at the end of 2021, which listed VR and AR as one of the seven key industries of China’s digital economy along with cloud computing, IoT, AI, and others.

Subsequently, many local governments incorporated metaverse (“元宇宙”) and related relevant terms into their respective 14th Five-Year Plans. For example, Shanghai authorities stated it will focus on the further developments of industries related to quantum computing, 3rd-gen semiconductors, 6G communications, and metaverse.

Here, we will provide an overview of XR industry development in present-day China, going over the key players Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent (BAT) along with the younger Chinese tech giant ByteDance. We provide an overview of what they are investing in, what their respective strategies are when it comes to XR, and give examples of the kind of initiatives that they have already launched. To limit the scope of this article, we have left out Netease, Huawei, Bilibili, and some other relevant Chinese players for now (we might still make a part two later on!).

 

Key Players and Strategies

 

 

▶︎ BAIDU

 

As one of the leading artificial intelligence (AI) and internet companies in the world, Baidu specializes in internet and AI-related products and services. Baidu is mostly known as China’s number one search engine, but its ambitions go far beyond that. “We want to be like Amazon Web Services (AWS) for the metaverse,” Ma Jie (马杰), vice president at Baidu, recently said.

The company has taken a special interest in building the infrastructure to support metaverse-related projects, deviating from the strategies that focus more on the XR-related content development and distribution that you see at Tencent or Bytedance.

 

What’s Happening?

 

Investments

◼︎ iQiyi (爱奇艺), one of China’s top media streaming platforms (sometimes also referred to as the ‘Chinese Netflix’), released its all-in-one virtual reality headset ‘Adventure Dream’ in December 2021 powered by Snapdragon XR2. Baidu owns 53% of iQiyi and holds more than 90% of its shareholder voting rights.

 
Research & Development

◼︎ Baidu launched the ‘Baidu VR Browser’ on July 15, 2016, becoming China’s first browser powered by webVR technology.

Xirang

◼︎ In 2017, Baidu launched ‘Baidu VR’ platform, which is now offering a wide range of VR-related software and hardware products and services, including the Baidu VR Headset, VR Creation Center, AI app, and XiRang (希壤), which is referred to as China’s “first metaverse platform.”

 

What’s Live?

 

 
Retail

◼︎ In 2018, Baidu VR and UXin Limited, a Chinese online used car marketplace, jointly developed VR 360° interior panoramas that put viewers in the driver’s seat to see how interior details come together and to better understand the details of each vehicle such as scratches, wheels and engine models.

◼︎ Baidu’s ‘Meta Ziwu’ (元宇宙誌屋Meta ZiWU), a virtual space within XiRang, hosts various fashion shows for international brands. In August of 2022, Italian luxury fashion house Prada livestreamed its Fall 2022 collection within the interactive realms of ‘Meta Ziwu,’ and so did Dior, the French fashion house which has also launched its first-ever metaverse exhibition “On the Road” (在路上) via Meta Ziwu.

 
Social Networking

◼︎ In late 2021, Baidu launched its metaverse project XiRang (希壤, ‘the land of hope’) as “the first Chinese-made metaverse product.” In December, Baidu held ‘Baidu Create 2021′, a three-day annual developers’ conference in a virtual world generated by the XiRang platform, hosting 100,000 people on one set of servers at the same time. Baidu’s Vice President Ma Jie, also Head of the Metaverse XiRang project, shared that the main goal behind this project is to lay the infrastructure of the metaverse by providing developers and content creators with the tools to build their metaverse projects.

Chinese architect Ma Yansong (马岩松), founder of MAD architects, also works together with Meta Ziwu as a virtual architect.

 

▶︎ALIBABA

 

Founded in 1999, Alibaba is one of the world’s largest e-commerce and cloud computing companies in Asia Pacific. Its massive success in e-commerce also established Alibaba’s leading position in artificial intelligence and other key technologies that have supported e-commerce, as well as in the future of metaverse.

As one of the biggest venture capital firms and investment corporations in the world, Alibaba struck several deals with prominent XR companies including Magic Leap and Nreal to gain footing in the Extended Reality industry.

As for R&D, Alibaba’s ambition in becoming the world’s fifth-largest economy led to a strong emphasis on technological research and XR-focused innovation and the founding of DAMO Academy.

Within the field of XR, Alibaba primarily focuses on two aspects: underlying technology solutions (e.g. cloud computing) and XR application in its own core business model (e-commerce).

 

What’s Happening?

 

Investments

◼︎ In February 2016 and October 2017, Alibaba led the investment rounds in Magic Leap, an augmented reality firm headquartered in Florida.

◼︎ In March of this year, Alibaba led a $60 million investment round of Beijing-based augmented reality glasses maker Nreal. Nreal, founded in 2017, has since launched two AR glasses for the Chinese market: Nreal X for developers and content creators and Nreal Air for regular consumers. Nreal Air glasses have been released in Japan and the UK in February and May of this year. In addition to AR glasses, Nreal also cooperated with iQiyi, China Mobile Migu, Weilai, and Kuaishou to develop AR content.

 
Research & Development

◼︎ In March 2016, Alibaba announced its own VR research lab, GM LAB ( ‘GnomeMagic’ Lab), which aims to power its e-commerce platform and other subsidiary businesses such as the VR content production for its film and music platforms.

◼︎ Alibaba registered several metaverse-related trademarks, including “Ali Metaverse.”

◼︎ In 2021, Alibaba’s DAMO Academy, a global research program in cutting-edge technologies, launched ‘X Lab’ that focuses on research in key areas related to the metaverse industry, including quantum computing, XR, and xG Technology. Tan Ping (谭平), the former Head of XR Lab, shared several of their ongoing projects at the time. One example he mentioned is the virtual character Xiaomo (小莫), who is very versatile and can, among other things, convert textual information into sign language to enable smoother communication for the hearing impaired.

Xiaomo by Alibaba can turn spoken text into sign language.

‘X Lab’ is also experimenting with making history come alive through virtual initiatives. Recently, Alibaba’s cloud gaming platform Yuanjing made it possible for visitors at their Alibaba Cloud’s Apsara conference to virtually visit the Xi’an Museum and check out its artifacts via mobile phone or laptop, or to have an immersive experience of the Tang dynasty’s imperial palace complex, powered by automatic 3D space creation and visual localization technology.

 

What’s Live?

 

eCommerce

◼︎ In November 2016, Alibaba launched the Mobile BUY+ feature in Taobao mobile apps in light of its annual Single’s Day Global Shopping Festival. With VR headsets and the app, China-based Taobao shoppers could experience shopping in-store at Target, Macy’s, or Costco in the US and other malls located in countries such as Japan and Australia.

◼︎ As Alibaba constantly keeps innovating its e-commerce landscape, its research institute DAMO Academy, in collaboration with its licensing platform Alifish, rolled out an XR-powered marketplace on Alibaba’s e-commerce platforms Tmall and Taobao for its November 2022 Single’s Day festival that allows consumers to visit virtual shopping streets and shop for merchandise as their own customizable avatars.

Entertainment

◼︎ In 2021, Alibaba led a $20 million Series A financing round of DGene, a virtual reality and immersive entertainment developer. Among others, DGene creates digital influencers or can even recreate historical figures based on its AI-driven technologies.

Dong Dong was launched as the first virtual brand ambassador for the Winter Olympics in 2022.

◼︎ For the Olympic Winter Olympics in 2022, Alibaba launched Dong Dong, a digital persona developed by Damo Academy using cloud-based digital technologies. Dong Dong was able to engage with fans and online viewers through livestreams, respond to questions in real time, and she even hosted online talkshows.

 

▶︎TENCENT

 

As a multinational technology and entertainment conglomerate with the highest-grossing revenue in the world, Tencent has the financial resources to gain an upper hand in technological innovation through acquisition and investment. In 2021 alone, Tencent made a total of 76 investments in Gaming, accounting for 25.2% of Tencent’s total investment throughout the year – a 9.3% increase compared to 2020. Tencent is now the biggest gaming company in the world.

Tencent also ramped up the company’s total headcount working in R&D department by 41%, accounting for 68% of its total workforce in 2021.

Although XR is used to create immersive experiences in different industries including healthcare, manufacturing, or education, its primary fields are still gaming and social – which just so happen to be Tencent’s main focus areas. It is therefore perhaps unsurprising that Tencent, as the country’s Gaming & Social giant, has made XR part of its core business.

 

What’s Happening?

 

Investments

◼︎ In 2012, Tencent made an investment in Epic Games, the owner of Unreal Engine which powers well-known video games such as Fortnite, purchasing approximately 40% of the total Epic capital, making it the second largest shareholder. Epic Games’ major businesses span across RT3D game engine (Unreal), in-house developed games (Fortnite), and platform games. This investment is one of the reasons why Tencent conquered a leading position in the metaverse realm when it comes to games.

◼︎ As early as 2014, Tencent already tapped into the VR market by investing in social VR platform AltspaceVR, which was later acquired by Microsoft in 2017.

◼︎ In May 2019, Tencent and Roblox announced a joint venture in which Tencent holds a 49% controlling stake.

◼︎ In September of 2021, Tencent became the new investor behind Beijing-based VR game developer Vanimals (威魔纪元), known for its flagship games Undying and Eternity Warriors VR.

◼︎ In November 2021, Tencent joined the $82M Series D fundraising of Ultraleap, the world leader in mid-air haptics and 3D hand tracking. Ultraleap’s hand-tracking platform has been built into multiple platforms including Qualcomm’s XR and VR devices.

◼︎ In March 2022, Tencent invested in the Chinese AR glasses manufacturer SUPERHEXA (蜂巢科技) holding 7.3% of its shares.

 
Research & Development

◼︎ In 2015, Tencent announced its avant-garde VR Project ‘Tencent VR,’ a plan consisting of building its own VR games and releasing Tencent Virtual reality software development kits (VR SDKs) to support other VR game developers.

◼︎ As of September 2021, Tencent applied for registration of nearly 100 trademarks related to the metaverse, including “Tencent Music Metaverse” (腾讯音乐元宇宙).

◼︎ In June 2022, Tencent officially set up its XR department led by its Interactive Entertainment Division (IEG) game developer NExT Studios. During Tencent’s annual gaming conference SPARK 2022, the Head of IEG, Ma Xiaoyi (马晓轶), shared Tencent’s ambitions in charting all segments of the VR industry in the next 5 years, from developer software tools and SDKs to VR hardware, to consumer-facing content.

◼︎ NExT Studios, which is the youngest studio within the Tencent Games family, has partnered with the Shenzhen-based FACEGOOD, a 3D content generation technology company that is focused on building metaverse infrastructure.

 

What’s Live?

 

Gaming

◼︎ At ChinaJoy 2019, the largest gaming and digital entertainment exhibition across Asia, Tencent launched its cloud gaming solution on its WeGame client, allowing users to play several games instantly without a download. In December of that year, Tencent Games and global leader AI hardware & software leader Nvidia announced a new partnership to launch the START (云游戏) cloud gaming service for PC and console titles.

◼︎ Following the Sino-American joint venture with Roblox in May 2021, Tencent officially launched the Chinese version of Roblox (罗布乐思) topping the App Store free game list in July of 2021.

 
Social Networking

◼︎ In November 2021, Tencent led a $25 million Series A funding in the British developer Lockwood Publishing best known for the metaverse app Avakin Life, which allows users to create 3D characters and socialize in the virtual community.

◼︎ During the Lunar New Year in February 2022, Tencent’s instant messaging software QQ launched a new feature called “Super QQ Show” (超级QQ秀), which is an upgrade of its ‘QQ Show’ service that’s been running since 2003. Super QQ Show allows users to create their own 3D avatars and use them in an interactive context. It added AI face recognition and rendering. The platform is an interesting one for brands. Fast-food chain KFC even has its own restaurant in this virtual world.

Visiting KFC in the Super QQ Show.

◼︎ In the summer of 2022, the Tencent-backed app developer company Soulgate Inc., which operates the social networking app Soul, applied to be listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. Tencent is the largest shareholder holding 49.9% of the shares. Soul is a virtual social playground with the mission of “building a ‘Soul’cial Metaverse for young generations” where users can connect with other users through the virtual identity they develop in the app. The majority of its users, nearly 75%, belong to Gen-Z.

 
Entertainment

◼︎ On New Year’s Eve of 2021, Tencent Music Entertainment (TME) Group launched China’s first virtual social music platform TMELAND, where users can create their own avatars and interact with each other through their “digital identity.” It’s worth mentioning that TMELAND was powered by the ‘Hybrid Edge-Cloud Platform Solution’ developed by XVERSE (元象科技), which was founded by a former Tencent executive committed to building a one-stop shop for 3D content development.

Coca Cola zone in TMLAND.

Recently, Coca-Cola partnered up with TMELAND to open a new metaverse zone, accessible via the TMELAND mini-programme on WeChat.

 

▶︎BYTEDANCE

 

Known as “the world’s most valuable startup,” the Bytedance success story started with the algorithm-powered Toutiao (头条 ‘Headlines’) in 2012, a news and content platform that personalizes content for each user based on their own preferences. The Bytedance app TikTok (Douyin in China) conquered the world as one of most successful Chinese apps internationally.

Bytedance is a social networking leader, but is also focused on its in-house development in VR/AR. By 2021, Bytedance had completed at least 76 investment events, more than the previous two years combined.

From ByteDance’s activities in the XR industry, the company seems to have its strategy primarily focused on hardware, content development, and distribution across gaming, social networking, and entertainment industries.

 

What’s Happening?

 

Investments

◼︎ As early as 2018, Toutiao (Bytedance’s core product) acquired VSCENE (维境视讯) a Beijing-based solution provider for VR Live streaming.

◼︎ In July 2020, Bytedance participated in Series A funding of Seizet (熵智科技), an industrial automation company that provides a 3D industrial camera and software.

◼︎ In February 2021, Bytedance invested in Moore Threads (摩尔线程), a company that specialized in visual computing and artificial intelligence fields. In November last year, Moore Threads announced it has developed China’s first domestic full-fledged graphic processing unit (GPU) chip. Along with 5G communications, Wi-Fi 6, cloud computing, and chip technology, GPU is considered one of the main infrastructure technologies of the metaverse.

◼︎ In August 2021, ByteDance acquired Chinese VR hardware maker & software platform Pico for approximately $771 million to support its long-term investment in the VR ecosystem. By the end of Q1 2022, Pico is estimated to hold a 4.5% share of the global VR market, following Meta which is the dominant global player (90%). This year, Bytedance has set a higher sales target for Pico headsets to reach 1.6 million device output. To meet its VR industry goals, Bytedance is investing more into promotion and hiring more staff for Pico to catch up with or even surpass Meta’s Quest.

◼︎ In June 2022, ByteDance acquired PoliQ (波粒子), a team specialized in making virtual social platforms that allow users to interact with one another using their self-invented avatars in the virtual world. Jiesi Ma, the founder of PoliQ, is appointed to lead the VR Social department at ByteDance.

 
Research & Development

◼︎ To boost its entire VR ecosystem, Pico is engaging in more partnerships with Hollywood’s major film studios and leading streaming media companies in China (iQiyi, Youku, Tencent Video, Bilibili, and so on). In July 2022, Pico hosted Pico WangFeng@VR Music + Drifting Fantasy concert which leveraged 3D 8K VR Live Streaming technology to create a “magical” and immersive visual musical experience. By wearing Pico’s VR headsets, the audience can enjoy Wang’s performance from 5 different angles and as close as a meter away.

 

What’s Live?

 

Gaming

◼︎ On February 22, 2021, Bytedance released its game development and publishing brand Nuverse (朝夕光年). To date, Nuverse has launched several successful games through APAC and the western markets including “Burning Streetball” (热血街篮), “Houchi Shoujo” (放置少女), “Ragnarok X: Next Generation” (RO仙境传说:新世代的诞生), “Mobile Legends: Bang Bang”, and “Warhammer 40,000: Lost Crusade.”

◼︎ In April 2021, Bytedance put another US$15 million into Chinese Roblox competitor Reworld (代码乾坤), a platform for creating game worlds and playing games using the company’s own simulation engine.

 
Social Networking

◼︎ In September 2021, Bytedance launched its avatar app Pixsoul in Southeast Asian markets and Brazil. Users can create personalized avatars and use them to socialize.

◼︎ In January 2022, Bytedance launched a beta version of its virtual social app “Party Island” (派对岛) where users can make friends with people sharing similar interests and hang out with avatars in various virtual settings such as parks and movie theaters. However, the app was reportedly removed from app stores again and its date of relaunching is unknown.

 
Entertainment

◼︎ In September 2021, TikTok introduced its creator-led NFT collection titled “TikTok Top Moments” where TikTok will feature a selection of culturally-significant TikTok videos from some of the most beloved creators on the platform. Powered by Immutable X, users can ‘own’ a moment on TikTok that broke the internet and trade the TikTok Top Moments NFTs.

Li Weike, image via Pandaily.

◼︎ In January 2022, ByteDance bought a 20% stake in Hangzhou Li Weike Technology Co., Ltd. (Li Weike, 李未可). The company aspires to build China’s first AI+AR-powered glasses that connect users with the virtual idol Li Weike, a digital character built by the company to help users with various tasks and essentially provide users with social and emotional support.

 

By Jialing Xie and Manya Koetse

 

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