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Top Chinese Apps of 2019

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Over the past weeks, What’s on Weibo has published a series of five articles listing the most popular Chinese apps within this period across various categories. Although these apps are mostly targeted at Chinese mobile users, some are also very useful for those studying Chinese.

Please see our lists of popular Chinese apps in the following articles:

  1. From Study Xi to Himalaya FM: Top 5 Popular Chinese Learning & Study Apps

  2. Online Doctors and Counting Steps: Top 5 Chinese Health & Fitness Apps

  3. China’s Top Mobile Gaming Apps

  4. Top 6 of China’s Popular News Apps

  5. Top 5 of China’s Most Popular Short Video and Live Streaming Apps

 

By  Gabi Verberg & Manya Koetse

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

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

Stories that are authored by the What's on Weibo Team are the stories that multiple authors contributed to. Please check the names at the end of the articles to see who the authors are.

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China Digital

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew Hailed as Asian “Solitary Hero” on Chinese Social Media

After the congressional hearing of the TikTok CEO, some called Shou Zi Chew “Mr. Perfect in the eye of the storm.”

Manya Koetse

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While there were enough people on Chinese social media swooning over celebrities this weekend during the Weibo Award Night, there were also many netizens admiring another person, namely Shou Zi Chew (周受资, Zhou Shouzi), the CEO of TikTok.

Earlier this week, Shou Zi Chew appeared before the House Energy and Commerce Committee in the United States, facing a four-and-a-half-hour hearing over data security and harmful content on the TikTok app.

The hearing took place in light of Washington’s increasing concerns over TikTok “as a threat to national and personal security,” with officials calling for a nationwide ban on the app’s U.S. operations – unless Chinese owners sell their stake in the social media platform (more here).

TikTok is a super popular short video app by Chinese company Bytedance, which also runs Douyin, the Chinese counterpart of the international Tiktok app. TikTok has over 150 million users in the U.S. alone.

Being grilled about concerns over China’s influence over the Beijing-based Bytedance and China’s access to American data, Chew emphasized that ByteDance is a private business and “not an agent of China or any other country.”

During the hearing, Chew faced various questions from officials. One clip that was shared a lot on Twitter showed Arizona Republican Congresswoman Debbie Lesko asking Shou Zi Chew:

– “Do you agree that the Chinese government has persecuted the Uyghur population?

“It’s deeply concerning to hear about all accounts of human rights abuse,” Shou answered: “My role here is to explain – ”

– “I think you’re being pretty evasive. It’s a pretty easy question. Do you agree that the Chinese government has persecuted the Uyghur population?

“Congresswoman, I’m here to describe TikTok, and what we do as a platform, and as a platform, we allow our users to freely express their views on this issue and any other issue that matters to them,” Shou replied.

– “Well, you didn’t answer the question, ” Lesko said while interrupting Shou.

Another moment that was widely shared was when Congressman Richard Hudson asked Shou Chew:

– “Does TikTok access the home WiFi network?

“Only if the user turns on the wifi,” Shou replied: “I’m sorry I may not understand the..”

– “So if I have TikTok on my phone, and my phone is on my home wifi, does TikTok access that network?“, Hudson asked.

“It will have to access the network to get connected to the internet, if that is your question.”

– “Is it possible then that it can access other devices on that home wifi network?” Hudson asked.

“Congressman, we do not do anything that is beyond any industry norms. I believe the answer to your question is no,” Chew replied.

On Chinese social media, the hearing received extensive discussion and analysis.

 
A “Collective Cursing Activity”
 

Chinese blogger Chairman Rabbit (兔主席), a conservative political commentator who often comments on US-related issues (read more), analyzed the hearing in a recent blog.

According to Chairman Rabbit, the hearing was a one-way conversation from the Congress side, and was more like a “collective ‘cursing’ activity” (“一场集体”骂娘”活动”) than dialogue, with the American officials not giving Shou the time to reply and basically – and rudely – answering their own questions.

The blogger also suggested that Chew was questioned as if he himself represented the Communist Party of China, even though he is Singaporean and the CEO of a private company. Regardless, the Americans seemed to take this time of questioning Shou as an opportunity to vent their anger at the Party and the Chinese government at large.

The main gist of Chairman Rabbit’s blog was shared by many others on social media, with some calling the hearing not much more intelligent than a “kindergarten fight” (“比幼儿园吵架高明不了多少”).

One meme making its rounds on Weibo and Wechat showed a photo of Apple CEO Tim Cook in China versus TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew in the U.S., suggesting that while the Chinese side treated an American tech giant CEO with warmth and kindness, the American side had treated a Chinese tech giant CEO with coldness and paranoia.

Political cartoon by Singaporean editorial cartoonist Heng shared on Weibo, also published on Twitter by Lianhe Zaobao.

Another image circulating on Weibo is a political cartoon by the Singaporean artist Heng that was also published on Twitter by Lianhe Zaobao, the largest Singaporean Chinese-language newspaper.

The image shows the TikTok CEO tied to a tree, and a pile of wood stacked around him. Three ‘executioners,’ including Uncle Sam, are about to burn Chew at the stake with the help of some “Anti-Chinese Sentiment” fuel.

 
Shou Zi Chew: Mr. Perfect in the Eye of the Storm
 

Meanwhile, Chew himself has become super popular on Chinese social media, including on Weibo, Douyin, and Xiaohongshu, where he has become idolized by some (“I won’t even compare you with the stars, you’re much better than the stars.”)

Some bloggers and commenters noted how Chew fits the supposed idea of a ‘perfect Asian’ by staying calm despite unreasonable allegations and emphasizing business interests over culture. One Weibo user (@老叔开画) called Shou Zi Chew “Mr. Perfect in the eye of the storm.”

Mostly, people admire how he stood up against Congress despite being “bullied” by American officials and “defended” China’s interests although he is Singaporean himself. Some called him a “solitary hero” (“孤胆英雄”).

Popular image shared on Weibo shows a Shou where he is today versus how his journey began as a young student.

Then there are those who praise the Singaporean businessman and entrepreneur for his career journey and his work ethic. The now 40-year-old studied in London and graduated from Harvard, he previously worked at Goldman Sachs and Xiaomi, and became the CEO of TikTok at 38 years old.

On the Xiaohongshu app, Chew is mentioned as a source of inspiration on how to remain calm and professional when facing a difficult situation.

Lastly, many fans just think Chew is “charming” and “handsome” – and they focus on details of Chew and his life that have nothing to do with the contents of the hearing. Some Weibo users pointed out how he came to his hearing well-prepared with four bottles of water, others discuss his personal life, including his wife Vivian Kao.

 
From Weibo to TikTok: Criticism from Two Sides
 

Besides receiving support from Chinese social media users, Chew’s handling of the hearing was also praised on the TikTok app by international users, including many Americans.

One popular Chew quote during the U.S. congressional hearing that came up on TikTok is how Chew said:

I don’t think the [Chinese] ownership is the issue here, with a lot of respect, American social companies do not have a good track record when it comes to data security and privacy, just look at Facebook and Cambridge Analytica – and that’s just one example.”

Another popular quote was Chew defending TikTok, saying:

There are more than 150 million Americans who love our platform, and we know we have a responsibility to protect them, which I’m making the following commitments to you and all our users. Number one: we will keep safety, particularly for teenagers, as a top priority for us. Number two: we will firewall protect the U.S. data from unwanted foreign access. Number three: TikTok will remain a place for free expression and will not be manipulated by any government. And fourth, we will be transparent and we will give access to third-party independent monitors to remain accountable for our commitments.”

Many TikTok users are not just fond of the app – and do not want it to get banned, – they also criticize the U.S. officials for how they handled the hearing, with their lack of technological knowledge and unfamiliarity with the TikTok app shining through in their questions.

Some TikTok creators suggested that the officials missed an opportunity to gain actual knowledge of TikTok’s data handling, and should have asked things like (suggested by TikTok user @sharonsaysso):
– “Are you collecting any passive data from the back end of the phones, even if the person isn’t logged in?”
– “How long are you storing this data for?”
– “What data is being passed to advertisers?”
– “If a user would like to have their data expunged from your systems, is there a process in place with them to easily and fairly quickly have that done?”
– “Have you ever willingly or unwillingly relinquished any of your user data to the government of China or any other country?”
– “Please explain in detail what elements your algorithm considers in its optimization process?”

After American media outlet NBC reported about how TikTok users declared their support for the platform and its CEO after the hearing, screenshots of the article were also shared on Chinese social media.

Chinese political commentator Hu Xijin (@胡锡进) wrote a lengthy post about the TikTok hearing on Weibo, and he also criticized how Chew was facing questions that were already framed and filled with “imaginary accusations” against China.

Hu Xijin and others do not necessarily hail Chew as a “hero,” but instead point out the arrogance and biased approach taken by U.S. official during the hearing.

“They give a dog a bad name and hang him,” some say, with others agreeing that this matter is no longer about the actual facts regarding TikTok’s operations, but about how American authorities have already set their agenda on how TikTok content is problematic and how the app is controlled by Beijing and cannot guarantee the security of U.S. users’ data and privacy.

Some commenters are already predicting the outcome of this matter: “You should prepare for the possibility of being banned or forced to sell.”

Watch a video of the hearing on YouTube here.

 
By Manya Koetse 

With contributions by Miranda Barnes and Zilan Qian

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

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

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

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China Tech

ChatGPT in China: Online Discussions, Concerns, and China’s ChatGPT-Style Bots

Why was a ChatGPT-like platform not first launched in China? As ChatGPT is all the talk, so is the discussion about China catching up.

Manya Koetse

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As OpenAI’s AI chatbot ChatGPT has become one of the fastest-growing platforms ever, it is making headlines every day these days. It is also a hot topic on Chinese social media, where many wonder why ChatGPT was not developed in China and what the future holds for similar platforms in the mainland.

As ChatGPT has been making headlines internationally, the AI software has also become a popular topic on Chinese social media.

ChatGPT is software that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to write pieces of text. It was launched by OpenAI, an American AI lab founded in 2015, and within two months after its Nov. 30 2022 release, ChatGPT reached 100 million active users.

As explained by ChatGPT itself, it has been designed to generate human-like responses to a wide range of questions and topics, based on the text data it was trained on.

ChatGPT is built using the GPT-3 architecture, which stands for ‘Generative Pretrained Transformer 3.’ This architecture allows ChatGPT to generate coherent and contextually relevant responses to a wide range of questions and prompts in many different languages, making it a powerful tool for various applications, including customer service or content creation.

Even if you have not yet visited the ChatGPT chatbot site, you might have come across the technology underlying ChatGPT, which is already used in chatbots for customer service purposes by companies such as Meta, Canva, and Shopify.

 
ChatGPT on Chinese Social Media
 

Ever since China’s Spring Festival, ChatGPT has been a hot topic on Chinese social media, with many people interacting with the chatbot and sharing AI-generated texts online, varying from cute poems about Chinese cities to helpful breakfast suggestions.

On Weibo, various hashtags related to ChatGPT made it to the top trending lists recently. Some online discussions relate to what extent applications such as ChatGPT might make certain professions obsolete, or to how to address the problem of students using AI chatbots to make their homework or write essays.

There are also discussions about the privacy- and copyright problems related to the technology. The American linguist and renowned intellectual Noam Chomsky recently said that “ChatGPT basically is high-tech plagiarism,” a topic that also received a lot of attention on Weibo, where a related hashtag received 56 million views (#语言学家称ChatGPT本质是剽窃#).

The hashtag “Will ChatGPT Replace Teachers?” (#教师会被ChatGPT取代吗#) went trending on Weibo on Feb. 11, 2023. Previously, other related hashtags also questioned if programmers might lose their job because of the application.

CCTV also published about ChatGPT on Feb. 11, writing about “Ten Professions That Could be Replaced by ChatGPT” (#可能被ChatGPT取代的10大职业#), suggesting that jobs from various industries, including customer service, programming, media, education, market research, finance, etc., involve daily tasks that could also be executed by AI chatbots.

The hashtag, which received over 120 million views on Weibo, sparked conversations. Although many commenters said that some jobs, including teaching, would never be able to be replaced by artificial intelligence, some also predicted that these kinds of technologies could definitely make some jobs obsolete.

“We all thought that AI would first replace those working in physical labor instead of taking over mental capacity tasks,” one commenter wrote, with another replying: “Construction workers will still have a steady job.”

“Relax, such a chatbot can only do simple tasks, but humans have a different way of thinking from machines,” another person wrote: “Professions such as teachers or programmers need innovative ways of thinking that AI doesn’t have.”

Besides these topics, there are also Chinese social media discussions about why China – as a global AI leader – was not the first to launch such a product. Then there are those discussions about the specific difficulties surrounding the development of such a chatbot in the Chinese online environment.

 
Why is China not the First to Launch a ChatGPT-like Product?
 

The question “Why was ChatGPT not made in China?” is one that is frequently asked on Chinese social media these days, and various experts and bloggers come up with different answers.

◼︎ Chinese tech companies focus on fast applications instead of lengthy research and development

In a recent video, the Peking University Sociology Professor Jiang Ruxiang (姜汝祥) tried to answer this question: “Why is this kind of breakthrough, advanced technology not made in China?”

According to Jiang, the reason that ChatGPT is not ‘made in China’ has to do with the whole structure of science and technology in the mainland and the primary area of focus of China’s major tech startups.

Jiang shows a pyramid which, at the basic level, has ‘the foundation of science and technology’; the middle level is ‘applied science and technology,’ and the top layer is the ‘most advanced science and technology.’

Jiang argues that Chinese tech companies are most active at the middle level. They are primarily interested in fast application of science and technology as this gives them the opportunity to become profitable within a relatively short time.

Jiang suggests that it takes most advanced technology companies years of investing before ever becoming profitable. As an example, he mentions the big chipmaker ASML, as it also took the Dutch company many years of heavily investing in research and development before finally making money.

At the same time, some Chinese tech companies, such as Xiaomi, managed to skyrocket their income within a relatively short time after starting their business. The research (first layer) and advanced tech (top layer) that is needed in order for these Chinese companies to launch their platforms and products do not necessarily come from China; they can be imported, adjusted, and optimized.

According to Jiang, Chinese companies should do more to focus on the basic and top level of the science and technology pyramid. By investing in advanced, specific technology areas and deep research, China’s science and tech development would have more long-term vision, knowledge intensity, and strength. Jiang says that the Dutch company Philips, for example, invested in the chipmaker business for years without making money. He also adds that ChatGPT development was made possible through the investments of, among others, Elon Musk and Microsoft.

◼︎ Language Model Training is more difficult in the Chinese language

Other experts claim that making a Chinese ChatGPT is more difficult due to the nature of the Chinese language. The less complex a language is, the easier it is for AI models to learn the rules.

Ding Wensuan (丁文璿), Professor of Artificial Intelligence and Business Analytics at Emlyon Business School, recently told Phoenix News reporters that Chinese AI tech programs are already very strong, but that language model training is somewhat harder due to the rich and complex nature of Chinese language.

ChatGPT does understand and generate text in many different languages, including Chinese, although some Chinese users suggest it indeed fails to capture nuances, such as when telling jokes in Chinese.

User asks ChatGPT in Chinese to tell a joke, and the app generates two corny jokes that do not seem to translate well about why a mummy doesn’t wear clothes (should be “because it’s all wrapped up” but translated is more like “stripped naked”) and about why birds don’t sing ‘Happy Birthday’ (should be because they already have their own melody, but this says because they were taught to ‘tweet tweet’).

◼︎ Censorship and (politically) sensitive words

Many bloggers and commenters think that the development of ChatGPT-like platforms is more difficult in China due to existing (political) sensitivities and the Chinese online environment, which is closely monitored and subjected to censorship.

When it comes to history, (geo)politics, current events, etc., ChatGPT not only generates certain answers that would otherwise be censored on the Chinese internet, but it also is accused of holding certain biases or double standards in how it handles requests.

“Considering the original principle of ChatGPT, I think it’s useless to compete with products such as ChatGPT in a place that has sensitive words everywhere,” one commenter writes, and others also echoed this view: “It is impossible for a Chinese version of ChatGPT to come out, too many words are sensitive.”

The well-known Chinese political commentator Hu Xijin (胡锡进) was happy to learn about some supposed positive bias on the platform: when one Chinese ChatGPT user asked the chatbox to write a text about him, it turned out to praise Hu, who is also known as outspoken and controversial.

An English poem about the former Global Times editor-in-chief generated by ChatGPT also contained the following:

He’s a voice for China’s vision,
In a world that’s often torn,
With a mission to inform and guide,
And to keep his readers warm.

Through his words and his leadership,
Hu Xijin has made a name,
And his impact on the world,
Is one that will surely remain
.”

Hu Xijin jokingly wrote: “Some domestic platforms are also working on similar artificial intelligence programs, so let’s hope they’ll all stick to this standard when it’s about me.”

 
China’s ChatGPT-Style Bots
 

As reported by Reuters, OpenAI or ChatGPT itself is not blocked by Chinese authorities, but OpenAI does not allow users in mainland China, Hong Kong, Iran, Russia, and parts of Africa to sign up.

Nevertheless, people find ways to register. Until recently, there were many shops on the e-commerce platform Taobao selling Chat GPT accounts. On Feb. 9, 2023, various accounts reported that the ChatGPT register services were censored on Taobao, and that affiliated services were also no longer available on WeChat (#淘宝已屏蔽ChatGPT关键词#).

Onlnie services to register for ChatGPT

Some commenters predict that there are no chances of survival for ChatGPT in China.

At the same time, while ChatGPT is receiving so much attention, Chinese tech giants announced their plans on developing similar AI platforms this week.

Baidu announced it plans to launch an AI chatbot called ErnieBot following testing in March (#百度类chatgpt产品名为erniebot#).

Tencent also announced their chatbot-related research is also “advancing” (#腾讯正有序推进ChatGPT方向的研究#).

Sources at Alibaba also said the company is already developing ChatGPT-like chatbots which are already being tested (#阿里类chatgpt产品正在内测#).

Chinese e-commerce company JD.com also said it would launch a similar product titled ChatJD (#京东正式推出产业版chatgpt#).

Chinese media outlet Caijing published an article about ChatGPT on Feb. 12, 2023, titled “Is the Chinese Version of ChatGPT Coming Soon?” (中国版ChatGPT快来了吗), in which it suggested that although China currently does not have an application that is comparable to ChatGPT yet, it will not take long for Chinese tech companies to catch up with OpenAI since China already has all the ingredients, including vast amounts of data, to create such a platform.

The article also argues that China should learn from ChatGPT’s success and to use its weaknesses as an advantage for its own chatbots.

“We can still catch up,” some commenters write. Although others agree, they also think that China’s online environment needs to be further liberalized in order for such AI platforms to flourish.

One blogger indicates that these kind of AI language models are already difficult enough to develop, let alone if they also have to avoid sensitive words or take certain censorship policies into account: “Of course we should not let AI talk nonsense, but it should be able to talk relatively neutral and objectively. In the end, the most important thing is whether or not they have the courage and insight to let go of the control of written language.”

By Manya Koetse 


 

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Part of featured image [screen] by Jonathan Kemper on Unsplash

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