Photo: VCG/Getty Images
June 30, 2021
Greetings from your post-vacation host David Wertime. I'm joined by my amazing colleagues Shen Lu, Clara Wang and Theo Lebryk to bring you this week's newsletter.
In this week's Protocol | China: the Party comes for podcasting, SHEIN takes on ZARA, and the cryogenics company that will freeze you whether you want it or not.
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The Big Story
China's Communist Party turns 100
July 1 will mark a momentous day for the Communist Party: the 100th anniversary of its existence (technically the Party was founded a few days before July 1, but the CCP prefers a tidier date). Like its jittery imperial forebears, the CCP has always assigned momentous importance to anniversaries and sought to eliminate anything that could be construed as a negative portent — and these days, that requires a close look at social media.
Tightly-managed celebrations are underway for the ruling party's centennial, including a massive performance on June 28 at the Bird's Nest stadium in Beijing, which in 2008 hosted the opening ceremony for the Olympic Games.
- Even if you don't speak Chinese, the highlights here are worth watching — partly for the (to this writer, unnerving) level of scripted adulation shown to ruler Xi Jinping (start around 2:00), who attended the celebration along with other members of the Politburo Standing Committee.
But government celebration means one thing in China: the rest of the country is experiencing a sterilized internet. Censorship on the Chinese web has tightened this year, partly because of the big birthday. But online speech controls have grown even stricter in recent days.
- Reuters reported on Monday that merchants on marketplace Taobao had been banned from shipping flammable products to Beijing residents beginning in June.
- Censors working for ByteDance and Baidu said they had received new directives in recent months on removing negative commentary about the anniversary.
- "There's no room for error," one ByteDance worker told Reuters. (The company has about 20,000 content moderators, according to Protocol reporting, which a former Weibo censor told Shen Lu is the most among Chinese social media companies.)
Expect controls to loosen, just a tiny bit, after the 100th anniversary is over. If nothing goes wrong, that is.
Meanwhile, seemingly everybody is rapping about the 100th anniversary. And the results are … awkward.
On Protocol | China
The CCP is coming for podcasting. Not long ago, podcasting in China was a niche — and thus relatively unpoliced — enterprise for diverse, often unusual voices. But that's changing, with slickly-produced Party propaganda now popping up on places like audio content platform Xiaoyuzhou FM. Shen Lu has more.
On Our Radar
- China amps up its domestic semiconductor talent. The South China Morning Post reported Monday that several universities in China have established new semiconductor science and engineering programs in an effort to improve the country's domestic chip manufacturing capabilities. The programs are meant to help shore up local semiconductor manufacturing talent, which needs to reach a headcount of 745,000 by 2022, according to a white paper from the government-backed China Center for Information Industry Development.
- Xiaopeng gets a green light, while Geely hits the brakes. Chinese electric car manufacturer Xiaopeng received approval this week to list on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, less than a year after its IPO on the New York Stock Exchange. Meanwhile, Geely Automobile withdrew its application to list on China's tech-focused STAR market. Geely began as a more traditional automobile company, then expanded into a number of electric offerings that include Zeekr, a recently-launched premium brand. Yet electric models only account for 5.2% of Geely's sales, which led to scrutiny from regulators looking to tighten the requirements for listing on China's version of the NASDAQ.
- Kuaishou will end its "big/small week" policy. Chinese media reported last Thursday that short-video sensation Kuaishou's parent company has announced that it will cancel the big/small week policy — a six-day workweek followed by a more moderate schedule — starting Thursday, July 1. Going forward, employees will only work overtime as needed. Chinese tech giants are infamously known for overworking employees, but recently at least three companies, Kuaishou included, have reportedly considered easing or ending mandatory overtime policies.
One Company You Should Know
Yinfeng wants you to live for hundreds of years, whether you want to or not
Cryonics — the practice of having your whole body, or at least brain, posthumously frozen at subzero temperatures in the hope that future doctors can revive you — has been around in the U.S. for decades. But it's just getting started in China; The New York Times reported Saturday that the Shandong Yinfeng Life Science Research Institute was the first to perform a Chinese cryopreservation in 2017 (although the South China Morning Post puts the milestone in 2015). Yinfeng is already charging top-of-the-market prices, with 60 customers reportedly committing to be preserved. Though not a huge number, it could eventually win the global market, as the Times reports that Yinfeng is "the only cryonics group that is supported by government and embraced by mainstream researchers." Oh, and Yinfeng doesn't necessarily need prior consent from the person who's frozen, an ethical hurdle that gives competitors elsewhere pause.
China Goes Global
- SHEIN is coming for ZARA. According to a LatePost exclusive, Chinese fast-fashion brand SHEIN shipped over 1 million units every day in June, with an average unit price of $70. This means the Nanjing-based company's daily sales exceeded $70 million and are expected to exceed $2 billion for the month. That's a huge jump from the first quarter, when average monthly sales reached $1.2 billion. SHEIN set a goal earlier this year to surpass fast-fashion giant ZARA in sales within two years "to prove that online is doing better than offline," LatePost wrote, citing insider sources.
- Envision wants a piece of Europe's EV market. The Shanghai-based clean energy company will invest $2.4 billion to build an EV battery plant in France, Nikkei Asia reported Monday. The plant will supply Renault Group, and joins other Envision battery plants abroad in the U.K. and in Tennessee. CEO and founder Zhang Lei will reportedly meet with French President Emmanuel Macron next week.
- Meanwhile, Contemporary Amperex wants to take on the world. The Chinese EV battery manufacturer, also known as CATL (宁德时代), announced on Monday it has extended a supply deal with Tesla to 2025. Its share price had risen nearly 4% at Monday's close on the news. Following the Tesla deal, Chinese investment bank CICC raised CATL's earnings forecast and target share price by 9%, according to the Chinese financial newspaper The Securities Times. As demand rises, CICC expects CATL to reach a share of over 30% in the global EV battery-making market.
One More Thing
Chinese Gen Z-ers are slinging indecipherable internet slang
In the early aughts, Chinese millennials dominated their country's internet culture with their own unique language. But their reign is over, succeeded by Gen Z, or "post-2000s," referring to the year of their birth. Many non-Gen Z web users find themselves straining to decipher Gen-Z's "dark language" (暗黑话术). One characteristic of the new argot is the heavy use of abbreviations on top of abbreviations, using not just Pinyin (a way of Romanizing Chinese characters), but also English, Japanese and other languages. An explainer on digital news magazine Wainao deciphers some coded words. For example, bhs=not happy (不嗨森) , sk=Happy Birthday (生快), and ky=can't read the room (from the Japanese term kuuki ga yomenai).