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Protocol | China
The people, power and politics of Chinese tech, every Wednesday.
Photo: 东旭 王/Unsplash

Can Chinese social media juice falling birthrates?

A baby in the Asian Games Village areas of Hangzhou, China.

Greetings. China's Big Fat Tech Crackdown continues unabated, with Bloomberg reporting that $823 billion in market cap has vaporized from Chinese tech firms since a February market peak, with no end in sight to Beijing's hyperactive regulatory posture. Increasingly, understanding tech means understanding what motivates opaque, powerful organizations like the country's Cybersecurity Administration — and reading the tea leaves to gauge where they'll train their fire next.

In this week's Protocol | China: nationalist Red Vs go after LGBTQ+ groups, Huawei pays cash for young talent, and a surprisingly beautiful Bitcoin pic.

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The Big Story

Can social media juice birthrates?

Beijing's effort to return the country to its patriarchal, male-dominated past is a social media-driven enterprise, with repeated efforts to shame and silence the online attempts of women and minorities like LGBTQ+ youth calling for greater freedoms.

  • Women have been the favored target for online nationalists, who have engineered shutdowns of women's groups and made once-inclusive(ish) platforms like Bilibili increasingly hostile to women.
  • Now it's LGBTQ+ groups in the sights of nationalist influencers, known as Red Vs. Protocol's Shen Lu reported on Tuesday that Tencent-owned WeChat shuttered without warning the accounts of over a dozen LGBTQ+ student groups — with no explanation so far from Tencent or Chinese authorities.

The big question is: Why attack diversity? An administration laser-focused on economic growth would presumably want to tap into the productive capacities of all of its people, rather than pushing large groups into their homes or (metaphorically) their closets.

  • Some women have been vocal about the need for gender equality. It's even part of the Communist Party's original pledge to smash pre-CCP, "feudal" ways of thinking and achieve gender equality for women who, as Mao Zedong famously said, "hold up half the sky."

One reason: politics. A lot of seemingly self-defeating moves from the CCP (including its "Wolf Warrior"-style "diplomacy") are about playing to the CCP's base: largely male and increasingly strident in their beliefs about how China should be run (conservatively) and how it should comport itself abroad (aggressively).

Another reason: demographics. As a result of a draconian, decades-long "one child" policy, China is staring at a massive demographic cliff. The base case shows population loss for decades with a ballooning elderly population and a sharp drop in the ranks of the working aged, which suggests China will have a significantly harder time achieving global economic primacy than more optimistic scenarios would indicate.

  • China recently lifted its per-family limit on births (again) from two children to three children per household. But it's a whole lot harder to force people to have children than to stop them from having children. Even the CCP at its most authoritarian hasn't figured out how to turn a three-child maximum into a three-child mandate.
  • If China wants to make having children more attractive, it probably needs to do something about the antiquated "Hukou" system, which ties children to their hometowns of birth and denies them certain benefits if they move elsewhere. But reforms like this, long promised, have stalled, and they involve contending with entrenched interest groups — like middle-class parents who purchased a home in a desirable school district, and don't want new students flooding in.

What's next? Expect more social media crackdowns on more minority groups. The CCP has chosen its direction, and the base likes it.

On Protocol | China

  • China's nationalists start a "delete DiDi" campaign. It's not just minority groups in the sights of angry online influencers. After its U.S. IPO, voices on WeChat and Weibo are calling the company's executives "Han traitors" and "capitalist running dogs" for allegedly handing troves of sensitive user and geographic information to U.S. authorities in exchange for a green light to list on the NYSE. There's no evidence of that, but that hasn't quieted the outrage. Shen Lu has more.
  • The video-sharing platform Bilibili went down. The website and app appeared to be inaccessible as of Tuesday night Asia Time. In the U.S., Bilibili's home page displays as normal, but once clicking on a specific link, a "401 Not Found" message appeared. In a post on Weibo, Bilibili traced the inaccessibility to a malfunction in part of its server room equipment.

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Big Brother Beijing

  • Beijing revised its cybersecurity review rules. On July 10 — following the DiDi IPO debacle — China's increasingly muscular Cyberspace Administration released a draft revision to the Cybersecurity Review Measures, which the CAC had cited when it launched an investigation into DiDi's data infrastructure. One major revision: the addition of a new article that mandates "critical information infrastructure operators holding the personal information of more than 1 million users and newly listing on foreign markets must report for cybersecurity review with the Cybersecurity Review Office." Check out this translation by Stanford University's DigiChina project to see what else has been deleted and added.
  • More Chinese tech companies are shelving U.S. IPO plans. We told you last week that the bloom is off the rose for stateside IPOs for Chinese companies in the aftermath of DiDi's messy NYSE offering. It seems the news has indeed rattled other Chinese tech companies. The Financial Times reported on July 8 that Chinese audio content platform Ximalaya had scuttled its IPO in favor of a Hong Kong listing "after communication with the relevant regulators." Keep, a popular fitness app, and LinkDoc Technology, a medical data solutions provider, also shelved U.S. IPO plans last week, according to the Financial Times. And ByteDance looks increasingly likely to stay private after heeding warnings from regulators months ago not to push ahead with a public listing in the U.S. or Hong Kong.

Straight From China's Web

  • Huawei is betting big on young talent. As part of its "Gifted and Talented Youth Program," it recently recruited two graduates from Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan. Past recruits have been offered salaries as high as $311,000. Huawei initiated the program in 2019 after the company was put on the U.S. government's Entity List, with CEO Ren Zhengfei saying Huawei planned to recruit gifted youth from around the world with expertise in areas like computing, physics and semiconductor chips.
  • China claims to have the world's largest 5G network — by far. The 2021 China Internet Conference kicked off on Tuesday. Liu Liehong, vice minister of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, announced at the gathering that China has built 916,000 5G base stations, accounting for 70% of the world total, and the number of 5G-connected devices in China has exceeded 365 million, accounting for 80% of the world total, according to People's Daily, a state mouthpiece.

On Our Radar

ByteDance workers get a modicum of work-life balance. TikTok's parent company last week internally announced that starting Aug. 1, employees will no longer have to work Sundays. The company will also end its "Big/Small Week" overtime policy, which had required workers to work six days in one week, followed by another more moderate week. ByteDance joins Kuaishou in the growing ranks of Chinese tech companies to renounce overtime policies.

One More Thing

A Bitcoin pic worthy of a Pulitzer. Ding Gang, a photographer for Chinese independent media outlet Caixin, snapped this pic of a Tibetan woman in Sichuan gathering power supplies sent in from Xinjiang, which has banned Bitcoin mining. The tangled wires appear to form a floral bouquet, and the image has captivated China-watchers on Twitter. See the image here.

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