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CX Tech is Caixin Global's real-time tech news portal, featuring 24-hour news, short-form analysis, and roundups from business and tech media in China.

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SOCIETY & CULTURE

By Yang Ge / Sep 14, 2020 05:57 PM / Society & Culture

Photo: IC

Photo: IC

Months before the global pandemic started in the central Chinese city of Wuhan at the end of last year, thousands of residents near a biopharmaceutical plant in the Northwestern city of Lanzhou were exposed to the highly contagious and hard-to-treat disease called brucellosis from contaminated exhaust at a biopharmaceutical factory.

Most of those tested positive for antibodies of the disease, which commonly occurs among sheep, cattle, goats, pigs and dogs and also is called Malta Fever or Mediterranean Fever. But few were ever formally diagnosed.

There are more than 10 residential communities with a combined population of more than 10,000 located within 1 kilometer of the plant, and Caixin learned that antibody tests later showed that more than 3,000 were infected.

One of the victims, 40-year-old shopkeeper Gao Hong, a pseudonym, was hit with crippling joint pain and persistent fever. It took nearly six months for doctors to diagnose her condition. By then, she had missed the window for the most effective treatment, leaving her with a hard-to-cure chronic condition that requires long-term medication.

The nightmare for Gao and others started at the Lanzhou Biopharmaceutical Plant, a unit of state-owned China Animal Husbandry Industry Co. Ltd. located on the northeastern periphery of Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu province. Local health authorities later determined the factory used expired sanitizers while producing Brucella vaccines between July 24 and Aug. 20, allowing bacteria to enter the factory’s exhaust and infect people nearby.

To read Caixin’s in-depth, investigative story on this quieter outbreak that has affected thousands of lives, click here.

Contact reporter Yang Ge (geyang@caixin.com)


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SOCIETY & CULTURE

By Huang Yuxin and Guo Yingzhe / Sep 14, 2020 02:28 PM / Society & Culture

Photo: IC

Photo: IC

An alleged theft from a WeChat wallet account points to possible corruption by police.

Luo Ximei, 55-year-old Jiangxi woman, detained by local police over an organized crime case, says more than 66,000 yuan ($9,653) was taken from her phone’s WeChat account while it should have been locked up in evidence. Mobile payments are a ubiquitous part of life in China, with people typically connect their bank cards to the apps to facilitate transfers to and from their bank accounts.

Caixin first revealed Luo’s case on Friday. Then on Saturday, the politics and legal affairs commission of Fengxin’s Communist Party committee released a statement (link in Chinese) saying a local policeman surnamed Chen had been arrested on suspicion of embezzlement from a WeChat account.

Luo’s daughter says the officer’s detention is not a satisfactory outcome, and that the incident should be investigated as a case of corruption, not merely theft.

Read the full story here.

Contact reporter Guo Yingzhe (yingzheguo@caixin.com) and editor Flynn Murphy (flynnmurphy@caixin.com)


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By Ding Yi / Sep 04, 2020 05:41 PM / Society & Culture

Four Chinese tech entrepreneurs have been ranked among the big names in Fortune’s 40 Under 40 list this year. The list honors the world’s most influential people under the age of 40 in various industries ranging from finance to entertainment.

On Thursday, the American magazine published the annual list’s 2020 version, which highlights a total of 200 people with 40 powerful people in five different categories – finance, technology, healthcare, government and politics, as well as media and entertainment – marking a break from the previous years when 40 heavyweights from all walks of life were named in a single list.

Fortune attributes the monumental change to 2020’s special situation where the deadly Covid-19 pandemic has significantly affected every aspect of people’s lives and the way global businesses operate.

This year, the Chinese people named in the list’s technology category include Su Hua, cofounder and CEO of short video app Kuaishou; Cindy Mi, cofounder and CEO of online education firm VIPKid; Liu Yachao, cofounder and COO of TAL Education Group; and Wu Tian, corporate vice president of internet giant Baidu.

The industries where the four Chinese tech executives work saw explosive growth during the coronavirus outbreak which led to the shutdowns of many schools and kept many people indoors.

In addition to the tech entrepreneurs Yang Bing of Ant Group’s OceanBase was listed in the finance category, while Yang Luhan of Qihan Biotech and Ma Chun’e of Shukun Technologies made it in the healthcare category.

Contact reporter Ding Yi (dingyi@caixin.com)

Related: Alibaba’s Zhang Yong Tops 2020 Forbes China Best CEOs List


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By Flynn Murphy / Aug 31, 2020 02:06 PM / Society & Culture

The apparent suicide of a young shopkeeper in Shenzhen has highlighted the lack of independent oversight of account suspensions on Tencent’s WeChat, the super-app which intertwines its 1.2 billion users’ personal, professional and financial worlds.

The man fell to his death from the roof of Tencent’s customer service center in Shenzhen, apparently after several attempts to have the suspension of his account reversed.

Further questions have been raised by a mystery compensation payment of 150,000 yuan to the man’s family, which his brother says came on condition they remain silent about the incident. He says he broke his silence after police returned the man’s phone, which contained a video in which he directed blame at Tencent. Caixin has not seen the video.

Tencent has denied making the payment.

“I would never have signed that form if I’d known about the video,” the man’s brother told Caixin. “I was told if we didn’t sign that consent form, we won’t get any compensation fee at all.”

Read the full story on Caixin Global.

Contact reporter Flynn Murphy (flynnmurphy@caixin.com)


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By Yilin Chen / Aug 10, 2020 06:12 PM / Society & Culture

What’s trending?

Universities across the country are receiving the go-ahead to reopen for the fall semester, with classes scheduled to return at different times in order to reduce traffic flow. However, the return to campus might not be as attractive as it sounds. Some institutions are contemplating strict public health precautions, such as barring all students from leaving campus for the duration of the semester.

What’s the story?

In March, the Ministry of Education issued a directive to universities that banned all on-campus students from leaving school grounds. Students who wish to leave campus for a compelling reason needed approval from university administrators. Five months later, as the domestic epidemic has been largely brought under control, it remains unclear what kinds of limitations students will face in the fall. Instructions for colleges reopening in Beijing only said that “the specifics of reopening will be determined by each school after careful research and submitted to authorities for review.”

However, many institutions have opted to err on the side of caution. For example, in an interview with China National Radio, an instructor at Anhui University said that students will be confined to the campus once they return for the fall semester. Meanwhile, at most universities across the nation, staff, their family members, and vendors who own shops on campus face few restrictions when entering and leaving campus.

Not only has the confinement rule angered students, it has also caused unintended consequences for the surrounding areas. In suburban college towns, many restaurants and shops that used to rely on student patrons are now out of business while they struggle to pay rent.

What are people saying online?

Under state media posts on Weibo about the grand reopening, panicking college students have demanded more details about whether or not they will be confined to campus. One user wrote, “Keeping everyone on campus is completely unnecessary, especially if the rule doesn’t apply to university staff and on-campus vendors. Does the virus only infect college students? Why can primary and middle schools operate as usual?” Others have called people’s attention to the immense pressure that confinement and online courses have placed on students’ mental health.

Many netizens have criticized colleges for not adopting a more nuanced policy. “Students are most likely to obey rules, but also most likely to be treated unfairly. The confinement rule does nothing apart from signaling that administrators are making some kind of effort.”

Contact editor Marcus Ryder (marcusryder@caixin.com)


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By Yilin Chen / Jun 22, 2020 06:03 PM / Society & Culture

What’s trending?

Huang Zheng, founder and CEO of China’s e-commerce upstart Pinduoduo, now has a net worth of $45.4 billion dollars, according to Forbes’ Real-Time Billionaires Rankings. That means he has surpassed Alibaba founder Jack Ma to become the second-richest person in China, closely trailing behind Pony Ma, founder and CEO of Tencent.

What’s the story?

In the short five years since its founding, Pinduoduo has overtaken rival JD.com to become China’s second largest online retailer after Alibaba. Thanks to increased user engagement as people have turned to online platforms amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the Nasdaq-listed company’s shares have doubled in value since the beginning of the year.

After rapid growth in the first quarter of 2020, Pinduoduo’s market value rose sharply in June, triggered by robust sales during the annual nationwide shopping promotion on June 18. During the shopping festival, the number of orders on Pinduoduo exceeded 1.1 billion. The company now boasts a market capitalization of over $104 billion with over 628 million active buyers. Huang owns a 45% stake in Pinduoduo and has quickly risen to the top ranks of China’s wealthiest people. However, the company is far from profitable, reporting a net loss of 4 billion yuan ($581.8 million) in the first quarter of 2020.

What are people saying online?

Huang’s staggering net-worth has triggered mixed feelings among internet users. One user dismissed Pinduoduo as an online platform that “mostly sells counterfeit products.” Several other users echoed this sentiment, saying they never expected the company to be so successful.

Other netizens are impressed by Huang’s wealth and optimistic about the company. “It’s only been five years since Pinduoduo was founded. The company has a bright future ahead,” one user wrote.

Contact editor Marcus Ryder (marcusryder@caixin.com)

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By Yilin Chen / Jun 19, 2020 05:13 PM / Society & Culture

What’s trending?

From June 11 to June 18, Beijing reported 158 cases of Covid-19. In response to the outbreak, the city has launched a mass testing campaign. People who are deemed to be high risk must receive mandatory tests at designated sites, usually converted parks and sports fields. Others can make reservations for voluntary tests at clinics across the city. Although testing efficiency is high, by international standards, the sheer number of tests needed has put a strain on the city’s testing system.

What’s the story?

Starting from June 14, Beijing committed itself to carrying out as many tests as possible. Several kinds of people are required to be tested at sites run by the government, including those who work in the healthcare and service industries, as well as those with direct links to Xinfadi Market, where the latest outbreak is believed to have begun. Other people who want to be tested can choose among 98 testing clinics and make reservations. Demand for voluntary tests is particularly high among people who want to leave Beijing for work or personal reasons as they need to provide proof of a negative test result up to 7 days in advance of being allowed to travel.

Beijing currently has the capacity to collect 400,000 samples and complete 90,000 tests per day. Due to the gap between sample collection and testing capacities, many people are experiencing delays in receiving their test results. With the surge in testing demand, numerous testing clinics have filled up all bookings for voluntary tests until the end of June, or in extreme cases, until September. Photos of testing sites show crowds of people lined up to get tested. The vast majority of them are wearing masks, but the size of the crowds sometimes makes strict social distancing difficult. Meanwhile, medical personnel must wear full personal protective equipment for hours at a time despite high temperatures.

What are people saying online?

Many people have expressed their approval of Beijing’s swift and widescale action, while acknowledging the mounting difficulties in receiving voluntary tests. One user wrote that she is still waiting for her test results, five days after being tested on June 14.

Others thank medical personnel for their dedication and hard work. They hope that the government can furnish the testing sites with better working environments because of the hot weather.

Contact editor Marcus Ryder (marcusryder@caixin.com)

Related: In Depth: Controlling Covid-19 May Become Ongoing Game of Whack-a-Mole


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By Yilin Chen / Jun 18, 2020 02:54 PM / Society & Culture

What’s trending?

Sina Weibo, China’s biggest social media site, reopened its trending topics list on Wednesday afternoon. The Cyberspace Administration of China had ordered Weibo to freeze the list for a week as punishment for Weibo “disturbing online order” and “posting illegal information in violation of regulations.”

What’s the story?

Weibo’s trending topics list is back after a week of suspension, fines, and internal review procedures. Web regulators said the punishments were related to Weibo’s violations in an incident involving a person surnamed Jiang, without providing further details. People suspected that they were referring to Weibo’s suppression of viral posts in April regarding an alleged affair of Jiang Fan, Alibaba’s e-commerce chief. Immediately after the feature’s reactivation, the most popular topics included the Covid-19 outbreak in Beijing and abroad, China-Indian border conflict, and China’s college entrance exam timeline this year.

Weibo launched its trending topics list in 2010, and since then, it has become a convenient tool for netizens to follow hot news stories and celebrity gossip. In concept, the list of hashtags is based on user behavior and updated every minute. However, it is no secret that people can buy their way onto the trending topics list. One of the top three spots, for example, costs about 50,000 yuan ($7,066). It is predicted that Weibo will be more careful in dealing with negative content and celebrity news from now on.

What are people saying online?

The hashtag “trending topics list is back” has received 690 million views on Weibo. People have expressed mixed feelings on the list’s return. Some say that they enjoyed reading directly from news providers and a break from the noise of celebrity gossip. “If trending topics depend on who paid more money, I’m fine without it,” one user wrote.

Meanwhile, others who rely heavily on the list to stay informed have enthusiastically welcomed its return and likened their joy to the feeling of reconnecting to WiFi.

Contact editor Marcus Ryder (marcusryder@caixin.com)

Related: Weibo Posts Stronger User Growth Even as Revenue Falls Amid Pandemic


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By Yilin Chen / Jun 17, 2020 04:56 PM / Society & Culture

What’s trending?

On June 4, Miao Kexin, a fifth-grader at Hebin Elementary School in Changzhou, killed herself shortly after attending a writing class. Almost two weeks later, the controversy is unabated as Miao’s family and many netizens mistrust the official investigation into the suicide and probe possible misconduct by the writing teacher.

What’s the story?

According to Miao’s family who watched the surveillance footage at her school, Miao ran out of the classroom looking distressed after her Chinese writing class. She then jumped to her death from the fourth floor of the school building. After interviewing Miao’s classmates and teachers, preliminary investigations found that the teacher of the writing class did not verbally or physically abuse Miao on the day of her death.

Miao’s parents have expressed their dissatisfaction with the preliminary investigation findings on Weibo and urged witnesses to step forward. Officials confirm that the teacher had previously slapped Miao in the face, and encouraged the parents to pay for extra lessons. The teacher ran private writing lessons for profit, a practice which is forbidden by the education authorities. The parents suspect that the teacher was especially harsh towards Miao because she would not attend the private lessons. Several of the teachers’ former students have come forward with testimonies of the teacher’s abuse of students.

Several widely circulated photos of Miao’s essays immediately before her death show large chunks of her writing crossed out without any reason or feedback. The essay was a reading response to an excerpt from one of China’s four classics, Journey to the West. Above a sentence where the girl wrote “we should not be fooled by hypocritical facades,” the teacher criticized Miao for lacking “positive energy.” Meanwhile, the teacher failed to notice a factual mistake that Miao made about the book’s author, raising doubts about the teacher’s qualifications.

What are people saying online?

Miao’s tragedy has sparked widespread outrage as people condemn the teacher for her alleged misconduct. One indignant user referred to the accident as “indirect murder,” and said that such harsh treatment of an innocent child will eventually cause irreversible harms.

At the same time, other netizens feel reluctant to blame the teacher for what they consider is the girl’s inability to withstand criticism.

Contact editor Marcus Ryder (marcusryder@caixin.com)

Related: Livestreamed Suicide Raises Painful Questions in China


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By Yilin Chen / Jun 12, 2020 01:13 PM / Society & Culture

What’s trending?

On Thursday evening, a Sina Weibo user accused an unidentified driver of live-streaming the sexual assault of a female passenger in Zhengzhou, Henan. The driver is said to be associated with Didi Chuxing, the Chinese ride-hailing giant. The Weibo user’s initial post has since received thousands of reposts and sparked widespread concern. Didi Chuxing quickly launched an investigation of the incident and notified the police.

What’s the story?

Using the hashtag “Didi driver live-streams sexual assault,” a Weibo user urged netizens to help her spread the details of an alleged sexual assault where the victim was supposedly drugged. According to an article anonymously posted on the GitHub online platform, cited as evidence by the Weibo user, a driver who claimed to be working for Didi flirted with a female passenger, stopped driving, drugged her using a spray, and proceeded to sexually assault her. He filmed the whole process and posted the footage on an underground live-streaming platform. The anonymous source wrote that thousands of viewers paid money to watch the video. While it remains unclear whether or not the driver is actually associated with Didi Chuxing, the company is closely cooperating with local police in their investigation.

Previous sexual misconduct incidents involving Didi drivers have already put Didi Chuxing under intense scrutiny. From 2014 to 2018, the media reported at least 50 cases of Didi-related sexual harassment and assault, including 2 murders and 19 rapes (Source: Southern Weekly).

What are people saying online?

Many people have questioned the veracity of the incident. Numerous medical professionals have commented that there is no known drug that can knock a person unconscious for 10 minutes with just a few sprays. They argue that the incident seems to have been staged and people should not jump to conclusions. The Weibo user who first exposed the story is now being criticized for hastily blaming Didi Chuxing before police have the chance to confirm the driver’s identity.

Others wrote that, regardless of Didi Chuxing’s involvement or not, the police should thoroughly investigate pornographic live-streaming platforms. “It’s disgusting that there are people who are willing to pay to watch live-streams like this,” one user wrote.

Contact editor Marcus Ryder (marcusryder@caixin.com)

Related: In Depth: China’s Didi Faces Reckoning


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By Ding Yi / May 19, 2020 12:48 PM / Society & Culture

Photo: IC

Photo: IC

Self-driving startup Pony.ai has nabbed licenses to test autonomous vehicles carrying passengers on Beijing’s roads in designated areas, a move that could pave the way for the broader commercialization of such cars.

According to a statement published Monday on the company’s public WeChat account, Pony.ai will mainly focus on testing their fleet of internet-based “robotaxis” on limited routes in the Chinese capital’s Haidian district and Yizhuang in the southeast of the city.

The “robotaxis” will be able to pick up passengers and drive on specified public roads, although a human will have to be present in the driver’s seat just in case of an emergency.

The issuance of the licenses to Pony.ai comes six months after Beijing gave the green light to road test autonomous vehicles carrying passengers.

The company, which is based in California and has research and development centers in Beijing and Guangzhou, claim that its five autonomous vehicles logged a total of 114,700 kilometers in test drives on specially approved roads in Beijing last year and importantly this did not involve passengers.

Pony.ai has taken a further step in making its robotaxi service available to the general public in the U.S. in February, when the company unveiled the PonyPilot service in Fremont, California, allowing local government employees to hail taxis equipped with the company’s own self-driving system using an specially designed app on fixed routes.

Contact reporter Ding Yi (yiding@caixin.com)

Related: China’s Pony.ai Among First to Launch Passenger-Carrying Robotaxi Service


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By Yang Ge / May 07, 2020 01:13 PM / Society & Culture

Less than two weeks after a major shakeup at the top of one of China’s leading online literature providers, the new management team is moving quickly to quiet cries of discontent among its top authors.

China Literature’s new top brass met with some of the company’s select writers on Wednesday to address their concerns on topics like copyright ownership and paid-versus-free business models. The new management team said discussions were still in progress for a free-read mechanism, but that the model for paid literature offerings would be consolidated and expanded in the future.

Authors were also told they would be able to decide which of their offerings would be free or paid. New CEO Cheng Wu and new President Hou Xiaonan also assured the ranks that inappropriate clauses in their current contracts would be amended and new contracts introduced in the near future.

In their defense, the new management pointed out that contracts at the heart of frayed relations have been in place since last September — well before the new team replaced China Literature’s founding team in a move announced on April 27. The new team came from the ranks of internet giant Tencent, which is China Literature’s biggest stakeholder with 57% ownership at the end of last year.

The management overhaul came as China Literature shifts from making money off subscriptions and advertising toward a business model that generates a growing portion of revenue from selling the rights to produce its platform’s content to movie and TV studios.

Contact reporter Yang Ge (geyang@caixin.com)

Related: China Literature Replaces Founding Managers With Team of Tencent Executives


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By Yang Ge / May 06, 2020 02:11 PM / Society & Culture

Photo: Visual China

Photo: Visual China

Millions of Chinese kids will have something to look forward to, even as their schools reopen, with word that Shanghai Disneyland will also reopen on May 11.

That’s the word contained in a Wednesday morning announcement from a company that likes to call its parks the “Happiest Place on Earth.” The Shanghai park has been closed for more than three months since China’s outbreak began to crest in late January. Some areas of the larger resort area previously began to reopen as the outbreak eased, but the main theme park has remained shut.

Disney emphasized it will continue to exercise caution to lower any risk of contagion. The number of visitors will be limited during the theme park’s initial reopening, and all tickets must be booked in advance.

The announcement was a rare bit of upbeat news as Disney announced the global pandemic cost it as much as $1.4 billion in its latest reporting quarter — $1 billion of that due to its shuttered theme parks. In addition to Shanghai, the company also operates parks in Hong Kong and Tokyo, as well as Paris and the U.S.

The park’s reopening also comes as many of China’s other major tourist attractions reopen following months of closure at the height of the country’s outbreak. Among those, the Forbidden City in Beijing, one of the nation’s top attractions, reopened its doors to visitors over the just-concluded five-day May Day holiday.

Contact reporter Yang Ge (geyang@caixin.com)

Related: Chinese Airlines to Carry Two Thirds Fewer Domestic Passengers this Labor Day


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By Bloomberg / Apr 23, 2020 11:10 AM / Society & Culture

Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

Mukesh Ambani is again Asia’s richest person after a deal with Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook Inc. sent his conglomerate’s stock surging.

Ambani’s fortune rose about $4.7 billion to $49.2 billion on Wednesday, after Reliance Industries Ltd. gained 10%. The jump put Ambani about $3.2 billion ahead of China’s Jack Ma, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. The ranking updates after the close of each trading day in the U.S.

Facebook Inc. will invest $5.7 billion in the U.S. social-networking giant’s biggest deal since the 2014 purchase of WhatsApp as it seeks a broader foothold in its biggest global market. The U.S. company will buy about 10% of Jio Platforms, which brings together digital apps and a wireless platform under one umbrella, the Mumbai-based company said in a statement Wednesday.

Before Wednesday, Ambani -- who owns the world’s largest oil refinery -- had declined by $14 billion on the index in 2020, the biggest dollar fall of anyone in Asia. Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s Ma, whose foundation this week donated 100 million masks to the World Health Organization to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, had lost almost $1 billion through Tuesday.

The partnership with Jio would allow Zuckerberg to step up his expansion in a country that is rapidly embracing online payment and e-commerce as more people get smartphones. Jio Infocomm quickly moved into a position of dominance by offering free plans and undercutting wireless market rivals.

With its half-billion internet users, the South Asian country is a key market for the world’s largest technology companies, including Amazon.com Inc., Apple Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google. In India, Facebook has about 250 million users, while WhatsApp has more than 400 million.

Related: Tech Entrepreneurs Dominate Latest Hurun Rich List


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By Ding Yi / Mar 24, 2020 12:37 PM / Society & Culture

Photo: Shen Fan/Caixinc

Photo: Shen Fan/Caixinc

Chinese internet behemoth Tencent is partnering with local disease control and prevention departments to launch a health tracking system tailored specifically to students preparing to return to school as education facilities across the country get ready to reopen for the first time in weeks.

Students can obtain a “return-to-school code” through a mini-program embedded in the multi-purpose app WeChat, allowing them to report body temperature and other health readings daily. The mini-program then gives them a color-based QR code on their smartphones that shows how healthy they are, Tencent said in a Friday statement.

The health information will be shared with WeChat Work, a business communication and office collaboration platform, which education officials and school teachers can then use to track the health status of their students, the statement said.

The return-to-school code resembles Tencent’s health code system, which was rolled out last month and allows users to obtain a log of their physical status by scanning QR codes embedded in WeChat. The service, which covers more than 300 Chinese cities and counties, has attracted 8 billion visits since early February, according to Tencent’s president Martin Lau. Alibaba’s Alipay also has a similar health code service.

The Chinese government ordered schools to shut at the end of January when the epidemic spread rapidly across the country. While some schools in less-affected provinces like Qinghai reopened to students in early March, big cities such as Beijing and Shanghai have yet to announce their schools’ reopening dates.

Contact reporter Ding Yi (yiding@caixin.com)

Related: Virus Outbreak Sparked WeChat Traffic Surge, Tencent President Says


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By Ding Yi / Mar 23, 2020 12:45 PM / Society & Culture

Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

Hundreds of Chinese cinemas have reopened as new coronavirus cases across the mainland edge closer to zero.

As of March 21, a total of 507 cinemas across China had reopened to moviegoers, representing 4.5% of the total cinemas operating in the country, according to statistics released by ticketing agency Maoyan. The reopened cinemas currently have a temporary plan of just screening previous box-office hits.

The initial movies chosen include the 2017 action film “Wolf Warrior 2”; the 2019 sci-fi title “The Wandering Earth”; “Wolf Totem,” a 2015 drama film based on a 2004 Chinese semi-autobiographical novel of the same name; “American Dreams in China,” a 2013 Chinese movie that was shown at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival; and “Capernaum,” a 2018 Lebanese drama film that won the Jury Prize at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival.

On March 21, some 29 reopened cinemas in Xinjiang sold 25,100 yuan ($3,523) worth of tickets, accounting for about 80% of the country’s total box office revenue that day. That was followed by Inner Mongolia with 2,746 yuan worth of ticket sales, Sichuan with 2,108 yuan, Qinghai with 938 yuan and Guangdong with 55 yuan, Maoyan said.

Other provinces where cinemas have reopened include Henan and Fujian, Maoyan said.

According to a survey of the general public by Maoyan, nearly 70% of respondents considered going to the cinema as their top choice for entertainment once the epidemic ends, while about 30% said that they would return to cinemas as soon as they restart businesses.

China has suspended cinema operations to avoid public gatherings since the end of January as part of nationwide efforts to contain the spread of the virus.

However, the shutdowns have helped create a new trend of watching films online. “Lost in Russia,” which was set for theatrical release on the first day of the Lunar New Year on Jan. 25, was instead streamed over ByteDance-owned platforms the same day and was made free to audiences, proving to be a big hit. The decision to premiere the film online drew criticism from Chinese movie companies, with some claiming that it harmed the Chinese cinema industry’s interests.

Contact reporter Ding Yi (yiding@caixin.com)

Related: Movies Premiere Online as Coronavirus Shuts Theaters


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By Isabelle Li and Ye Zhanqi / Mar 12, 2020 03:35 PM / Society & Culture

When human capacities fall short, can robots take the strain?

The Covid-19 outbreak has provided an unexpected chance to explore that question. Hundreds of hospitals and makeshift quarantine stations in Hubei, Guangdong and Beijing have deployed robots in various tasks — delivering meals and pills to isolated patients, testing their temperatures, disinfecting rooms, or even cooking dishes for medics after an exhausting shift.

Recent months have given the robotics industry and its latest technologies an unprecedented opportunity to showcase recent advances. As shortages of medical workers became apparent in certain virus-hit areas and direct human contact needed to be limited, machine intelligence filled in, taking over relatively fixed and repetitive tasks. The use of robots in these tasks also helped save protective gears.

Robots were not able to avoid quarantine issues completely however as robot makers found themselves constrained by local quarantine policies in many cities after they sent staffers over to hospitals to help plan how to best use the robots. Also there are issues around the factories producing the robots. Due to the virus they have experienced problems of resuming production capacity to meet demand due to difficulties in the workforce resumption, component supply, and logistics.

As China witnesses the epidemic waning at home but growing abroad, robotics companies realize that the new virus may create long term markets and have set their eyes on the opportunities created by the crisis for future business.

Read the in-depth story in full on Caixin Global later today.

Contact reporter Isabelle Li (liyi@caixi.com)


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By Ding Yi / Mar 09, 2020 03:36 PM / Society & Culture

Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

The founders of two of China’s biggest unicorns were among the world’s top three young billionaires in 2019, according to a report which measured the wealth of 53 billionaires aged 40 and under from nine countries.

Huang Zheng, the 40-year-old founder of e-commerce upstart Pinduoduo, grew his fortune by 20% to $18 billion in 2019, claiming the second spot on the list. Zhang Yiming, the 37-year-old founder of TikTok owner ByteDance, came in third with a net worth of $13.8 billion, though his wealth was down by 1% from the previous year, according to Hurun Global 40 & Under Self-Made Billionaires 2020, which was published Monday. The wealth calculations were as of Jan. 31.

However, Huang and Zhang lagged far behind Facebook’s 35-year-old Mark Zuckerberg, who took the crown with $84 billion, up $4 billion from a year ago, the report said.

Zhang Bangxin, 39, founder of New York-listed education service provider TAL, climbed five places to become the world’s sixth richest young entrepreneur with a net worth of $10.4 billion, as the Covid-19 outbreak drove demand for online education. Shenzhen-based commercial drone maker DJI’s 40-year-old founder, Wang Tao, ranked ninth with a fortune of $6.8 billion, according to the report.

The list saw18 new faces, eight of whom were from China including Kuaishou’s Cheng Yixiao, Meituan-Dianping’s Mu Rongjun and OKCoin’s Xu Mingxing. That was three times the number the United States had.

According to the report, the e-commerce industry produced the highest number with eight billionaires, followed by the social media sector with seven billionaires.

Overall, a total of 19 young Chinese billionaires made it onto the list, one less than the United States. Others were scattered across India, Australia, Singapore, Sweden, the United Arab Emirates, Canada and Russia.

Contact reporter Ding Yi (dingyi@caixin.com)

Related: China Has More Billionaires Than U.S. And India Combined: Hurun Report


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By Ding Yi / Feb 18, 2020 01:37 PM / Society & Culture

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Alibaba-owned payment platform Alipay will launch a national health code system this week to assess people’s physical status amid government calls for tech firms to contribute to the battle against the Covid-19 epidemic in China, the company said in a WeChat post.

The system was initially rolled out last week in Hangzhou, the capital of eastern China’s Zhejiang province, where residents are now asked to fill out an online form reporting their ID number, travel history and various health conditions before getting a color-based code.

People with a red code are subject to a 14-day quarantine and should provide regular check-in via DingTalk, a workplace chat app also developed by Alibaba, while those with a yellow code are quarantined for a week. A green code means people can move freely around the city.

Currently, Hangzhou residents need to have their health status scanned via a QR code when entering public places including residential communities, office buildings, supermarkets and travel checkpoints. As of Monday, Hangzhou has issued more than 7.25 million health codes including 6.7 million green codes.

Tencent has also developed a similar QR code tracking platform, which the tech giant said is currently being used in the southern city of Shenzhen and will soon be deployed in more cities in Guangdong province.

During a press conference last week, Chen Yueliang, an official with the Ministry of Civil Affairs, encouraged Chinese tech giants including Alibaba and Tencent to develop software to help contain the spread of the novel coronavirus within residential communities.

Contact reporter Ding Yi (yiding@caixin.com)

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By Dave Yin / Feb 08, 2020 03:40 AM / Society & Culture

The pangolin, a scaly mammalian anteater, is the latest animal to be identified as an intermediate host of the novel coronavirus that has sickened more than 31,000 people worldwide.

According to local media reports, an analysis of genome sequences of viruses isolated from pangolins were a 99% match with those of 2019-nCoV, as the coronavirus behind the epidemic is known. Pangolins are a trafficked, critically endangered species whose scales are believed by some to have medicinal properties.

Scientists at the South China Agricultural University in Guangzhou, Guangdong province in southern China, reported findings Friday from research conducted jointly with the People's Liberation Army Academy of Military Science in Beijing and the research department of the Guangdong Zoo.

“This has major significance for the prevention and control of the novel coronavirus,” South China Agricultural said in a statement, though it did not elaborate on the research.

While there is general consensus among scientists that the new strain of coronavirus spread from bats to another host before making the jump to humans, previous research pointing to snakes as the culprit has been disputed.

Contact reporter Dave Yin (davidyin@caixin.com)

Related: Scientists Dispute Whether Snakes Are Source of Coronavirus In Humans

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