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Modern technologies enriching traditional Spring Festival customs

Robotic window cleaners

Modern technologies have enriched traditional Spring Festival customs, and Chinese culture has also influenced the world with its unique charm during the Lunar New Year, according to a report recently issued by Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba.

Thanks to e-commerce that brings countries closer, the dinner tables of the Chinese have been packed with Chilean king crabs, Boston lobsters, and orange roughies from New Zealand during the Spring Festival.

The sales of aquatic products on Alibaba’s online platform Tmall surged by nearly 300% during the 7-day holiday. In addition, the imports of Chilean cherries were 5 times of those from a year ago.

Artificial intelligence was another highlight during the 2018 Chinese New Year. The sales of cooking robots, robotic window cleaners, dish-washing machines and steam mops respectively increased by 145%, 169%, 188% and 320% year on year on Tmall.

The consumption of Chinese nowadays is no longer focused on basic needs; it shows the pursuit of a better life.

Even the fourth- and fifth-tier cities, as well as the rural regions have unexpectedly shown their interests in smart home appliances. Smart speakers, drones, and intelligent toilets have all been well accepted by modern Chinese farmers, according to the report.

Chinese culture is also having a bigger influence over the world. For instance, the tradition of hanging couplets has become a common practice for global merchants during the Spring Festival.

China doubles basic science research budget in 5 years

China doubled its funding for basic science research over the past 5 years, from 41.1 billion RMB ($6.5 billion) in 2011 to 82 billion RMB in 2016, said Zhang Xiaoyuan, director general of the Department of Resource Allocation and Management of China’s Ministry of Science and Technology, on Feb. 11.

Zhang made the remarks at a press conference held by the State Council Information Office.

The Chinese government attaches high importance to basic science research, Zhang introduced, adding that the financial input in this area experienced a drastic increase in recent years.

According to Zhang, governmental funding accounted for over 90% of China’s basic science research. The figure is normally around 50% in developed countries.

Zhang pointed out that China will further encourage the participation of local governments and businesses in the implementation of major projects on basic science research and explore means of charity and donation.

China tops world in smart city construction

China tops the world in smart city construction, said multinational professional services provider Deloitte in a report issued on Monday.

According to the report, China is currently building 500 smart cities, half of the world’s total amount.

“China has become one of the most active countries in smart city-building, and smart city construction has been made into a national strategy,” said Clare Ma, Public Sector Leader of Deloitte China.

Evaluating 25 key cities in China, Deloitte concluded that most of them are developing well, but there’s still room for improvement. Apart from the well-built infrastructure, the country still has to enhance innovation and strategic planning, Deloitte added.

China tops world in growth of mobile phone shipments

China topped the world in terms of growth of mobile phone shipments, despite the first shrink of the domestic market in nine years that happened in the fourth quarter of 2017, said a report recently issued by market research firm Counterpoint Research.

The report attributed the growth to the expanding business of Chinese phone manufacturers in India, Southeast Asia, and Europe, which balanced the sluggish domestic sales.

According to analyst Shobhit Srivastava, the fall of shipments in China and Europe impacted the global smartphone market, which resulted in an unprecedented 5% slip of the global shipments.

Thanks to the strong momentum in the first half of 2017 and the prosperous overseas market, China’s largest smartphone maker, Huawei, shipped 10% more units over the last year.

However, the shipments of the company fell by 9% in the fourth quarter because of its unsatisfying performance in Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa.

Another Chinese brand, Xiaomi, experienced a reviving year due to its rapid development in the Indian market. Surpassing Samsung, it became the largest phone maker in India.

The report further pointed out that Huawei, Xiaomi, together with other two Chinese brands, VIVO and OPPO, were still the fastest-growing brands.

Reform and opening-up a consensus in China despite occasional extreme views

“Communists can sum up their theory in one sentence: Eliminate private ownership.” When Zhou Xincheng, a professor of Marxism at Renming University of China, emphasized this in his recent article in Qizhi, a Party theoretical journal, it immediately attracted attention and controversy.

Giving Qizhi’s background and affiliation with the Party and the timing of its publication – right before the country prepares to celebrate the 40th anniversary of its reform and opening-up – many are concerned that Zhou’s article might signal regression.

Some private entrepreneurs are now “extremely worried” and think this article may be a tip-off; “they feel a strong sense of uncertainty,” according to a follow-up article in news outlet San Tiao.

“Entrepreneurs are not the only group that felt a chill reading Zhou’s article. Ordinary people who own private property through their own hard work can’t stop worrying about ‘eliminating private ownership,'” read the article.

Su Wei, a professor at the Party School of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Chongqing Municipal Committee, told the Global Times that people’s concerns over Zhou’s article is “unnecessary” and that China’s leadership will continue to deepen reform for people’s welfare.

“Despite some leftist groups and opposition among certain interest groups, looking at the bigger picture, reform is supported by most Chinese people,” he said.

Anti-reform forces

China is now the world’s second-largest economy as a result of rapid development brought about by its reform and opening-up.

Starting from 1978, China began to reform the economic system by relaxing State control and allowing non-State ownership and market competition, and in the meantime opened up the economy to the outside world.

And yet, despite the outstanding achievements made over the past four decades, many “leftists,” some quite extreme, continue to argue that China’s reform and opening-up has ushered in more problems than benefits.

Xia, 42, who works in a public institution in Hubei Province, stressed to the Global Times that the policy has caused many social problems, including an extreme disparity between rich and poor, as well as soaring housing prices and wide-scale pollution.

“The appearance of billionaires shows that China’s reform is on the wrong track,” he added, explaining that while Chinese people have enjoyed materialism, better housing and an abundance of food, these aren’t “real benefits.”

“They are suffering from spiritual void. Many Chinese are now behaving so stupidly that they even travel to Japan. They treat our enemies as friends. Their spiritual status makes me anxious,” he said. “The happiness we obtain from materialism won’t last long.”

In his opinion, Xia believes that the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), considered by the CPC to be China’s decade of political chaos, was in fact a time during which society was “healthy and positive.”

“Now the money goes to a few private people or foreigners’ pockets while our local governments are debt-ridden,” he said.

A search on leftist websites including Utopia, a famous leftist and Maoist website, reveals that many share the same thoughts as Xia. On popular question-and-answer website Zhihu, some netizens linked anti-reform and opening-up forces directly to Maoists.

Xia said that the younger generations of Chinese are now too selfish and only care about material pleasures while totally blind to the country’s true problems.

“Many elderly people are finally waking up. But among the post-1990s generation, they’re too lame to notice the problems in reform and opening-up and I feel sad for them,” he said.

Su noted that extreme rightist also do not quite approve of the current reform, as what they advocate is “absolute liberalization” and they feel that “currently, there is no reform in China.”

According to Su, many laid-off State-owned enterprise (SOE) workers are unsatisfied with the reform and opening-up policy. These workers once enjoyed stable salaries and high social status. After the reform, however, life has been harder for them.

Now, new obstacles are appearing, including the rise of “interest groups” in different regions and within the Party itself.

“Some government officials collude with businesspeople to snatch up interests and they become an independent kingdom,” Su said, adding that the reform is in a “deep water area.”

Some public servants and officials have also become resistant forces in the reform, according to Su.

Many current policies, including retirement salaries and health insurances, are more in favor of people working in the government than those working for companies. Therefore, they are unwilling to push the reform forward, he said.

Led by the Party

A key point of Zhou’s article is that he defends SOEs, which he said are representative of public ownership and the essence of socialism.

He slammed officials who said it is better to only let private enterprises compete in the market and harshly criticized experts who speak out for private economy.

Following the central government’s call, a slew of SOEs are now speeding up mixed-ownership reform and ushering in private investment in a bid to improve competitiveness and let market forces play a greater role.

Su said that this mixed-ownership reform represents socialism with Chinese characteristics and that ushering in private capital won’t damage the essence of SOEs. “Even when ushering in private investments, they are still builders of socialism with Chinese characteristics. They’re still led by the Party,” he said.

According to the National Development and Reform Commission, important sectors in the mixed-ownership reform include power, telecommunications, petroleum, natural gas, civil aviation, the military and others.

The debate over capitalism and socialism in regards to introducing private and foreign investment has long been a key issue in China’s reform and opening-up. Deng Xiaoping, a former Chinese leader and chief architect of the policy, constructively made a slew of remarks to end the debate.

“The chief criterion for making that judgment should be whether it promotes the growth of the productive forces in a socialist society, increases the overall strength of the socialist state and raises living standards,” Deng said in his 1992 tour to China’s southern regions before introducing foreign investment on a large-scale.

Su said that the elimination of private ownership is Communism’s “ultimate goal,” but now we are still at the primary phase of socialism, during which we encourages the development of a non-public sector economy.

“It’s necessary to restate our ultimate goal. If we don’t talk about long-term goals, it will lead to opportunism and corruption. But the ultimate goal doesn’t equal an action guideline,” he told the Global Times.

Reform in a new era

Chinese President Xi Jinping vowed to press ahead with reform to reach “ultimate triumph” in a New Year address for 2018.

“We will take the opportunity of celebrating the 40th anniversary of the reform and opening-up in 2018 to further carry out reform, as reform and opening-up is the path we must take to make progress in contemporary China and to realize the Chinese Dream,” Xi said.

Su said that when China first started its reform and opening-up, there was no “top-layer design” and people just “touched the stones to cross the river.” “But now we have a top-layer design and we can calculate the maximum common factor,” he said, adding that top leaders are already planning further reforms.

They are a solid foundation for future reform in deeper layers, which must rely on the thorough study and implementation of the spirit of the 19th National Congress of the CPC and Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, Xinhua reported.

In 2015, the new Chinese Communist Party Disciplinary Regulations stipulated that people who openly opposed reform and opening-up policy will be expelled from the Party, according to Xinhua.

Wang Zhanyang, a professor at the Central Institute of Socialism, told the Global Times in a previous interview that “mainstream public opinion supports reform and the market economy, rather than asking for another round of Cultural Revolution and planned economy.”

Wang added that the influence of the left-wing “on ordinary people has been greatly reduced.”

Su said that, despite China’s celebrations for the 40th anniversary, it is important to reflect on the “blunders” we’ve made in the past and “avoid only reporting what is good and concealing what is bad.”

Source: Global Times

Virtual red envelope trend grows

More domestic internet titans have joined the trend of sending digital red envelopes, or cash gifts, ahead of this year’s Chinese lunar new year season, which begins on Friday. Handing out the free cash can attract users to online platforms and thus boost network flow to related products.

Alibaba Group’s online shopping platform Taobao said it will hand out red envelopes and prizes worth more than 600 million yuan ($94.8 million) as part of its sponsorship of the annual Spring Festival Gala, which is to air on Thursday night.

Alipay, Alibaba’s third-party payment tool, unveiled on February 5 its Happiness Cards collection challenge, offering users a lucky draw worth 500 million yuan. It is the third year that Alipay has launched this activity and more than 140 million users had already completed the collection as of 8 pm on Tuesday.

Tencent Holding’s QQ platform said that users can get red envelopes by reviewing their movements during the holidays.

More companies, such as Suning Holdings Group, and Amap have also joined the trend and are promoting various red envelope offerings this year.

Chinese internet firms have adopted this custom in recent years to draw users to their online payment platforms, Lu Zhenwang, an independent e-commerce analyst, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Tencent was the first company to launch the red envelope promotion ahead of Spring Festival in 2014, with Alibaba’s Alipay launching a similar one in 2015.

“But this year’s red envelope war is no longer restricted to Tencent and Alibaba, and does not focus merely on attracting users to mobile payment systems,” said Zhang Yi, CEO of iiMedia Research.

Zhang told the Global Times on Tuesday that “an increasing number of newcomers want to attract network flow to their other online products via this opportunity.”

Less popular?

“The new types of red envelope promotions interest me and I have already begun playing with my friends,” Du Gong, a resident of Zunyi, Southwest China’s Guizhou Province, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

But some other users are not so enthusiastic. “I made a great effort to collect all the Happiness Cards on Alipay last year, but only got 1.8 yuan in the end,” a 20-something white-collar worker surnamed Guo in North China’s Tianjin told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Part of the reason why users are less excited about such promotions than they were in previous years is because the activities are strongly commercialized, said Zhang, and no matter how much the companies spend on the red envelopes, some people see them as just a gimmick.

“What really concerns people is that as mobile payment tools are widely used, there is a possibility that personal information could be stolen by Trojan Horse viruses embedded into the red envelope promotions,” Zhang said.

During Spring Festival in 2017, 78.5 percent of China’s smartphone users participated in red envelope promotions, according to a report by iiMedia.

Tencent’s social media platform WeChat said a total of 14.2 billion cyber red envelopes were sent and received through the platform on the eve of lunar new year in 2017, up 75.7 percent year-on-year.

Experts forecast that this year the amount will continue to rise as the activity has already become a new custom during the Spring Festival holidays.

AI advances

Apart from the popular red envelope promotion, Baidu Inc on Friday teamed up with China Central Television to launch an online system that can automatically compose couplets by using artificial intelligence (AI) technology.

The system can write a pair of customized couplets within seconds according to the key words entered by users.

Tencent also launched a similar AI-based couplet composition service on Monday.

The development of AI made great steps forward domestically in 2017, and the couplet idea is likely to resonate with Chinese people, Zhang said.

“It is a great opportunity for these firms to display their progress in research, development and application of the AI industry,” he noted.

AI technology will make the services more entertaining and get more users involved, Lu said, adding that new technology will continue to be introduced into the holiday activities in the future.

Source: Global Times

US market turmoil shows constraints on growth

Earlier this month, turmoil that had been building for some time, shook US financial markets.

The driving force was the continuing sharp rise in US Treasury bond yields, i.e. the interest rate on US Treasuries, which has risen from 1.86 percent when US President Donald Trump was elected in November 2016 to 2.84 percent. US Treasury rates set the floor for all long-term US interest rates and are far more important for US economic trends than shifts in Federal Reserve interest rates. This sharp rise in US long-term interest rates will therefore have a slowing effect on the US economy.

Simultaneously US employment data was released showing that wages in January had risen by 2.9 percent from a year earlier. These figures were seen as an indicator of inflationary pressure in the US.

Meanwhile commodity prices, as measured by the S&P GSCI index, had risen by 10.6 percent compared with a year earlier, adding to inflationary pressures in the US.

This combination precipitated a 2.1 percent fall on February 2 in the S&P500, followed by a 4.1% fall on 5 February, the most severe daily declines in share prices since Trump was elected.

To summarize these developments, the US economy was showing signs of rising interest rates combined with rising inflation, which produced the market turmoil. But it is important to understand that these trends are not separate but interlinked. They show that although US economic growth is low by historical standards, with only 2.5 percent year-on-year GDP expansion in the year to the fourth quarter of 2017, the US is showing signs of overheating.

More precisely: First, since interest rates are the price of capital, the sharp rise in US interest rates shows that the supply of capital in the US is significantly smaller than the demand for it.

Second, inflation shows that the supply of goods and services, including labor, is smaller than the demand for it.

In summary, despite low growth, the US is showing signs of capacity constraints.

“I used to think if there was reincarnation, I wanted to come back as the president or the pope … But now I want to come back as the bond market. You can intimidate everybody.” This statement by James Carville, adviser to former US president Bill Clinton, accurately summarized the power of the US Treasury bond market. The largest and most secure market for financial securities in the world, the US Treasury market sets the floor for interest rates across the globe.

Interest rates, however, are simply the price of capital. The very sharp rise in US Treasury yields from 1.86 percent on the day Trump was elected president to 2.84 percent on Thursday, is a 52 percent relative rise. It therefore indicates that the supply of capital in the US is falling significantly behind demand.

Simultaneously, and interacting with, the rise in US interest rates, there were clear signs of a rise in US inflation. The US employment report on February 2, showing a 2.9 percent year-on-year rise in US wages, indicated increasing wage inflation in the US. Simultaneously, international commodity prices were rising significantly in US dollar terms – this being accelerated by the depreciation of the currency’s exchange rate that has taken place in the past year. These commodity price increases will feed through into US inflation.

This combination of rising interest rates and rising inflation clearly shows capacity constraints in the US economy and therefore has major implications both for US financial markets and US economic growth.

In summary, despite US year-on-year GDP growth being low, with 2.5 percent growth in the year to the fourth quarter of 2017 compared with 4.4 percent at the peak of the previous business cycle, the US economy was showing signs of capacity constraints and overheating.

It was the effects of this situation that created the turbulence on US markets on February 2 and in the days leading to it.

The root of these symptoms of capacity constraints in the US economy, even at an historically low level of growth, is the low level of US net fixed investment and therefore the slow expansion of the US capital stock.

It is therefore clear that these events on US financial markets have great significance in a double sense: First, from the viewpoint of immediate market operations they show the impact of constraints on US economic growth. Second, from the viewpoint of macroeconomics, these events in US financial markets show the severe constraints that exist for US medium- to long-term economic growth.

Events on financial markets are more volatile than macroeconomic trends. The turbulence on US financial markets will not necessarily lead in any linear sense to a severe financial crisis but it is a clear indicator of the constraints that prevent any substantial acceleration of US growth in the medium to long term.

Source: Global Times

High-speed trains keep the Spring Festival moving

This year, more than 60 percent of Chinese have chosen high-speed trains to get them home for the Spring Festival, reported on Feb. 13.

High-speed trains have made travel easier and more comfortable. “Before, it took me 16 hours by train to get home, and because of that, I could only go home twice a year, at most,” said a passenger surnamed Zhang, who comes from Chengdu and works in Xi’an.

The opening of the Xi’an-Chengdu High-speed Railway has cut travel time between the two cities to around three hours, enabling Zhang to go home twice a month.

The total mileage of China’s high-speed railway network has reached 25,000 kilometers. With the operation of the Baoji-Lanzhou, Xi’an-Chengdu, Shijiazhuang-Jinan high-speed railways, more people will, for the first time, return home for the Spring Festival by high-speed trains like Zhang.

“With high-speed trains, I can embark on a train from Beijing in the morning and get home in the evening,” said a passenger surnamed Liu, who comes from central China’s Hunan province and works in Beijing.

A person with China Railway disclosed that more than 5,600 high-speed trains will serve every day during the Spring Festival travel rush, accounting for 65 percent of the total number.

Foreign students become couriers in Shanghai during Spring Festival

Foreign couriers recently started serving customers in Shanghai after most of the deliverymen went back to their hometowns for the Spring Festival, reported Monday.

Eighty foreign students in China have been recruited by a special delivery program initiated by China’s e-commerce platform Suning. The platform has signed cooperative agreements with colleges, offering internship and chances of social practice for the students.

According to an employee of Suning, the foreign couriers are required to send New Year greetings to the customers in Shanghai dialect, and they have to understand the “do and don’ts” about the Spring Festival.

Two brothers from Zambia surnamed Baitong and Weimo, studying respectively in Shanghai and Beijing, are currently part of the program. “I feel very special about this experience, since it presents me the authentic taste of the Chinese New Year,” said Weimo.

“We also hope to offer a whole new experience for the customers during the most important Chinese festival,” the employee of Suning said.

China doubles basic science research budget in 5 years

China doubled its funding for basic science research over the past 5 years, from 41.1 billion RMB ($6.5 billion) in 2011 to 82 billion RMB in 2016, said Zhang Xiaoyuan, director general of the Department of Resource Allocation and Management of China’s Ministry of Science and Technology, on Feb. 11.

Zhang made the remarks at a press conference held by the State Council Information Office.

The Chinese government attaches high importance to basic science research, Zhang introduced, adding that the financial input in this area experienced a drastic increase in recent years.

According to Zhang, governmental funding accounted for over 90% of China’s basic science research. The figure is normally around 50% in developed countries.

Zhang pointed out that China will further encourage the participation of local governments and businesses in the implementation of major projects on basic science research and explore means of charity and donation.