Geographies in Depth

Seven stories from China you might have missed in March

Folk artists from Hebei province dance at a Spring Festival Temple Fair in Beijing, China

Folk artists from Hebei province dance at a Spring Festival Temple Fair in Beijing Image: Reuters/Jason Lee

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1. China is creating its own clouds

In a bid to address water shortages, China is trying to change the weather itself. The new climate-modification system consists of an enormous network of fuel-burning chambers high in the Tibetan mountains, which transform moist monsoon winds from south Asia into rain using a cloud-seeding agent called silver iodide. Covering an area three times the size of Spain, it could boost the region’s rainfall by up to 10 billion cubic metres a year – or about 7% of China’s water consumption. Though the technology isn’t new, it has never been used on such a massive scale before, and it’s unclear what effect the scheme could have on rainfall in other Chinese regions – not to mention the global weather system.

 How cloud seeding works.
How cloud seeding works. Image: South China Morning Post

With consumers born after 1980 already accounting for over 20% of luxury product sales in China, brands are busy looking at young adults to see what makes them tick. From their love of travel and art collecting to their cultural pride and their reverence for wang hong (online celebrities) or KOLs (key opinion leaders) – bloggers who promote brands and influence their followers – this 400 million-strong generation stand apart from their parents, who shared broadly predictable consumption patterns. Here are eight ways brands can tailor their message to Chinese millennials.

Beijing has granted its first license for road-testing to the tech giant Baidu. With the Chinese capital’s chaotic traffic and population of more than 21 million, many are looking to these real-world tests as the most arduous the world has to offer. All the vehicles will be tested and examined over 5,000km, and must demonstrate the ability to follow traffic laws to the nth degree and respond to emergencies. In March, Shanghai also issued licences to electric startup NIO and state-owned carmaker SAIC Motor. With China aiming for 10-20% of vehicles to be highly autonomous by 2025, could it soon be the US’s major challenger in driverless cars?

 Baidu's driverless cars being tested.
Baidu's driverless cars being tested. Image: Baidu

In February, the world’s largest annual migration event took place: Chinese New Year, or the Spring Festival, which saw over 2.9 billion journeys over a 40-day period as city workers headed home to celebrate with their families. Over the last 30 years, economic development in China’s eastern cities has drawn 270 million from rural areas with the promise of prosperity; for many, the Spring Festival is the only time of year they get to see their families. Some 61 million children, meanwhile, have been left behind while their parents go east in an attempt to provide – with up to two million living without any guardians at all. Our Young Global Leader, Li Yinuo, offers this perspective on what these journeys mean in the context of China’s ongoing efforts to eliminate poverty in China - and how much remains to be done.

China's left-behind children.
China's left-behind children. Image: School of Sociology and Population Studies, Renmin University of China

Most of the coverage of the recent Lianghui (Two Sessions) meetings in Beijing focused on new ministers and changes to the constitution, but also present were business leaders who vented their opinions on how to align business strategies with policy. Liu Yonghao of the agriculture corporation New Hope Group – which recruits poor farmers to help raise pigs – suggested incentivizing companies to help fight poverty, while Kenneth Fok Kai-Kong (grandson of the Hong Kong billionaire Henry Fok Ying-tung) proposed international sporting events to boost the ambitious Greater Bay Area project.

A lot of ink has been spilled over bitcoin and cryptocurrencies over the last few months, but amid the hype, the boom, the bust and the fears of a bubble, China has been charting its own course. February saw a second, more severe crackdown on crypto trading after many had ignored the government’s initial policy banning exchanges and ICOs last autumn. But with neighbours Singapore, South Korea and Japan indicating a friendly stance towards cryptocurrencies, not to mention international rivals such as the US and Russia, China may have to demonstrate more leniency if it wishes to push ahead with its ambitious economic programme. How the Chinese state incorporates the blockchain’s libertarian ethos will be fascinating to watch.

Have you read?

Western readers may think of Uber as the world’s biggest ride-hailing firm, but they’d be mistaken. That title belongs to Chinese firm Didi Chuxing, which has almost 450 million users in its homeland alone and last year completed more than 7.4 billion rides – almost double Uber’s total. Now the two giants are going toe-to-toe in Mexico, where the San Franciscan firm has enjoyed 87% of the market share, with 7 million users in more than three dozen cities.

 Uber's market share in Latin America.
Uber's market share in Latin America. Image: Reuters
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Geographies in DepthFourth Industrial Revolution
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