ROGER CHENN discusses hand-picked news topic in China last week.

  1. Will China win in League of Legends?

The Hangzhou Asian Games began September 23rd in Hangzhou, China. While a usually quieter cousin of the Olympics, this year’s Asian Games, originally scheduled for 2022, had been the talk of the nation. The reason? This is the first time Esports appears as an official event in an Olympic Games. Amongst other games, League of Legends (LOL) is shaping to be a sensational event featuring top talents from China and Korea, two powerhouses in the scene, to fight again for the top spot. 

LOL is a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) game featuring two teams of five heroes with different abilities to destroy the enemy base. LOL is hugely popular in China, with tens of millions of fans eagerly anticipating the roster reveals throughout the summer, and any Chinese roster changes appear on Weibo’s Hot Search, a substitute for Twitter’s Trending in China. China has been unable to capture a trophy since 2018, and fans have been more determined than ever to return to the dominance it had once commanded.

However, the public enthusiasm for the Asian Games as a whole is sputtering as the economy enters into a downturn. Will the hype for Team China in LOL be enough to bring public attention back?

  1. Where in the world are China’s top officials?

China’s Defence Minister, similar in standing to the Defence Secretary of the US, is gone. Since the People’s Congress in March, Xi Jinping has extended his presidency into a historic third term, followed by appointing Xi allies in numerous key positions. A surprising number have since disappeared as Xi launched various anti-corruption campaigns across different government branches. This was first noticed in July when China’s new foreign minister Qin Gang was reportedly ousted over extramarital affairs and replaced with his predecessor. Less than a month later, the commander of the all-important PLA Rocket Force, China’s nuclear missiles branch, was sacked after less than a year in office, and two new leaders were announced. And the latest purge in line is China’s Defence Minister, who has been missing since late August. While anti-corruption arrests, usually local officials, were traditionally advertised with terse statements in the national news, the recent arrests have so far been secret to the Chinese people. 

And it is not just limited to the top. Throughout the summer, Xi had also pursued a crackdown campaign on corruption in the healthcare industry that saw hundreds of hospital officials (most hospitals are state-owned), health ministry officials, and pharmaceutical companies’ chairmen arrested. This is followed by the most extensive domestic anti-espionage campaign in recent years, targeting Chinese youths returning to school this September. 

All of this political and social instability raises the question: what exactly is Xi Jinping cooking up during this economic instability?

  1. What is China’s AI craze shaping up to be?

OpenAI’s ChatGPT had caused a storm in China, similar to the US. In February, almost all top Chinese tech companies announced plans to develop their own Large Language Models, or LLMs, to compete with the American company. This “war of a hundred models” features giants like Tencent, Bytedance, Alibaba, Sensetime, and even Huawei, with hundreds of smaller startups that instantly get investments and even acquisitions without any product. The government acted quickly to boost this hype by first blocking Chatgpt in China, and quickly drafting regulations on AI.

Now, this development spree is bearing fruit, with companies like Baidu releasing their ERNIE bot in March and entering into public rollouts in late August. Tencent, Alibaba, and Huawei have also announced public rollouts as they receive permission from the government, and users are jumping in with a sense of patriotic duty. Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, has released AI filters that generate images from photos. Companies are jumping on the chance to apply AIGC for games. It seems like the field is booming.

However, the future of the AI landscape in China is laid with roadblocks. With tightening US restrictions on chips and investments in China, funds are drying up for many of those companies. As computing demand spurs up, companies increasingly rely on Nvidia without suitable local alternatives to offset the potential risk of future US sanctions. While the government is quick to react to this explosion of AI by clearing certain roadblocks and quickly drafting up policies that even the US is looking to emulate, they also include restrictions such as “upholding core socialist values,” which limit these models’ capabilities and opportunities abroad. Will Chinese AI companies find suitable business models in time to allow for another venue for China to overtake the US technologically?


Bonus: Weibo Tracker!!

And finally, your weekly Weibo hot search tracker conducted every Friday starting this week: The top 50 top searches include 22 topics on Entertainment, 12 topics on lifestyles (1 notably on whether colleges students should go to grad school, employment, or the government after graduation), 5 topics on sports, 1 topic about Apple, and 1 topic on Japan, amongst other various topics.