HONG KONG - This is the second improvised camp to appear in Hong Kong’s business district. As the last remaining diehards continue to occupy the atrium of the HSBC tower, school kids, students, parents and teachers have set up their own tents and mats outside the parliament buildings at the Tamar site, on Hong Kong's harborfront.
On July 29, 90,000 people participated in a rally to denounce proposed pro-China patriotism lessons that will be mandatory for all primary and secondary schoolchildren. Now as the school year is about to start, the protesters are determined to make their voices heard.
On the floor, a bed of scribbled on post-it notes give an idea of the atmosphere: "No to brainwashing," "Passive resistance" and "I do not have to love China..."
Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, Leung Chun-ying, intervened in the debate for the first time on September 4, by affirming that it was premature to call for a withdrawal of the curriculum, as he challenged its opponents to give examples of "brainwashing." As the start of the school year approaches, only six primary schools have chosen to adopt the patriotism syllabus, which is applied on a voluntary basis for now, but will become mandatory in 2015. In one of the schools, pupils are distributing black bands as a sign of disapproval.
Student hunger strike
On Monday evening, Joshua Wong -- a 15-year-old pupil and one of the organizers of the Scholarism movement created around this cause -- announced that the occupation of the Tamar site would continue "until the national education curriculum has been completely withdrawn." One of the protestors, a 60-year-old teacher, started a hunger strike and had to be taken away on a stretcher amid applause from the crowd.
Primarily initiated by three schoolchildren at the start of the movement, 10 hunger strikers have been camping outside the government offices since Saturday.
"It really touched me to see these kids on a hunger strike. I wanted to carry on what they were doing to put pressure on the government," explains Samuel, a political science student. The renowned Chinese political dissident Wang Dan -- who protested in Tiananmen Square in 1989 in Beijing -- took to Twitter on Monday, from Taiwan where he lives, to say that he would also go on hunger strike for 24 hours, as an act of solidarity with the students of Hong Kong.
On Saturday, despite the odd shower, tens of thousands of protestors came to show their support for the Tamar site movement. This peaceful gathering turned into a party and carried on until nightfall. Officially, the aim of the new national education curriculum is to "promote a sense of patriotism and the feeling of belonging to China" for young Hong Kong residents, who came under Chinese rule in 1997 after 150 years of colonial British rule.
Chinese history revisited
Wang Guangya, a top Chinese official, added in June that the lessons are designed to "help local students understand why it is important that China is governed by the Communist Party." The aforementioned course includes saluting the Chinese flag, lessons on the national anthem as well as history lessons, which, according to opponents, teach the superiority of a single-party government and "forgets" to speak about the repression of the Tiananmen Square protests on June 4 1989. "I read the curriculum again this morning before coming here, it's really something! Did you know that the Communist Party is "united and selfless'?" asks one student. "It's not just a question of loving your country, but the students are going to be graded according to how much emotion they show toward China!" says Heidi Ma, a spokesperson for Scholarism. In recent years, the people of Hong Kong’s resentment against Chinese mainlanders has been growing. And with the new chief executive accused of pandering to Beijing instead of massaging local public opinion, a considerable amount of the population is on edge.
As the government shows no signs of scrapping its scheme, rumors are circulating that the site will be evacuated; however, authorities are denying this. The chief executive has invited opponents to meet with the committee responsible for setting up the new curriculum. An offer that may be seen as weak and a little too late.
Long perceived as a country chasing Western tech, China's business and technological innovations are now influencing the rest of the world. Still lagging on some fronts, the future is now up for grabs.
BEIJING — China's tech tycoons have fallen out of favor: Jack Ma (Alibaba), Colin Huang (Pinduoduo), Richard Liu (Tencent) and Zhang Yiming (ByteDance) have all been pressured by Beijing to leave their jobs or step back from a public role. Their time may be coming to an end, but the legacy remains exceptional. Under their reign, China has become a veritable window to the global future of technology.
TikTok is the perfect example. Launched in 2016, the video messaging app has been downloaded over two billion times worldwide. It has passed the 100-million active user mark in the United States. Thanks to TikTok's success, ByteDance, its parent company, has reached an exceptional level of influence on the internet.
For a long time, the West viewed China's digital ecosystem as a cheap imitation of Silicon Valley. The European and American media described the giants of the Asian superpower as the "Chinese Google" or "Chinese Amazon." But the tables have turned.
No Western equivalent to WeChat
The Asian superpower has forged cutting-edge business models that do not exist elsewhere. It is impossible to find a Western equivalent to the WeChat super-app (1.2 billion users), which is used for shopping as much as for making a medical appointment or obtaining credit.
The flow of innovation is now changing direction.
The roles have actually reversed: In a recent article, Les Echos describes the California-based social network IRL, as a "WeChat of the Western world."
Grégory Boutté, digital and customer relations director at the multinational luxury group Kering, explains, "The Chinese digital ecosystem is incredibly different, and its speed of evolution is impressive. Above all, the flow of innovation is now changing direction."
This is illustrated by the recent creation of "live shopping" events in France, which are hosted by celebrities and taken from a concept already popular in China.
10,000 new startups per day
There is an explosion of this phenomenon in the digital sphere. Rachel Daydou, Partner & China General Manager of the consulting firm Fabernovel in Shanghai, says, "With Libra, Facebook is trying to create a financial entity based on social media, just as WeChat did with WeChat Pay. Facebook Shop looks suspiciously like WeChat's mini-programs. Amazon Live is inspired by Taobao Live and YouTube Shopping by Douyin, the Chinese equivalent of TikTok."
In China, it is possible to go to fully robotized restaurants or to give a panhandler some change via mobile payment. Your wallet is destined to be obsolete because your phone can read restaurant menus and pay for your meal via a QR Code.
The country uses shared mobile chargers the way Europeans use bicycles, and is already testing electric car battery swap stations to avoid 30 minutes of recharging time.
Michael David, chief omnichannel director at LVMH, says, "The Chinese ecosystem is permanently bubbling with innovation. About 10,000 start-ups are created every day in the country."
China is also the most advanced country in the electric car market. With 370 models at the end of 2020, it had an offering that was almost twice as large as Europe's, according to the International Energy Agency.
China's super-app WeChat
The whole market runs on tech
Luca de Meo, CEO of French automaker Renault, said in June that China is "ahead of Europe in many areas, whether it's electric cars, connectivity or autonomous driving. You have to be there to know what's going on."
As a market, China is also a source of technological inspiration for Western companies, a world leader in e-commerce, solar, mobile payments, digital currency and facial recognition. It has the largest 5G network, with more than one million antennas up and running, compared to 400,000 in Europe.
Self-driving cars offer an interesting point of divergence between China and the West.
Just take the number of connected devices (1.1 billion), the time spent on mobile (six hours per day) and, above all, the magnitude of data collected to deploy and improve artificial intelligence algorithms faster than in Europe or the United States.
The groundbreaking field of self-driving cars offers an interesting point of divergence between China and the West. Artificial intelligence guru Kai-Fu Lee explains that China believes that we should teach the highway to speak to the car, imagining new services and rethinking cities to avoid cars crossing pedestrians, while the West does not intend to go that far.
Still lagging in some key sectors
There are areas where China is still struggling, such as semiconductors. Despite a production increase of nearly 50% per year, the country produces less than 40% of the chips it consumes, according to official data. This dependence threatens its ambitions in artificial intelligence, telecoms and autonomous vehicles. Chinese manufacturers work with an engraving fineness of 28 nm or more, far from those of Intel, Samsung or TSMC. They are unable to produce processors for high-performance PCs.
China's aerospace industry is also lagging behind the West. There are also no Chinese players among the top 20 life science companies on the stock market and there are doubts surrounding the efficacy of Sinovac and Sinopharm's COVID-19 vaccines. As of 2019, the country files more patents per year than the U.S., but far fewer are converted into marketable products.
Beijing knows its weaknesses and is working to eliminate them. Adopted in March, the nation's 14th five-year plan calls for a 7% annual increase in R&D spending between now and 2025, compared with 12% under the previous plan. Big data aside, that is basic math anyone can understand.
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