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Thumb war
Thumb war

SAO PAULO — The hatchet has been dug up. No surprise there. The truce brought about in the ride-hailing war by Didi Chuxing's acquisition of Uber's Chinese operation in August was only ever going to be temporary. Instead, this hiatus allowed both competitors to pick a new battleground: Brazil.

São Paulo-based business magazine Exame reported last week that Didi Chuxing is investing as much as $100 million in 99, Uber's biggest competitor in Brazil. With 10 million users and 140,000 registered drivers across 550 Brazilian cities, 99 is the clear leader is an increasingly competitive market that, besides Uber, also includes Cabify and Easy. But for Didi and Uber, Brazil is just a stepping stone, albeit a massive one, into a much bigger and crucial market: Latin America. And the battle there is only just beginning.

Just a couple of months ago, Bloomberg wrote that despite the resentment and anger, the California-based Uber has attracted in Latin American, the company continues to view the continent as "the Promised Land," an area where it can "grow rapidly facing weak, under-funded competition." Now, Via Brazil's 99, Didi Chuxing is also well positioned to expand across Latin America and hopefully give its U.S. rival a run for its money.

Money, of course, is what the two companies are after in Latin America. Both Uber and Didi know, however, that they'll also need to invest heavily. Finding the right balance may be difficult, especially for Uber, which reportedly lost more than $2.2 billion in the first nine months of 2016 alone. Still, with $11 billion from venture capital investors, the company has room to maneuver. But with the backing of Alibaba, Tencent and Apple, so does Didi.

It's too early to say who will win the ride-hailing war. One thing, though, is clear: It will require a huge war chest to stay in the fight. And with Uber also investing big in self-driving cars, human drivers might just be temporary pawns in a much longer game.

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Coronavirus

Chinese Students' "Absurd" Protest Against COVID Lockdowns: Public Crawling

While street demonstrations have spread in China to protest the strict Zero-COVID regulations, some Chinese university students have taken up public acts of crawling to show what extended harsh lockdowns are doing to their mental state.

​Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling on a soccer pitch

Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling

Shuyue Chen

Since last Friday, the world has watched a wave of street protests have taken place across China as frustration against extended lockdowns reached a boiling point. But even before protesters took to the streets, Chinese university students had begun a public demonstration that challenges and shames the state's zero-COVID rules in a different way: public displays of crawling, as a kind of absurdist expression of their repressed anger under three years of strict pandemic control.

Xin’s heart was beating fast as her knees reached the ground. It was her first time joining the strange scene at the university sports field, so she put on her hat and face mask to cover her identity.

Kneeling down, with her forearms supporting her body from the ground, Xin started crawling with three other girls as a group, within a larger demonstration of other small groups. As they crawled on, she felt the sense of fear and embarrassment start to disappear. It was replaced by a liberating sense of joy, which had been absent in her life as a university student in lockdown for so long.

Yes, crawling in public has become a popular activity among Chinese university students recently. There have been posters and videos of "volunteer crawling" across universities in China. At first, it was for the sake of "fun." Xin, like many who participated, thought it was a "cult-like ritual" in the beginning, but she changed her mind. "You don't care about anything when crawling, not thinking about the reason why, what the consequences are. You just enjoy it."

The reality out there for Chinese university students has been grim. For Xin, her university started daily COVID-19 testing in November, and deliveries, including food, are banned. Apart from the school gate, all exits have been padlock sealed.

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