China 2023: The year in review
A retrospective look at China's landmark events of 2023
Greetings, and Happy New Year and holiday season to all our valued readers at Baiguan! As we enter the year 2024 (the year of the Dragon), I would like to express my gratitude for your ongoing interest and engagement.
2023 stands as a pivotal year, marking the transition into a post-Covid era, and bringing with it a complex mixture of recovery, challenges, and changes that have resonated across China and the globe. In today's post, we invite you to journey with us through the significant moments and events that have profoundly influenced China's social, cultural, and economic spheres in 2023. We've crafted a reflective chronicle of the months that witnessed China navigating its first full year after the pandemic. As we step into the new year, let's take a moment to look back and understand the key events that not only defined 2023 but also set the stage for the future!
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January: Surge in COVID cases meets ChatGPT's "viral" wave
The COVID cases surge: January 2023 marks the first month after China abruptly ended the Zero-COVID policy at the end of 2022. The sudden spike in Covid cases spread across the country, leading to an unprecedented increase in demand for medical supplies, such as oxygenators.
ChatGPT enthusiasm: At the same time, enthusiasm for ChatGPT was surging in China, as the number of ChatGPT users worldwide exceeded 100 million in January 2023. By January 2023, the first wave of AI & GPT-related discussions gained enormous popularity among the tech community in China, and by February, everyone was talking about GPT. The enthusiasm quickly ignited the onshore equity market — a basket of Chinese equities even significantly outperformed Nvidia and Microsoft, with Cambricon Technologies Corporation delivering a 210% return and Beijing Kingsoft Office outperforming Microsoft by 4 times in just a couple of months since the GPT hype started.
February: the re-opening & spy balloon incidents
The re-opening: February 1, 2023 marked the first Spring Festival post-pandemic. As Chinese people returned home and resumed traveling, train stations and tourist attractions witnessed a return to bustling activity.
Full resumption of normal travel between Hong Kong and Mainland China began on February 6th. On the first day of quarantine-free travel, over 190,000 individuals, including tourists, students, and workers, crossed the border between Hong Kong and mainland China.
The spy balloon: At the same time, a significant "spy balloon" incident occurred, escalating tensions between the U.S. and China. A high-altitude balloon from China flew across North American airspace and was shot down by the U.S. Air Force. Blinken's trip to China was postponed in response to the alleged Chinese spy balloon.
March: The beat of politics
Ma Ying-jeou's trip to mainland China: Ma Ying-jeou, the former President of Taiwan, visited mainland China, becoming the first sitting or former Taiwanese leader to do so since the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949. His visit aimed to improve relations and foster peace between Taiwan and mainland China.
The “two sessions”: In March, China also held its annual parliamentary meetings known as the "two sessions." These meetings bring together the two main political bodies of China, the National People's Congress (NPC) and the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). Key growth targets were set in the government work report, including aiming for a real GDP growth of around 5.0%.
April: Meituan couriers on strike, panda Ya Ya returning home, the final verdict of the notorious human trafficking case, and the tragic group suicide at Tianmen Mountain.
April was an eventful month for China, with many sensational events that sparked discussions and controversies in society.
Meituan couriers on strike: Food couriers from Meituan in Shanwei, Guangdong province, went on strike to demand fair wages and improved working conditions. In response, Meituan recruited workers from neighboring cities and offered incentives. However, the strike persisted due to dissatisfaction with pay cuts and inadequate safety measures. This event sparked discussions about the fair treatment of employees by large internet platforms, and many netizens petitioned for better treatment of the couriers.
Panda Ya Ya returned home: The giant panda Ya Ya, who had spent two decades in the United States at the Memphis Zoo, returned home in April. Ya Ya's return gained national attention and raised concerns about her condition and treatment during her time abroad. Many internet users pointed out that Ya Ya appeared emaciated and distressed in photos and videos from overseas.
The final verdict: In April, the notorious Xuzhou chained woman (铁链女) incident came to a close. The incident, also known as the Xuzhou eight-child mother incident, involved human trafficking, false imprisonment, and sexual assault. A mentally disturbed woman was unlawfully imprisoned, chained to a wall, and gave birth to eight children. This incident sparked public outrage in China and finally received its final judgment on April 7, 2023. Six people, including Dong (the husband of the chained woman), were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 8 to 13 years for abduction, with Dong receiving a 9-year sentence.
Tragic group suicide at Tianmen Mountain: Also in April, four young individuals aged 24 to 34 from different backgrounds and regions tragically ended their lives by jumping off a cliff at Tianmen Mountain in Zhangjiajie, China. They communicated through a group chat, planned the suicides, ingested poison, left simple farewell notes, and shared common struggles related to poverty, family, and societal pressures. On April 4, they jumped off a cliff at Tianmen Mountain. Three of them died upon impact, and the fourth died later due to poison ingestion. This tragic event has sparked enormous sorrow and shock in China, prompting discussions about economic hardships, family expectations, the mental health of the young, and societal pressures.
Please let us know in the comment section which other events you believe should be included in the list of landmark events in China for the year 2023!
May: China's first domestically produced passenger jet, the comeback of the tourism scene, and House Li's controversial joke
C919’s maiden flight: In May, China's first domestically produced passenger jet, the C919, completed its maiden commercial flight from Shanghai to Beijing, marking a milestone in aviation as China seeks to compete with Airbus and Boeing.
“Special forces-style” tourism: In May, China experienced a surge in tourism and travel during the Labor Day Holiday (April 29 to May 3). The popular slang term "special forces-style 特种兵" tourism emerged, referring to intense travel and visiting as many places as possible in a short amount of time and at a low cost. This term became the buzzword of the year among Chinese netizens.
The top destination of the Labor Day holiday: Zibo, a prefecture-level city in central Shandong province, undoubtedly became the hottest travel destination during the Labor Day holiday and the city that every Chinese person was talking about. Zibo, known for its delicious yet inexpensive barbecue, has become so popular among tourists that the local government had to advise people to go elsewhere.
Comedian's controversial joke sparked outrage: On the other hand, a controversial joke by a comedian named House Li (李昊石) sparked tremendous anger and controversy on the Chinese internet. During a performance in Beijing, House Li compared two dogs chasing squirrels to the Chinese army and said, "When I saw these two dogs, eight words flashed in my mind: 作风优良，能打胜仗" (This phrase is a slogan of the People's Liberation Army and it translates to Fight to win! Forge exemplary conduct!). The joke quickly went viral on social media, causing anger and resulting in the suspension of all future performances by House's company, as well as fines. This incident sparked a widespread discussion about the boundaries of comedy and respect for national values, with many expressing support for severe consequences for House Li.
June: Teen's daring leap to hug Messi
During the Argentina vs. Australia match at the 2023 International Football Invitational in Beijing, a 15-year-old fan stole the show on the evening of June 15th. He jumped from a 3-meter-high platform, evaded security, and managed to hug Lionel Messi. Although he was eventually carried away by security personnel, millions of Chinese saw it as a bold expression of youth's freedom and pursuit of dreams. Many netizens said: "This 15-year-old boy achieved something that many football fans deeply desire but would not dare to do so in their lifetime.”
July: the Politburo meeting, youth unemployment rate, and Qin Gang
July Politburo meeting: China's July Politburo meeting received significant attention, as investors and businesses assessed the trajectory of the economic recovery in the second half of 2023. The Politburo pledged to implement additional stimulus measures, including signals of easing in the property market, boosting consumption of large-ticket consumer goods, and taking actions to stimulate the capital market and bolster investor confidence.
The youth unemployment rate: However, in July, Beijing's decision to stop reporting the youth unemployment rate, which had reached a record high of 21.3%, sparked significant concerns and controversies in China.
Qin Gang: Another official appointment at China's central government sent sensations and speculations across the globe. Qin Gang was removed from his position as China's Foreign Minister on July 25, a month after his last public appearance on June 25
Aug: the anti-corruption campaign in healthcare, Zhongzhi Group’s troubles, and Fukushima water release
In August, two explosive events shook the capital market of China. On one hand, China launched a large-scale anti-corruption campaign targeting hospitals and medical institutions in order to address issues of medical corruption, sending shock waves through the healthcare sector.
China's Zhongzhi Group, a major financial conglomerate, revealed massive financial troubles. With total assets amounting to nearly CNY 3.7 trillion, it is larger than Evergrande. In August, concerns arose about the financial sector of Zhongzhi Group. The crisis began in late 2021 following the passing of Zhongzhi Group's key figure, Xie Zhiqun. Throughout 2022, the group faced a series of negative news, including troubles in its financial sector and underperformance of its affiliated listed companies. In August, its financial products experienced delays, causing significant concerns among investors that the asset management giant might be approaching its end. (In November 2023, Zhongzhi Group officially flagged insolvency.)
Fukushima water release: In late August, Japan started releasing treated radioactive wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean. This action sparked strong opposition from China, resulting in a ban on all Japanese seafood. Chinese social media platforms were filled with outrage, leading many consumers to boycott Japanese skincare, mother & baby products, and significantly impacting consumer preferences in China.
Sep: Luckin x Moutai collaboration, the Crazy Horse show, debates over the draft amendment to the Public Security Administration Punishment Law, Xu Jiayin's arrest
The baijiu liquor-infused latte: Luckin Coffee and China's time-honored liquor maker, Moutai, collaborated to launch a unique product called "酱香拿铁" - a latte infused with Moutai baijiu liquor. This partnership sparked a trend of cross-brand collaborations in the coffee industry, attracting significant attention and creating a buzz in the market. The launch was incredibly successful, with over 5.42 million cups sold on the first day and single-day revenues exceeding 100 million yuan ($13.7 million), making it the most successful marketing event in China's consumer market in 2023.
Lisa performed in the Crazy Horse show: Lisa from BLACKPINK made history by performing in the Crazy Horse Paris show, becoming the first Asian to do so. The show, known for its artistic and sensual performances, gained significant attention and sparked controversies in China. These controversies highlighted the clash between modern idol culture, gender issues, and deep-rooted Chinese ethical beliefs. Lisa's fan base in China debated the appropriateness of her participation in the Crazy Horse show. A considerable number of netizens deemed her performance as "shameful" and accused it of objectifying women. They argued that her actions clashed with China's traditional moral values.
The draft amendment to the Public Security Administration Punishment Law: In September, a heated public debate took place over the draft amendment to the Public Security Administration Punishments Law, particularly Article 34, which pertains to punishment for spreading words and wearing clothes that may "hurt national feelings". The controversies revolved around the vagueness of what constitutes "hurting national feelings" and the potential for abuse. (We have previously published a post on the social sentiments regarding this issue)
Xu Jiayin’s arrest: On September 28, 2023, Xu Jiayin, the chairman of China Evergrande Group, one of China's largest real estate developers, was placed under investigation for suspected illegal activities, along with several other high-ranking executives. Xu Jiayin became China's richest person in 2017, as Evergrande experienced significant market value and sales growth. Several incidents involving misappropriation of funds within Evergrande came to light and Evergrande's financial troubles led to millions of unfinished properties, unpaid commercial bills, and substantial unpaid bonds and loans.
Oct: A vibrant Halloween, former premier Keqiang Li passed away
Shanghai Halloween: In October, Shanghai, along with many other cities, witnessed a vibrant Halloween celebration featuring innovative and satirical costumes. Shanghai's Halloween celebrations, particularly in areas like Julu Road, gained attention on Chinese social media, with many praising the city's multiculturalism and the opportunity for young people to relieve stress. Costumes were no longer limited to traditional ghosts and zombies; instead, people opted for creative and humorous outfits inspired by internet celebrities and famous figures, turning Halloween into a "Meme Festival.”
Former premier of China, Keqiang Li, passed away at the age of 68.: On a sad note, former Chinese Premier Keqiang Li passed away suddenly in October, leading to nationwide public mourning.
Nov: Xi-Biden’s meeting, the unilateral visa-free policy, northern Myanmar telecom fraud crackdown
Xi-Biden’s meeting: President Xi Jinping and President Joe Biden held a summit meeting in San Francisco, discussing critical issues in China-U.S. relations and global peace and development. They emphasized the importance of cooperation over rivalry, mutual respect, and addressing disagreements constructively. Both leaders reaffirmed their commitment to a stable and growing China-U.S. relationship.
The unilateral visa-free policy: China has announced the expansion of its unilateral visa-free policy to citizens with ordinary passports from six countries, including France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Malaysia. This move has received positive reactions from various European and Asian individuals and organizations, with expectations of boosting cultural exchange, economic and trade relations, and foreign investment in China.
Northern Myanmar telecom fraud crackdown: Northern Myanmar's Kachin State, near the Chinese border, has become a hotspot for telecom fraud and organized crime. Local warlord families, including the "Four Big Families," control the area and are involved in activities such as gambling and drug trafficking. Victims are forced to participate in illegal activities like telecom fraud and online gambling. In November, Chinese authorities cracked down on multiple telecom fraud dens in Northern Myanmar, capturing hundreds of suspects involved in cross-border crimes. The action was widely discussed on China's internet and was very well-received by Chinese netizens.
Dec: real estate market, China Judgment Online, epic corporate battle at East Buy
Real estate: As part of efforts to stabilize the real estate market and boost economic growth, China continued to relax real estate policies in first-tier cities in December. These adjustments aimed to stimulate demand by easing purchase restrictions, reducing down payment ratios, lowering mortgage rates, and implementing other measures.
China Judgement Online: In December, China announced the upcoming launch of a new legal repository called "全国法院裁判文书库" (National Court Judicial Document Repository) in January 2024. Unlike the existing network "裁判文书网" (China Judgement Online), this repository will be exclusively accessible for internal use within the judicial system. The announcement sparked concerns and heated discussions on the Chinese internet, as many legal professionals and citizens worried about the potential implications for public access to legal information. The Supreme People's Court later affirmed its commitment to maintaining the China Judgement Online and encouraged public participation in building a case database.
Epic corporate battle at East Buy: An intense corporate battle unfolded at East Buy, the live-streaming e-commerce arm of the New Oriental Education Group (NYSE: EDU), generating significant attention on social media. East Buy experienced rapid success in early 2022, thanks in large part to influencer Dong Yuhui's distinctive selling approach that combined culture and commerce. However, a public dispute between East Buy's official account and Dong's fans erupted and escalated in December, resulting in a decline in sales and the removal of CEO Sun Dongxu.
Read how this event reflects a shift in Chinese consumer preferences towards meaning-based choices, culture, and spirituality, transcending traditional consumerism.
As we conclude our journey through the events of 2023, we wish you all a Happy New Year once again! May the Year of the Dragon bring hope, resilience, and peace. Thank you for being part of our community!
Please let us know in the comment section which other events you believe should be included in the list of landmark events in China for the year 2023! And don't forget to take advantage of our limited-time New Year's special 20% off offer :)