‘Asia as Method: Transnational Research in the Museum’ at Tate Modern on 6–7 December 2018.

‘Asia as Method: Transnational Research in the Museum’, Tate Modern 6–7th December 2018.

 

Tate invites scholars and curators to apply for funding to attend the symposium ‘Asia as Method: Transnational Research in the Museum’ at Tate Modern on 6–7 December 2018.

Deadline for applications:
26 October 2018, 5pm GMT

Nalini Malani, Gamepieces 2003/2009 © Nalini Malani
Nalini Malani
Gamepieces 2003/2009
© Nalini Malani

This international symposium, hosted by Tate Research Centre: Asia, represents the culmination of a six-year research project at Tate. Established in 2012 following a generous grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Tate Research Centre: Asia has sought to deepen awareness of Tate’s growing international collection by developing access, public understanding and critical interpretation of Asian art. This symposium will provide the opportunity to hear from the centre’s researchers, who have worked on varied projects that have been committed to furthering the documentation, acquisition and display of modern and contemporary Asian art at Tate.

This funding will allow early career scholars and curators to hear from specialists in the field of Asian art and to meet with a broad network of researchers, scholars and curators.

Participants in the travel grant programme will receive funds sufficient to cover their travel costs and three nights’ accommodation in London within a set criteria.

To apply, please send a CV and cover letter (400 words) in PDF format indicating how attending this symposium will benefit your work and send it via email to trc.asia@tate.org.uk by 26 October 2018, 5pm GMT.

The selected candidates will be notified by 9 November 2018.

August 23rd, 2018

How WeChat became China’s everyday mobile app

By: Iris Deng, Celia Chen       Source: SCMP       Date: 16/8/2018

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Many people outside China either still haven’t heard of WeChat or they think it’s the country’s equivalent of popular messaging service WhatsApp or social media giant Facebook. For many people in China, WeChat is much more – it is not an overstatement to say it’s an indispensable part of their everyday lives.

WeChat, or Weixin as it’s known in China, began life in a southern corner of the country at the Tencent Guangzhou Research and Project centre in October 2010. Since then, it has grown into the most popular mobile app in the country with over 1 billion monthly active users who chat, play games, shop, read news, pay for meals and post their thoughts and pictures. Today, you can even book a doctor’s appointment or arrange a time slot to file for a divorce at the civil affairs authority.

 

The seven-year-old app has also laid the foundations for stellar growth at Shenzhen-based Tencent Holdings, the tech giant behind WeChat, turning it into one of the most influential companies in China and grabbing the attention of global investors. Since the official launch of WeChat in January 2011, Tencent’s market capitalisation has risen over tenfold.

Yet, the company has hit a speed bump. Tencent has lost 29 per cent since a peak of HK$476.6 a share in January this year to trade at HK$336, erasing US$170 billion from its market value as of Wednesday’s close. Even before this sharp fall, some commentators had been asking whether Tencent has “lost its dream”, by focusing on growth through investment rather than the type of organic innovation that led to the creation of WeChat.

After the market close on Wednesday, Tencent reported a 2 per cent drop in second-quarter profit on lower gaming revenue and investment-related gains. Net income fell to 17.9 billion yuan (US$2.6 billion) in the quarter ended June 30, compared with the 19.3 billion yuan average of 12 analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg. Sales were 73.7 billion yuan, missing analyst estimates.

Tencent’s overseas counterpart Facebook, with 1.47 billion daily active users (DAU) and 2.23 billion monthly active users (MAU), experienced a stock price loss of over 20 per cent after announcing its slowest quarterly user growth since 2011 in its second quarter earnings report in July.

Cautious to avoid flooding user timelines with ads, WeChat currently allows a maximum of two ads a day to appear on its social platform Moments, which is “extremely conservative compared to our global peers” said Tencent’s Chief Strategy Officer James Gordon Mitchell in a May conference call with analysts.

“With improving targeting capability, opening up of inventory and roll-out of ad formats, we expect increasing dollar shift to social performance-based advertising, of which Tencent … should be the key beneficiary,” Jefferies analyst Karen Chan wrote in a research note in July.

Other analysts are also optimistic on WeChat’s prospects.

“[WeChat’s user numbers] haven’t hit the ceiling yet but I think they will at some point,” said Matthew Brennan, managing director of independent WeChat consultancy China Channel. “But they still have a lot of room to grow in advertising, and now with mini programs.”

Mini programs refer to applications typically smaller than 10 megabytes that can run instantly on the main app’s interface. They offer speed of access to users because a program does not have to be downloaded from an app store, they can run from within the app. This innovation allows platforms to host multiple services, turning them into super-apps, delivering greater convenience to consumers in the world’s largest smartphone market.

Mini programs are aimed at keeping users within the WeChat ecosystem, at a time when short video apps are on the rise. In June, the percentage of time spent on messaging apps among mobile users declined from 36 to 30.2 per cent compared to the same time last year, while time spent on short video apps rose from 2 to 8.8 per cent, according to figures provided by internet data services provider QuestMobile in July.

However, mini programs are just the latest in a long line of innovations at Tencent’s WeChat.

When Tencent’s flagship messaging service QQ was the dominant player in social media in China, Tencent founder, chairman and CEO Ma Huateng [know as Pony Ma] did not rest on his laurels. He spotted the inevitable shift in traffic from PCs to mobile internet in 2010, as smartphones led by Apple’s iPhone, gained in popularity. Ma knew that a mobile instant messenger would be the key to the future.

Allen Zhang, the head of QQ Mail Mobile in 2010, led a team with less than 10 members to develop the first version of WeChat in less than 70 days, beating out two other internal teams working on the same project. Zhang joined Tencent in 2005 when his Foxmail business was bought by Tencent and became the head of QQ Mail Mobile.

“WeChat is a strategically important platform for Tencent because it will help to sustain and evolve our social leadership from PC to newer mobile devices,” Martin Lau, president of Tencent, said in a conference call in 2011.

Tencent provided information about WeChat’s latest developments but did not make executives, including Allen Zhang, available for interviews for this article. The South China Morning Post reviewed conference call transcripts, filings, public speeches and local reports dating back to 2010 in researching the development of WeChat for this story.

The first version of WeChat only allowed users to send text messages and photos. The launch received little response from the market, at a time when instant messengers such as Feixin, an SMS app by China Mobile, and MiTalk Messenger by Xiaomi, were already on the scene.

“It cannot send a short message to someone’s phone number (like Feixin). It does not have the functionality of QQ. What’s the meaning of having this app,” one user wrote in the comments section on WeChat’s iOS app store page seven years ago, rating WeChat one star.

The inflection point for the WeChat team arrived in May 2011 when it was updated with voice messaging, enabling a user’s phone to work like a walkie-talkie. Daily user growth spurted from 10,000 to up to 60,000.

“The voice message [function] turned senior businesspeople who weren’t used to typing on smartphones into our WeChat users,” Ma recalled in a speech in Tsinghua in 2016.

WeChat evolved quickly, including new functions such as ‘Shake’, which connected users who were randomly shaking their phone at the same time, and ‘Message in a Bottle’, which enabled messages to be sent to random users.

In July 2011, it added location-based service ‘People Nearby’ that allowed users to connect with strangers close to them. In Zhang’s words, this was a “game changer” and pushed daily user growth to 100,000.

“Shake and Message in a Bottle as well as People Nearby were born at the right time, offering access to different people,” said Lu Shushen, a former WeChat employee in an article on his WeChat account, referring to social networking among strangers.

By March 2012, WeChat had exceeded 100 million registered user accounts – just 433 days after launch.

WeChat users grew in tandem with smartphone growth in China. In 2010, when WeChat was still a research project, there were only 36.1 million smartphone unit sales in China. That number increased to 90.6 million in 2011 when WeChat was officially launched and had rocketed to 214.2 million by 2012.

But WeChat was growing even faster than this and was gradually leaving its competitors further behind. Feixin, for example, was reluctant to open up its messaging service to non-China Mobile users and MiTalk struggled to provide a stable user experience.

WhatsApp, WeChat’s biggest overseas rival today, was available to the Chinese market at that time [it was later banned by China in 2017 ahead of a major Communist Party congress] but missed its opportunity without any localisation or promotion in the market, China Channel’s Brennan recalls.

WeChat was also evolving into a hybrid social network, with the introduction of its sharing service Moments, the blog-like Official Accounts to help brands and content producers market themselves, and a games publishing platform.

WeChat added payments to the platform in 2013, and for a while this was limited to paying for games, virtual items and services such as mobile subscriptions. But when ‘Official Accounts’ were added to WeChat in 2013, Tencent’s management were hoping that this would transform WeChat into a full service platform.

Any WeChat user can set up an Official Account to broadcast messages and articles to their followers like a blog, but brands and service providers can also use these accounts to service customers. Today users can buy products, order meals or make a doctor’s appointment – among many other things through this channel.

However, while WeChat Pay got off to a relatively slow start, the game was about to change in a major way.

Before the Lunar New Year of 2014, Tencent co-founder Tony Zhang assigned a WeChat team member to improve the way Tencent traditionally handed out hongbao – red envelopes with money inside as a gift for Lunar New Year – to staff. As a result, the WeChat Red Packet was developed as a way to send “virtual” money to friends.

WeChat’s Red Packet became an overnight sensation during the 2014 holiday period with over 8 million Chinese receiving over 40 million hongbaos during the period, leading Alibaba’s founder Jack Ma to dub it the “attack on Pearl Harbour”. Users started to tie their bank accounts to their WeChat mobile wallet and it started to compete with Alipay – an already established mobile payments service from Alibaba Group Holding, parent of the South China Morning Post.

In 2018, 688 million people used WeChat’s hongbao service on Lunar New Year’s Eve.

Which brings the story back to WeChat’s mini programs. By enabling greater functionality within the WeChat ecosystem without the need to download an external app, mini programs are aimed at driving customer loyalty, or stickiness, within the WeChat app.

“We view mini programs as an enhancement of our Official Accounts system, designed to connect offline service providers with users online,” Tencent’s Lau said in 2017.

The concept of mini programs did not fully take off until January 2018 though when Tiao Yi Tiao, a jumping mini game, recorded 100 million daily active users after being launched in late December.

“We have had our ups and downs this year, but in general, I think we have met our initial expectations,” said Tony Zhang in a January interview in the People’s Daily, the ruling Communist Party’s mouthpiece.

By the second quarter of 2018, the number of WeChat mini programs reached one million and mini program users surpassed 600 million in June this year.

“The mini program initiative is opening many doors for Tencent,” said China Channel’s Brennan. “Monetisation due to adverts and payments … and by allowing [Tencent] to incubate and accelerate a variety of businesses within the ecosystem – e-commerce in particular.”

 

August 6th, 2018

Keywords in Chinese Internet Subcultures

 

By: Mei Jia     Source: China Daily       Date: 18/7/2018

 

Cover of The Book of Wallbreaking: Keywords in Chinese InternetSubcultures. [Photo provided to China Daily]

A new book tries to make sense of what the younger generation is saying, Mei Jia reports.

Peking University associate professor Shao Yanjun, 50, is not the first one to discover that the younger generation, growing up with smart devices and the internet, actually use a different language when they are online, and sometimes, offline too, which is not easy to understand for her and her peers.

Therefore she has become the first to direct and guide her doctoral and master’s students to write a book about keywords in Chinese internet subcultures.

A pioneer and established scholar on internet culture/literature studies, Shao began to give lectures on the campus about web novels and online literature in 2011. However, outside class, she felt at loss.

“Their language differed from what they used in class, and I noticed jargon,” she says.

“And sometimes the phrases seemed to be standard Chinese that you’re familiar with, but referred to different things,” she adds.

Shao tried to follow up by frequently checking on search engines before she reluctantly used the language herself when chatting with her students, while being “lectured” by the young people.

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April 23rd, 2018

No joke: have China’s censors gone too far with ban on humour app?

By: Lily Kuo     Source: The Guardian      Date: 22/4/2018

End of Neihan Duanzi, which united strangers around funny memes, has driven users underground where they openly question controls over society

Chinese woman on phone
Neihan Duanzi, a popular Chinese joke app, had been a source of social connection in cyberspace. Photograph: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

There is a not-so-secret club in China. Members find each other in traffic by honking their horn – one long honk, followed by two short ones. Others identify each other by completing nonsensical couplets: “The son of heaven covers the tiger” – to which the correct response is “chicken stew with mushrooms”.

They call themselves duanyou after the app Neihan Duanzi, or “implied jokes”, where until recently some 30 million users could watch short videos, comedy sketches and follow dirty jokes and memes. Fans also organise offline meet-ups. At one gathering in Hunan province earlier this month, a group posed in a parking lot with little red flags and a sign describing themselves as the “duanyoucoalition”.

China’s media regulator on 10 April ordered Neihan Duanzi’s parent company and one of the country’s fastest-growing internet companies, Bytedance, to shut down the app because of its “vulgar” content. It was one of several news apps to be removed from online stores or shuttered this month.

The group’s unofficial song, On Earth, a ballad about life’s struggles, has been censored. Cities from Shanghai to Changde in Hunan province have placed restrictions on honking. Authorities have advised news outlets not to report on fan gatherings. The founder and CEO of Toutiao, the news platform where Neihan Duanzi was first hosted, issued a public apology for failing to “promote positive energy and grasp correct guidance of public opinion”.

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April 16th, 2018

The Personal Data of 346,000 People, Hung on a Museum Wall

By: Sui-lee Wee and Elise Chen    Source: The New York Times     Date: 13/4/2018

Last week, the authorities in Wuhan, China, ordered Deng Yufeng’s exhibition of personal data shut down after two days and began investigating him on suspicion of amassing the information illegally.

BEIJING — Deng Yufeng wanted to create art that prods people to question their lack of data privacy. What better way, he reasoned, than to buy the personal information of more than 300,000 Chinese people off the internet and display it in a public exhibition?

The police did not appreciate the irony.

Last week, the authorities in the Chinese city of Wuhan shut down Mr. Deng’s exhibition in a local museum after two days and told him that he was being investigated on suspicion of amassing the information through illegal means.

Mr. Deng’s project coincides with a growing debate about the lack of data privacy in China, where people are starting to push back against tech companies and their use of information. Online brokers regularly, and illegally, buy and sell personal information online. Chinese people are often bombarded with calls and text messages offering bank loans or home purchases that seem too personalized to be random.

Mr. Deng, a 32-year-old artist based in Beijing, said he hoped to get Chinese people to question that everyday scenario.

“When these nuisance text messages become a daily routine, we develop a habit of ignoring and avoiding these text messages in a numb state,” he said in a telephone interview. “This is actually the mental state of most people here: a state of helplessness.”

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February 27th, 2018

‘Find The Thing You Love And Stick With It’: Xi Jinping And The Perfect Meme

A. A. Milne’s anthropomorphic giggling teddy resurfaces in China, if only briefly.

By: Anthony Tao   Source: SUP China.  Date: 27/2/2018

 

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Chinese internet users, being internet users, had a bit of fun in 2013 on the occasion of Xi Jinping’s visit with then president Barack Obama, posting this picture to social media:

Of course it went viral, because it is almost too perfect. And of course it was censored, because of basically the same reason. As I wrote at that time, “If it doesn’t seem like a picture that compares China’s president to a chubby bear with a sweet tooth would be allowed to stand, it’s because a picture that compares China’s president to a chubby bear with a sweet tooth isn’t allowed to stand. Continue reading

February 7th, 2018

From #MeToo to #RiceBunny: how social media users are campaigning in China

By: Meg Jing Zeng      Source: The Conversation      Date: 6/2/2018

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Rice bunny says, “the only thing I want for the coming Lunar New Year is anti-sexual harassment rulings… You can take my plate away, but you cannot shut my mouth.”

So reads the opening line of a discussion page for the #MeToo campaign in China, posted on the Chinese social media platform Weibo.

“Rice bunny” (米兔), pronounced as “mi tu”, is a nickname given to the #MeToo campaign by Chinese social media users. The #RiceBunny hashtag, accompanied by emojis of rice bowls and bunny heads, is used by Chinese women to expose sexual harassment – often in conjunction with other Chinese hashtags, such as #IAmAlso (#我也是)and #MeTooInChina (#MeToo在中国).

Using emojis to circumvent censorship

A sign used to protest sexual harassment posted on Weibo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The adoption of nicknames and emojis is not just a public relations strategy designed to increase the popularity of the campaign, it also serves as a tactical response to circumvent online censorship.

Similar practices of using homophones and images are widely used in China as a form of coded language to avoid censorship on social media.

“River crab” and “grass-mud horse” – both invented by internet users – are two cases in point. Because of their pronunciations in Chinese, the former is used to indicate censorship and the latter refers to a Chinese obscenity.

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January 15th, 2017

Chinese Artist: Censorship Stems From ‘Bizarre And Ridiculous Sort Of Fear’

By: Jiang Zhi         Source: SUPChina         Date: 9/1/2017

Translator’s note: The Shenzhen-Hong Kong Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture — a prominent international exhibition of visual art, sculpture, murals, installations, architectural proposals, urban thought experiments, and events — opened on December 15, 2017, and was struck by controversy the following day, when organizers removed a piece of artwork by the well-known young artist Jiang Zhi 蒋志. The piece reappeared two weeks later in the main exhibition hall, only to be removed again a few days afterward in advance of a tour by local Shenzhen officials.

More than 200 exhibits under the main theme “Cities, Grow in Difference” are still offered around the city, with the primary exhibition site located in Nantou Old Town, a historic “urban village” of the kind that has been systematically demolished over the last two decades. Although an introduction to Jiang’s work can still be found on the website (in both the English and Chinese versions), his physical artwork remains unavailable to viewers. Below is a statement that Jiang wrote in response to the situation. The remaining exhibitions will be on display until March 15. Eleanor Goodman

All text in brackets [] signal editor’s notes.

How has something that was “safe” become unsafe?

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January 9th, 2018

Picturing Ai Weiwei in Istanbul

By: Hrag Vartanian      Source: HyperAllergic              Date: 7/1/2018

Sculpture by Ai Weiwei in front of the Sakıp Sabancı Museum and overlooking the Bosphorus (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

ISTANBUL — In an era where superstar Chinese artist Ai Weiwei feels ubiquitous, this past summer I experienced the full extent of that reality over the course of two months. After attending a New York preview for his new film about migrants, Human Flow (2017), I traveled to Israel to visit a major exhibition of his work at the Israel Museum in West Jerusalem, then a show of his porcelain works at the Sakıp Sabancı Museum in Istanbul. Shortly after that, I returned to New York City, right around the time his major public art project, Fences, opened. And these weren’t the only exhibitions by Ai being mounted around the world. Continue reading

December 29th, 2017

In Sign of Resistance, Chinese Balk at Using Apps to Snitch on Neighbors

By: Jeremy Page and Eva Dou    Source: Wall Street Journal   Date: 29/12/2017

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Mao Zedong once hailed Fengqiao in eastern China as a model for “mobilizing the masses” to galvanize Communist Party rule. Under President Xi Jinping, there is an app for that.

Launched in Zhejiang province last year, it offers citizens rewards for information as part of a new government effort to meld old-school totalitarian techniques with 21st century e-commerce, big data and digital surveillance.

There’s just one problem: Many people are wary of using the new technology platform.

The “Safe Zhejiang” app enables users to notify authorities of problems ranging from leaky drains and domestic disputes to traffic violations and illegal publications, in text or photographic form, as long as the informants reveal their location and identity.

In exchange, they get perks including discounts at upmarket coffee shops and coupons for taxi-hailing and music-streaming services, as well as for the Alipay online-payment system, run by the financial affiliate of local tech giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.

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