Shanghai Street View: Media Milestone

Husi scandal puts Shanghai on China media map

The latest food safety scandal involving one of our city’s largest meat suppliers has been consuming headlines for the last week, as the story unfolds about unsavory things that happened at Shanghai Husi Food. It turns out the list of companies that were buying meat from Husi reads like a who’s-who of major foreign restaurant operators in China, including such big names as KFC, Pizza Hut, McDonald’s and Starbucks, just to name a few.

But from the perspective of a veteran journalist like myself, one of the more interesting and untold stories beyond the bigger news is the way this latest scandal was exposed. The news wasn’t broken by any of the usual suspects, including city food inspectors or investigative reporters from deep-pocketed giants like CCTV or Caijing magazine. Instead, the revelations came from an investigative reporting team here in our very own Shanghai, based out of local TV giant SMG. Continue reading

GUEST POST-WeChat Story Part 3: Self-Made Media Machine

The following is Part 3 in a multi-part series about the rise of WeChat, the popular mobile instant messaging service owned by Tencent.

WeChat thrives on self-made media

By Lanie Nie

While many popular WeChat subscription accounts are still affiliated with established organizations, the social media upstart has also given rise to a new generation of “self-media”. This new group of publishers comes as a welcome development in the Chinese media space, comprising independent professionals from sectors like tech, finance, fashion, media and education who have seized the opportunity to broadcast their know-how and build online audience networks of their own.

Without some expert “gatekeepers” from traditional hierarchical publication systems standing in their way, this new group of voices on WeChat have become a celebration of grass-root content creators. Articles from these new publishers can be easily found online, and members of this group are gaining personal influence among readers, listeners and viewers on WeChat who want to hear their latest views.

Continue reading

Microsoft Spotlights Rise Of JD, Anti-Trust Probes

Microsoft probed by Commerce Ministry

US software giant Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) is the subject of 2 major news stories today, casting a spotlight on a pair of very different trends involving e-commerce and foreign companies in China. The first news bit has the world’s largest software company formally launching sales of its Xbox gaming console in China through a tie-up with (Nasdaq: JD), spotlighting the rapid rise of China’s second largest e-commerce company following its own tie-up with Internet giant Tencent (HKEx: 700) earlier this year. The second news bit looks more ominous, with word that Microsoft is being probed by one of China’s anti-trust regulators. Continue reading

News Digest: July 29, 2014

The following press releases and media reports about Chinese companies were carried on July 29. To view a full article or story, click on the link next to the headline.

  • Commerce Ministry Visits 4 Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) Offices In New Investigation (Chinese article)
  • Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) Taps Tencent And For Xbox Sales In China (English article)
  • (Nasdaq: SOHU) Reports Q2 Unaudited Financial Results (PRNewswire)
  • Scandal-Hit Husi Food Admits To Management Problems, Downplays Issues (Chinese article)
  • China Condemns US Anti-Dumping Duties On Solar Imports (English article)
  • Latest calendar for Q2 earnings reports (Earnings calendar)

Tencent Beats Alibaba To Banking License

Tencent beats Alibaba to banking license

Earlier reports of e-commerce leader Alibaba’s strong political ties appear to be overstated, following word that archrival Tencent (HKEx: 700) has become the first of China’s major Internet firms to win a highly sought banking license. Both companies had been aggressively expanding into financial services over the past year, though each was reliant on partnerships with other companies that already had licenses to offer services in the highly regulated sector dominated by big state-run companies. But now Tencent will be able to offer many of those services on its own, following this ground-breaking award of a license from the nation’s banking regulator. Continue reading

Lenovo Expands Into Smart Devices

Lenovo tries out smart devices

PC giant Lenovo (HKEx: 992) has never been a company to sit still for very long, which is both a positive and negative trait, as it announces yet another new foray into the smart devices sector. The company’s inability to be satisfied with the status quo has helped propel it to the world’s top PC maker through a series of acquisitions over the last few years, making it one of China’s best known global brands. But that same inability to focus also means Lenovo is constantly venturing into new areas, both for products and geographies. Some of those look good, but many often lead to headaches and disappointment. Continue reading

GUEST POST-WeChat Story Part 2: Tipping Point In V 5.0

The following is Part 2 in a multi-part series about the rise of WeChat, the popular mobile instant messaging service owned by Tencent.

By Lanie Nie

Wechat finds tipping point with new functions

If WeChat’s story can be divided into two parts, the big dividing point would be the launch of its 5.0 version on August 5, 2013. Before that, users of the popular mobile chatting app were mainly focused on fancy gimmicks like “shake“, “people nearby” and “drift bottle” that help users make contact with a few strangers. The hyperactive “moments” feature is also very popular, allowing users to share photos, status updates, links and locations with friends; and so were “official accounts” that enabled business owners, media outlets and even individuals to push out messages and articles to their followers.

But after the launch of WeChat 5.0, people began to wonder if the real ambition of this chatty app might go beyond its dominant role as a center for Chinese socializing on mobile. With a newly introduced mobile payment solution and an enhanced “scan” function that is no longer restricted to QR codes but also applicable to bar codes, book covers, street views and even basic English to Chinese translation, WeChat showed a strong interest in bringing out the next generation of shoppers in its post-5.0 era.

Moreover, WeChat began to take initiatives to develop an ecosystem around its core messaging function. For example, its 5.0 version divided the category of official accounts into service accounts and subscription accounts, and capped the number of mass messages that could be sent to their followers at one per month and one per day, respectively, in a bid to curb abuse of the system by overly aggressive sellers.

Re-Educating The Public

While things like the mobile payment revolution may still need time to find a following, the ubiquitous WeChat has already ingrained some profound changes into Chinese society. Here are some critical features WeChat offers, of which we’re just starting to see the implications:

A return to private networks

Unlike the dedicated WhatsApp, the Middle Kingdom-born WeChat is structured in a way that allows it to function not only as a communications tool, but also a user-centered networking platform like Facebook (Nasdaq: FB) and a social media platform like Twitter (NYSE: TWTR). However, the social network-style feature on WeChat creates a very different space for private sharing than currently exists through other social networks. Users are only allowed to see comments about others’ posts by people that they are also friends with, reducing the visibility people have into one another’s lives given by open social network sites.

Moreover, instead of being miserable finding the balance between friend posts and sponsored content and making story scoring and ranking algorithms smarter like other social networks, WeChat simply asks users themselves to decide what they want to share and with whom, an approach that controls information outflow and possible social network fatigue and is flexible for catering to different privacy needs.

When all the various functions of the whole social networking service are accommodated into one big mobile app and autonomy of one’s network is given back to the user himself, WeChat actually facilitates “sharing with smaller groups”, the next big trend for social proposed by Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, in an interview with Wired magazine last year.

Executives, who are not that technology-savvy, swarm after extremely expensive courses to learn the tricks of WeChat, afraid of missing out chances to join small coteries on metrics of either wealth and social status or interests and profession.

Online communities on WeChat demonstrated the reach of small-group sharing on December 18, 2013, as the Shenzhen-listed film production company Huayi Brothers (Shenzhen: 300027) saw its stock fall by the daily limit of 10 percent that day, mainly dragged down by bad reviews from fund managers and securities analysts. In that instance, the negative talk centered on comments the night before, after a pre-screening of the company’s highly anticipated blockbuster film “Personal Tailor”, that swept through the moments column of literally every relevant person.

Lanie Nie is a writer, translator and participant observer of localization and internationalization efforts by Chinese technology, media and entertainment companies. She freelances regularly for Chinese business and technology news websites and can be emailed directly at

News Digest: July 26-28, 2014

The following press releases and media reports about Chinese companies were carried on July 26-28. To view a full article or story, click on the link next to the headline.

  • Tencent (HKEx: 700) Among Chinese Companies Approved to Set Up 3 Lenders (English article)
  • Shenyin & Wanguo (HKEx: 218) Buys Hong Yuan (Shanghai 000562) For $6.4 Bln (English article)
  • Shanghai Disneyland (NYSE: DIS) Eyes Opening At End 2015 (Chinese article)
  • NDRC Determines Qualcomm’s (Nasdaq: QCOM) Anti-Trust Guilt, Collects Sales Data (Chinese article)
  • US Sets Anti-Dumping Duties On Solar Imports From China, Taiwan (English article)
  • Latest calendar for Q2 earnings reports (Earnings calendar)

Xiaomi Shoots For Middle In Late 4G Arrival

Xiaomi hypes style with Mi 4

After an embarrassing recent gaffe that saw him ridiculed by fellow smartphone executives, Xiaomi founder Lei Jun was back in the spotlight this week with the launch of his company’s fourth-generation phone aimed at mid-end users. The company managed to get the usual widespread media coverage for the launch of its Mi 4, which it hopes will give it a sales boost necessary to meet an aggressive growth target for this year. But that said, I do sense that media and consumers are starting to tire of the company’s relentless hype and marketing. That could ultimately hurt its growth prospects, especially as China’s mid-range smartphone market becomes flooded with similar products from other domestic manufacturers. Continue reading

GUEST POST-WeChat Story Part 1: In-House Roots

Note: Today marks the start of a series of guest posts on the rise of WeChat, China’s wildly popular mobile messaging giant that now boasts more than 600 million users. The series by freelance writer Lanie Nie will run on alternating days over the next 2 weeks.

By Lanie Nie

Chronicling WeChat’s rapid rise

If you recently traveled by bus or subway in a big Chinese city, you probably noticed one thing immediately — nearly everyone was fixated on the small screens of their smartphone handsets, no matter how crowded the place or how long the journey. At the center of that obsession is the mobile messaging app called WeChat or Weixin in Chinese, which is owned by Chinese Internet giant Tencent (HKEx: 700) and is similar to services like WhatsApp, Kakao Talk and Line.

WeChat might share the same starting point with these popular services, but it has already been telling another story in its home market. With a claimed domestic user-base of more than 600 million, the native mobile app for average Chinese smartphone owners has become a village square of friend updates and subscription feeds, an online storefront for money market fund products as well as a portal into a taxi ride, a group-buying deal and a movie ticket reservation. It’s also an urban guide and offers business review services and a catalog of top smartphone games, which makes it fair to say the world is your WeChat. Continue reading

News Digest: July 25, 2014

The following press releases and media reports about Chinese companies were carried on July 25. To view a full article or story, click on the link next to the headline.

  • Baidu (Nasdaq: BIDU) Announces Q2 Results (PRNewswire)
  • Xiaomi Plans HK Back-Door Listing Using Shell Company – Market Talk (Chinese article)
  • ZTE (HKEx: 763), TIM Brasil to Set Up Next-Generation Broadband Innovation Center (Businesswire)
  • Smartphone Brand Awareness Increasing in China; Apple Still Holds Top Spot – TrendForce (Businesswire)
  • Qualcomm’s (Nasdaq: QCOM) Profit Hurt by Dispute Over China Royalties (English article)