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Chinese Characteristics' 2022 in review
Happy New Year Y'all!
‘Tis the 31st of Dec, and we’re on the cusp of 2023 and the high-quality growth phase. Let’s go through this year in Chinese Characteristics editions, and I’ll be back next week with the Annual reflections of 2022.
The most widely read piece: Xiaohongshu deep-dive
Xiaohongshu's (XHS) content strategy is a textbook example of what I’ve coined as the “commerce, content and community” trifecta in Chinese consumer apps. Each element provides variations on the utility, status and entertainment golden triangle to the user1 that keeps the brain deliciously addicted.
A surreal ‘omg Senpai noticed me’ moment was when I heard a big tech product group had read the piece and was contemplating implementing some of XHS’s features. Stay tuned for whether some of the features mentioned get into a consumer tech offering near you.
The most thought-provoking piece: The Chinese Tech Playbook for Winning - Part I
These days, I gravitate more towards operators for new mental models. Their hard-won wisdom results from unique vantage points battle-tested by reality. A stand-out collection of insights came from the Tsinghua university lecture notes of Wang Huiwen (Meituan’s co-founder who retired as a billionaire in his forties) on product development. Wang’s teachings, remixed and synthesised here by yours truly, were revelational in terms of having a cohesive framework for finding and developing the next big consumer thing.
The most influential piece for the future: Internet and the murmurs of post-modernity in China
I translated this piece from Chinese after catching it going viral in certain internet circles, and for good reasons, the framings and concepts in this piece haunted me for the rest of 2022. The piece asks and answers questions straight out of Chaohuan2: Why do we find pre-modern kinship structures overlaid on post-modern technologies? What is the true nature of consumption upgrading? And why do people buy from livestreaming?
China's technology discourse in English often has an air of digital orientalism that places China in displaced temporality relative to the West3. This piece was balanced in taking a holistic perspective about the confluence of modularities that affects user behaviour in Chinese tech.
The most optimist piece: A future history of China in the 2020s
It is easiest to be pessimistic during bleak times; during this year, everyone had their knives out for China. Investors should see through sentiments for the underlying fundamentals, and this was my humble contribution to that effort. Things are never as good or as bad as it seems, especially about China.
The most personal piece: The next chapter
In mid-2022, I bailed on being a thought leader and returned to gainful employment. One could argue that I followed the well-trodden path of cashing on my Very Online social status by being captured by the Establishment. After you spend two years outside the matrix, you start to appreciate the little things about office life - like free fruits and dying with a pension. It turned out that I do indeed dream of labour.
Jokes aside, writing for you has been a pleasure, and I wouldn’t have left for just any Establishment. I want you to know that BG’s free fruits have been great so far.
Verdict on my 2022 predictions
In the spirit of intellectual honesty, I wrote this list of 2022 predictions in December 2021. They were all exceedingly sensible, but 2022 was not a sensible year, and I was off for most of them.
Regulators established the company pecking order and will continue to implement and strengthen policies to match government objectives
Agricultural tech and subsequent rural development that supports common prosperity will become a trend that generates much PR attention
Hyperreality metaverse hype will persist while treading a fine line
Enterprise services / B2B software / cloud adoption will take centre stage as consumer tech maintains lowered profiles on their existing service lines
Low-carbon technology for both consumers and enterprises will become a must-have
The lines between e-commerce and content players will continue to blur until everyone’s fighting everyone else
In terms of 2023 and what may come then, I’ll leave the opining for next week.
Sooner or later, we all grow up to be disappointments to our former selves. Last year, I ended with a resolution to publish more frequently in 2022 and then, life happened. From June onwards, my public output has dwelled between a writing sabbatical, the new job and travelling. Gentle readers, I will make a much more concerted effort in 2023.
Here’s to 2022; you’ve mostly sucked (I believe that’s the technical term). And here’s to 2023; may you bring us something good.
Happy new year!
Chaohuan (translated to “Ultra-unreal”) is a genre of Chinese fiction that reads like sci-fi as it tries to describe the absurdity and hyperboles of modern china life.
Something this Substack is sometimes guilty of