A new generation of Chinese entrepreneurs
Photo by Fancycrave.com

It has been little less than forty years ago that Deng Xiaoping launched liberalized and opened China’s economy to the world. Since then, driven by its buoying private sector and renewed entrepreneurial spirits, China has risen as an economic superpower. China’s future and digital economy will be driven by a fourth wave of Chinese entrepreneurs, which have differing ambitions and values compared to previous generations of Chinese entrepreneurs and will come to play an increasingly important role in our daily lives and economies.

Observations

  • China’s Bytedance has become the world’s largest unicorn overtaking Uber, which is followed by its Chinese rival Didi Chuxing. Ant Financial, Alibaba’s financial arm that grew out of its original Alipay business, remains the world’s most highly valued private company at $150 billion, more than double the size of investment bank Goldman Sachs. Alibaba had the largest global IPO back in 2014, raising $21.8 billion, followed by the Agricultural Bank of China in 2010 ($19.2 billion) and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China in 2007 ($19.1 billion). China is now home to 120 of the 500 largest companies by market capitalization, just behind the U.S. (126) but ahead of #3 Japan (52), and up from 25 a decade ago.
  • Silicon Valley remained the world’s leading startup hub between 2012 and 2018. However, Beijing and Shanghai are poised to become the global tech hubs given the growth of their unicorns, mega-rounds of VC funding and large IPOs in recent years. For example, Beijing now has double the number of unicorns of that of New York. Five of the 10 apps that generated the most revenue on Apple devices in 2018 were Chinese: QQ, Youku, Kwai, iQiyi and Tencent Video.
  • Looking at data of the 311 unicorns in the world (as of January 2019), we find China has 76 unicorns, just little more than half of the 151 American unicorns. However, the total valuation of China’s unicorn universe is $860.3 billion compared to $787.3 billion in the U.S., meaning that Chinese unicorns are almost two-thirds larger than their U.S. counterparts.
  • Recently, the founders of Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu were honored by Chinese state media for his contributions to China’s reform and opening-up. Jack Ma, China’s most wealthiest person and founder of Alibaba Group, has been a member of Communist Part of China since the 1980s, while Pony Ma, Tencent’s founder, is a member of China’s National People’s Congress (i.e. China’s Parliament) and Robin Li, Baidu’s founder, is a member of China’s People’s Political Consultative Conference (i.e. China’s political advisory body).
  • Four decades ago, the Third Plenum of the 11th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party on December 18, 1978, was the beginning of the era of pragmatic reforms and economic opening under Deng Xiaoping. Deng allowed the first market mechanics and foreign companies into China, and boosted his Four Modernizations (in agriculture, industry, national defense, and science and technology) to revitalize China as a modern and prosperous society. The results have been nothing but spectacular in the past four decades: 800 Chinese were lifted out of poverty; China’s economy grew 80 times, its GDP per capita 50 times and its exports almost 350 times; China now has more than 100 cities with more than 1 million citizens and has an 800 million urban population; China is the largest trading partner for 124 countries in the world and has more foreign exchange reserves than the following six countries combined..
  • In his book China’s Disruptors (2015), Edward Tse shows how the private sector is assuming a larger role in China’s economy and society. According to Tse, Chinese entrepreneurs have three core values in common: pride and the willingness to make China prosper after the Century of Humiliation; the ambition to improve the daily lives of hundreds of millions of Chinese; and a Confucian work ethic and positive conception of the state to create the conditions for order and stability.

Analysis

During the past four decades, China’s economy and society saw unprecedented growth and transformation. When Mao dies in 1976, there were no private enterprises (saying qiye), as they were only approved officially in 1988 (private enterprises were defined as for-profit organizations with more than eight people employed), and China’s economy was exclusively dominated by large state-owned enterprises (SOEs). Fast-forward three decades, and China’s private sector now accounts for almost two-thirds of China’s GDP and 60% of Chinese fixed-asset and outbound investments, 70% of new products in China and more than 90% of new jobs were created by private businesses in 2017. As China’s state is in retreat in its economy, China’s private sector and entrepreneurs are driving China’s economic transformation. But within this movement, we can distinguish between several generations of Chinese private sector entrepreneurs.

But now, a new generation of Chinese entrepreneurs is emerging at a crucial time in the coming years ahead.

Chinese private companies existed before 1988, but were small individual or family-companies (getihu)  that were mostly active in local agricultural retail. China was then a totally closed and centrally planned economy, and economic activity and entrepreneurship were considered “bourgeois activity” by Mao (the Cultural Revolution was partly an attempt to rule out entrepreneurship), hence strictly forbidden. As a result, economic as well as daily life was dominated by mammoth Chinese SOEs: these companies and their local working units (danwei) provided housing, schooling, healthcare, and even authorizing marriages and divorces. This changed after 1988, as Chinese private companies were officially allowed to hire more than eight people. These second generation of Chinese private companies jumped into China’s nascent industrial export economy which was developing in Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in coastal China under Deng’s “Four Modernizations”. This generated the first Chinese companies with significant scale and businesses to export and operate on a global scale. As China became the “factory of the world”, these were the first Chinese companies to reach Western consumers, such as Haier, Huawei, Lenovo, Fosun. After a sharp rise in inflation and China’s pro-democracy Tiananmen protests, China’s leadership wanted to roll back Deng’s reforms at the end of the 1980s. In reponse, Deng went on his famous “southern tour” in 1992, where he called on officials to resume their policies of market liberalization and opening up China, unleashing a new wave of entrepreneurial energy. This move coincided with the nascent digital revolution and China’s large investments in its digital infrastructure in the 1990s. Boosted by China’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001, these companies ventured in businesses where SOEs have never went, and leapfrogged China’s development by creating whole new markets. China’s BAT (Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent) and other digital companies (e.g. JD, Sina Corp) come from this generation of entrepreneurs. Interestingly, these founders all have a formative experience of the role China’s government played in boosting China’s economy, as well as laying the foundation for China’s digital ecosystem, hence willing to cooperate with the state to develop China’s economy.

But now, a new generation of Chinese entrepreneurs is emerging at a crucial time in the coming years ahead. Their new companies will have to execute China’s economic transformation, as it has to transform its investment- and export-led model towards an innovation- and consumption-driven one to circumvent the middle-income trap. However, this last generation is different from previous generations of Chinese entrepreneurs. First, these people have no formative experience of the horrors and poverty during Mao, hence possibly lower willingness to cooperate with the Chinese state. Hence they might be more willing to attract foreign talent and partnerships and to boost their knowledge and expertise, and innovate without accounting for all possible political consequences. Furthermore, given that these Chinese have grown up under China’s one-child policy since 1979 and in the wealth of modern and urban China, they may have more liberal and less conformist predisposition (called the “Little Emperor Syndrome”). As such, they might value competition over collaboration and individual gains over collective prosperity. Lastly, these entrepreneurs increasingly on the higher level of the Maslow pyramid, by appealing to post-material values under China’s urban middle class. As a proxy, Chinese startups are much more concentrated in retail, social media, education and healthcare, compared to the “older” Chinese conglomerates that are mostly in industrials, financials and commodities. As such, China’s economic future and quest for innovation will be shaped by this generation of Chinese entrepreneurs.

Implications

  • Chinese businesses are already becoming a standard, as reflected in the rise of large Chinese (export) companies and businesses. As these are most in the B2B domain, China’s consumer might also become a standard, as China’s entrepreneurs are developing applications and devices that aim for the consumer. Hence, as China will pass the U.S. as the largest economy in the world in the foreseeable future (in already did in PPP terms), the world might experience an emerging Chinese consumer culture akin to the post-war Americanization.
  • Given the tight relation between China’s central government and China’s private sector, something we have called “Yellow River Capitalism” before, might inhibit consumer adoption of Chinese applications and technology across the world over privacy and security concerns. This is already happening in the B2B domain, for example with Huawei’s 5G telecom equipment.
  • China’s economic development trajectory is underpinned by its government-led “Made in China 2025 plan”, and China’s development by the “Xi Jinping Thought” in general. During the 40th anniversary of China’s Reform and Opening Up campaign, President Xi Jinping said China would stick to its policy agenda, despite pressure from the U.S. and others to allow more competition in its economic system and reduce support for state industry. Instead, Xi reiterated the need for the Communist Party to exercise leadership and control over all aspects of the country’s development. Indeed, China’s state sector has in the past two years grown faster than its private sector (a process called guojin mintu: the state advances, the private retreats), possibly reflecting a re-evaluation of China’s government on its relation with Chinese entrepreneurs.

The implementation of 5G is important for the upgrade of Alibaba & Tencent’s services

5G is the next generation of ultra-fast wireless technology, offering faster data rates, reduced latency, energy savings, cost reductions, higher system capacity, and massive device connectivity. It is expected to power industrial applications such as smarty city infrastructure and the industrial internet, but can also impact consumer services. For example, 5G will enable Tencent’s gamers to seamlessly stream PC and console-quality games on their smartphones without sacrificing processing power or battery life. For Alibaba’s short-video platform Youku, a 5G connection would mean that users can send high-resolution 4K video within a few seconds.

In fear of dependency on Western hardware, Alibaba has set up a semiconductor division

Resembling the States’concern, both Ma’s have outspoken their fear of western depencency when it comes to core technologies:

Alibaba’s Ma:

If we do not master the core technologies, we will be building roofs on other people’s walls and planting vegetables in other people’s yards.

Tencent’s Ma:

[China]’s digital economy will be a high-rise built on sand and hard to sustain if we don’t continue to work hard on basic research and key knowledge, not to mention the transformation from old to new forms of drivers or high-quality development.

In reaction, Alibaba’s R&D arm DAMO (Academy for Discovery, Adventure, Momentum, and Outlook) has set up its own semiconductor manufacturing business and unveiled its chip in July 2019. The chip is designed to process AI tasks such as image, video and voice analysis and will be used for tasks such as autonomous driving, smart cities and smart logistics.

 

Listen to this podcast for more information about 5G in China:

The implementation of 5G is important for the upgrade of Alibaba & Tencent’s services

5G is the next generation of ultra-fast wireless technology, offering faster data rates, reduced latency, energy savings, cost reductions, higher system capacity, and massive device connectivity. It is expected to power industrial applications such as smart city infrastructure and the industrial internet, but it can also impact consumer services. For example, 5G will enable Tencent’s gamers to seamlessly stream PC and console-quality games on their smartphones without sacrificing processing power or battery life. For Alibaba’s short-video platform Youku, a 5G connection would mean that users can send high-resolution 4K video within a few seconds.

In fear of dependency on Western hardware, Alibaba has set up a semiconductor division

Similar to the state’s concerns, Tencent’s and Alibaba’s Ma’s have expressed their fear of western dependency when it comes to core technologies.

“If we do not master the core technologies, we will be building roofs on other people’s walls and planting vegetables in other people’s yards.”
– Jack Ma (CEO Alibaba)

“China’s digital economy will be a high-rise built on sand and hard to sustain if we don’t continue to work hard on basic research and key knowledge, not to mention the transformation from old to new forms of drivers or high-quality development.”
– Pony Ma (CEO Tencent)

In reaction, Alibaba’s R&D arm DAMO (Academy for Discovery, Adventure, Momentum, and Outlook) has set up its own semiconductor manufacturing business and unveiled its chip in July 2019. The chip is designed to process AI tasks such as image, video and voice analysis and will be used for tasks such as autonomous driving, smart cities and smart logistics.

Alibaba and Tencent and Censorship

Within their services and products, Tencent and Alibaba help the government by censoring keywords deemed politically sensitive, while in-house censors also delete posts and accounts. Tencent is quite active in censoring, as the company scored a zero out of 100 for WeChat’s lack of freedom of speech protection and lack of end-to-end encryption in a 2016 Amnesty International report on user privacy.

Alibaba and Tencent have high hopes for the cloud

For Tencent and Alibaba, the cloud started as a crucial component of their internal economy. Over the past few years they have branched out, offering their in-house products to businesses.
Today, Alibaba dominates cloud computing in China with a 43% market share. Under Jack Ma, Alibaba made cloud computing a key priority, and CEO Daniel Zhang plans to make cloud computing technologies an even bigger part of Alibaba’s corporate focus over the next couple of years (for more information see Alibaba’s company profile).
Tencent’s cloud business is the second largest in China, with an 11% market share, according to industry researcher IDC. The company entered the ‘cloud-game’ relatively late, and recently announced to spur its push in cloud computing by investing billions of dollars. This move can be seen as part of its overall strategy to shift focus from its consumer-faced business to the industrial internet. Its cloud-computing business should cater to industries such as retail, mobility, healthcare, and education.

Alibaba and Tencent are members of the National AI Team

Starting in 2017, the Chinese government recruited Alibaba, Tencent, Baidu and iFlyTek to lead key projects in the development of next-generation AI technologies. Alibaba’s cloud computing division was tasked with a smart city project to improve urban life (see Smart Habitat layer for more details), while Tencent has been designated to become a leader in AI-assisted medical diagnosis.
Government endorsement helped Tencent to launch its AI Medical Innovation System, an AI-powered diagnostic medical imaging service. The technology currently has accuracy rates of over 90% for preliminary diagnoses of esophageal cancer, 95% for lung sarcoidosis, and 97% for diabetic retinopathy. Several of Tencent’s AI departments, such as the AI Lab and Tencent Youtu Lab, collaborated to develop the image recognition, using the over 1 billion images on the company’s social network. After the success in healthcare, Tencent is looking to apply its AI knowledge to other applications, such as transportation solutions, security, and protection, as well as voice recognition.

In this episode of the ChinaEconTalk podcast, China expert Jeff Ding of the Future of Humanity Institute discusses the detour Tencent is making from the national champion designation [12:18-13:35]:

Alibaba and Tencent are working on the city of the future…

ET City Brain
The Chinese government designated Alibaba with the task of applying innovative technology to improve urban life. This resonated in Alibaba’s cloud-powered and AI-driven urban project “ET City Brain,” which aims to use AI to optimize city-services in real-time. One of Alibaba’s first pilots focused on reducing traffic congestion in Hangzhou. The video below shows how innovations within several layers of the Stack (think of Cloud Computing, Facial Recognition, and AI) are merged to improve traffic speed up to 11%.

PATH
A joint effort in the smart city area is PATH (Ping An, Alibaba, Tencent, Huawei), a smart city initiative in which these four Chinese tech giants apply their core technologies and an investment of 50M RMB in order to propel China into the global smart cities race (and of course to counter some major problems such as air pollution and congestion).

…but rural areas are also a key priority for Alibaba and Tencent

While smart digital applications are often first rolled out in #tier 1 or 2 cities, both Alibaba and Tencent are currently working on a Rural Strategy. Especially Alibaba sees tier 3, 4 and 5 cities and rural areas as an important new addressable market.
Striking examples are:

•  Tencent-backed WeDoctor and Alibaba’s Good Doctor are making healthcare more accessible for patients in tier 3 and 4 cities.
•  Alibaba invested 716 million USD in Huitongda Network, a platform that offers a variety of business models to help offline stores sell goods via e-commerce offerings, and also help online retailers sell directly to rural residents.
•  Alibaba launched Rural Taobao in 2014, allowing rural residents to buy and sell items online through the company’s Taobao online marketplace. Since its creation, Rural Taobao has expanded steadily, growing to cover 29 provinces, more than 700 counties, and over 30,000 villages.
•  Juhuasuan is Alibaba’s group-buying and flash-sale platform and will be repositioned as an online marketplace for consumers in tier-4, tier-5 cities and rural areas.

“China is experiencing an ongoing consumption upgrade as people look for different ways to enhance their lifestyle. (…) We are now seeing more and more consumers in China’s less-developed regions becoming sophisticated shoppers. They are demanding the same high-quality products as those in top-tier cities.”

– Jiang Fan, President of Tmall and Taobao

Tencent and Alibaba aim for a friction-free consumer interaction through voice

Both Alibaba and Tencent are investing in new consumer interfaces. For example, they are discovering the power of voice as an interface, and more specifically the smart speaker;

Alibaba’s voice assistant is called Tmall Genie. The device is on the market as a regular speaker since 2017 but is also available as a mirror (Tmall Genie Queen) as a device in connected cars (Tmall Genie Auto), and with a built-in monitor (Tmall Genie Family).

The Voice Assistant will become an increasingly important player in our life. I believe that in the coming decade, it will be connected with more devices and be the point of connection for different scenarios in our life, using voice commands to control our homes, vehicles and our personal devices.”

– Miffy CHEN, General Manager, Alibaba AI Labs

Two years after Alibaba, Tencent launched its smart speaker Xiaowei. The launch of Xiaowei is seen as a move of Tencent into diversifying its products and services into more business and industries (such as the B2B and IoT market). Besides, Xiaowei (in English ‘WeChat italking’) will link WeChat users with Tencent’s services available through QQ and WeChat.

Tencent and Alibaba are investing in facial recognition technology

Based on the number of facial recognition patents, Tencent is more active in the field of face recognition than Alibaba. Nevertheless, both companies have already implemented facial recognition in real-life situations.
Tencent is working closely with government in implementing facial recognition. For example, some provinces are issuing electronic identification cards for their citizens using WeChat’s facial recognition technology. The mobile IDs can be used for authentication instead of carrying physical ID cards – mandatory for citizens at all times in China – for travel booking, real name registration at internet cafés, and other security checks. Furthermore, amid tighter scrutiny by the Chinese government, Tencent uses facial recognition to detect minors in relation to concerns that excessive video gaming is damaging public health.

In 2017, Alipay unveiled its facial recognition payment service ‘Smile to Pay.’ The company says that as facial recognition technology takes the place of QR codes, “paying by smiling” will most likely experience explosive growth over the next three years. Statistics from Alibaba during 2018’s shopping festival around singles day also suggest that payments through the face and fingerprint scans now make up 60% of all transactions.

Alibaba’s Smile To Pay system in KFC:

Alibaba and Tencent are developing their own social credit systems

The best-known private system is Sesame Credit, developed by Ant Financial, an affiliate of Alibaba. Sesame Credit is a scoring system that generates individual credit scores for consumers by tapping into Alibaba Group and Ant Financial’s vast online ecosystem and other personal credit information sources. Sesame Scores, which range from 350 to 950 points, are calculated based on five factors – credit history, behavioral preference, fulfillment capability, personal attributes and social network – and are indicators of the users’ creditworthiness. Although the system’s focus is on creditworthiness, a low score can have an impact beyond loans (e.g. being banned from certain hotels) and a government blacklist has also been integrated. At the same time, a high score gives members the possibility to relax in special lounges at China’s train stations or to use bike sharing platforms HelloBike and Ofo deposit free.

Listen to this NPR podcast on the rollout of a Chinese Social Credit System and the role of Alibaba in it:

Tencent is also testing a credit scoring feature for WeChat Pay. Similar to Alibaba’s Sesame Credit, its score is calculated based on WeChat Pay’s pool of data, particularly on personal consumption behaviour. According to Tencent, the purpose is to “provide services that make people’s lives simpler and more convenient.” Users with high scores will be rewarded with perks such as waiving of deposits for rental services and hotels, and paying for services and goods after delivery.

Tencent and Alibaba contribute to the State’s innovation goals

Although Tencent and Alibaba are originally consumer-focused companies, they are expanding their businesses to the ‘industrial internet’, which involves the broader adoption of advanced consumer and industrial applications that take advantage of next-generation technologies for business purposes.

For instance, Tencent is teaming up with Huawei Technologies, a Chinese multinational technology company that provides telecommunications equipment and sells consumer electronics, to accelerate innovation in core technologies, such as AI and cloud computing.

Meanwhile, last year Alibaba’s CEO Jack Ma called for Chinese traditional manufacturers to fully embrace what he called the “New Manufacturing” model. New Manufacturing involves a transformation of traditional manufacturing industry by integrating technology capabilities in the internet, data, AI, cloud computing and IOT. “Proposing the New Manufacturing model is not because Alibaba plans to enter the manufacturing industry, but rather to help manufacturing companies to innovate and upgrade,” Ma said during the 2018 Cloud Computing Conference in Hangzhou. “During this shift, the current manufacturer-oriented industry will transition to a new era led by customers, where small and medium-sized enterprises can benefit the most.”’

Incubators
Furthermore, both Alibaba and Tencent invest heavily in startups and support emerging companies with incubator programs. Tencent’s WeStart for example operates innovation spaces where it offers start-ups office space to rent and incentives such as tax exemption for three years and favorably-priced access to Tencent’s products and infrastructure. Furthermore, the company assists start-ups to target government-backed support programs. Meanwhile, Alibaba’s Cloud division teamed up with the U.S. workspace operator WeWork to develop an incubation program for 20 foreign startups to enter China, and assist 30 Chinese companies to expand overseas.

Alibaba and Tencent investments in electric vehicles

Alibaba, Tencent and several other Chinese companies have joined efforts to meet China’s ambitions concerning green growth of the automotive industry. They have setup car-sharing services T3, which is powered by renewable energy, called T3.

Other examples of investments in the green future of this industry are Alibaba’s leading role in the 2.2B RMB funding round in Xiaopeng Motors, a Chinese electric car maker that aims to speed up the development of electric vehicles. Alibaba elaborates on this investment: “As a clean energy vehicle start-up, the investment in Xiaopeng Motors fits with Alibaba’s strategic focus in the automotive sector. Under our open-platform approach, we will continue to work with a range of automotive manufacturing partners to benefit Chinese consumers”.

Alipay and Wechat transformed China’s Digital payment landscape

China is a country where Visa and Mastercard are (still) banned, and it has an underdeveloped banking system. As a result, Chinese society remained largely cash-based for a long time. Nevertheless, when China started to manufacture cheap mobile phones, Alibaba and Tencent successfully set-up their own mobile payment solutions known as Alipay (by Alibaba) and WeChat Pay (by Tencent).

Users of these payment solutions link their bank cards to the wallet inside the app. Once linked, they are able to use the wallet as a debit card for direct payments in stores or for online purchases. Furthermore, users can transfer money from their bank account to create a balance on the wallet.

The digital solutions provided by Alibaba and Tencent made it extremely easy for consumers to pay with their mobile phone. In 2018, over 85% of purchases made in China were on mobile payment platforms.
In physical shops, merchants offer consumers the opportunity to pay with WeChat Pay and Alipay mostly with QR codes.

Alibaba and Tencent are incorporating the next wave of Chinese entrepreneurs

Established in the late nineties, with founders around 50 years old, Alibaba and Tencent are classic examples of companies that stem from the previous generation. Alibaba and Tencent realize though that today’s wave of entrepreneurs is bringing products and services that appeal to Generation Z, and this is the reason they are heavily investing in innovative startups within and beyond the Chinese border. Furthermore, to arm themselves against newcomers, Alibaba and Tencent are combining their strengths to secure their position (see section 1).

Alibaba and Tencent are SOE-investors

As a testing-ground of the mixed-ownership reform, Tencent and Alibaba have both invested in China Unicom, the country’s second-largest wireless telecom operator. These investments are financial, but are also intended to improve the services of state firms. For example, Alibaba and Unicom launched a cloud knowledge venture in order to meet demand from SOEs and governmental institutions in China for innovative technology solutions. Tencent and China Unicom are amongst other things, working on a network security platform.

Tencent’s hometown is a Special Economic Zone

Tencent’s hometown Shenzen was appointed one of the first Chinese area’s to be a SEZ. Tencent – founded in 1998 – witnessed the effects of the nomination: the share of high-tech industries in its total industrial output increased from less than 10% in 1990 to nearly 40% in 1998. Companies could make use of incentives such as access to quality infrastructure, corporate income tax exemptions, exemptions from tariffs on high-tech equipment and special treatment for employees. Other companies that arose in this area were Huawei and ZTE ( global telecommunications equipment, networks and mobile devices company).

Alibaba and Tencent endorse the Communist Party

Tencent released a mobile game titled ‘Clap for Xi Jinping: An Awesome Speech’, in which players have 19 seconds to generate as many claps as possible for Xi.

In 2019, Alibaba reportedly developed the popular Communist Party propaganda app ‘Xuexi Qiangguo’ (in English: study to make China strong). Alibaba staff is said to be responsible for developing and maintaining the app that includes news, videos, livestream and community comments.

Confucian philosophy & Daoism underlie Alibaba’s corporate culture

Without the philosophy of Buddhism, you cannot do well when your business grows to a certain extent. If you do not know the philosophy of Daoism, you have no chance of winning during competitions. If you do not understand Confucian philosophy on the construction of organizational system, you have no chance to be sustainable when your company grows to a certain size.”

– Jack Ma, Founder and CEO Alibaba

Alibaba’s Founder and CEO is strongly influenced by China’s idea of the good life. He always carries a copy of the Tao Te Ching, the foundational text of Taoist philosophy, is a big fan of Tai Chi, and has held meetings with the senior executive team of the company in a temple. Under the eyes of Buddha, the focus would naturally be how to help others, to help ever more people.
Furthermore, Ma actively spreads the Taoist way of thinking among company employees. In the early days, all of them had a Kung Fu nickname (Kung Fu and Taoism are closely linked), Jack Ma’s being “Feng Qingyang”, which refers to an “unpredictable and aggressive” swordsman.
According to Brian Wong, Alibaba’s vice president of global initiatives, an understanding of the principles behind the philosophies do help in having a better grasp of why the Chinese tech market works the way it does. “China is much more about integrating as opposed to taking over or competing in the traditional sense,” Wong explains. “We want to create and integrate.”

Rare earths are none of Tencent’s and Alibaba’s business

Rare earths are none of Tencent’s and Alibaba’s business. Apart from Alibaba’s semiconductors, both companies do not produce goods, and therefore they are not investing in, or owning, rare earths.

Tencent has dipped its toes in vertical drama

Tencent first dipped its toes into the vertical drama category in 2018, releasing short series like My Boyfriend-ish Sister and My Idiot Boyfriend. These entertainment shows are specifically designed for the mobile screen.

Example of vertical drama by Tencent
Source: V.QQ (2018)

Alibaba and Tencent go big on blockchain

Alibaba and Tencent, together with internet giant Baidu and telecom company Huawei, have all filed information about their blockchain cloud services and issued white papers that stress the importance of developing blockchain-based cloud services as internet providers for third parties. Last year, Alibaba topped the list of the most patent applications focused on blockchain-related technologies in the world, with over 90 patent applications.

Tencent has been building blockchain services since their first white paper in 2017, and developed their TrustSQL platform as a product, service, and an application layer to provide digital asset management and authentication. Furthermore, Tencent has partnered with Intel to develop a blockchain for Internet of Things applications, while starting to test blockchain financial applications with the Bank of China in 2017.