Philosophical posthumanism

We are living in age of “posts”: post-truth, post-capitalism, post-colonialism, post-modernism (indeed: also post-postmodernism). But the problems of our time also force us to rethink our view of man, and we are observing weak signals of “post-humanism”: to think beyond the paradigm of humanism that has been dominant in many Western modern thought. We see three strands of posthumanist paradigm emerging.

Observations

  • In her book “Philosophical Posthumanism”, Franscesca Ferrando describes that are living in a time of an integral deconstruction of the fixed categories by post-modernism, the epistemological impact of quantum physics, increased role of technology in the formation of human identity leading to hybrid humans. Philosophical posthumanism is the onto-epistemological and ethical approach that uses these insights to discharge modern dualisms and hierarchical legacies and wants to go beyond humanism and anthropocentrism. As such, it is a philosophy of mediation that suits the geological time of the Anthropocene: it focuses on decentering the human from the center of discourse.
  • Karen Barad in her book Meeting the Universe Halfway recognizes agency to the nonhuman realm, based on a relational ontology and agential realism based on insights from quantum physics. The quantum entanglement means that there is no ontological separation between subject and object, but only intra-acting agencies between “entangled agencies”. As such, many phenomena “emerge” as a result between various agents and of various sorts (e.g. the Ebola phenomenon was not a virus itself but an interaction of the actual virus with human and non-human actors, such as human bodies, discourses on Africa, global politics, news channels, feelings of fears, medical technology and so on).
  • We have written before that excessive use of digital technology and the proliferation of companies that are fighting for our attention also mean that we are becoming increasingly distracted. This “attention crisis” puts pressure on the foundations of our moral theory and ideas of freedom, and forces us to rethink our ideas about everyday practices. As such, our digital living worlds are redefining what we mean by concepts like “autonomy”, “agency” and “freedom”.
  • Yuval Harari states that mankind has long been plagued by three main evils: poverty, famine and sickness. By understanding social structures as data processing systems, and given the rapid advances of AI systems and the abundance of digital data, Harari expects that autonomous smart systems could help mankind to get rid of these three evils. As such, we are moving beyond the traditional boundaries of human kind, and transforming from homo sapiens into a homo deus. This belief in the “sanctifying” powers of digital technology is what we have called “technological divination”.
  • Luciano Floridi in his book The Fourth Revolution: How the Infosphere is Reshaping Human Reality as we increasingly interact with the world and with our technology through ICTs (as well as ICTs interacing amongst themselves invisibly), we are going to interpret the world in ICT-friendly terms: informationally. And on the other hand, by creating digital living worlds, we will see the world as inherently informationally. This thinking and acting about and in the world informationally recreates reality as an “infosphere”: the whole informational environment constituted by all informational entities, their properties, interactions, processes, and mutual relations. For example, we increasingly perceive biology as a technology, perceive everybody as a self-tracker, or see football referees as information systems.
  • Last week, in collaboration with Brainwash and Frascati, we speculated about “the future of man” and discussed three different “post-humanist paradigms”: animism, transhumanism, and nihilism.

Analysis

In their book “Humanisme”, Bert Gasenbeek and Piet Winkelaar describe five humanist starting points and principles (pp.58-76). First is the that the human is central in the worldview and search for meaning, implying that there are no “afterworlds” or transcendent beings outside human experience and that we know reality and that we can gain objective knowledge of reality and the cosmos using our human senses and knowledge. Second is the positive anthropological view of man, seeing man as a worthy and ethical being upon which we can found moral principles. “Good” are then those things that make life “humane”, and “evil” are those things that make life and reality “inhumane”, and we often do so by using our “humanistic” capabilities, such as art, reasoning, and showing compassion. Third is the idea that every human being is equally worthy, irrespective of race, gender, religion, and so on. Although not every human being has the same physical and mental capabilities, we should have equal opportunities to develop ourselves. The fourth principle stresses human autonomy and individuality, meaning that every human being is a unique being and an identity formed by their own history and personality. The last is the idea of freedom: human beings have an inalienable freedom to act and think irrespective of external determinants (e.g. totalitarian regimes), which also makes us responsible moral agents. In correspondence to these five starting points, Gasenbeek and Winkelaar also describe five humanist principles: i) the emphasis on rational and scientific method and eschewing of superstition and irrational belief, ii) respect and tolerance for other human beings and their freedom, iii) the equality of human beings leads to the political form of democracy and equal rights for citizens, iv) solidarity for others, as well as rights and plights, and v) the principle of self-determination to let people chose to live their own life as they like (e.g. whether to end their lives, the right for abortion).

Although nihilism, animism and transhumanism differ in certain aspects (e.g. how to relate to technology, how to define moral categories like “responsibility” and “agency”), they share three main tenets of what a future philosophical posthuman paradigm will look like

However, it seems that many of these humanistic starting points and principles are being criticized and pressured. First, the ongoing ecological crisis not only requires a radical overhaul of the principles of industrial modernity and economic and societal meta-rules of our socio-technical systems (i.e. a Deep Transition), but could also point to a crisis of our anthropological conception of man. If human beings actively undermine one of our “living conditions”, this might have something to do with our idea that man is at the center of the cosmos and reality. Indeed, this is one of the principles of the emerging paradigm of deep ecology that opts for a radical decentering of the human. Second, it is increasingly doubtful that human nature is being seen as something inherently good, given the problems of rampant socio-economic inequality, poverty and exploitation (of both humans and non-humans). As we own increasingly powerful technologies that create a vulnerable world, more studies are examining an earthly future without the human kind (e.g. omnicide). Third, we see that the rise of populism, nationalism and xenophobism increasingly criticize the idea that every human beings is the same, both in an abstract, racist sense (e.g. there is a hierarchical order in human beings) and a concrete, cultural sense (e.g. human cultures are not similar and can be hierarchically moral order). Fourth, the autonomy and individuality of human beings is increasingly pressured. This is because surveillance capitalism undermines individual self-determination and decision-right by steering our behavior and predicting our actions by means of digital and automated systems that adapt to our behavior and emotional data. Furthermore, our “attention crisis’ means that we are increasingly distracted, eroding our sense of autonomy and moral responsibility. Lastly, these developments share in common that they opt for a restriction of human freedom in a certain sense, whether by constraining economic freedom (e.g. taxation, prohibition of certain consumption practices such as meat consumption), as well as political freedoms (e.g. the process of “reglobalization”).

But what do we see as a new paradigm to think beyond humanism and to find an anthropological solution to the problems of our age. The first is “animism”: the belief that we are inherently related to nature and technological beings. As such, we should decenter the human from the center of the universe and develop a new ethics of responsibility and care for both biological and non-biological beings. Transhumanism states that there is no “pure human being” but that human beings and technology co-evolve. Digital does this in particular, and future technologies will continue but radically alter our “human condition” (e.g. living in a metaverse) and redefine what a human being is. Nihilism is another “post-humanist” paradigm: it stresses the inherent sense of meaninglessness and purposelessness of reality and human life, but in its active form urges people to embrace this “absurdity” and realize human potential to the fullest. Importantly, this should not decay in hedonism and irresponsibility (its passive form) but in realizing the inherent. But as human beings are not defined by an essence but have the freedom to choose what to do with their existence, this opens the ethical space of real moral acting and responsibility for our own acting.

Although nihilism, animism and transhumanism differ in certain aspects (e.g. how to relate to technology, how to define moral categories like “responsibility” and “agency”), they share three main tenets of what a future philosophical posthuman paradigm will look like:

  • post-human: a plurality of human experience and the human as many instead of one that does not warrant a universalist approach
  • post-anthropocentric: a decentering of the human in relation to the non-human and that the human species has no ontological privilege in the order of species
  • post-dualist: the awareness that dualism has been employed as a rigid way to define identity in terms of symbolic but excluding dichotomies, such as friend/foe, self/other, us/them, civilized/barbarian

Implications

  • One could claim that all sciences use a certain philosophy of man, especially the social sciences. As such, the “post-humanist turn” will have significant effects on the models and theories of e.g. economics and finance (displacing the homo economics), psychology (animal rationale), or humanities (e.g. the ideal of the autonomous and individual genius shaping world-historical developments).
  • The relational ontology and intra-acting agency postulated by posthumanism is related to other emerging paradigms, such as objected-oriented ontology (OOO), new materialism, and speculative realism. Posthumanism and shares with OOO that hey reject the Cartesian mind/body (i.e. humans as res cogitans and nonhuman animals and inanimate beings as res extensa) dualism. Likewise, new materialism does not pose a division between biology and culture: biology is culturally mediated as much as culture is materialistically constructed, making matter is an ongoing process of materialization that bridges the nature/culture divide into a “natureculture” proposal (e.g. cyborg) and a new materialist theory of entangled nature and culture as we can change ourselves from purely the product of genetic heritage to being a product of technology (like a kind of Lamarckian evolution based on heritage). Posthumanism and speculative realism both stress that objects and subjects, relations and relata (i.e. correlationism) are co-constituted in agential realism and as intra-acting agencies.

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.