Those of us living in China might have been spared the tumultuous drama that our US counterparts have experienced in 2017, but like always, the Middle Kingdom has had its own fair share of attention-grabbing headlines. From the boom of shared bikes to a presidential visit from The Donald, our team has put together a list of 2017’s most unforgettable viral stories, recounting major events that defined the worlds of sports, tech, arts, fashion and food. Here’s to another year of eclectic, weird and wonderful life in China, we wouldn’t have it any other way.
For more, follow our full 2017 Year in Review coverage.
Here are some of the biggest stories to make headlines in China in 2017, in no particular order.
First came orange Mobike, then came the yellow Ofo. Now there’s a bunch of other providers that make up China’s rainbow-colored bike share craze. The two-wheeled bubble, however, began to show signs of a burst in mid-November when China’s third largest bike-sharing startup Bluegogo ceased operations.
All eyes were on Beijing in November when President Xi Jinping met with US President Donald Trump during the latter’s three-day visit to the Chinese capital. The lavish visit included an exclusive tour of the Forbidden City with the wives, Peking opera performances, meetings, and plenty of photo ops in between. @realDonaldTrump even managed to tweet across the Great Firewall, too!
In October, the country's top leaders met in Beijing for the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China. Convening every five years, the National Party Congress sees the election of a new Central Committee, essentially passing the torch from one generation of leadership to the next. The seven members of China's Politburo Standing Committee were unveiled at the conclusion of the Party Congress, with no major surprises in who was picked. All of the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) members are over the age of 60 and near the age of retirement, indicating no clear successor to Xi for the next term. Some speculate that this puts Xi one step closer towards staying on for an unconventional third term.
4. Imported Soft Cheeses Get Banned, Then Unbanned
China-based cheese lovers had a tumultuous autumn. First, came news that imported soft cheeses like Brie, Camembert, Roquefort, blue cheese and goat cheese would be temporarily banned from the Middle Kingdom. A few weeks later, the ban was lifted and cheese lovers could go on with their lives again.
5. Stricter Controls Over Chinese Social Media
While it’s no surprise that the Chinese government is monitoring our social media activities, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) issued new regulations in September to “better develop China’s online environment, protect the legal rights of Chinese netizens, online organizations and safeguard national security and public interest,” according to China Daily. Along with these new regulations is the Public Security Bureau’s list of nine topics banned on online group chats. Effective October 8, sharing things like politically sensitive information, violent or pornographic content could lead to fines or police detention. (Think twice before you send off that racy WeChat sticker).
Meanwhile, several Chinese platforms — including WeChat, Weibo, Alipay and QQ — are said to be developing new online social credit system, which, along with the restrictions on group chats and online content, was recently required by the Chinese government. (Click here for a complete English translation of the new online rules). Some believe this was the reason why users were temporarily prohibited from changing their profile pictures on WeChat back in October.
China’s poor air quality is an ongoing problem, but just how bad is it? According to a recent study by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, the pollution can take an average of 3.5 years off people’s lives. If you live in Tianjin, where, according to the study, the smog problem is the worst in the nation, it can shave 7.1 years off.
Beijing took extreme measures this year in its efforts to decrease pollution by 15 percent, including shutting down factories, halting construction until March of 2018 and making a (short-lived) complete switch to natural gas. So far it doesn't appear to be having much effect, however, with the smog worsening, fewer 'blue-sky days' and the transition from coal to natural gas not exactly going according to plan.
7. Tough Times for Western Tech Companies
New iPhone releases used to be big deals in China, when flocks of legit fans and scalpers would line up for hours outside Apple Stores to get their hands on the hottest new device. This, however, didn’t happen for the iPhone 8 release on September 22. According to photos on social media, there were more barricades and security guards than actual shoppers at Apple Stores across the country.
Apple wasn't the only Western tech company to have problems in China this year. Over the summer, WhatsApp experienced disruptions in service, though the app currently remains usable on a sporadic basis. Several messaging platforms that don't require real-name registration have reportedly experienced problems due to China's recent crackdown on anonymous accounts.
And in October, Skype — the Microsoft-owned Voice Over IP (VOIP) internet phone call and messaging service — disappeared from Chinese app stores for violating local laws. Apple was also forced to remove several VPNs from its App Store, including Astrill, ExpressVPN, Onekey and more in the summer.
On the flipside, it was a pretty good year for Chinese tech companies. In November, China's biggest tech company (Tencent) surpassed Facebook's total market value to become the fifth most valuable company in the world, joining the likes of Apple, Alphabet (Google), Microsoft and Amazon. Meanwhile, rival firm Alibaba — fresh off record-breaking Singles' Day sales of RMB168 billion — moved close behind Facebook in terms of total valuation that same week. Over the past year, both companies have seen their shares double.
In China, McDonald’s is no longer called Maidanglao. Since October 12, the official Chinese company name has been changed to Jingongmen (金拱门), which literally means ‘golden arches.’ Chinese customers are apparently not lovin’ the change. Some say it sounds like a Peking duck restaurant’s name. Internet users, however, poked fun at the name by making memes of other company name changes that would literally reflect their company’s logo (like ‘Green Bubble’ for WeChat).
At the end of 2016, it was announced that China would be rolling out a nationwide smoking ban. The news came just a week after Shanghai announced that its no-smoking laws would go into effect in March 2017, making it the second city to ban smoking in public places after Beijing implemented similar legislation in 2015. Both Beijing and Shanghai's citywide bans appear to be working, and smoking is now prohibited at all indoor public venues, workplaces and public transportation, as well as outdoor areas at schools, historic sites, children's hospitals and stadiums. Meanwhile, Chinese people have increasingly turned to vaping, an industry which has rapidly developed over the past year thanks to a boom in popularity.
10. Victoria's Secret Fashion Show Lands in Shanghai
The American lingerie brand made a big splash in China in 2017 with the opening of two flagship stores (in Shanghai and Chengdu) and the 'Hai playing host to this year’s Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, which saw dozens of models descending upon the city to walk the runway at the star-studded event (those who got a travel visa did, anyway) in November. Jane Zhang, Harry Styles and Miguel provided the entertainment, but it was Shanghainese model Ming Xi, who stole the show when she took a tumble during her walk. (Ouch!) Taylor Swift and Katy Perry were previously rumored to be part of the performance lineup as well, but couldn’t make it in the end… because there would be too much ‘bad blood’ on stage, right?
For more 2017 Year in Review coverage, click here.