That's 2021 China Year in Review

By Joshua Cawthorpe, December 24, 2021

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On the eve of 2021, China’s National Health Commission announced that the domestically produced Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine would be free to the Chinese public. High-risk groups were given priority but the first few months of the year saw an unprecedented roll-out of the global vaccination campaign.

As the world began emerging from the grips of the pandemic, China’s economy was bolstered by a staggering trade surplus. Nonetheless, an overarching economic trend in 2021 was the blatant assertion that a healthy, socialist society would take precedence over growth itself.

In 2020, Alibaba’s Ant Financial was poised to launch the world’s largest ever IPO. Unlike New York Stock Exchange-listed Alibaba, Ant Financial was slated to go public on Shanghai’s STAR exchange and the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong. However, the deal was put on hold as regulators closed in, preparing an anti-monopoly investigation into the tech giant. Chinese regulators made it abundantly clear that overeager profiteering would be subject to intense government scrutiny. In this regard, the theme music of this past year has undoubtedly been Warren G and Nate Dogg — regulators, mount up!

January 24

After an explosion at a gold mine in Shandong province 14 days prior, 11 miners are successfully rescued. On January 17, a 47-year-old miner surnamed Wang began banging on the drill pipe, sending an audible message to the surface to confirm that there were survivors trapped more than half a kilometer underground. The rescue efforts included no less than 633 rescuers, 407 machines and a small battalion of ambulances and medical staff. Tragically, an equal number of miners perished in the accident.


Image via Weibo/@巴蒂克雷斯波

February 25

Chinese President Xi Jinping announces that extreme poverty has been eradicated in China. After first addressing the formidable goal of poverty alleviation in November 2013, the “miracle” milestone was commended at a ceremony in Beijing.


Image via Weibo/@西藏日报

April 10

Alibaba, the technology behemoth behind Alipay and Taobao, is fined a record-smashing RMB18 billion. Having announced the anti-trust probe in December of 2020, The State Administration for Market Regulation determined that Alibaba Group Holding Ltd had restricted competitors and abused its power. The staggering value of the fine represents 4% of the domestic revenue amassed by the company in 2019.


Image via Weibo/@天眼觑红尖

April 24

Two wild elephants discover a stash of alcohol at a villagers home near Pu’er city, Yunnan province. The inebriated elephants turned back, leaving the 15 members of their pachyderm party to continue their parade towards the capital of Kunming. The herd eventually arrived at the outskirts of Kunming, having traveled more than 500 kilometers from their sanctuary in the Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve. The trunked troupe made headlines on numerous occasions throughout the first half of the year. Despite being accompanied by thousands of police officers and emergency vehicles, the elephants managed to ravage several millions of RMB worth of crops.


Image via Weibo/@都市时报

April 29

The core module of China’s Tiangong low-orbit space station launches from Wenchang, Hainan province. After successfully deploying the first section of the space station, named Tianhe, the Shenzhou-12 spacecraft would then take flight on June 17. Three astronauts – Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo – ascended to Tianhe to begin a three-month tenure in which tests and maintenance would be performed aboard the space station.


Image via Weibo/@焦点论坛话题

June 1

Fifteen private education companies are fined a combined RMB36.5 million by government market regulators. The punishment cites false advertising and fraudulent pricing. Among the companies fined are New Oriental Education, Zuoyebang and TAL Education Group, China Daily reports. Forbes asserted that the three most successful entrepreneurs in the industry had lost a combined USD27 billion in just a few months. Since peaking from late January to mid-February, Chinese education companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange saw significant losses. According to Yahoo Finance, Gaotu (formerly GSX Techedu) saw a devastating fall of more than 90%. TAL Education shrunk by over 75% and New Oriental dipped up to 61% lower than its February 16 stock price.

June 20

China’s National Health Commission declares that the country has administered more than one billion COVID-19 vaccine doses. At the time, China’s doses accounted for nearly 40% of the 2.5 billion total shots administered around the world, as cited by CNN.

July 1

The Communist Party of China celebrates its 100th anniversary. Tens of thousands of guests attended the momentous event in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. In a speech from Chinese President Xi Jinping, he expressed that the path to a better future requires the nation to “uphold the core socialist values” and “ensure it is our people who run the country.”


Image via Weibo/@澎湃新闻

July 3

The Cyberspace Administration of China orders app stores to remove Didi Chuxing. The CAC said the ride-hailing firm has violated laws on collecting users’ personal data and launched an investigation into Didi to “protect national security and the public interest,” as cited by The Guardian. The move by China’s top internet regulator came just days after Didi began trading on the New York Stock Exchange, having raised USD4.4 billion in an IPO. On the same day, the internet watchdog halted new sign-ups for multiple Chinese apps – Yunmanman, Huochebang and Boss Zhipin (BOSS) – also citing national security and public interest. Yunmanman and Huochebang are companies under NYSE-listed Full Truck Alliance, and Boss Zhipin is listed on the NASDAQ.

July 24

Less than 24 hours after the Tokyo Summer Olympics began, Chinese sharpshooter Yang Qian wins the first gold medal in the 10-meter-rifle competition. Team China would continue reaching the podiums alongside their American competitors for a total medal count of 88.


Image via Weibo/@电影大雕

August 2

Entertainer Kris Wu is arrested on suspicion of rape. The arrest followed allegations from 19-year-old Chinese college student, Du Meizhu, that Wu lured at least 30 girls, including herself and two minors, to his home before intoxicating and raping them. Du claimed she was 17 at the time of the alleged assault. Major brands like Louis Vuitton, Tencent, Porsche and Kiehl’s scattered like raccoons from a trashcan when the garage door opens.


Image via Weibo/@Mr_凡先生

August 18

The Information Office of Beijing Municipality announces tough new rules on training centers, echoing proposed policies that had previously been leaked to Reuters on June 17. In what would come to be known as the ‘double reduction’ policy, off-campus education is deemed to be a social and financial pressure that unfairly burdens students and families. The policy aims to reduce the pressure of homework and cram-school lessons on students. Thus, it allows for more quality family-time while decreasing the overall cost of raising a child in China. According to the new regulations, training centers in Beijing cannot offer classes for core subjects during public holidays, weekends or summer and winter vacation time. This refers to both online and offline classes offered during the weekends and holidays, which account for the vast majority of tutoring revenue. The policy was later rolled out nationally.

August 30

China’s National Press and Publication Administration tells online gaming companies to limit the playing time of gamers under 18 to one hour per day on weekends and holidays. There’s even a specific time slot from 8-9pm when under-18s can play. The wildly popular online game Honor of Kings was specifically named in a treatise on gaming addiction released by Economic Information Daily on August 3. The article in the Xinhua-affiliated newspaper referred to online games as ‘spiritual opium’ in reference to their highly addictive nature being a detriment to society. Tencent, which created popular messaging app WeChat, is also behind Honor of Kings. Reuters reported that the company’s stock price fell 10% in the wake of the newspaper article due to speculation that regulations would follow.


Image via Weibo/@德照网

August 31

Juren Education announces that it is closing. The private tutoring company for young people aged 5-18 years old was first established in 1994. The announcement was made via the company’s WeChat account, citing “operational difficulties.” The closure affected around 13,000 families who paid for courses, as well as hundreds of staff, according to Sixth Tone. August also saw Wall Street English file for bankruptcy and a number of similar institutions shutter through the summer months.

September 1

China’s new Data Security Law comes into effect. Most noteworthy of the new law is Article 31 which stipulates that all user data collected must be stored within China and transfers of user data are subject to approval by relevant authorities. The law was initially passed at the 29th session of the Standing Committee of the 13th National People’s Congress in the face of China’s rapidly growing digital economy. An analysis from the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai highlights the considerations on the ethics and morality of data processing, as well as a top-down strategy for data management that protects ‘China’s core interests.’

September 25

Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou returns to China after spending more than 1,000 days on Canadian soil in an extradition fight with the US. Ten days after her 2018 arrest in Canada, Meng was granted bail and lived under partial house arrest in a USD10.9 million property in Vancouver. “After more than 1,000 days of suffering, I finally returned to the motherland,” Meng said, as cited by China Daily. On Weibo, the hashtag ‘Meng Wanzhou is Returning to the Motherland’ has been viewed more than 2.9 billion times.


Image via Weibo/@新华社

September 29

China International Marine Containers Group releases their half-year financial report recording nearly a 2000% increase in net profits. With 96% of shipping containers being made in China, a global shortage of containers has driven up the price and, in turn, record profits for manufacturers. CIMC produced 1.1 million standard dry containers in the first half of 2021. Despite the astonishing growth in revenue, South China Morning Post reported that production had only doubled compared to the previous year.

September 30

After already setting a record for the largest production budget for any domestic film, The Battle at Lake Changjin hits box offices just before the National Day holiday. The film would go on to exceed the previous record with more than RMB5.69 billion in total ticket sales. The former record-holder was another Chinese war epic titled Wolf Warrior 2.


Image via Weibo/@新浪电影

October 8

The State Administration for Market Regulation slaps food delivery giant, Meituan, with a RMB3.4 billion penalty. One clause of the fine, citing ‘monopolistic behavior,’ was that nearly RMB 1.3 billion be returned to merchants who paid deposits and signed exclusivity agreements with the app operator, according to China Daily.

October 16

The Shenzhou-13 spacecraft successfully docks with the Tianhe module, marking the second crewed venture to China’s space station. After the previous Shenzhou-12 trio returned to Earth, Zhai Zhigang, Wang Yaping and Ye Guangfu began a six-month stay aboard the Tiangong station — the longest sojourn in orbit for Chinese astronauts yet. Construction of the space station is expected to be completed by the end of 2022.


Image via Weibo/@十陵街道

November 7

Yu Minhong, founder of embattled New Oriental Education, announces that the company will close 1,500 locations to focus on a new venture. In a surprise twist, the company also announced that it is pivoting to live streaming and selling agricultural products, thus supporting rural areas. China Daily reported that Yu, having shed a third of his RMB7.5 billion fortune this year, has aligned himself with the national strategy of achieving ‘common prosperity.’ He added that the company is committed to donating 80,000 sets of desks and chairs to rural schools throughout China.


Image via Weibo/@苏魁2012126

November 15

A report from McKinsey & Company, a management consulting firm headquartered in Chicago, makes headlines with the valuation that the Chinese economy had overtaken the net worth of the United States. According to Business Insider, the net worth of the US doubled between 2000 and 2020, arriving at USD90 trillion. Having joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, China’s overall wealth soared from USD7 trillion to USD120 trillion over the same two decades.

November 16

Global Times reports a positive development in the saga of debt-ridden China Evergrande Group. After Financial Times reported that the massive property and development firm had missed three rounds of bond payments in September and October, founder Xu Jiayin was said to have raised RMB7 billion by selling his personal assets in a bid to re-inject financial liquidity into the company. The capital would go towards paying employee salaries, interest payments on loans and resuming construction of ongoing developments. Among the assets that Xu allegedly parted with were two private jets and a HKD700 million luxury home in Hong Kong that was put up as collateral to China Construction Bank.


Image via Weibo/@观察者网

November 20

Days after the anti-monopoly bureau was officially inaugurated in Beijing, a sleuth of firms are fined for mergers and acquisitions deemed improperly declared. Among the companies fined RMB500,000 for each infringing deal are Inc., Suning, Tencent, Alibaba and Baidu.

November 22

Authorities in Hangzhou, sometimes referred to as China’s Silicon Valley, make a strong example out of two of the country’s top live streamers. Lin Shanshan and Zhu Chenhui, with a combined tally of over 40 million fans, were found to have evaded personal income tax by setting up shell companies around the country and declaring their exorbitant salaries as operating income. Lin will have to cough up nearly RMB28 million while Zhu is slammed with penalties and overdue taxes exceeding RMB65.5 million. China’s live streaming e-commerce industry has exploded in recent years with China Daily reporting that it was worth RMB970 billion in 2020. Authorities have sent a clear message to stars and studios that they owe their fair share of taxes like any other celebrity or business.


Image via Weibo/@LINSHANSHAN_

December 3

British aeronautical engineer Richard Godfrey claims he may have found the crash site of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. The flight, which was carrying 239 passengers and crew, is one of the world’s biggest aviation mysteries after it disappeared from radar signals during flight in March 2014. The disaster was of high interest in China as 122 Chinese nationals were on board. Using different data sets, Godfrey calculated that the Boeing 777 crashed into the Indian Ocean 2,000 kilometers west of Perth, Western Australia. Thanks to Godfrey’s research, a proposal for a new search within a 40 nautical miles radius has been submitted. 


Image via Wikimedia

December 9

The first confirmed case of the COVID-19 omicron variant in China is reported by Tianjin Municipal Center for Disease Control and Prevention. An asymptomatic carrier of COVID-19 entered Tianjin from abroad on Thursday, December 9. The carrier was later confirmed to be infected with the omicron variant.  


Image via Pixabay

December 10

Chinese authorities approve a new COVID-19 drug, the first antibody therapy for the novel coronavirus to be sanctioned in the country. The antibody therapy will be administered by intravenous injection and is designed to treat anyone aged 12 years old and above, showing mild or moderate COVID-19 symptoms. The drug, known as BRII-196/BRII-198, was domestically produced by pharmaceutical company Brii Biosciences, in partnership with scientists in Beijing and Shenzhen. 


Image via Pixnio

December 13

Omicron continues to spread on the Chinese mainland as Guangzhou confirmed one case of the omicron variant. The case was a 67 year old male who resides in the city’s Yuexiu District. He returned to China from abroad on November 27 and was quarantined in Shanghai for two weeks. During his isolation, all nucleic acid tests returned negative. On December 11, the man returned to Guangzhou by plane and returned to his home for a week of in-house quarantine. A routine nucleic acid test was conducted on December 12 and returned a positive result the following day. 

December 14

After suffering from great financial difficulties since the pandemic began in January 2020, Element Fresh announces they will be filing for bankruptcy and have already begun closing stores in China. Internally, the company handed out ‘leave-without-pay’ contracts to staff and advised them to start looking for new employment. Element Fresh has been operating in China for over 20 years and was particularly popular amongst its expat population. The brand offered a relatively healthy fast-food option. 


Image via Weibo/@新浪财经

December 17

WeChat is temporarily transported back to the early 2000s as over 27 million Chinese people tuned in to Irish boyband Westlife’s London concert. The concert was live-streamed on WeChat. The band played popular songs such as “Uptown Girl" and “My Love” and even performed a Chinese song to cater to the audience. For many Chinese people, Westlife was their first experience of Western pop music when the group broke in to the Chinese market in the early 2000s.


Image via Wikimedia

December 20

In less positive live-steaming news, tax authorities in Zhejiang province order popular live-streaming host Huang Wei to pay RMB1.34 billion (USD210 million) in fines. The star, commonly known as Weiya, also had her Taobao live-streaming account closed. Authorities claimed that Weiya was using several business consulting entities to hide the amount of personal commission she received from live-streaming. In an official statement by the live-streamer, she said that she would fully comply and disclose her full income structure.


Image via Weibo/@新浪财经

[Cover image via Weibo/@都市时报]

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