Rumour mill
Aug 18, 2017 (WiC 376)

Could Old Trafford be the latest footballing icon to fall into the lap of a Chinese buyer? That was the frenzied speculation after the Sunday Times reported earlier this month that Manchester United could be another high profile soccer club to be acquired by a Chinese buyer. China’s media quickly followed up, suggesting that insurer Ping An was the purchaser, and floated the idea that its boss Ma Mingzhe already owned a 3.46% stake in the English team. However, that was quickly denied by the company. “This is a false rumour,” a spokesman told Sohu Finance. “Ping An has never been involved in the purchase of shares in Manchester United and Ma Mingzhe has never owned any shares of Manchester United.”

However, while the Chinese bid for United was soon consigned to the fake news category, a real purchase did emerge this week with the announcement that fellow English Premiership club Southampton had been bought by Gao Jisheng, a man termed by the Financial Times as a “real estate magnate”. His property group Lander Holdings has paid £200 million for an 80% stake in a club which normally finishes in the top half of the table but rarely wins trophies (it last won the FA Cup in 1976). In recent years Chinese buyers have purchased five other English clubs as well Italy’s AC Milan and Inter Milan.

However, over the past few months Chinese authorities have cracked down on such overseas ‘trophy’ purchases, making it all the more surprising that Gao got the approval to ink this deal. In March, for example, the Secretary of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange, Pan Gongsheng, told a conference: “Last year Chinese companies bought a lot of football clubs overseas. If acquisition is conducive to improving the level of football in China, I think it is a good thing, but is the real situation like this? There are many companies whose debt ratio in China has been high, but they still borrowed a lot of money to finance overseas acquisitions. Some even transferred assets under the disguise of direct investment.”

Now that Gao has achieved his goal, fans of the club nicknamed the Saints will hope he will also get the nod to transfer more funds out of China to buy players and boost the team’s prospects in the English league.

Superpower, at last
Jul 21, 2017 (WiC 375)

Ask someone what superhero they would like to be and their answer will reveal something of their character. Those wishing for strength are proactive, those seeking flight want adventure, and those who ask to be invisible are probably up to no good.

China now has the chance to make that decision for itself, thanks to a licencing deal between NetEase and Disney. Hoping to tap the success of the Marvel movies, which are owned by Disney and have grossed over Rmb8 billion ($1.18 billion) at the Chinese box office, the deal gives NetEase distribution rights for 12 comic book series online.

According to Technode, the Disney-NetEase partnership will include collaboration on producing games, films, novels and other products derived from the Marvel universe.

One key aspect is the co-creation of “a modern Chinese superhero based on Marvel’s elements with inspiration from modern China”. There are no further details, leaving room for speculation on what its “modern inspiration” will be.

Marvel’s last attempt at a Chinese superhero was in the 1970s, resulting in Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu. It didn’t capture the imagination. Perhaps the latest iteration will be a more tech-driven affair, more akin to Iron Man and based in Shenzhen’s Silicon Delta.

Last year, Marvel’s Stan Lee hinted at another direction things might take when he said he was working on a character for the Chinese market called Monkey Master – inspired by The Monkey King (China’s original cloud-surfing superhero).

Until now the closest that Hollywood has got to creating a ‘Chinese’ superhero is the Kung-fu Panda franchise. Of course, that was an entirely American creation, blending an iconic Chinese animal with comedy and martial arts. But for Disney and NetEase the bamboo-eating bear will be a tough act to follow – if only in box office terms.

Cash and carrier
Jul 14, 2017 (WiC 374)

The Chinese have a history of decommissioning aircraft carriers. The Kiev and the Minsk, two Soviet ships sold to China in the 1990s, have been converted into a hotel and a theme park respectively.

Supposedly another Ukrainian aircraft carrier, the Varyag, was initially procured as a tourist attraction as well, although she later became the Liaoning, China’s first combat-ready carrier (see WiC250 for the story of its purchase and conversion).

The Soviet-era vessel was in Hong Kong this week to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the territory’s return to Chinese rule. The port call had been arranged to inspire a little patriotism in the former British colony and it is the first time the carrier has opened its decks to the public.

To get one of the 2,000 visitor tickets, hundreds of curious Hongkongers stayed up overnight at a PLA depot last week. The tickets were free but the PLA was selling souvenirs of the visit, including models of the battleship and its J-15 fighter aircraft.

Scale models of the J-15 selling for HK$400 ($50) were the most popular souvenir and all the ship’s promotional items were sold out soon after the first group of visitors boarded on Saturday, the Global Times was delighted to report.

“It was worth it,” a Hongkonger told the newspaper, after spending HK$4,500 on souvenirs and waiting for nine hours to get his entry ticket.

China Daily notes that a further 2,000 VIPs also visited the ship during its five-day anchorage in Hong Kong. The Liaoning departed on Tuesday through the East Lamma channel, the same way that it had arrived. The China Daily points out that the boat was too big to pass through the city’s iconic Victoria Harbour, but three support vessels did sail through it on Tuesday “to salute the people of Hong Kong” before departing.