Hardly a slam dunk?
Jun 9, 2017 (WiC 369)

The Chinese have started to embrace the sharing economy – a business model based on renting rather than owning. Think Mobike: a bike rental company with a presence across the nation (see WiC339).

Others contend that the concept can be taken too far. In WiC366 we reported on the rise of shared mobile phone chargers and the bearish views of some of its critics (including Wang Sicong, the son of one of China’s richest tycoons).

Other products have been getting the same treatment, including an umbrella renting business that has popped up in Guangzhou. Molisan (Magic Umbrella) charges its customers a Rmb20 deposit for a 15-day rental, after which the user can extend ownership by three days for free. After 18 days, customers are then charged Rmb0.5 a day. The firm intends to distribute up to a million umbrellas in Guangzhou this year.

Some people have praised the idea for its convenience; while others foresee that thousands of umbrellas will simply be stolen or damaged.

According to Reuters, the Chinese government expects revenues from the sharing economy to grow 40% this year, raking in Rmb4.83 trillion ($705 billion), and that the sector will account for 10% of GDP by 2020.

Will shared basketballs play a part in this future? Zhejiang-based Zhulegeqiu thinks so, and so do its investors, who have injected Rmb10 million in funding in the two months since its conception.

The firm, which keeps its basketballs in courtside lockers, already makes its services available in Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Tianjin and Chengdu, and it has ambitions to offer rentable balls at all of China’s 100,000 public basketball courts.

Quite what the makers of umbrellas and basketballs think of the sharing instinct goes unremarked in the media, but presumably they aren’t quite as keen.

Deriding the long-term viability of much of the sharing economy, some of China’s netizens have even been wondering if “shared girlfriends” might soon join the start-up world. And to an extent the answer is that they already have. An app is already available called “I want to rent someone” where people offer their time and their talents for a fee.

Testing times
Jun 2, 2017 (WiC 368)

Australian universities have been popular with Chinese students keen to earn a high-quality degree taught in an English language environment. But a university in Melbourne may be receiving fewer Chinese applicants in future after one of its exam questions leaked online.

The test set by the Human Resources Management faculty at Monash University caused a stir in China after a multiple-choice question was posted on social media. It asked the taker to choose an answer for the following blank: “There is a saying in China that government officials only tell the truth when they are ____”.

Among the possible responses was “drunk and careless”, which was deemed as the correct answer by the examiners.

This was all too much for the Global Times, which questioned whether the exam was “deliberately humiliating China”. The affronted newspaper also thundered a warning that questions like this “will cause the youth in Australia and the rest of the world to have a serious misunderstanding of China”.

Oriental Daily also pitched in, noting that Chinese students at the Melbourne-based university were “strongly dissatisfied” with the situation.

Administrators at Monash speedily launched an investigation, withdrew the question from the exam paper and suspended the teachers who had devised it. They have since apologised unreservedly for “defaming China”, says Oriental Daily. The newspaper also quoted Professor Zhu Lijia of the China National School of Administration as saying that some overseas universities “are often keen to misinterpret China’s national conditions, including degrading the image of Chinese officials, and showing contempt for China’s development”.

Controllers, controlled
May 26, 2017 (WiC 367)

According to the Oxford English Dictionary the origin of the word ‘drone’ dates back a millennia to the Old English word ‘dran’, which described a male bee.

But of the four meanings of the term in the same reference dictionary the one that ranks fourth on the list is perhaps its most common usage today: a “remote-controlled pilotless aircraft or missile”.

The latter part of that description would chime with the views of the bureaucrats at the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC). Last week that body declared that any drone weighing more than 250 grams would have to be registered with the authorities (using its owner’s identity card). The new rules will come into effect on June 1 and threatens stringent penalties for anyone who flies their drones into the restricted areas around 155 designated airports in China.

The move comes after incidents with drones at airports in Chongqing, Kunming and Chengdu which led to planes being diverted. Fortunately there haven’t been any drone-related plane crashes in China but accidents of this type are one of the CAAC’s fears. For those violating the new code there is a sliding scale of punishments – fines of Rmb10,000 ($1,455) for more minor infractions, through to the death penalty in cases where passenger jets are placed in jeopardy by drone incursions over runways.

Of course, one challenge in regulating drone flying is that the term is a catch-all for everything from larger military-type units capable of firing missiles through to hobbyist models used for making amateur videos.

Shenzhen’s DJI is now the world’s biggest maker of the latter type of commercial drone and its latest Phantom 4 Advanced model weighs just over a kilogram. That means it would need to be registered under the new scheme and suggests that very few drone models will be exempt. That led one frustrated netizen to vent: “Even toys need to be registered now with the government.” To be fair, it may be a bit of a stretch to equate the Phantom 4 with a toy. It can fly at speeds of up to 72km/h and according to DJI it can be remotely controlled from a distance of 7km and piloted for 30 minutes at a time.

The Shenzhen-based company has admitted that the new CAAC measures have adversely hit its drone sales in China since they were announced. However, DJI vice president Shao Jianhuo stressed that the company would never “retreat from selling in China” as some online rumours had last week claimed.