The Metaverse in China: What Does It Look Like?

Metaverse matters in the post-COVID time, the virtual world enables people to communicate, socialize, trade, and do business without any physical boundaries. The metaverse is highly based on VR, AR, and cryptocurrencies.

However, the Chinese government banned cryptocurrencies three times since 2013. In 2013, the Chinese authorities prevented financial institutions from trading bitcoin; in 2017, the Chinese government stopped all Initial Coin Offerings; in 2021, the cryptocurrency business by financial institutions and payment firms was banned (Free Metaverse Report, Newzoo 2021).

Under such strict regulation, does China really have a metaverse? And what does the metaverse look like in China?

In China, the metaverse is called ‘元宇宙’. The Chinese technology giants have already invested in a market that may be worth up to $8 trillion in the future (China Briefing, 2022).

Apart from cryptocurrencies, VR and AR are the other two most important elements in the development of the metaverse. 6 of China’s tech giants (Baidu Inc, Alibaba, Bytedance, Tencent, etc.) have made VR/AR to the top 10 firms globally in the past two years.

Baidu was the first Chinese tech company to launch a metaverse app; The Land of Hope (希壤), in Dec 2021. This app was the first signal that China had stepped into the global metaverse market.

Tencent is a global-leading internet and technology company. During the Tencent Annual Game Conference 2021, their vision featured heavily on the metaverse. Tencent plans to launch the Super Digital Scenario Co-development Project, including, the blurring of boundaries between real and virtual worlds through expanded content, social interactions, and increasing offline activities (Free Metaverse Report, Newzoo 2021). This project provides players with immersive game experiences in offline activities, with the aim of merging the real and virtual worlds to achieve the metaverse.

Byte Dance, the parent company of TikTok, has developed two metaverse apps – Party Island and Pixsoul, which allow users to create their own avatars and communicate with each other. However, these two apps are still in their testing stage, and are only available for people who have invitation codes.

From the research of Newzoom (2021), 78% of Chinese participants are interested in interacting within gaming worlds, in contrast with 57% in the US and 47% in the UK. Moreover, Xing Chen and Luo Tian Yi are two virtual idols in China. Their social channels have 5.28 million followers and 227,000 followers respectively. The Chinese Gen Z are more likely to interact with these digital humans online. Some companies are developing digital humans as virtual idols to appeal to Gen Z.

From the Chinese government’s perspective, several local governments have started to include the metaverse in their work for 2022. A document called ‘Measures for Promoting the Innovation and Development of the Metaverse’ was issued by the Guangzhou Huangpu District and Guangzhou Development Zone for The Guangdong – Hong Kong – Macao Greater Bay Area.

The Chinese National Government has not issued any policies explicitly against or in support of the metaverse, although considering the bans on cryptocurrencies, China may want to establish their own version of the metaverse that fits in with their economic system.

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