- China stakes claims in metaverse
- Peng Shuai: angry reaction to tennis cancellation
- China summons Japanese ambassador
- Pentagon warns of hypersonic weapons
- Twitter deletes accounts
- Johnny Erling on songs about Xi Jinping
Life is shifting more and more into virtual space. What seemed like science fiction a few years ago has long since become everyday life. And it now has a name: The worlds made of pure information are collectively called the “metaverse”. The denser and more entangled they become, the more economic activity will shift there. We are already paying a lot of money for increasingly immaterial goods. In the future, an ever greater part of value creation will probably take place detached from ordinary reality.
And it is this money that companies like Facebook and Tencent are after. They want to stake their claims in the metaverse while it is still in its earliest stages. The Facebook group has just renamed itself Meta for good reason, bringing a lot of attention to the trend. Tencent, meanwhile, is blithely building its own Metaverse around WeChat. Its behavior resembles the first settlers and businesses on a new continent. China, unsurprisingly, is at the forefront. What the People’s Republic had to learn so painfully as a late industrial nation in classic sectors, it is now applying with remarkable agility to set the pace this time.
Chinese companies are thus not only supplying the physical technology for the Metaverse, which is a big deal in itself. The state also helps its service providers and software companies to gain an edge by shielding its own players from US competition and at the same time setting standards with a global claim, as Fabian Peltsch analyses.
But the modernity and agility in its tech sectors have no counterpart in China’s political structures. The crude handling of the accusations made by tennis player Peng Shuai against a high cadre shows this, as does the growing cult of personality around Xi.
Our second feature turns to the state’s nervous reaction to the cancellation of tennis tournaments by international organizers. After all, even Germany’s future foreign minister has already used the terms “Olympic Games” and “Peng Shuai” in the same sentence.
Johnny Erling, meanwhile, listens closely when songs of praise are sung about Xi Jinping. As part of the increasingly grotesque cult of personality, the Ballad of the Liangjiahe River, which glorifies Xi’s deeds as a youth, is regularly recited. But Erling also notes growing resentment in the party over the focus on a single person.
Metaverse in China: a brave new world
Although Facebook is still banned in China, Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement that he was rebranding his company “Meta” and would henceforth devote himself to the development of a so-called metaverse also made waves in the People’s Republic. Only one day after the name change, the Chinese search engine provider Baidu secured the brand name “metaapp” on October 29. Chinese gaming giant NetEase and e-commerce giant Alibaba also pushed forward to get in early on “metaverse” business models, at least in name – for example, with an unspecified “Ali Metaverse.” According to Bloomberg Intelligence, the metaverse industry could be worth $800 billion by 2024. And according to forecasts by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), it could even be worth $1.54 trillion by 2030.
New home for mankind
All of this is baffling, given that no one can explain in detail what the metaverse (Chinese Yuánjiè 元界) actually is. The term itself first appeared in the science fiction novel “Snow Crash” published in 1992. In it, US writer Neal Stephenson describes a virtual reality similar to the Matrix in which people live escapist second lives as avatars. “The Metaverse has its own economy. Companies and individuals can invest, buy, sell, and get paid for work within the Metaverse,” writes tech investor Matthew Ball in his essay “The Metaverse: What It Is, Where to Find it, and Who Will Build It.”
Mark Zuckerberg, who recommends the text to his employees as required reading, sees the metaverse above all as a “successor to the mobile Internet”, which is no longer consumed only via screens, but in which one is actually present as a person. One scenario, for example, would be that a user buys an item of clothing in the real world, and the avatar in the metaverse receives the virtual equivalent, which he can then wear in a wide variety of digital spaces. Individual Internet platforms such as Facebook or Weibo are then no longer isolated from each other but merge into a huge digital space supported by cloud servers. The metaverse is “It’s a ways off, but you can start to see some of the fundamental building blocks take shape,” the Facebook founder explained in an hour-and-a-half-long keynote video. These include live streams, social networks, and computer games, which already form an interface between the digital and real worlds.