2012 was quite a crazy year for China, wasn't it? 2013 has a lot to live up to in terms of newsworthy developments, but we think it'll make it. With the New Year just behind us, here's a peek at some interesting trends that we think are in store for China in 2013.
1) Increasing restrictions on internet use
China's policies of strict internet censorship are no secret. Last November, the censorship bureau began cracking down on VPNs, leaving many of us Facebook-less. With an eye on maintaining a smooth transition of power for the foreseeable future, don't look for any chance of flexibility towards the usual boatload of blocked sites. VPNs will continue to be blocked, website content will be actively monitored, and the grid of censorship will grow stronger. Having said that, you can also expect new workarounds for accessing blocked content to pop up, and a small but growing contingent of microbloggers, tech companies, and social media junkies to be more vocal; just get ready for an equal pushback overriding their concerns.
2) Booming social media use operates in a bubble
The use of social media will boom in 2013—but will remain largely insulated to its audience of Chinese netizens. Due to the above-mentioned blockage of social media sites actively used around the world like Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, and Google, Chinese social media has become a world unto itself with no signs of slowing down. Its netizens largely remain segregated from the rest of the world's internet activity, while building über-popular sites like Qzone and Sina Weibo that dominate Chinese internet use. Expect China to continue its expansion of an "intranet" rather than an "internet" this year.
3) Surges in high-speed railways
China has launched a major campaign towards beefing up its transportation system, and 2013 will see some of the fruits of those labors. Recently, China opened the longest high-speed rail line in the world, linking six provinces between Beijing and Guangzhou. Its effects will be felt immediately, as it helps to ease the burden of the transportation system during February's Spring Festival. And hopes are that the rail line will increase output in everything from tourism to manufacturing. Although construction was disrupted after the fatal bullet train crash in 2011, plans are back on this year with a $96 billion budget for rail infrastructure, to be completed by 2015.
4) A wave of world record breaking
Watch out for all kinds of wacky record-breaking from China this year. Internet usage? Sina Weibo has already broken the record for user activity on New Year's Eve. The economy? China will continue to dominate world vehicle production, and investment in the US is expected to break record levels in 2013 with $5 billion worth of deals in the works. Construction? China will claim the title for the world's tallest building in March in Changsha. The 220-story "Sky City" skyscraper will eclipse Dubai's Burj Khalifa, but even more astoundingly, promises to take just 90 days for completion. And this is just a sampling!
5) The rise of second, third and forth tier cities
First tier cities like Beijing and Shanghai have received the lion's-share of attention from economic planners in past decades, but now it's shifting towards third and fourth tier cities. Numerous reports suggest that opportunity for business is ripe in locations like Changsha, Chengdu and Wuhan, with firms looking to invest in cities where their brands are less well known and they can tap into new consumer bases. Consumption in second and third tier cities even occasionally exceeds even that of first tier cities, prompting major labels to make big pushes in 2013 into areas eager for a consumerist lifestyle.
6) Coffee to replace tea as the beverage of choice
Coffee is already quickly on its way to becoming the most popular "it" item for Chinese consumers, especially for the business population and younger generations. Starbucks and its trademark mermaid logo has become a sign of status and success, with other chains like UBC and Costa not far behind. And in the process, coffee is replacing tea as the traditional Chinese drink to become the more lucrative crop to grow. Previous tea farmers are turning one by one towards farming coffee in places like Yunnan Province, once famous for its tea production. Coffee demand is expected to grow 40% each year until 2015, so bring out your mugs!
7) Food scandals start catching up to Western fast food chains
If you've been to any of China's bigger cities, you know how integral KFC, McDonald's, and a buffet of other fast food chains have become to the make-up of the urban sprawl. You've also probably heard about problems with food safety standards, from tainted milk formula to the bypassing of environmental regulations. With fast food's rapid proliferation, disputes over quality, production, and safety standards will no doubt spike accordingly, and may even exceed those of Western countries! Expect recalls, greater attention (though not necessarily reforms) to food standards, an uptick in publicity of food-related scandals and—fingers crossed—increased consumption of organic goods.
8) Sports ramp up efforts to bring home the glory
The success of Chinese athletes (and their tightly-regulated training systems) at the 2012 London Olympics has only cemented the obsessive desire for athletic victory. Success in sports is seen as a source of deep national pride and a show of strength to the world. This year training will intensify as China begins preparation for the 2016 Olympics and hosts the 12th National Games in September in Liaoning Province. Look for new focus on swimming, where major strides have been made, and on tennis, where three tournaments will be added by 2014 in an effort to develop a growing Chinese market.
9) Pressure to pursue higher education goes through the ceiling
Meanwhile, the emphasis on education will hit a peak. In a country with an incredibly rigorous school system, the infamous gao kao college admissions exam, limited spots at good colleges, and a tough post-graduate job market, the sky-high expectations children face to perform academically will only continue to climb. Two-thirds of middle-class children in cities are now enrolled in competitive key schools, and three-quarters are expected to earn post-graduate degrees. Anticipate a burgeoning of after-school classes and expensive tutorials. Correspondingly, a Western education is increasingly sought after, so expect to see a record number of students going abroad to study.
10) Make-it-or-break-it year for the film industry
Although reports show that China will surpass the US by 2020 to become the world's largest box office, the Chinese film industry is in for a tense year. Two billion USD flooded into the box office last year, but the majority came from Hollywood imports. Domestic film production is low, and challenges to spark consumer interest, produce innovative film despite censorship programs and beat out foreign imports indicate that changes will be forthcoming. There's hope yet: Lost in Thailand, the Chinese equivalent of The Hangover, is likely to beat Titanic 3D and become the highest grossing domestic film.
11) Consumerist-crazy environment sticks – but shifts towards high-end goods
Last decade's lavish gift giving has taken a hit after a string of corruption scandals. But don't let that fool you: expensive consumer tastes are thriving, and China is set to become the world's largest luxury market in 2013. E-commerce is just getting off its feet, as Western brands jostle for market control, and companies rush to stay competitive with cyber deals and exclusive partnerships. Meanwhile, male buyers, long the driving force behind the luxury market, are paying greater attention to personal luxury items at a rate that outstrips women by 30% according to a Jing Daily report. Look for major tussles over e-commerce territory and image-conscious men to keep pushing sales.
12) The next trend on the horizon is…drugs?
Quite possibly the next battle Chinese society may grapple with, according to a recent article in The Atlantic, is not "little princes" or pollution—it's drug use. Where drugs were nonexistent 25 years ago, today as many as 12 million users are under the influence of hard drugs crossing the border from North Korea or made in home-grown labs. Most users are under 35 and span the class spectrum, with synthetic drugs their most popular choice in recent years. It remains to be seen how a historically hardline Chinese government will react, but the good news is that a new movement sponsorsonline dialogues and information campaigns focused on education rather than punishment.
13) …the unexpected
This one is easy to predict: expect the unexpected! 2012 was rocked by heavy political scandals, international tiffs, and many other things that erupted out of the blue. Who knows what 2013 will bring? Your best bet is to be prepared for anything to shake down this year. Ready, set, go!
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Keywords: China 2013 predictions China 2013 expectations
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