CHINA’S INFLUENCE UNDER A MICROSCOPE: BUSINESS, PLANET & PEOPLE
The scale of the global influence of the Chinese economy and industry has been magnificently illustrated over the last few weeks, following the outbreak of the coronavirus. Not only have global brands taken a hit and are increasingly concerned about supply chains - global carbon emissions have also dropped remarkably as a result:
“Burberry has become the latest company to warn about the impact of the coronavirus in China on its business. The British luxury fashion chain, which derives about two-fifths of its revenue from Chinese consumers, said 24 out of its 64 stores in mainland China were closed and the remainder were operating on reduced hours. It said footfall at the stores that remained open was down 80 per cent as consumers stayed in their homes. It added that the coronavirus outbreak was more damaging than the civil unrest that halved sales in Hong Kong during its last fiscal quarter.” Financial Times
"In the past month, the world has seen a remarkably large drop in emissions of carbon dioxide, the main driver of global warming... The coronavirus outbreak in China, which has sickened at least 77,000 people, has shut down factories, refineries and flights across the country as officials order people to stay home. As a result, China’s carbon dioxide emissions over the past three weeks have been about 25 percent lower than during the same period last year…” NY Times
But from a youth-specific perspective in China, one of the most noteworthy results of the virus breakout is the questioning of the Chinese government’s handling of the situation. They were slow to communicate the coronavirus threat and worked to suppress voices of warning - undermining any promises of security. For younger generations, the ‘official’ media’s reporting of the outbreak has resulted in a massive loss of credibility.
“Daisy Zhao, 23, a Beijing resident, said she once trusted the official media. Now she fumes over the reports that labeled eight medical workers who tried to warn about the coronavirus threat as rumormongers. Images and videos of their public reprimand have been widely shared online… The backlash may suggest new attitudes among the young generation toward the state. “There’s some gap between what the young people are really like and what the government believes what they’re like,” Ms. Xia  added.” NY Times
Young activists against government censorship are fighting for freedom of information by sharing updates about the outbreak themselves on the likes of social media platform Weibo.
CORONAVIRUS X POP CULTURE: WHEN HEALTH AND ENTERTAINMENT COLLIDE
Live-event fans around the world are feeling the effects of coronavirus in other cultural ways as mass entertainment events are postponed and cancelled in order to reduce the risk of the virus spreading. Stormzy has had to postpone the Asian leg of an upcoming global tour, BTS have cancelled the Korean leg of their tour, and the Six Nations have postponed international rugby matches. Amid growing concerns, a decision on whether the Tokyo Olympics will go ahead is not going to happen until May. Meanwhile ‘training for 80,000 Olympic volunteers, which was due to begin on 22 February, has been delayed for at least two months.’
It’s not just the world of touring musicians and global sporting events that are feeling the effects of the coronavirus outbreak - film festivals, fashion weeks and cultural/art festivals are also looking at cancellations and postponing. It’s been reported too that schools could shut for more than two months in the event of a pandemic in the UK, and that mass gatherings would be greatly reduced. US colleges are also pulling study abroad programmes.
CORONAVIRUS X ONLINE CULTURE: MEMES AND BATTLING BOREDOM
The coronavirus has sparked people to really evaluate how they spend their time. The idea, and reality of, being away from people and in isolation for a matter of weeks is being embraced and celebrated by some, and hated by others. It’s also been a magnificent reminder of how the internet gains new leases of life. This is especially evident when something connects people unexpectedly under a common theme (and are stuck indoors for weeks on end). With quarantines the norm in places where coronavirus has hit, residents are turning to social media to cope with the boredom. Entertaining content created by people on lockdown varies in sentiment and energy:
“To begin with, it was memes showing bats in soup, or people eating the animals whole, as health authorities announced that bats may have been the source of the viral outbreak. But as celebrations for new year slowed down, hashtags such as #whattodowhenstuckathome and #learnanewskill trended on Weibo, China’s Twitter, giving life to a host of funny videos and entertainment… Cabin fever has meant that downloads of fitness apps such as Keep, and views of exercise videos on Douyin (Chinese TikTok) and its rival Kuaishou (or Kwai, overseas) soared… But beyond the funny memes and songs of unity, you can still find devastating personal stories.” Yuan Ren
Most are simply passing the time to give one another a positive morale boost. There now exists a huge variety of memes, playing on themes of hysterics and chill to help people feel better. On TikTok, music declaring ‘It’s Corona Time’ have been inspiring lots of young social media users to create content related to the virus. Humorous professional cartoons have also been created to provide ‘informative’ entertainment on the virus.
SELF ISOLATION: HIKIKOMORI AND SOCIETAL RETREAT
On the one hand, the advice (or direction) to self isolate has led to the creation of introvert-inspired memes welcoming the possibility of staying away from classmates or coworkers (and bosses!) for an extended period of time. On the other hand, the conversation around self-isolation is a reminder of the very real cultural phenomenon of ‘hikikomori’ where (predominantly young) people self-isolate and live as hermits. There are reportedly an estimated half a million ‘hikikomori’ in Japan (although this is not unique to Japan) who withdraw from in-person social contact and stay indoors for years and years.
Many put the phenomenon down to the “isolating” influence of modern technology, observing that “Japan’s lost generation could be a canary in the coal mine for our increasingly disconnected societies.” Very real concerns about social isolation are on the rise around the world - “Last January the UK appointed its first minister for loneliness and recent Office of National Statistics data found nearly 10% of 16 to 24-year-olds reported feeling "always or often" lonely.”
Our health is our wealth. Right now, our collective health is exposing insights into modern culture in extremely eye opening ways. Coronanxiety is real and revealing/highlighting important phenomenons in our disconnected societies. It’s causing people to question global connectivity and inspiring people to seek self sufficiency closer to home. It’s resulting in young people taking matters into their own hands to make the most of the situation by communicating online in creative ways. With this we see how important transparent communications is, and how a significant a quick and simple ‘mental boost’ can be.
Employers will likely have to make important decisions in the coming weeks (if not already) about the welfare of their workforce and remote-working options. Do you have an event or global gathering coming up that you might have to make a call on? Put people first and ensure clarity in your communications. As uncertainty continues with regard to lockdowns and isolation policies, think about how you might be able to provide people with entertainment that they can consume or interact alone within the coming weeks and months. How could you create a virtual ‘mass event?’
In the meantime, make sure to stay safe and follow the precautions laid out by reputable health organisations, such as W.H.O. Wash your hands with soap and hot water for the length of time it takes to sing the Happy Birthday song twice!