China is having a technology boom.
The country’s internet giants, once hailed as engines of economic vitality, are now scorned for exploiting user data, abusing workers and stifling innovation. Jack Ma, the co-founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba, is a fallen idol, as his companies are under government scrutiny for the ways they secure their foothold. the world’s second largest economy.
But there’s one tech figure trying to get the Chinese public excited, whose blend of bombing abilities and the bravery of an industry captain who seems to be tailored for the moment of daydreaming. and disillusioned with this: Elon Musk.
Jane Zhang, founder and CEO of ShellPay, a blockchain company in Shanghai, said: “He can go against founding and become the richest man on earth – and avoid being beaten. in this process. “He is everyone’s hope.”
Whether out of hope, out of jealousy or pathological curiosity – like spectators hoping to see one of his rockets down in a flaming blast – China just can’t get enough of Musk. Tesla’s electric cars are selling well in the country, and the government’s growing space ambitions have created a community of fans who follow each SpaceX launch.
Social platforms are flooded with videos and articles that consider whether the South African-born billionaire was a pioneer or a scammer, and test everything from his teaching process to his interests in food. hot pot in Beijing. The startup founders swear by his belief in “rule first thinking”, seeking solutions by examining problems at their most fundamental level. A stack of books by Chinese authors promises to reveal the secrets of “Iron Man in Silicon Valley,” nicknamed seemingly stuck in China, not Mars King or Rocket Man.
In a long thread about Musk on the Zhihu question and answer website, a user named Moonshake wrote that most people begin to be hopeful but gradually accept the “mediocrity” as their fate. .
“Only a superman like Musk can go beyond infinite mediocrity and head towards infinity, to see the grandeur of the universe,” Moonshake wrote.
Another user on the same thread said that he named his son Elon to show his admiration. The user who did not reply to the message sought to add a comment.
Production of Tesla’s giant factory near Shanghai will begin in 2019 and help boost the company’s production capacity. When Tesla’s share price hit a new high in January, making Musk the richest man on the planet, Chinese fans have stated in recognition. (Musk’s response to the news – “Wow, get back to work …” – was liked 22,000 times on China’s Weibo social network.)
Later that month, when Musk approved GameStop’s stock appreciation, many in China were drawn to the film by the same distrust of major financial institutions.
“Occupied Wall Street can never be copied in China,” said Suji Yan, a Shanghai-based businessman and investor. To do that, “you have to walk on the street,” he said. Buying stocks to protest is safer.
The frustration that many Chinese tech workers have for their industry is intensified because they feel that it is no longer truly inventing or innovating. While Musk was kicking off building futuristic cars and space-locating, they saw the best minds of their generation designing mobile games, figuring out how to bring more. advertise more on social media and speculate in real estate.
“China no longer has Silicon Valley madmen,” Yan said. “All tech owners have become cardboard,” he said, and investors won’t touch “crazy” ideas from afar.
Members of Musk are a group of passions everywhere. But in China, his popularity was aided by the authoritarian government’s embrace of Tesla – and vice versa – when the United States and China have never been less confident in their tech companies. together.
The Chinese people are amazed at how Musk handles the country’s tough authorities. They criticized more than the way he sometimes treats his workers. Last year, he lashed out at California health officials who demanded that the Tesla plant there remain closed for concerns about the coronavirus. The company has also been under strict scrutiny for workplace injuries and racism.
Hong Bo, a longtime tech commentator in China who writes under the name Keso, talks about Musk. “I admire his courage in breaking old conventions, but I really don’t like him trampling on the bottom lines of humanity.”
Musk and Tesla did not respond to email requests for comment.
The disappointment with Big Tech is part of the unrest in China. For many young people, decades of dizzying economic growth only seem to lead to more intense competition for opportunity, less stability and less voice direction in their lives.
On the Chinese Internet, the term that has captured this mood is “evolution,” previously used by anthropologists to describe agricultural societies that have grown in size or complexity without to become more advanced or productive.
Biao Xiang, who studies social change in China and is the director of Max Planck, said the young Chinese feeling that they are fighting more for a thinner chance of acquiring material benefits. Institute of Social Anthropology in Germany.
In addition to criticizing the tech industry’s high-pressure work culture and the labor abuse of the gig economy, young Chinese are even more skeptical of the vast influence that the platforms have. internet like Alibaba is using for commerce and finance. However, Professor Xiang believes that Chinese people have not turned their backs on businesses that deliver more tangible technological advances, which is why Musk’s industrial optimism remains. have attraction.
“They are not really against technology,” said Professor Xiang. “They are more against manipulating social relationships of this fundamental type.”
China has no shortage of straightforward tech tycoons. It’s just that their careers never seem very far away without trouble.
There was Justin Sun, the cryptocurrency paid 4.6 million dollars to dine with Warren E. Buffett but later apologized for “over-promoting”. Or Jia Yueting, who has set the goal of being the best at Apple in the smartphone space and is buried in debt. Even Alibaba’s Mr. Ma seems to have helped catalyze the government’s crackdown on him by speaking a little too bluntly at an event about his discomfort with regulators.
However, Musk’s demonic-minded style will probably attract little attention in China as he is not seen as trying to solve civilization major problems like sustainable energy. In a country where most people see new technology delivering vast improvements to their lives, there is little doubt about the further future in the West.
Flex Yang, co-founder of Babel Finance, a Hong Kong-based service provider, said young Chinese consider Jack Ma and Pony Ma, the head of social media giant Tencent, “like people rich and successful businessman ”. financial services for cryptocurrencies.
Hai Mas, who is not related, merely “was in the right place at the right time,” said Mr. Yang.
Jack Ma and Mr. Musk shared a stage at a tech conference in Shanghai in 2019. There may never have been a more matching pair. Mr. Ma proved serious and attached, comfortable in the role of a conference moderator. Musk was restless and cheerful. The two talked a lot together. Ma said the answer to super intelligent machines is to better educate humans. Regarding this, Mr. Musk just laughed.
In a synthesis of awkward moments from the event posted on video site Bilibili, the comments were brutal, mostly against Mr. Ma.
One wrote: “This is a person in China who was revered as a god. “In the presence of a real master, he is like a monkey performing.”
Alibaba declined to comment.