Netizen Voices: “Just Change The Definition of a Unicorn”

While touring Shandong last week, Xi Jinping hosted a symposium on the economy. The gathering has inspired hopes that the upcoming Third Plenum, a twice-a-decade meeting on economic reform, will be a harbinger of change for China’s moribund private-sector economy. While hopes for the plenum are tempered but high—not least due to Xi’s surprising decision to have two reform-minded economists brief the Shandong symposium—state media’s coverage of Xi’s time in Shandong has spurred a new bout of despair about China’s economy. 

People’s Daily quoted Xi as asking: “What is the main factor behind the drop in Chinese unicorns?” “Unicorn” is a common investment term to describe a startup company valued at over $1 billion dollars that remains privately owned and is not yet listed on the stock market. People’s Daily did not record whether any of the symposium participants responded to Xi’s question, but opined, “This question is the voice of our age. The ‘list of problems’ will be our ‘list of reforms.’” The question was quietly mocked on Weibo, with many subtly pointing their finger at the government for the slowdown: 

正源清本了解一下:Just change the definition of a unicorn. 

齐俊杰:We can posit four reasons. First, the internet changed in nature. Second, the attack on the private tutoring industry. Third, the stock market entering a prolonged “bearish” period. Fourth, in the past few years we’ve had the pandemic, followed by deflation. 

漳水西:There are no chives left to reap! 

干就完了0007:The main reason is that everyone is terrified of that “piece of paper” [likely referring to a government memo]. Nobody dares to invest or “go big” because aren’t you just waiting to “be nationalized” if you do? [Chinese]

Some of the anger over China’s economic malaise has subtly been pointed at Xi Jinping. A host of “New Era” chengyu that subtly criticize life under Xi includes several references to economic pain. Any overt criticism of China’s leader is forbidden, making it difficult to gauge the true extent of displeasure. In April, a live-streamer was temporarily banned across Chinese social media platforms after a viewer asked him whether he thought Xi Jinping was a dictator, even though the streamer immediately denounced the viewer, saying he must be insane and that he would soon be arrested. One comment under his announcement of a “temporary hiatus” stated: “Stop beating around the bush. Please state your opinion about him [Xi] clearly.”


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