Even if a TikTok is killed, more Tiktoks will rise
Published: Mar 22, 2023 06:49 PM
Illustration: Liu Xidan/GT

Illustration: Liu Xidan/GT

Online shopping has become an essential part of Chinese consumers' daily lives, and the role of TikTok, (its Chinese counterpart is called Douyin)is growing.

Every consumer in China can easily buy the necessities they or their families need online and get them quickly, even if those products are manufactured thousands of miles away.

In the process, capital, manufacturing, and logistics are flowing rapidly, as is data, and consumers have become part of the digital economy. 

The digitization of the Chinese economy is the basis for TikTok's success. This is why, even if the US and the West take the lead in some high-tech areas, it's very difficult for them to suppress the rise of China.

Regardless of the type of economy, in the end, the market ultimately counts.

In Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari's Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, data is a fundamental component of the future world. Dataism holds that the universe consists of a stream of data and that the value of any phenomenon or entity lies in its contribution to data processing.

The most prominent contribution of globalization is not so much the great flow of materials as the great flow of data, which in turn has become a major force driving globalization, even becoming globalization and the global market itself.

Data has personal, capital, market, and national attributes.

Of these, capital is the most sensitive. Data is market and money. Whoever can master, direct and combine data with more advanced technology will have more revenues. In the past, money made money; now, data creates markets and wealth.

While the power of capital originating in the West is no longer expanding colonies and capturing global markets with cannons and warships as it started some 500 years ago, the urge to capture more markets for profit has remained the same.

Harari says, "Reality will be a mesh of biochemical and electronic algorithms, without clear borders, and without individual hubs." If you master a more advanced algorithm, you have the potential to master more entities.

That's why TikTok, a leader in digital technology and advanced algorithms, is making American politicians and big bosses anxious. It's a competition for technology and competition for markets.

For China, it's clearer where our strengths lie in this great game around digital technology.

Why is TikTok so popular in China? Of course, technology is paramount. But its rise is not a coincidence, especially in the form of short videos and live streaming with goods.

China has the most significant number of internet users, the world's largest online shopping market, the fastest and easiest logistics and shipping, the largest fleet of couriers and the largest manufacturing sector, and the world's most robust workforce still engaged in manufacturing.

These are all part of the digital economy. Each of these industries provides a better "bungee jump" for those tech companies to jump faster and higher, taking full advantage of the Chinese economy to grow and form a broader market.

Any of these are integral to the rapid growth of TikTok in China, which has profoundly changed Chinese consumption patterns and formed the world's second-largest consumer market. This is something that the US and many Western countries with high technology have difficulty catching up with China. And indeed, something that their capital power would prefer to have.

The US can't compete with logistics alone, not to mention the fact that the vast amount of clothing, small goods, and electronics are no longer produced locally in the US and must be imported.

The importance of the digital economy is self-evident. Still, it is only based on the elemental composition of the Chinese economy that it has the potential to develop faster, which is the strength of the Chinese economy to resist the "decoupling" of the US and the West from China.

As long as we stick to China's strengths, rely more closely on the manufacturing industry, and continue to break through to the high points of global high technology, more TikToks are bound to emerge in the worldwide tide of the digital economy.

The author is a senior editor with People's Daily, and currently a senior fellow with the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China. dinggang@globaltimes.com.cn. Follow him on Twitter @dinggangchina