What a year! We made it, and what comes next?

Yao Minji Tian Shengjie
With the coming of the new year, hopes are raised for better times. We face 2023 with renewed strength and spirit after a year of challenges and some triumphs.
Yao Minji Tian Shengjie

China is set to abolish quarantine for international arrivals and scrap flight bans in the latest round of relaxing coronavirus controls.

German's top virologist says the virus is now classed as endemic, rather than pandemic, and that nation's justice minister has called for lifting all restrictive measures.

Britain announces an end to publishing figures on the "R factor" – or how quickly the disease spreads among the population.

Everywhere, mankind is being led to "living with the virus." Three years on, are we really seeing the beginning of the end of harsh COVID restraints?

The new trend unleashes a kaleidoscope of reactions: Questions. Debate. Cheers. Hope. Concerns. And, as always, gratitude to doctors and nurses for their heroic dedication during the worst of the pandemic.

"Individual sorrow and happiness are not shared." The quote from Chinese writer Lu Xun's 1927 essay collection became a buzz phrase in 2022, especially on social media where one can often feel like living in multiple parallel universes.

When a friend posted an online comment saying he had been coughing for two days, I responded with the comment: "Stay Positive!"

"Do you hate me that much?" he replied, after confirming that he had tested positive.

Oops! An unintended double entendre.

Another friend shared a video of a Christmas Eve party at a Shanghai nightclub. The usual music, crowds, booze and loud voices. It looked like just a normal party that could be taking place anywhere in the world.

But "normal" is a loaded word now. How can we define it in such unprecedented times and how will history view 2022?

What a year! We made it, and what comes next?

Well, the year started out successfully enough with the Winter Olympics in Beijing, though it now does seem so very long ago.

China's domestically designed and manufactured regional jetliner, the ARJ21-700, was delivered to its first overseas buyer, and the larger C919 jet is soon to start domestic flights.

China vowed to implement the landmark deal reached at the recent UN Biodiversity Conference in Montreal. At a more grassroots level, neighborhoods in some outlying Shanghai suburbs are learning to coexist with the biodiversity of native wildlife like hedgehogs and raccoon dogs.

The widely watched 20th CPC National Congress concluded in October, turning "Chinese modernization" into top search words and raising curiosity about what's ahead.

So much to pick through in a year full of so many events, so many high and low points, so many portends of what may lie ahead.

Shanghai Daily has picked through the calendar to provide a snapshot of 2022 and where we go from there.

Learning to live with coronavirus

On December 17, Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist at China's Center for Disease Control, said that up to 1 million more people would have died on the Chinese mainland if COVID restrictions had been lifted at the beginning of the year.

In November, the nation began gradually easing restrictions.

Some people questioned why the decision came so late; others wondered if it was premature.

Wu said the policy shift was aptly timed because the Omicron variant of the virus has significantly decreased its pathological punch, buying time for more people to get vaccinated.

"We have waited for the virus to become weaker and for its threat to public health to lower," Wu said, adding that deaths from the virus had dropped to a three-year low and the number of cases worldwide was significantly reduced.

On November 11, China reduced the quarantine period for inbound travelers by two days. More easing policies followed.

On December 1, cities across China began relaxing requirements for PCR tests and health codes. Five days later, Beijing cancelled nucleic acid test requirements for most public venues.

What a year! We made it, and what comes next?
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

A senior resident at Zhongmin Village of Shanghai's Jinshan District receives COVID-19 vaccination on December 21.

On December 7, a round of new rules was announced. They included allowing home quarantine for asymptomatic cases and for infected people with mild conditions.

On December 12, venue code scanning was scrapped at most public venues in Shanghai.

On December 27, the State Council announced there would be no more centralized quarantine or mass PCR testing for international travelers entering China, starting from January 8.

It has been a challenging three years, according to Wu, who said rising vaccination rates leave the nation "better equipped to respond."

Hospital beds have been expanded, especially in intensive care units, over the past three years.

The National Health Commission revealed on Tuesday that the number of ICU beds totaled 181,100 – more than triple the number just three years ago. The number of registered physicians in ICU units has increased by nearly a third.

The crocodile and living in harmony with nature

A crocodile spotted in Shanghai's Huangpu River evaded capture several times, leaving the entire city curious about its origins and species before the reptile was caught by local authorities in September.

The croc may be among the stranger wildlife to make an appearance in the city, but there's no doubt that as Shanghai spreads out, it comes in greater contact with native animals.

What a year! We made it, and what comes next?
Dong Jun / SHINE

The crocodile spotted near Huangpu River has been captured.

Hedgehogs and raccoon dogs have become frequent visitors in some neighborhoods on the city's fringes, joined by some badgers, leopard cats, civets and porcupines. At first there was alarm, but residents are now learning to coexist with their exotic neighbors.

Raccoon dogs, named for their mask-like face markings and closer to foxes than raccoons or dogs, made their presence known in some neighborhoods long ago, but it was last year when it was reported to appear in large quantity in many neighborhoods. The city now estimates it is home to 3,000-5,000 of them as the animals adapt to urban life as development erodes native habitats. They are particularly common in Songjiang District.

A Chinese water deer science museum opened in the district in March, marking the return of an indigenous species thought to be extinct in the area at the beginning of the 20th century.

It's a victory in the city's biodiversity goals. In 2006, a species restoration project reintroduced indigenous animals in Shanghai. Over the years, parks and greenbelts are also increasing in the city, especially as part of the current 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) to become a "city of ecology."

What a year! We made it, and what comes next?
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

The picture is shot in a habitat garden at the Xiehe Jiayuan neighborhood in Changning District in September. The habitat garden is the largest of its kind in Shanghai. With a great variety of native plants, the neighborhood garden creates a "built-in" habitat for wildlife, such as raccoon dogs, native birds and bees.

At the recent UN Biodiversity Conference in Montreal, Shanghai was the only city showcasing its ecological credentials.

China held the presidency of that conference and the preceding one last year in the city of Kunming in the southwestern province of Yunnan.

Huang Runqiu, China's minister of ecology and environment, pledged that the nation will honor all its obligations under the global biodiversity framework and continue to provide technical and financial support to developing countries to achieve the goals.

What a year! We made it, and what comes next?

Huang Runqiu, China's minister of ecology and environment, delivers a speech during the opening ceremony of a UN Biodiversity Conference in December.

The UN framework is aimed at reversing biodiversity loss. It calls for increasing aid for developing countries to at least US$30 billion a year by 2030. It also calls for work to be underway or even completed by that date on at least 30 percent of degraded ecosystems.

Calling the deal historic, Huang said it provides the vision of "living in harmony with nature" by 2050.

Cleaning up the downside of social media

Chinese social media platforms have made user locations visible to all in a bid to curb misinformation, online bullying and rumor-mongering.

User locations, based on IP addresses, can be seen on profile pages, posts and comments. For those offshore, countries are displayed. Users cannot turn off this feature.

It started with Sina Weibo, China's version of Twitter. The platform launched the location feature in March, citing the goal of preventing the spread of fake information concerning such topics as the coronavirus pandemic.

Other platforms, such as Quora-like Zhihu, Douyin and the lifestyle-sharing community Xiaohongshu, introduced similar features soon after.

Location information was enshrined in the August policies laid down by the Cyberspace Administration of China.

According to a report by Shanghai Daily, experts in the field said disclosing the true identities and locations of online users would reduce online fraud and other crimes.

What a year! We made it, and what comes next?
Tian Shengjie / SHINE

The IP address is displayed on a user's profile page on the lifestyle-sharing community Xiaohongshu.

The efforts to clean up cyberspace and promote a sound online community environment have been gathering pace.

ZAO, a face-swapping app, was infamous in 2019 for allowing users to project their faces onto those of film and TV celebrities. Its creators were summoned to a meeting with officials from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and told to enhance data and privacy protections for users. After that, the app disappeared.

On December 14, the Cyberspace Administration of China, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and the Ministry of Public Security released a document cracking down on such deep synthesis technology, also called "deepfake." The provisions take effect on January 10.

On December 15, new regulations related to online comments took effect. They dictate that those who make "improper" comments will be banned from posting, their comments will be deleted and their accounts may even be shut down.

The regulation is largely in response to an October incident in Henan Province, where 46-year-old history teacher Liu Hanbo died of a heart attack after being bullied online.

Liu's daughter alleged that some netizens entered the online classroom while her mother was livestreaming a lesson. The intruders disrupted the class with dirty words and noisy music.

Liu was not the only victim of online bullying this year. The cost of bullying, slander and fake news online may be small, but the harm they cause can be enormous. More regulations are expected.

China looking forward

The Baihetan hydropower station, the world's second-largest in terms of installed capacity, went into full operation on December 20, marking the completion of the world's largest clean-energy corridor of six mega-hydropower stations on the Yangtze River in southwest China.

The new station is equipped with 16 domestically manufactured hydro-generating units, each with a capacity of 1 million kilowatts. The six hydropower stations together are expected to reduce coal consumption by 90 million tons and carbon emissions by 248 million tons a year.

It is not only China's latest effort in shift to clean energy, but also another landmark in China's path to modernization.

What a year! We made it, and what comes next?

The Baihetan hydropower station is seen in Yunnan Province.

Modernization and Westernization are two concepts often used interchangeably, especially in non-Western countries trying to catch up.

China's rapid growth has long been a source of curiosity around the world. Over 770 million people have been lifted out of poverty since the start of China's reforms and opening-up policies in the late 1970s. Nearly a seventh of that number occurred in the last 10 years.

China's gross domestic product, which measures economic output, now accounts for 18.5 percent of the world economy, up 7.2 percentage points in the last decade. This nation leads the world in total volume of goods traded.

"Chinese modernization," a term defining China's journey to self-rejuvenation, was at the heart of a report to the 20th National Congress of the Community Party of China, held in October.

At the conclave, Xi Jinping, general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, called for increased efforts to advance the revitalization of the nation on all fronts "through a Chinese path to modernization."

The core aim is to bring China's huge population up to world standards, ensuring common prosperity for all.

The snow's the thing after Winter Olympics

The ninth National Mass Ice and Snow Season opened in the northeastern city of Harbin, reminding many of the splendor of the Beijing Winter Olympic Games earlier this year.

The Games were viewed by about 600 million people in China, according to the International Olympic Committee. That exceeded the audience of the prior Winter Olympics held in South Korea. Viewing was also high in places such as Europe, Japan and Australia.

What a year! We made it, and what comes next?

The opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympic Games held at the Beijing National Stadium on February 4

Superstar freestyle skier Eileen Gu was undoubtedly the star of the Games for Chinese viewers.

Winter sports mania, previously confined largely to northern China, has been sweeping the country, starting with the run-up to the Winter Games. Ice and snow sports equipment, as well as associated travel services, have all been surging.

The revenue from winter sports in China exploded from 117.7 billion yuan (US$18.5 billion) in 2013 to 520 billion yuan in 2019. The Beijing Games have added to the public's embrace of ice and snow activities.

The trend underscores a broader picture of increased awareness of fitness and exercise across China.

One year after the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, the nation launched Public Fitness Day, held on August 8. Campaigns to promote exercise have resulted in the construction of gyms, swimming pools, parks and other fitness venues across the country.

The 2022 Shanghai Marathon, held in late November, fielded about 18,000 runners, even though registration was mainly limited to Shanghai-based runners due to pandemic controls at the time.

What a year! We made it, and what comes next?
Dong Jun / SHINE

Some 18,000 runners set off on a 42-kilometer journey in the 2022 Shanghai Marathon from Pudong's Oriental Pearl TV Tower on December 27.

China's ARJ21 jetliner makes history

The first domestically manufactured regional ARJ21-700 to be delivered overseas was sent to Indonesia's low-cost TransNusa Airlines on December 18. Founded in 2005, TranNusa mainly operates domestic flights and routes to regions near Indonesia, one of the fastest-growing markets in global civil aviation.

The deal marked the first entry of Chinese-made jets into the overseas market.

The ARJ21-700 is designed with a range of 3,700 kilometers. It is resistant to high temperatures and crosswinds, and well suited to night flights, according to the plane's developer, Shanghai-based Commercial Aircraft Corp of China.

What a year! We made it, and what comes next?
Xu Bingnan/Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China

The TransNusa Airlines ARJ21-700. An Indonesian national flag pattern is painted on the jet body and the exterior color design is based on the three colors of TranNusa's LOGO: blue, yellow and green.

Mass production of the ARJ21 was given the green light by Civil Aviation Administration of China in 2014. To date, more than 5.6 million passengers have flown aboard the aircraft on domestic routes.

In China, the development of a domestic aircraft manufacturing industry is a source of keen national pride. The industry was hailed by President Xi Jinping in 2016, and the goal of turning the nation into an aviation powerhouse was enshrined in the national action plan two years later.

China has since scored major breakthroughs in the field.

In 2019, Beijing's Daxing International Airport, one of the world's largest, opened. The world's largest satellite terminal was unveiled at the Shanghai Pudong International Airport.

China's first domestically developed narrow-body aircraft, the C919, was delivered to China Eastern Airlines, this month. The C919 is larger than the ARJ21-700, with over 160 seats. It will begin flying major domestic routes in 2023.

Science and technology are out of this world

As long as humans have roamed Earth, they have gazed skyward and wondered about the world beyond. China has become a major player in the quest to unravel the mysteries of space.

On November 3, the in-orbit assembly of the Tiangong space station's T-shaped configuration was completed – another milestone in China's space industry.

The station comprises a three-module configuration, and all key components were made in China. It will operate in orbit for about a decade and be open to foreign astronauts for scientific research.

In late November, the Shenzhou-15 manned spaceship successfully docked at the space. The three astronauts on board, called taikonauts in Chinese, joined a trio of comrades who had been working at the space station since June and were due to return to Earth on December 4.

What a year! We made it, and what comes next?

On November 30, the Shenzhou-15 manned spaceship docks with the Tiangong space station.

The nation swelled with pride when China Central Television livestreamed the six astronauts together on the station – the first time that a rotation of space station crews overlapped. China Central Television also beamed live coverage of space walks.

The trio now manning the space station will remain there for six months, tasked with a long list of experiments that include testing 15 experimental module "cabinets" designed to support research in realms such as microgravity, biotechnology, combustion science and the physics of fluids.

The space station is also a classroom. Astronauts have beamed science lectures 400 kilometers down to Earth via global livestreaming. Tens of millions of primary and middle-school students across China watched the broadcasts, which included Q&A segments.

Chinese President Xi Jinping in April praised the "extraordinary achievements" of scientists and space engineers, and the enduring contribution they are making to the nation and the world.

What a year! We made it, and what comes next?

The six astronauts meet in the space station on November 30.

Lewd illustrations in school textbooks

On August 22, several people were penalized for publishing primary school mathematics textbooks laced with weird-looking, or even lewd, illustrations. The textbooks in question were published by the People's Education Press in 2013.

That followed revelations in May that some illustrations in textbooks portrayed children as lethargic or devoid of vigor, showing them with freaky facial expressions. Netizens also alleged that many illustrations in the textbooks had bawdy overtones. One illustration showed a young girl with tattoos.

The textbooks, widely used in schools, came from one of China's leading publishing houses.

What a year! We made it, and what comes next?

An illustration in a primary school mathematics textbook published by the People's Education Press

On May 26, the publishers said in a statement that they were retooling the illustrations to enhance the painting style and artistic caliber. They also said they were reevaluating all the covers and illustrations of the textbooks. At the same time, the Ministry of Education started to investigate the case.

After three months, the ministry announced that the illustrations in question were not in keeping with "public aesthetics" and called some of them downright "ugly." The illustrations "fail to embody the positive images of Chinese children," the ministry said. It also cited instances where some of the illustrations contained "inappropriate elements."

Among the 27 people held responsible for the "scandalous" textbook content were Huang Qiang, Party secretary and director of the publisher, and Guo Ge, the editor-in-chief. They were disciplined by the Party, and Guo was also removed from office. Tian Huisheng, director of the ministry's Department of National Textbook, was issued a warning and demerit by the ministry.

The illustrator of the problematic pictures, Wu Yong, and his studio have been banned from any future involvement in educational material. Lu Min and Lu Jingren, the cover designers of the textbooks in question, were likewise banned.

What a year! We made it, and what comes next?

The new books are released in time for the semester in September.

After being revised seven times and reviewed three times, the revised textbooks were released in time for the new semester in September, with pictures illustrated by a team from the Central Academy of Fine Arts.

Textbooks, picture books, reading material and other items can imperceptibly influence how children develop values, and protecting minors has become a top social priority.

In recent years, content quality is sometimes easily overlooked. Recall the Hangzhou-based clothing brand that once produced children's shirts with phrases as "welcome to hell" and "let me touch you."

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