Marking the first anniversary of China's Tianwen-1 probe landing on Mars on May 15, the past month also saw the launch of the cargo spacecraft Tianzhou-4 on May 10, which delivers supplies to China’s space station. Once again China’s space exploration efforts came into the global spotlight. Western media have called Mars the latest arena of the U.S.-China rivalry. But China has no intention to vie for dominance in space, what it seeks is to “contribute more to China's growth as a whole, to global consensus and common effort with regard to outer space exploration and utilization, and to human progress,” according to the white paper China's Space Program: A 2021 Perspective.
This simulated image captured at Beijing Aerospace Control Center on May 10, 2022 shows China's cargo spacecraft Tianzhou-4 docking with the combination of the space station core module Tianhe and the Tianzhou-3 cargo craft. (Xinhua/Guo Zhongzheng)
In his congratulatory message on China's first landing on Mars, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for greater efforts to explore the mysteries of the universe and promote the noble cause of peace and development of humanity.
China’s space industry has made remarkable progress over the past five years, evident in the improvement of space infrastructure, the completion and operation of the BeiDou Navigation Satellite System, the conclusion of the last step of the three-step lunar exploration program ("orbit, land, and return"), the efforts to build the space station, and the exploration on Mars.
All of China’s breakthroughs in space exploration have greatly inspired the country’s young people. According to a survey by the China Youth Daily in 2021, 69 percent of young Chinese respondents aged 14 to 35, felt inspired by China’s accomplishments in manned space exploration. They’re impressed by the courageous and ambitious exploration spirit, excellence-seeking work style, strong willpower, and devotion to the country displayed by scientists and technicians in the field.
With the return of Shenzhou-13 crew on April 16, China successfully concluded the longest manned spaceflight it has every conducted, during which the crew had been in orbit for six months. During their space stay, the three taikonauts gave two science lectures for students on Earth. The interesting science experiments the taikonauts conducted in space and the exciting tour they gave of the space station have greatly piqued Chinese students’ curiosity in space exploration. Meanwhile, as the advanced communications technology made it possible to livestream videos from space to the Earth, the three taikonauts even sent their blessings and congratulatory messages to their fellow countrymen during the Chinese New Year and the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games from space.
On the other front of hi-tech, the digital world, metaverse, a network of 3D virtual worlds, has been all the rage since last year. In April, China’s municipality of Chongqing released an innovation development action plan for the metaverse industry. On May 13, a metaverse space design federation was founded in Chongqing. Dawa Technology in the city is one of the multitudinous companies testing the water in the new tech field by developing VR, XR, and AI technologies to build a support platform for metaverse development. The company’s virtual studio has produced numerous virtual scenes for many popular Chinese films, according to a Xinhua report.
A visitor experiences virtual reality (VR) equipment at the 4th China International Import Expo in Shanghai, Nov. 6, 2021. Metaverse uses VR and other technologies to create a digital environment which focuses on social connection. (Xinhua/Lu Peng)
After Mark Zuckerberg announced Facebook's rebranding as Meta last October, Chinese hi-tech firms also began to flex their muscles in their ventures to build the metaverse. In late 2021, China’s tech giant Baidu held its annual developers’ conference Baidu Create 2021 on its the metaverse app Xirang which means “Land of Hope.” During the yearly shopping spree last November, Alibaba launched a "Metaverse Art Exhibition" on its Tmall/Taobao mobile app. NetEase also entered a strategic cooperation agreement with the government of Sanya City in south China's island province of Hainan, which will allow the company to build a metaverse industrial base in Sanya. Meanwhile, in January, the Communication University of China launched a virtual campus in the metaverse, making it the first Chinese college to venture into the field. Metaverse technology is now being applied widely in entertainment, industrial production, video shooting, gaming, tourism, livestreaming, and education. Last year, the global VR industry secured RMB 55.6 billion worth of deals in financing as well as mergers and acquisitions, realizing a 128 percent year-on-year growth. For China, the sum is RMB 18.19 billion with the yearly increase up to nearly 800 percent. Academician of Chinese Academy of Engineering Zhao Qinping recently pointed out that metaverse is becoming the new engine of the global digital economy.
In the Outline of the14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) for National Economic and Social Development, China stressed the importance of unleashing the potential of big data, building China’s strength in cyberspace, and quickening the development of a digital economy, a digital society, and a digital government.
"China has fully integrated into the global innovation network, and its sci-tech development demonstrates the sector's overall layout and development trend with the characteristics of the new era," Li Meng, vice minister of science and technology, said at a press conference on May 12.
With China's Mars rover discovering the evidence of water on the red planet, and digital yuan being promoted in a wider range of scenarios, China’s exploration in space and the digital world is unlocking unlimited new possibilities for its people.