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“I’ve been talking nonstop,” Hu said, laughing. “My throat gets really hoarse. [In this job,] you need to talk a lot, because your mood is contagious. You can’t just do things halfway. Only when you talk enthusiastically can you get your audience excited.”

Hu is part of a rising class of creators in China who are racing to get in on live-stream shopping, an emerging form of retail that has grown into an industry worth an estimated $66 billion. Although the trend has been part of Chinese internet culture for years, analysts say the coronavirus pandemic has made it mainstream.

Even the Chinese government has voiced its support, calling the industry the “new engine” of e-commerce growth and encouraging live-streaming as a solution to unemployment, which has risen sharply in China due to the pandemic.

Live-stream shopping is a blend of entertainment and e-commerce. Viewers buy goods online from people who show off their latest finds — from lipsticks to laundry detergent — in real-time videos. Many liken the concept to TV shopping channel QVC, but the Chinese model is distinctly more modern, mobile and interactive. Hosts can give their fans discount coupons and flash deals in real time, while viewers can click to send their favorite stars virtual “gifts.”

But as Hu and other newcomers are discovering, making it in this field is not easy. The industry is tough, and few workers can parlay their skills into a successful career.

The Covid-19 boom

In the first half of this year,  more than 10 million e-commerce live-streaming sessions were hosted online, according to the government.
As of March, there were 560 million people watching shopping live-streams in China, an increase of 126 million compared to last June, according to a report published by the China Internet Network Information Center. Almost half of them used live-streaming for online shopping, according to the report.

Sandy Shen, a research director of digital commerce at Gartner, said live-stream shopping would have taken two or three years to become a mainstream trend in China prior to the pandemic. Instead, it took two or three months, she said.

Experts project the industry still has a lot of room to grow. In 2019, China’s live-stream shopping market was worth 451.3 billion yuan ($66 billion), according to iResearch, a Shanghai-based market research firm. That could more than double to almost 1.2 trillion yuan (roughly $170 billion) this year, the firm forecast in July.
Analysts predict the trend could catch on overseas, too. In parts of Southeast Asia, for example, Alibaba (BABA)-owned Lazada allows live-streamers to promote merchandise. And Amazon (AMZN) has a home-shopping video-streaming hub for its Western users.

A day in the life

Part of the allure of venturing into this world is the prospect of a big payday. Brands routinely announce tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in sales in a single sitting. Top influencers can earn millions of dollars a year, according to Taobao, which compiles a ranking of the highest paying hosts and their estimated earnings. And even prominent business leaders are getting in on the act.

But experts note that there are also scores of people at home wringing their hands.

“If you are just a normal, ordinary merchant selling on Taobao, and you are just using all your own employees, with no pre-marketing, you’re probably just going to have a couple of hundred people watching. And they will maybe just stop for five or 10 seconds, and if they find it’s not interesting, they’ll just leave,” said Shen.

For people like Hu, the live-stream host in Guangzhou, the ongoing boom presents both “a chance and a challenge.”

“Viewers might have doubled, but there’s probably about seven or eight times more new live-streamers now,” she estimated. “So many people like me have joined live-streaming, and are selling products and doing the [same] thing.”

Hu said she now earns in a month what she used to make in a year. But the hours can be grueling. She typically spends seven hours a day speaking on live-stream to her fans, offering deals on everything from vacation getaways to snacks to skincare products. After that, she spends hours each night reading up on products she plans to sell.

“Every day I wake up, I work, work, eat, work, and sleep,” she said. “It is hard.”

The production takes a village. More than 20 people work behind the scenes to support Hu’s work, directly or indirectly, by her estimate. That includes teams from a local talent agency that help her choose which products to feature, what discounts to offer fans and how to plan her filming schedule. Her husband helps out with odd jobs and occasionally pops up on camera, too.

Hu and her team make money, meanwhile, through a couple of avenues: The companies pay for their products to be featured, and then Hu earns a commission off of each sale she makes. A typical commission rate varies from 6% to 16% depending on the platform, according to the iResearch report.

The new gig economy

Like most of the world, China has been rocked by an economic and jobs crisis this year, although the country has recently shown signs of a rebound. To help keep people afloat, the government has seized on the trend by encouraging people to live-stream.

This February, for example, China’s Ministry of Commerce encouraged e-commerce platforms to help farmers sell their produce online, particularly through live-streaming.

Even Chinese President Xi Jinping has taken notice. In March, he visited a village in northwestern China where he spoke with residents who were selling agricultural goods over live-stream, according to the state-run news agency Xinhua. Xi praised the power of e-commerce, saying it had great potential to help keep people out of poverty.
In May, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security even added “live-streaming host” to its list of recognized professions, meaning the government would start counting those people as officially employed. State media said this would help the country create new “job pools” to balance out the loss of manufacturing jobs that had been wiped out by the pandemic.
Chinese President Xi Jinping talking to a live-streaming host during the set-up of a live shopping session to market local produce in Jinmi, Zhashui county, northwest China's Shaanxi province in April.
Some local governments are even working to transform their towns into live-stream shopping hubs. In Guangzhou, authorities are hoping to turn the city into China’s “live-streaming capital.” To that end, in June they held a three-day live-stream shopping “festival,” where businesses conducted more than 200,000 broadcast sessions, according to state media.

“As the economy recovers, the job market is in fact expanding,” said Fu Linghui, a spokesperson of the National Bureau of Statistics, at a press briefing last month. He singled out “gigs like live-stream shopping” as the kind that were “vital” to stabilizing the market.

“For the government, they see this as a trend that can help keep the economic growth, and also help keep the employment,” said Shen. “They view this as an opportunity, and it is. I think if you create the infrastructure, give support, it can definitely help lift the economy.”

The hard truth

Even so, the industry’s impact on the economy is probably limited, according to Xiaofeng Wang, a senior analyst at research firm Forrester. She noted that live-stream shopping is still a very small percentage — estimates suggest around 5% — of the country’s e-commerce market, and a tiny share of the overall retail sector.

“I don’t think live-stream e-commerce alone will save the economy,” Wang said.

Of the 400,000 people that China’s Commerce Ministry says hosted a live-stream shopping event in the first half of 2020, it’s likely that only 5% to 10% will succeed and earn a living, estimated Iris Pang, chief economist of Greater China at ING.

She said it was hard to predict how many jobs had been added to China’s economy so far because many people working in this field were not full time.

“I think it will boost job numbers only by a little,” Pang said. “It shouldn’t be big enough to move the needle.”

“People who want to do this should be expected to work really hard,” said Heng Xia, CEO of Nice MCN, a Hangzhou-based talent agency. Nice represents Hu and more than 150 other online personalities.

“This is a high intensity job,” Xia said. “Most people can’t really do it. We’ve hired many new graduates, and some of them couldn’t make it.”

That’s the question currently facing Seven Zhou, a live-streamer in Hebei province who’s trying to carve out a new career on the short video app Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok. In January, the former consultant was put on furlough after his company lost clients due to fallout from the pandemic. Like Hu, he decided to quit with high hopes of making it big.

But as time went on, Zhou said, he realized that goal was more unattainable than it looked. Douyin requires anyone hoping to become a seller on its platform to have at least 1,000 followers, but he found it tough to reach that milestone. To find an audience, he started hosting two-hour live-stream “chats” each day. The experience was painfully “awkward,” he said.

Few viewers stopped by his channel. His videos flopped, hardly getting any “likes.”

Eight months on, Zhou is wondering whether he is cut out for this business. The 30-year-old hasn’t yet decided whether he’ll throw in the towel, but says he is disillusioned with the industry and all the stories of overnight success.

“It hasn’t gone well,” he said. “The system isn’t as simple as it seems.”

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Ivory Coast elections: Voters go to the polls amid opposition boycott

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image copyrightEPA

image captionVoting cards have been distributed ahead of the presidential election

Polls are set to open in Ivory Coast’s controversial presidential election.

At least 14 people have been killed since riots broke out in August after President Alassane Ouattara said he would run again following the sudden death of his preferred successor.

The main opposition candidates, Pascal Affi N’Guessan and Henri Konan Bédié, say it is illegal for Mr Ouattara to stand for a third term.

They are boycotting the vote and have called for civil disobedience.

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What is it so controversial?

According to the constitution, Ivory Coast has a two-term presidential limit. Mr Ouattara – who has been elected twice – initially said he would stand down.

But, in July, the ruling party’s previous presidential nominee, Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly, died of a heart attack.

Mr Ouattara subsequently announced that he would run for president after all.

His supporters argued that a constitutional change in 2016 reset the clock and that his first term did not count.

His opponents do not share that view, arguing instead that it is illegal for Mr Ouattara to run for a third term.

What’s the background to the tension?

There has been a decades-long quarrel between some of the country’s leading political figures.

In 2010, Laurent Gbagbo, who was president at the time, refused to concede to Mr Ouattara following the election in that year and this sparked a bitter civil war.

More than 3,000 people were killed in the five months of violence.

Mr Gbagbo also put himself forward to stand in this year’s election but the electoral commission blocked him because he had been convicted in the Ivorian courts.

He was one of nearly 40 potential candidates who were turned down by the commission.

Who are the four presidential candidates?

  • Alassane Ouattara, 78, an economist. Became president in 2011, serving his second term after years in opposition.

    Party: Rally of Houphouëtists for Democracy and Peace (RHDP)

  • Henri Konan Bédié, 86, career politician. Served as president between 1993 and 1999, deposed in coup. Party: Democratic Party of Ivory Coast (PCDI)
  • Pascal Affi N’Guessan, 67, career politician. Served as prime minister between 2000 and 2003 under then-President Laurent Gbagbo. Party: Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) faction
  • Kouadio Konan Bertin, 51, career politician, known as KKB, was once youth leader in the former ruling Democratic Party of Ivory Coast, is now an MP. Independent candidate

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Bugatti unveils a super light hypercar that can top 300 mph

201027123419 02 bugatti bolide rendering super tease

The Bugatti Bolide — a name that comes from French slang for “very fast car,” according to Bugatti — is a concept car designed solely for track driving, not for use on public roads. The Bolide has a modified version of the huge 8.0-liter 16-cylinder engine found in Bugatti’s Chiron, the brand’s core model. It’s built to be super light and can reach a top speed of well over 300 mph, according to Bugatti.

Bugatti hasn’t said whether it will sell the Bolide, but performance brands like Ferrari and Lamborghini offer track-only cars for wealthy customers who want to experience driving in their own private racecars. Cars like this don’t have a lot of the crash safety equipment required in road cars, like airbags, but they do have the specialized safety gear required on many race tracks, such as fittings for racing harnesses.

Designed for optimal aerodynamics, the Bolide is a little over three feet tall, which is about a foot shorter than the Chiron. To get in, occupants must sit on the door sill and put their legs inside before sliding over into the seat.

In designing the Bolide, emphasis was placed on reducing weight and improving aerodynamics. The air scoop that rises from the roof is covered in a special skin that forms blister-like bubbles at high speeds. The bubbles improve air flow over the scoop by 10% while also reducing aerodynamic lift by 17%, according to Bugatti.

All the screws and fasteners in the car are made from titanium, according to Bugatti, and much of the rest of the car is made from lightweight carbon fiber and titanium alloys. The Bolide weighs just over 2,700 pounds, compared to 4,400 pounds for the Chiron. A lot of weight was also saved in the Bolide by giving no consideration to luxury and very little to comfort. The interior is extremely sparse and simple with thin, light racing seats instead of the nicely upholstered seats used in the Chiron.

“All of Bugatti’s expertise has been condensed into the Bugatti Bolide,” said Stefan Ellrott, head of development for Bugatti.

Engineering the Bolide was an opportunity to try new techniques with the aim of reducing weight and increasing performance, he said. For instance, the turbochargers attached to the engine were specially designed to enable more power at high speeds. Bugatti’s already high-performance lubricating systems were redesigned to deal with extraordinarily high cornering forces that can cause oil to move away from where it’s needed.

Should Bugatti ever decide to sell the Bolide, the price tag would certainly be in the multiple millions of dollars, based on the price of Bugatti’s other cars and the cost of similar types of cars from other automakers.

The Chiron, on which the Bolide is based, costs more than $3 million and only 500 will be made. In recent years, Bugatti has introduced a number of other cars based on the Chiron’s engineering, including the Divo, a version designed for lower top speeds but better cornering, of which only 40 will be made. There was the Centodieci, a car designed to celebrate Bugatti’s 110th anniversary, of which just 10 will be built. The Centodieci has a starting price of $9 million and the Divo $6 million.

A more practical Bugatti?

Interestingly, engineers and designers at Bugatti had been working on something radically different for the brand: a lower priced and more practical model. But that work has been put on pause due to the pandemic.

“We were looking at a four-seater with a completely different design — not an SUV, not a sedan, something really, really unique in terms of design and creating a new segment,” Cedric Davy, chief operating officer of Bugatti of the Americas, said in a recent interview. “It’s not dead, but for now, nobody is working on it.”

Adding a more practical model to the lineup is something other supercar companies have embarked on as they seek to appeal to more customers and boost profits.

Bugatti’s sister-brand Lamborghini — both are owned by Volkswagen — began selling the Urus SUV in 2018, quickly doubling Lamborghini’s sales. And Ferrari has been working on something it calls the Purosangue which is expected to be unveiled next year. Executives insist it will not be a traditional crossover SUV, but it will be roomier and more comfortable for passengers than any previous Ferrari.

The reason for the temporary halt to development of the four-door model isn’t any sort of financial constraint, a Bugatti spokesperson insisted, but simple uncertainty caused by the pandemic. Developing a new model involves working with and vetting suppliers, creating prototypes and gauging what the market might be after the pandemic is over, all of which is hard to do at this time.

To save weight, the Bugatti Bolide's interior, shown in an illustration, has none of the shiny metal or quilted leather seen in some of Bugatti's other cars.
But there may be even bigger changes afoot for Bugatti. There have been media reports that Volkswagen is considering selling the brand to Rimac, a Croatian company that makes electric supercars. A Volkswagen spokesperson would not comment on those reports. Rimac did not respond to a request for comment on the reports.

At any rate, Davy said he’s not terribly concerned.

“I’ve been with Bugatti four years and it’s probably the fourth or fifth time that I’ve heard that the company is being sold, so I’m not too worried,” Davy said.

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US election 2020: The Asians who are rooting for Trump to win

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By Andreas Illmer
BBC News

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  • Hong Kong anti-government protests

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image captionDonald Trump is so popular that in Vietnam, they even named a bar after him

Donald Trump is not a US president who has courted international support.

Pursing an openly nationalist “America First” policy, he has openly insulted half the world – from calling Europe’s leaders weak to describing Mexicans as rapists, and even dismissing the entire African continent.

But for some in south-east Asia, a shared enemy in China means they are willing to still throw their support behind him.

Hong Kong: ‘Only Trump can hit the Communist Party’

Hong Kong has seen a severe clampdown by Beijing in the wake of massive pro-democracy and anti-China protests. A new security law has been brought in to punish anyone seen as secessionist or undermining Beijing’s rule.

“When Donald Trump got elected four years ago, I thought the US had gone crazy,” Erica Yuen tells the BBC. “I’d always been a supporter of the Democrats. Now though, I support Trump – along with a lot of the Hong Kong protesters.”

The activist and businesswoman says that the priority for Hong Kong is to get a US president who will “hit the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) hard – that’s the only thing that Hong Kong protesters hope for”.

These hopes have been fuelled by the US president’s vocal criticisms of China, particularly with regard to Hong Kong.

Under his tenure, Congress has passed a law revoking Hong Kong’s special status, which gave the country preferential economic treatment because they said Hong Kong was no longer “autonomous”. Sanctions were also imposed on Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam and 10 other top officials from Hong Kong and mainland China.

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Mr Trump’s opponent Joe Biden has also vowed to “punish” China for its actions against Hong Kong, and has famously referred to China’s leader Xi Jinping as a “thug”.

But for Ms Yuen, what makes the difference is that the current administration has been “the first to make up its mind that the CCP is a harm to the world”.

“I don’t know why the Obama and Clinton administrations didn’t realise that. They were too naïve and thought the CCP would chose a democratic path and become a modern society. But that was proven to be not true.”

image copyrightEPA
image captionHong Kong has seen waves of unrest over the past years

She is aware that Hong Kong is vulnerable to any economic repercussions of a conflict between Washington and Beijing.

“You can’t harm the CCP without harming Hong Kong,” she says. “But we are ready for any short-term suffering, we are willing to sacrifice.”

While she says a majority of activists – particularly young ones – share her views, opinion polls show that overall, Mr Trump gets quite mixed reviews in the country. In a recent survey, almost half of those polled gave him a “poor” rating, with many saying that Washington’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic had impacted his reputation.

Taiwan: ‘A big brother we can rely on’

Tensions have been on the rise between China and the island of Taiwan. The two were divided during a civil war in the 1940s, but Beijng insists the island will be reclaimed at some point, by force if necessary. Washington says any resolution of their long separation must be done peacefully.

The trade tariffs and sanctions have also impressed some in Taiwan.

“Donald Trump’s attitude is good for us and it’s good to have such an ally. It gives us more confidence in terms of foreign affairs – militarily and trade,” Victor Lin, who works in e-commerce, told the BBC from Taiwan. “We have a big brother we can rely on.”

Mr Trump has certainly extended his outreach toward Taiwan. Over the past few months, the two governments have made major steps towards finalizing a bilateral trade deal.

Such a trade deal with the US would allow Taiwan to move away from its heavy reliance on China, believes Mr Linh – possibly going as far as to “actively invite Taiwan’s big companies to set up factories in the US”.

He worries that Mr Biden may not take steps that are “this provocative” in the face of Beijing’s wrath. Mr Biden has traditionally been known as a supporter of engaging with China. Although he has changed his stance on this more recently, it has not reached the ears of the many Taiwanese who fear a Chinese “invasion” may be imminent.

image copyrightReuters
image captionIn 2019, a balloon ‘tank man’ in Taiwan marked the Tiananmen crackdown anniversary

Mr Trump’s actions to support Taiwan militarily have also bolstered support for him there. In fact, a recent poll showed that Taiwan is the only country where those that want another for years of Mr Trump strongly outnumber those who want Mr Biden to win.

Beijing has reacted strongly, warning the US “not to send any wrong signals to ‘Taiwan independence’ elements to avoid severe damage to China-US relations”.

Vietnam: ‘Brave to the point of recklessness’

Both Washington and Beijing have fought wars on Vietnamese soil in the last 50 years, but while the US has largely been forgiven, the south-east Asian country remains fearful of the “China threat”.

Vietnam’s Trump fans into two groups, according to political analyst and vlogger Linh Ngyuen.

Those who like him simply for the entertainment and glamour, and those who are “die hard Trump-supporters” and follow US politics because they believe – like many in Hong Kong and Taiwan – he is the only bulwark against the Communist governments both in China and Vietnam.

Neither Mr Trump or Mr Biden have spelled out a Vietnam strategy, and Mr Trump has made it very clear that he will not rush to intervene in the conflicts and disputes of other countries.

Yet some like political activist Vinh Huu Nguyen believe that only someone like Trump “who is brave to the point of recklessness and even aggression” can actually make a difference.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionDonald Trump all smiles with Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc

“And that’s what sets him apart from his predecessors. Dealing with China requires such people.”

When Donald Trump came to power, Mr Nguyen said he felt the world would finally “wake up to the dangers of China” and “its new form of communist state capitalism”.

But then there’s also the desire for economic and political reform within Vietnam, away from communist one-party rule.

Personally, he hopes a strong US stance against the CCP might have a ripple effect across the entire region – eventually reaching Hanoi.

Japan: ‘It’s about our national security’

Japan has long been considered a valuable partner and ally to the US, but when Mr Trump was elected many people were nervous about the impact of his America-first policy on relations. He axed a multilateral trans-Pacific trade deal soon after taking office and insists Japan must pay more money to support US troops stationed there.

“Donald Trump is our ally. For Japan, the biggest reason we support him is national security,” says Yoko Ishii, a YouTuber who vlogs under the name Random Yoko.

She points to the frequent intrusions of Chinese military planes and ships into Japanese airspace and waters. Much of these centre around the disputed Senkaku Islands, claimed both by Tokyo and Beijing – which calls them the Diaoyu Islands.

“We really want a leader from the US that can fight China aggressively,” she says, adding “I don’t think anybody can be that outspoken and have such strong presence – it really has to be Donald Trump”.

image copyrightAndreas Illmer
image captionMs Ishii leaves little doubt over her love for the incumbent

Ms Ishii sees Japan in a quasi-alliance with other Asian nations and territories who would look to the US for support against Beijing.

But despite her enthusiastic support for Trump to remain in the White House, vocal supporters like her are in a minority in Japan. While in general, a positive view on the US is shared by a majority, only a quarter of Japanese have confidence in President Trump.

Unlike some of their Asian neighbours, many hope Mr Biden, who is seen as someone who will engage with his allies in a way that Mr Trump did not, will re-enter the Trans-Pacific Partnership process and engage more closely with Tokyo, both economically and militarily.

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