China’s tech leaders have a thing for strange stage props

2 min read

Big, smooth, and with a lot of LED lights—Chinese tech leaders really seem to like to touch balls during opening ceremonies and other events. There’s nothing that screams “technology” more than a sphere full of laser lights.

Ball-grabbing during Baidu’s chess and card tournament in 2013 (Image credit: TechWeb)
Looking at a crystal ball during an event organized by ride-hailing giant DiDi in Dongbei in 2016 (Image credit: Sohu)
Alibaba’s rural Taobao project is a big fan of balls (Image credits: Hedong government official website, Henan government official website, Diyitui, Huidong)

Of course, big balls are not the only thing that gets touched while posing for photos. Some companies have experimented with cubes, helms, and other odd objects. Pouring sand over the company logo is another quirky trend in China’s professional events choreography.

Shiny cube worshippers at the opening ceremony of the “Entrepreneurship China 2015” competition and the completion ceremony of Guangzhou’s biotech park (Image credit: People’s Daily)
The three helmsmen: Tencent president Martin Lau, Sogou CEO Wang Xiaochuan and Sohu Group chairman Zhang Zhaoyang at Sougou’s press conference in 2013. (Image credit: iFeng News)
There must be some symbolism in this sand pouring ritual that we’re missing. The passing of time? The futility of existence? The answer to this riddle was revealed to the participants of this event organized by Green Land, a real-estate and tech investment company, 2017 (Image credit: TechNode)

The latest fashion seems to be going towards more rectangular shapes. Both Didi and the new AI research lab led by Chinese venture capitalist Kai-fu Lee were so impressed by this shiny blue platform that they just decided to switch the name and recycle it. Honestly, we couldn’t think of a better way to describe artificial intelligence either. There’s nothing that represents robots better than the lack of creativity.

How to represent AI? Put something blue with a lot of squiggly lines. A no-brainer, right? DiDi’s Intelligent Transportation Summit 2017 (Image credit: Didi Chuxing)
Copycatting at the opening ceremony of the International Artificial Intelligence Research Center in Beijing led by Kai-fu Lee, 2017 (Image credit: Sohu)

Other than big balls, there is another trend that is hard to miss at company events—the high levels of testosterone. Despite the fact that Chinese women have a high level of participation in the workforce not many of them make it to senior positions. Although the numbers are better than in developed countries like the US, we have to wonder, what is stopping Chinese women from grabbing their chance in tech?