China’s most important traditional holiday — the Lunar New Year, also known as Chinese New Year (CNY) — is just a week away. This year, the occasion will be marked not only in family homes and businesses but also in the metaverse, where multiple events and features are set to highlight how China’s rapidly evolving domestic metaverse can preserve and promote traditional festivities and their related cultural practices.
Chinese e-commerce giant Taobao is hosting a 2023 CNY goods metaverse carnival in collaboration with ten Chinese provinces and localities under the guidance of China’s Ministry of Commerce. Via livestream sessions introducing the “CNY goods” (年货) chosen by each region to celebrate the festival, visitors can shop for items in the virtual carnival.
Meanwhile, Taobao’s parent company Alibaba has launched the “Fortune Park” (福气乐园) metaverse within its digital payment app Alipay. Users can socialize with other users and enter gift lotteries sponsored by a range of consumer brands. By participating in traditional mini-games such as lion dance and shadow play in the metaverse, users are rewarded with “fortune points” that can be exchanged for coupons and cash “red envelopes.”
In addition, users who collect all five of the “fortune cards” receive a commemorative digital collectible featuring the word “fortune” within Alibaba’s digital collectibles platform Jingtan.
A key element of the modern CNY celebration is the annual Chinese Central Television (CCTV) CNY gala, which has been running since 1983. Notably, for the first time, the gala will also be presented in the metaverse by Chinese internet giant NetEase.
The embrace of CNY in the metaverse is not limited to China. McDonald’s, collaborating with U.S.-based digital storyteller Karen Cheng, has released a series of metaverse activities that enable users to experience CNY through themed AR filters and mini-games such as Mahjong and Go.
Such metaverse initiatives not only can boost brand loyalty and unlock spending power during the CNY holiday but can also promote the cultural practices surrounding the holiday. In recent years, a common complaint in China has been that the CNY is losing its allure (年味淡了).
Thanks to rising living standards, Chinese consumers no longer have to wait till CNY to reward themselves with high-end items, and firework bans have replaced once-raucous displays with “silent CNY” in big cities. The shortened holiday schedule also decreases the time for people to visit family and friends.
However, metaverse-based activities, especially when coupled with real-life benefits, digitally preserve some vanishing CNY practices while elevating user anticipation ahead of the holiday. As China expands its soft power overseas, more metaverse platforms are also bound to incorporate elements of CNY and other traditional Chinese festivals in the future.