Hey, Uber, there are a billion bicycles on your tail – China’s latest top news

Jeremy Goldkorn’s selection of the top stories from China on October 3, 2017. Part of the daily SupChina newsletter, a convenient package of China’s business, political, and cultural news delivered to your inbox for free. Subscribe here.

China’s on-demand bike behemoths to merge?

Ofo and Mobike are two homegrown Chinese companies that have pioneered on-demand bicycles done right: Instead of using docking stations, you can pick them up all over many Chinese cities using a smartphone app, and dump them wherever you like. Although Ofo and Mobike are both experiencing growing pains, both companies are growing internationally, and enjoy valuations in excess of a billion dollars.

Bloomberg reports that investors of Mobike and Ofo “are in early talks” that “may not be consummated” to push the two companies to merge. This would create a single dominant player in the industry that would be valued at around $4 billion.

There is precedent for such a move.

In 2015, China’s two leading car-hailing apps — Didi Dache and Kuaidi Dache — merged to create the world’s biggest ride-hailing service, now known as Didi Chuxing. Didi Dache was backed by and invested in by internet giant Tencent, while Kuaidi Dache was aligned with ecommerce mammoth Alibaba. In bike sharing, Tencent has backed Mobike with Alibaba behind Ofo.

Why all the fuss about on-demand bikes?

Although a shout of “bubble!” is the reaction of some observers to the high valuations of the on-demand bike companies, there is a reason for the excitement. Like no other service available, China’s shared bikes solve the last mile problem for commuters: how to get from a subway or bus stop to their home, which may be just a little too far for an easy walk, but a little too expensive, and too congested, for a taxi or ride-share car.

If on-demand bike companies can:

  • Reliably get their customers the last little way home to their front doors; and
  • Have access to big data generated by commuters going to and from transit hubs and stops; then

$4 billion will seem like pocket change, and Uber, Lyft, and Didi Chuxing will have something to really worry about.

The lost Qing garrison and their language

On the excellent blog Language Log, China scholar Victor Mair has posted a note, with sound recordings, about the Sibe (锡伯 xíbó) language. It is “a very close cousin” of Manchurian, the language of the imperial families of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912). Sibe is “spoken by about 30,000 individuals among a population of about 200,000 whose ancestors were sent by the Manchu emperor to garrison the [Western] region in 1763-1764.” The Sibe never returned to northeast China, but made their home in the Ili (Yili) Valley in far western Xinjiang.