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That was the year that was, but there’s hope for 2017
By Andy Boreham

THE general consensus among most Westerners, at least those from English-speaking countries, is that 2016 was a big, steaming pile of crap.

Probably the biggest factor in the feeling that 2016 has been the biggest upset in recent history is the sheer number of celebrity deaths. We said farewell to so many greats, including Prince, David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Gene Wilder, Leonard Cohen, Muhammad Ali, Zsa Zsa Gabor and, most recently, George Michael and Carrie Fisher.

I don’t want to get into too much trouble, but I think it’s suffice to say that none of these deaths affected me in the least, but that’s not to take away from your suffering.

And, of course, Western celebrity deaths are of little consequence to the average Chinese. I’m pretty sure few lit candles in Wuhan or Kunming or Tianjin when George Michael had his Last Christmas.

The factor that should probably be more concerning is the political upheavals that occurred this year, tipping preconceived ideas about ourselves, our politics and the way we report them upside-down.

On June 23, the UK shocked the world, and itself, by voting to leave the European Union. Brexit became one of the biggest new phrases of the year, as well as one of the biggest shocks.

Coincidentally, Donald Trump — at that stage vying for the Republican nomination — was in Scotland at the time of the vote. He said that Brexit was a great thing, and that the people of the UK had “taken back their country.”

Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign would bank on a lot of the anti-establishment and anti-globalization sentiment that Brexit relied on, firstly by slaughtering his Republican competitors, and then by defeating Hillary Clinton in the November 8 presidential election. His staggering success with the Electoral College was labelled by some as “the biggest upset in American history.”

But enough about the West — what have been some of the events of note in China this year?

Probably the most exciting news for many, at least in Shanghai, was the opening of Chinese mainland’s very first Disneyland.

Like most kids, I dreamed of one day visiting this place of dreams, and it finally happened this year.

After a spend of around US$5.5 billion, and a series of costly delays, the park finally opened on June 16. If the lines are anything to go by, it’s already a great success.

Soon after that, though, things took a turn for the worse — at least for some — when Xuhui District put an end to late-night partying on Yongkang Road, an apparent hot spot for mostly foreigners that has been keeping local residents awake since 2010. Hopefully the residents are catching up on some much-needed ZZZs.

This year continued to reshape the face of celebrity in China — thanks in part to the popularization of zhibo which I talked about last week — which has meant that wanghong (Internet celebrities) are more and more visible and powerful in China today.

One of the bigger wanghong of the year, Papi Jiang, made a cool US$3.5 million in April just by selling an ad space in one of her online videos. Craziness!

Pollution has continued to be a huge problem for China, perhaps more so than ever before, as production is pushed to full-throttle. Beijing, as an example, hit red alert status this month — the highest level — meaning schools were closed and residents locked themselves inside as visibility shrunk to just 200 meters.

A report by Nanjing University said that one-third of the deaths in China come from pollution-related problems, which makes the term “airpocalypse” seem an understatement.

The year of 2016 is nearly over, though, which will be a relief for many. In terms of celebrity deaths, you can rest assured that nothing untoward is happening. The BBC said that although the first few months of the year saw more notable deaths than usual, the number roughly evened out come this month.

In short, the number of celebrities who died this year has been much the same as previous years. You’d better get used to it though, they warn, because now we’re 50-odd years from what they call “the flourishing of both TV and pop culture in the 1960s.” It’s just a matter of time before your fave bites the dust. As for the massive political upheavals we witnessed, namely Brexit and Trump, you’re just going to have to wait and see how they pan out.

Brexit is far from enacted and it will be some time yet until the UK is fully extracted from the EU. And in terms of Trump, the guy hasn’t even become President yet.

You never know, 2017 might turn out better than expected. Here’s hoping!

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