Barely a month after the start of the year (and the decade) – we feel like so much has already happened. A few friends tell us that they are already mentally exhausted. Our new year message now feels like something in the distant past.

How not to celebrate Chinese New Year

Earlier in December, rumours went around that there was a few affected cases of unknown pneumonia, some said perhaps SARS, in Wuhan related to a seafood market. Many, like me, heard it but did not really pay much attention.

I even found it a bit amusing – ‘seafood market?” – you know how far Wuhan is from the sea:

As days went by, more and more news came out. The mood became more and more sombre. On 23rd, the day before Chinese New Year’s Eve, Wuhan – a city of more than 11 month – was locked down.

However, numbers revealed later showed that about 5 million people had left Wuhan by then, to spend their New Year in their hometown, or to escape the (now-identified) coronavirus.

It doesn’t help that Wuhan was called 九省通衢 (“Junction to nine provinces”) in the past. Now with high-speed railway, expressway and flight networks, millions of people could spread across the country within a matter of days if not hours.

My cousin, who travelled back to China from her work in Kuwait, initially decided to take the whole family out for a hot spring vacation during the Chinese New Year period. By the new year’s eve, the severity of the situation became so apparent that they had to cancel.

All the restaurants, which stocked and hired additional staff expecting a peak demand period, had to be shut too to avoid further spread of the virus. Almost all the cinemas were shut as well, creating an opportunity for ByteDance.

Government staff (another cousin of mine included), had to cancel their new year leaves and be put on high alert. Anything that could be done to limit human congregation was imposed – more effectively in cities and coastal provinces. New Year holidays were extended for the general public.  The whole economy almost ground to a halt.

Until now, the full extent of the epidemic is not certain. Nobody knows how long it will last, and how much it will cost.

60 year cycles 

With so many major crises happening in the first month, are we entering a year of surprises and … black swans?

Interesting that according to the Chinese Sexagenary Cycle, this year is Gengzi (庚子), a name that everyone knows by heart. Exactly 120 years ago, an expeditionary force from the Eight-Nation Alliance invaded Beijing amid the boxer movement crisis. The empress dowager and the emperor of the Manchu dynasty had to flee their palaces disguised as civilians – for many in Northern China, the year felt like the end of the world.

What happened to the Southern Provinces? Well, they stuck together and tried to ‘quarantine’ themselves from the crisis, probably just falling short of declaring independence. Eleven years later, revolution broke out – first started in the junction of Wuhan – and the Southern provinces indeed broke out and formed a Republic.

Fast forward to the next Gengzi Year, in 1960, the Communist Party had been in power for more than 10 years. In their experimentation of the new order, they mismanaged the economy so badly that tens of millions died of starvation.

At that time, it felt like the end of the world too.

How about 2020

End of last year, some people were speculating that something major would happen this year, another Gengzi.

Of course, as entrepreneurs we are not superstitious. But as entrepreneurs we always have to remind ourselves that there are major forces that we have no control of. (Lawyers and insurance product manager know this by heart).

What we need to do, instead, is to prepare ourselves in situations, and make the best out of them. Just like in playing poker.

Remembering history, and knowing things could happen, help too.

2020 will be a good year – even if the nature does not like it, we will make it one 😉

A year of flamingos maybe?



Thanks for reading The Low Down (TLD), the blog by the team at Momentum Works. Got a different perspective or have a burning opinion to share? Let us know at [email protected].


Previous articleWho wrote mysterious report claiming Luckin Coffee is fraud?
Next articleChinese internet users spent 6 billion hours online in one day…
Jianggan Li is the Founder & CEO of Momentum Works. Prior to founding Momentum Works, he co-founded Easy Taxi in Asia, and served as Managing Director of Foodpanda. The two years running Rocket Internet companies has given him a lifetime experience on supersonic implementation, and good camaraderie with entrepreneurs across the developing world. He holds a MBA from INSEAD (GMAT 770) and a degree in Computer Engineering from Nanyang Technological University. Unfortunately he never wrote a single line of code professionally - but in his first job he was in media, travelling extensively across Asia & Europe, speaking with Ministers & (occasionally) Prime Ministers. Apart from English and his native Mandarin, he is also fluent in French and conversational in Cantonese & Spanish. He tried to learn Latin (for three years) and Sanskrit (for six months) as well. In his (scarce) free time, he reads, travels, hikes and dives. Pyongyang, Tehran & Chisinau are among the interesting cities he has been to.