On November 1, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), the country’s top industrial planning body, issued its 2022-2026 plan for the integrated development of virtual reality (VR) and its industrial applications, the first national development plan for China’s VR sector. Describing VR as a “critical emerging field in the digital economy that will deeply impact people’s way of life,” the plan lists three areas to have major breakthroughs by 2026: technological innovation, supply chain updates, and the wider adaptation of VR in social and industrial activities.
According to the initiative, the total scale of China’s VR industry, including related hardware, software, and applications, will exceed $48.6 billion (350 billion RMB) by 2026. It also envisions the sale of VR terminals to exceed 250 million units and pledges support to 10 leading VR industrial clusters with regional influence and 10 industrial public service platforms to foster the sector’s development.
If it does materialize, the initiative will put China in a clear leadership position in the international VR market. For instance, it is estimated that the European VR market will only reach about $21 billion by 2025 while the U.S. market will reach about $38 billion by 2026.
While China is no stranger to championing metaverse technologies to strengthen its industrial prowess, the latest VR push also has significant implications for China’s cultural sector. In fact, “culture and tourism” is the sector immediately mentioned right after industrial production in the plan. It encourages China’s Level I and II museums — meaning those with precious collections, considerable size and staff, and notable social influence — to possess equipment that provides “immersive experiences.” Other places of interest and cultural institutions are also encouraged to offer digital tours and performances using VR technologies to benefit the Chinese public at large.
Chinese cultural institutions could emerge as powerful players in the global virtual art sector. Since the VR initiative is part of China’s overall, state-led metaverse development plan, Chinese museums and state-affiliated digital platforms — as opposed to independent artists — are likely to benefit the most from it. They have already been active both domestically and globally when it comes to introducing NFTs and constructing digital spaces that heavily feature Chinese cultural elements. With policy and financial support pledged by the VR initiative, they can be expected to create more VR products and scenarios that promote Chinese culture and art.