China Mao
China. Reuters

As the year comes to an end, here’s a look at China’s big news winners and losers, in a series of superlatives that reflects on IBTimes coverage of the red state in 2013.

Weirdest Pollution Story Angle:

Yes, China’s pollution problem is so immense that it warrants its own category. Chinese and Western media have covered the country’s pollution problems extensively throughout the year as air quality reached new, hazardous levels. But you can only cover a pollution-in-China story for so long until you have to start looking at some interesting angles.

Winner: China’s Rampant Pollution Created A Sperm Black Market

Local news in Shanghai reported that the external environment over the past decade have affected sperm samples, saying contributing environmental effects, like air pollution, have created “ugly sperm.” Tests showed that two-thirds of the samples at Shanghai’s biggest sperm bank did not meet the sperm-count criteria set by the World Health Organization.

Sperm Bank China
A Chinese sperm bank has decided to give away money to purchase the new iPhone to its donors. Reuters/ Guang Niu

Runner Up: Smog Is A National Defense Tool

China’s glass-half-full media tried to look on the not-so-smoggy side, claiming that one benefit of China’s air pollution issues is national security. “Smog may affect people’s health and daily lives… but on the battlefield, it can serve as a defensive advantage in military operations,” state-run People’s Daily wrote.

Smog Descends on China
A persistent wave of heavy smog casts a hazy veil over major cities, towns, highways and natural landmarks in China in summer 2012. NetEase

Best China Buzzword:

New media has changed a lot when it comes to the way society is discussed, and among the changes are the constantly added slang terms, hashtags and labels for curating online conversation on any given subject.

Winner: Tuhao

In China, social media site Weibo as well as other platforms have breathed new life into an old Chinese phrase that dated back to the 1920s. "Tuhao" is a term prescribed to a certain new demographic of nouveau riche Chinese who haven’t quite mastered subtle refinement. Some interpretations of the word say it means "bling" or "ostentatious." The word wasn’t always used to describe China’s rising middle class; it was previously used to describe wealthy land owners who would bully those beneath them, and only took on its new meaning late this year.

China money rate tumbles as big banks unleash cash
A staff counts Chinese Renminbi currency at a bank in Baokang, central China's Hubei province. REUTERS

The word has garnered so much attention that Oxford English Dictionary is even considering adding it to its next edition. “A lot of media has given attention to the word ‘tuhao,’ which also triggered our interest,” Oxford University Press said.

Worst State Media Faux Pas:

China’s media isn’t exactly known for being a balanced voice on China issues. Another reputation it has gained is for its bizarre editorial choices, which are sometimes accidental, sometimes intentional, but always cringe worthy.

Winner: Accidental Porn Slideshow

In August, China’s biggest news agency, Xinhua, accidentally published a photo slideshow about female execution rates, titled “Actual Record of Female Inmate’s Execution -- Exposing the World’s Darkest Side,” using stills that appeared to have been taken from a fetish pornography website. The images were published not only on Xinhua’s website but also on the Party newspaper, Global Times, website. Though the slideshows were eventually taken down, China-based news blog Beijing Cream was able to take some stills of editorial blunder. The slideshow featured more than 40 screenshots from a fetish film company called PKF Studios that produces, according to its website, “quality fetish horrorerotic movies.”

China State News Porn
China's state news agency, Xinhua, accidentally used stills from a "horrorerotic fetish porn" for a slideshow about female executions. Xinhua

Runner Up: Photoshop Fail

Though North Korea generally holds the title of worst Photoshop jobs of official photos, China rivaled the reigning champions after a photo of officials surfaced on Chinese social media. The comically bad Photoshop job was published by local government in the central Chinese province of Anhui. The photo features the deputy mayor of Ningguo and some other officials paying a visit to an elderly woman in the area. Unfortunately, what it also revealed is the sub-par skills of the office’s photo department. See the image below.

China photoshop fail
Officials in China's Anhui province apologised for publishing this doctored photograph, showing officials over a miniaturised senior citizen. Ningguo Civil Affairs Department/ Weibo

China’s Newest National Icon:

Winner: Peng Liyuan

Xi Jinping and Peng Liyuan
Chinese President Xi Jinping and First Lady Peng Liyuan arriving in Tanzania, March 25, 2013. Reuters

Move over, giant panda! China’s First Lady, Peng Liyuan, wife of President Xi Jinping, solidified her spot as a pop culture icon after making her first public appearance in Moscow in March. Chinese social media went crazy for the “beautiful and stylish” Peng, who was seen wearing classic-yet-modern looks while stepping off planes during official visits. In a matter of days, Chinese e-commerce websites began advertising “First Lady Coats,” which were knock-off versions of what Peng wore in Moscow. On top of that, Peng has been registering on radars internationally, including Vanity Fair’s 2013 International Best Dressed List. “Since her husband’s rise in politics, she's taken a step back from performing, but has emerged as a fashion icon and trendsetter,” the magazine wrote.

In May, Peng also debuted on Forbes World’s 100 Most Powerful Women list at number 54 for her role in “inspiring change and driving conversation.”

China’s Newest Tech Darling:

Winner: Xiaomi

Xiaomi is making a splash in China, proving to be tech-giant Apple, Inc.’s biggest competitor in the Chinese smartphone market. The homegrown phone brand broke global records in smartphone sales after it sold 100,000 of its MiPhone 3 devices and 3,000 MiTV sets in just 83 and 118 seconds, respectively on the day of the product launches.

Lei Jun, founder and CEO of China's mobile company Xiaomi, speaks at a launch ceremony of Xiaomi Phone 2 in Beijing August 16, 2012. Reuters

Xiaomi’s signature MiPhone devices have not only impressed customers with modern, user-friendly specifications, but also with a much more affordable price point, at around $330, compared to Apple’s iPhone, which can be as expensive as $700 in China.

Weird China Trend:

Winner: Face masks

China Anti-Radiation Masks
Chinese women are buying up variations of these bizarre face masks to wear indoors, in hopes of combating radiation emitted by computer screens. Kotaku/ Eric Jou

Rampant toxic air pollution has citizens cover up their noses and mouths with industrial-grade masks in hopes of defending their respiratory systems from hazardous air. And rightfully so. However, some women at work in China were recently seen sporting ridiculous-looking radiation face masks, which cover the entire face excluding the eyes, nose and mouth, and help guard office workers from the harsh radiation produced by their computer screens. The actual science behind how much the masks protect the skin from the elements hasn’t even been proven, but still, the mask lives on.

Runner Up: Gilded Everything

China Gold Car 2013
The "gold car" in China. Reuters

This year China manifested its love gold, both the color and the precious metal, in many ways -- most obviously through buying up gold stock but also by paying for things using gold bars, and gilding almost anything they could.

China's gold hotel
Though China's gold hotel is still under construction in Hai'an, Jiangsu province, the 48-story, multimillion dollar facility is already attracting attention. That's Online

Worst Abuse Of Power:

The year 2013 marked the new presidency of Xi Jinping, who took office in March. With Xi at the helm, a new set of directives and rules followed. Among them was a crack-down on corrupt officials, who have abused their positions of power to get -- or get out of -- various things.

Losers: Though it’s difficult to pick just one, considering the myriad of rogue officials to choose from, the label of worst will be shared among a handful of rapists. China news-blog, The Shanghaiist, covered these politicians extensively in their own roundup, which features a retired Henan official who was accused of raping and extorting a former mistress over a debt he claimed she owed. Other cases include a Jiangsu official who confessed to raping a high school girl after taking her to a secluded area, as well as a Hunan police administrator who was accused of multiple counts of rape and collecting millions of yuan in bribes.