In April, when many were still stuck at home and worried about a gloomy economic future, over 2 million online viewers logged on to watch one of China’s new generation of live-streaming superstars auction a rocket launch for 40 million yuan (US$5.6 million).

It was an unusual but uplifting moment during the height of the months-long nationwide lockdown amid Covid-19.

The epidemic has taken a heavy toll on the Chinese economy – gross domestic product contracted 1.6 per cent year on year in the…