China has 1.3 billion people and surely at least that many mobile phones (everyone has a mobile and some sleazy businessmen will have one for the wife and another for the mistress, #lads etc). If I take the metro to work it’s very easy to avoid eye contact with anyone, as they’re all looking at their phones.
What are they doing – especially given that so much is blocked in China? Watching TV shows, catching up on weibo, shopping on taobao or chatting on WeChat, of course!
WeChat is the messaging app of choice for everyone in China, young or old. You can use it for text and voice messages, sending photos, voice calls and video calls. So far so normal. But there’s so much more. Here’s a few things that I use wechat for on a daily basis (ok, hourly, I am in China after all).
- WeChat wallet. If you link your bank card (Chinese banks only) to your WeChat wallet then you can use WeChat to pay for things. Every retailer either has a QR code for you to scan and enter the amount to pay, or they’ll scan your QR code. It’s so so easy and means you hardly ever have to carry cash. You can also use WeChat wallet to pay bills, buy tickets and top up your mobile phone.
- Red envelopes. You can send money to friends. Again, so easy!
- Scanning friends. If you meet someone and you want to add them as a friend, you don’t need to faff about typing in their number or looking them up in a search bar. Every user on WeChat has a personal QR code, so you just ask to scan them, they produce the QR code, you scan it and add them. Simple!
- Stickers. These are pictures or gifs you can send in messages. You can download packs of stickers or if a friend sends you a cool one you can save it to impress other friends with later. I like dog ones, obviously, but I also have a pretty rad one of Hitler dancing with glow sticks.
- Group chats. These can be for work, friends or interest groups. I’m in all three, though some of them have notifications on mute!
- Subscriptions. These are news or organisation accounts that I follow. I particularly like the ones about Shanghai so I know what’s on (art, cinema etc) or what’s a hot topic right now (typhoons, flour scandal, VPN news).
- Moments. This is like a facebook news feed, except if a friend posts something you can only read the comments by people you’re already connected to.
Soon you’ll be able to use it on the turnstiles at metro stations here in Shanghai, eliminating the need to carry a metro card.
Of course, this amazing app does come with a price, and that’s all your personal data belonging firstly to Tencent and then the Chinese government. So that’s not ideal. Also, like many apps in China, it’s a really bloated app and as a result my phone is grinding to a standstill these days. But life without it would be a lot less convenient, so I try to put any concerns about the government out of my mind… Needs must!!