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No WeChat, No Access – How China’s Digital Revolution is Leaving behind Its Elderly Population

With apps and QR code scanning taking over day-to-day life necessities in China, elderly citizens are feeling increasingly alienated from society.

Brydon Brancart

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As daily life in China becomes ever more digitally dependent, China’s elderly find themselves increasingly excluded from a wide range of services. Here’s an overview of this new societal problem by What’s on Weibo’s Brydon Brancart.

“If you don’t take cash then put a sign up!”, yelled 67-year old Mr. Xie after trying to use cash to pay for his groceries at a checkout isle reserved for mobile payments.

Enraged at his treatment, Xie’s initial reaction was to cause a ruckus, lunging at the security guards surrounding him. “You shame me, an old guy, for not being able to use WeChat!”, Xie explained later on, after regaining his composure.

The video, posted on Weibo in late September of this year, quickly made its way around Chinese social media, renewing a controversy that goes right to the heart of China’s fast-paced digital revolution: can the elderly keep up?

 

No App, No Access: Seniors without Wechat

Sorry, as you’re already over 70, you’re not fit to keep on living

 

The issue became prominent last year after writer Xiao Ao (小奥) published an article titled: “Sorry, as you’re already over 70, you’re not fit to keep on living” [“对不起,由于你已经超过70岁,你已经不适合活下去了!”].

In the article, Xiao voiced her frustration over how difficult it was for her 90-year-old grandfather to receive a package she had mailed him.

“I thought it would be a simple delivery,” Xiao recalls. “My grandfather would just have to walk to his door, open it, open the package, and then could [retrieve the gift]. But I was wrong.”

Packages sent to her grandfather’s housing complex are stored for pickup in new delivery lockers – which can only be unlocked by the intended recipient using their Wechat account.

“My grandfather is only able to receive calls and can only make them with his glasses on. He can’t text, so Wechat is even more [out of the question],” Xiao explained.

According to her, there is a widespread alienation of China’s elderly from the digital economy, evident from countless reports of elderly struggling to use digitalized services that come second nature to younger generations: cab-hailing, queing in a bank or hospital, bike-sharing, the list goes on and on.

“I’ve realized that the ‘convenient life; before my eyes is, in fact, a great disaster impeding our parents’ everyday necessities, one they can neither dodge nor escape…”, Xiao concluded.

Wang Qipeng, writing for the Beijing Evening Paper, presents a similar viewpoint.

“One can say that we live in a ‘scanning’ age,” Qipeng writes: “Yet (…) there are many elderly people who, because they cannot scan, have no way of using bike-sharing, have no way of getting discounts at the store, and can’t even open the smart-boxes that are delivered to them.”

The store owner holds up a sign that says “Mobile Payments.”

Wang’s reference to “the scanning age” is no overstatement. Whether unlocking a bicycle through a bike-sharing app such as Mobike or Ofo, or ordering lunch in the office through the meal delivery app Eleme, all transactions are performed through apps that in turn rely on mobile payment apps.

Even public institutions are adapting to the scanning age, for purposes ranging from public announcements to dispensing toilet paper.

Unlocking a Mobike by scanning a QR code (image via CGTV).

QR codes are ubiquitous across China’s public and commercial landscapes. They are posted on walls in vegetable stalls, sit beside registers at department stores, and are even used by beggars in first-tier cities.

Their function is simple. In order to access them, one opens up the relevant app and selects ‘scan’. The app opens the phone’s camera function and scans the QR code. Then, all one has to do is simply select an amount to pay or agree to terms of service. Whether it ’s scanning a QR code, or producing one to be scanned, the process takes seconds.

Reliance on mobile payments has been increasing globally, but nowhere has that growth been faster and more extensive than along China’s Eastern seaboard. According to the South China Morning Post, in the third quarter of 2017, earnings in the mobile payment sector reached 29.5 trillion RMB (almost 4.25 trillion USD), a three-fold increase in just one year.

For younger urban residents, doing away with cumbersome cash is a welcome change. A 2017 Penguin Intelligence study found that 92% of those polled in China’s cities primarily use mobile payments methods. Cash, on the other hand, is preferred by less than 10% of this group.

Handing the elderly a smartphone is in no way a solution. The replacement of the wallet by the smartphone comes with its own set of rules and requirements. Using mobile payments does not solely depend on familiarity with smartphones, it also assumes an eyesight keen enough to read the small print on phone screens.

Operations such as linking a bank account to a phone can be a nightmare for the technologically illiterate. In the absence of easily accessible courses suited to the learning speed of elderly citizens, mobile payment’s effect on this age group is precisely the opposite of what it intends, adding rather than alleviating the chores of everyday life.

 

Viral Stories of Seniors in Digital Trouble Resurface

To refuse taking on cash is actually a type of discrimination for those who do not understand how mobile payments work.”

 

Besides Xie’s viral rant, a plethora of online essays and news reports highlighted just how ill-equipped China’s eldery citizens are in today’s digital era.

In January of this year, Xin Lan News reported the story of an elderly man who, in what seems like a foreshadowing of Xie, broke down into tears at a train station after having to admit he did not know how buy a ticket online.


Incapable of buying a ticket, an elderly man cries in frustration (via Sina.com).

Around the same time, another story described the plight of a sweet potato salesman who complained that his son took advantage of his unfamiliarity of scanning to steal a large portion of his salary. And only a few days after Chinese netizens moved on from Xie’s rant, news came of an elderly woman who was tricked by a man pretending to help her use scan a QR code.

On Weibo, many commenters support the elderly in these stories. A typical comment said: “To refuse taking on cash is actually a type of discrimination for those who do not understand how mobile payments work.”

Unfortunately, despite the frequency of these stories, there is little consensus on how to better prepare the elderly for an increasingly digitalized tomorrow.

 

Proactive Solutions with Long-Term Consequences

Society ought to accommodate the needs of the elderly, it ought to consider their necessities.

.
 

Charities have sought to implement educational programs to tackle this issue. The most proactive of these organizations, See Young (夕阳再晨), a volunteer organization that started in Beijing, is now operating in sixteen Chinese provinces, having already provided individualized support to over 18,000 elderly citizens, and helped educated over a million.

The government has been supportive of See Young, mentioning them in the 13th five-year plan. Li Zhihong, head of the policy research division of the China National Working Commission on Ageing, commented to the People’s Daily that, “when it comes to helping the elderly become immersed in the information age, there are already organizations actively working [towards this].”

Yet, many disagree with forcing the elderly to continually learn, including the founder of See Young, Zhang Jiaxin (张佳鑫). In Wang Qipeng’s article “Does Scanning Leave the Elderly Without Money to Spend?” [“扫码让老人无钱可花?”], an interview with Zhang is cited where the philanthropist states:

Society ought to accommodate the needs of the elderly, it ought to consider their necessities. [Society] mustn’t force them to expend all their energy in learning this or learning that, forcing them to act in this way. Only through such [a change] will [society] truly help and respect the elderly.”

Zhang worries that continued pressure on the elderly to keep up to date on the newest technologies will only make them feel that “at home, and in society, they exist in an inferior position.”

By Brydon Brancart, edited by Eduardo Baptista

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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Brydon Brancart is a writer and Chinese translator. Originally from California, he has lived in both Beijing and Shanghai. He is interested in understanding the role modern media trends play in shaping worldviews, personal identity, and social behavior.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Willowjuice

    November 1, 2018 at 5:05 am

    Being old isn’t an excuse to stop learning, just like being poor isn’t an excuse to commit crime.

    Just learn.. ask the children or social workers to help set up accounts or bind bank cards, and learn.. It’s not at all rocket science unless you are illliterate or mentally retarded. You have plenty of time after retirement and you’d rather spend time eating seeds or walking dogs, and turn around and blame the development of society has left you behind? Isn’t that a bit of a joke?

    My 92-year-old grandpa uses WeChat everyday to send us message and share subscriptions. He can also ‘recall’ a message on WeChat or share videos. He chooses clothes himself on Taobao and asks his ayi to deal with the payment for him. So, what is the problem?

  2. negrolivesmatter

    November 3, 2018 at 2:14 pm

    they are lucky they cant use it. nothing is more meaningless in life than looking at pixels on a screen or morons accumulating 1000+ fake friends for validation or dumb sluts trying to be princesses.

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China Digital

Insights into Sesame Credit & Top 5 Ways to Use a High Sesame Score

These are the top ways in which netizens’ high Sesame Credit scores can be used in daily life.

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There’s been much talk about China’s ‘credit score’ recently, with many media conflating the country’s Social Credit System with the commercial Sesame Credit programme. In this article, we will explain the latter: what is Sesame Credit and what can users do with their high score?

Note: for more about the Social Credit System and differences in its media coverage in China and the West, please see this article.

With all the talks about China’s nascent Social Credit system and commercial social credit programmes, it is becoming clear that Chinese netizens are entering a ‘credit lifestyle’ (信用生活).

“All Chinese citizens now have a score,” is an idea that has popped up in many foreign media over the past years, often conflating it with China’s nascent ‘Social Credit System.’ To read more about the Social Credit System see our articles about this here or here. In this article, we will solely focus on Sesame Credit.

On Weibo, the official Sesame Credit account (@芝麻信用), which has over 240,840 followers, often announces new ways for people to profit from their (high) Sesame Credit score.

What’s on Weibo explores and lists five different ways in which a high Sesame Credit score can be used in China today. But first – what actually is Sesame Credit?

 

About Sesame Credit

 

Sesame Credit (Zhīma xìnyòng 芝麻信用) was launched on January 28, 2015, by Alibaba’s Ant Financial, after it had received permission by the PBOC (People’s Bank of China) to be one of the eight Chinese companies to experiment with personal credit reporting.

According to the Sesame Credit company, its major goal is to make credit more widely available to consumers and small business owners, and to “enable credit providers to make holistic and accurate decisions,” while also “empowering merchants to provide more credit-related services.”

Image via http://www.twoeggz.com.

Because Sesame Credit is part of Jack Ma’s Alibaba Group family (Ant Financial is an affiliate of the Chinese Alibaba Group), Sesame Credit has an enormous amount of data at its disposal, from e-commerce sites to finance products. China’s biggest shopping websites Taobao and Tmall belong to Alibaba’s vast online ecosystem, as does payment app Alipay.

It is not mandatory for users to opt into Sesame Credit. Some have compared the system to a loyalty program, although it is a bit more than that. Since 2015, for example, Sesame Credit also cooperates with the popular online dating service company Baihe.com (百合网), so that people can link their dating profile to their credit score. Sesame Credit already had 520 million users as of 2017.

Since its launch, various foreign media have written about Sesame Credit as an ‘Orwellian system.’ Among others, one of the reasons for this, is that Sesame Credit incorporates a publicly available ‘blacklist’ into its scoring process. The ‘blacklist’ is a Chinese courts’ list with the names of people that have an effective court justice against them; inclusion on this list can make users’ existing Sesame Credit drop dramatically, which would make people miss out on all perks of having a high Sesame Score.

Earlier in 2018, Alibaba, along with the seven other private credit programmes that were allowed to run their trial in 2015, become shareholders and active contributors to a new unified platform that has access to an enormous number of personal credit data. At the so-called ‘trust alliance’ (信联) Baihang Credit (百行征信), state level and commercial organizations join forces in further developing China’s credit systems.

 

About the Score

 

Within the Sesame Credit programme, the lowest score one can get is 350. The highest is 950. This score is based on users’ behavior across various platforms. A score of 550 to 600 is an intermediate/normal score. 600-650 is considered a ‘good’ score. Those in the 700-950 range are exceptionally high in score.

For those who first opt-in to Sesame Credit, and who have not had any violations, 600 is usually the score to receive.

Sesame Credit example scores explained, from 385 being in the low range to 731 being in the ‘good’ range.

Some of the important elements the score is allegedly based on, are –

• (35%) general credit history: past payment history and indebtedness – if persons still have enough credit on their credit card when purchasing items, if they pay their gas & electricity on time [often done through Alipay in China], pay violations tickets on time, etc.
• (25%) general financial status/fulfillment capacity: the available amount on users’ Alipay account, if they are renting a car/house etc. and are able to pay for it, status of Huabei (a credit card function within the Alipay wallet), etc.
• (20%) online behavior and preference: the extent to which an account is actively used, how many purchases are done, etc.
• (15%) people’s personal characteristics: educational background, address, real-name registrations, etc.
• (5%) contact network and interpersonal relationships: how many online contacts one has, ones’s influential power in contact list, interactions between user and friends, etc.

For those who opt in to Sesame Credit and have a high score, there are many different ways to benefit from it, as listed below.

 

The Top Ways to Benefit from Sesame Credit

 

Please note that there are more ways to benefit from a high Sesame Credit score, but we have listed five popular ones below.

 

#1 ‘Credit Treatment’ at Hospitals

 

In November of 2017, Sesame Credit first launched its “Credit Medical Treatment” (信用就医) services for people with a score over 650, with Shanghai’s Huashan hospital being the country’s first hospital to implement the function.

With “Credit Medical Treatment,” patients could save up to 60% of waiting time at hospitals by cutting lines and not needing to pay for treatments upfront. Payments are done through Sesame Credit’s in-app credit function Huabei (花呗).

While a normal procedure at Chinese hospitals can be time-consuming, the Sesame Credit procedure is much more efficient, mainly because people do not need to line up to pre-pay for their medical check-up and the medications.

Normal procedure:

(±20 min) 1. Arrive and register at the hospital and pay for it
(±60 min) 2. Waiting time to see a doctor
(±10 min) 3. Doctor’s appointment/consultation
(±20 min) 4. Line up for payment [of examination]
(±20 min) 5. Check-up/Examination
(±20 min) 6. Queue up for payment
(±10 min) 7. Pick up medicine

Image via xinhuanet.

The procedure with Sesame Credit:

(±3 min) 1. Register at hospital and payment by phone.
(±10 min) 2. Automatically get a number to see the doctor.
(±10 min) 3. Doctor’s consultation.
Payment [for examination]
(±20 min) 4. Examination.
Payment [for medicine]
(±10 min) 5. Pick up medicine

There are also other ways in which people with a good Sesame Credit score can enjoy extra services and benefits at hospitals. Those with a score over 600, for example, can rent a wheelchair in hospitals without deposit.

 

#2 Try First, Pay Later

 

Since September 2018, Sesame Credit offers the possibility to “try out” purchases from Tmall for consumers who have a Credit Score of over 700, promoting the idea of “never regretting a purchase.”

With this concept, people can order clothes or other items from e-commerce platform Tmall (天猫 Tiānmāo in Chinese) without any risk, having the guarantee to always being able to send back items that are unsatisfactory without paying for them.

There are also frequent promotions done by brands and companies in collaboration with Sesame Credit, such as offering people with a high credit score (over 750) to try out the newest Ford for three days, or to use the latest Meitu phone for 30 days for free, without necessarily needing to buy it afterward.

Meitu promotion for Sesame Credit users with a score over 750.

Sesame Credit also makes it more tempting for its users to spend money on (Alibaba) platforms in other ways. The higher one’s credit is, the more one is able to lend from online lending service Huabei; those with a credit higher than 750 can lend up to 20,000 RMB (±$2890). Unsurprisingly, the literal translation of Alipay’s ‘online credit card’ service Huabei (花呗) is “Just Spend.”

 

#3 No Deposit on Shared Bikes (and other things)

 

Sesame Credit has a partnership with bike sharing platforms Hello Bike (哈罗单车) and Ofo, allowing users with a credit over 650 points to rent these bicycles, that can be found anywhere in bigger cities in China, without paying a deposit.

It is not the only service that does not require a deposit for those with a high Credit score; using a shared umbrella, or a publicly available shared phone charger, or even renting apartments, often no longer needs a deposit for those with a higher score.

 

#4 Open Access to Libraries

 

In many places in China, people who have a Sesame Credit score over 550 no longer need to pay a downpayment and can set up a library card for free, in other places people with a higher Sesame score no longer need a library card at all to borrow books at their local libraries and/or their automated self-service street libraries (just their ID).

Since April of 2018, this special service for Sesame Credit users (not needing a card) was introduced in the entire Zhejiang province. Public libraries in other places, such as Shanghai, have already been experimenting with Sesame Credit perks for library lovers since 2015.

 

#5 Special Lounges at Train Stations

 

Especially during peak seasons such as the National Day holidays or Spring Festival, China’s train stations can get exceptionally busy. For Sesame Credit members with a score over 650, there are now special lounges to relax.

Sina notes that the lounge is only available to those members who have also bought a higher fair ticket (first class), or who have a platinum status.

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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China Digital

Making China’s Healthcare More Mobile: Wuxi Launches ‘Smart Medical App’

The Wuxi Medical App makes Chinese health care more digital.

Gabi Verberg

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With the trial launch of the Wuxi Smart Medical app [无锡智医APP], patients of eight different Wuxi hospitals can now experiment with navigating their healthcare through mobile.

In late October, the Wuxi Municipal Health Planning Commission launched a trial version of the so-called “Wuxi Smart Medical App” [无锡智医APP] in cooperation with eight hospitals in the city of Wuxi, Jiangsu province – a city with a population of more than six million people.

The app is meant to make the navigation of health services more convenient for both patients and people who work in the medical sector.

According to Wuxi Daily, one of the reasons why the app was designed is to alleviate the widespread problem of long queues at local hospitals.

Especially in China’s bigger cities, many patients have to wait in line for hours or sometimes even days before they can register for an appointment (a process known as guàhào 挂号), and receive medical treatment.

With the free app, users can now efficiently register for a doctor’s appointment at one of the eight cooperating hospitals through their mobile phone, without having to stand in line at the hospital. The app also allows patients to see and pay for their medical bills, check medical information, and see their examination results.

“When I needed medical consultation or treatment, I never knew what department or doctor I had to queue for,” Liu Xingyu (刘星宇), director of the Information Department of the Municipal Health Planning Commission, tells Wuxi Daily: “I was not the only one facing this problem. But with the app, patients can now insert a type of medical issue, their symptoms, etc., and the app will recommend the [relevant] department.”

To get insights into examination results, patients using the app no longer have to spend entire afternoons waiting in the hospital. The app stores all examination results going back one year.

As for the payment of medical fees, the app provides users with a self-service payment option. By following a few steps, people can pay their medical bills on their phone through Alipay.

The Wuxi app is a new app, but the idea of bringing China’s digitalization into the health care system is not new. As reported by Technode, Tencent already launched WeChat Intelligent Healthcare (微信智慧医疗) in 2014, a platform that allows users to do things such as book appointments, make payments, and more, at hospitals and other medical facilities through WeChat public accounts.

China’s healthcare system has also become more digitalized through options offered by some hospitals in China for people with a relatively high score on their Sesame Credit to receive certain ‘perks’, such as being able to skip lines, or use wheelchairs without paying deposits. (For more about Sesame Credit, an opt-in commercial credit programme by Ant Financial (Alipay), also see this article).

Perhaps Wuxi’s trial app will lead the way for other hospitals in China to become more mobile-focused. For now, the Android version of the Wuxi app is available on Huawei and Xiaomi app stores. The iOS version is expected to be available in the Apple Store soon, as is the added option to pay for medical bills through WeChat.

By Gabi Verberg, with contributions by Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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What’s on Weibo provides social, cultural & historical insights into an ever-changing China. What’s on Weibo sheds light on China’s digital media landscape and brings the story behind the hashtag. This independent news site is managed by sinologist Manya Koetse. Contact info@whatsonweibo.com. ©2014-2018

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