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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.

Manya Koetse

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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

Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Digital

From Tea Farmer to Online Influencer: Uncle Huang and China’s Rural Live Streamers

‘Cunbo’ aka ‘rural livestreaming’ is all the rage. A win-win situation for farmers, viewers, and Alibaba.

Manya Koetse

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This is the “WE…WEI…WHAT?” column by Manya Koetse, originally published in German by Goethe Institut China on Goethe.de: “VOM TEEBAUERN ZUM INFLUENCER: ONKEL HUANG UND CHINAS LÄNDLICHE LIVESTREAMER.” 

The past year has been super tumultuous when it comes to the topics that have been dominating Chinese social media. The Coronavirus crisis was preceded by other big issues that were all the talk online, from the US-China trade war to the protests in Hong-Kong, the swine flu, and heightened censorship and surveillance.

Despite the darker side to China’s online environment, however, there were also positive developments. One of the online trends that became popular this year comes with a term of its own, namely cūnbō (村播): rural livestreaming.  Chinese farmers using livestreaming as a way to sell their products and promote their business have become a more common occurrence on China’s e-commerce and social media platforms. 

mage via Phoenix News (iFeng Finance).

The social media + e-commerce mix, also called ‘social shopping,’ is booming in the PRC. Online platforms where the lines between social media and e-commerce have disappeared are now more popular than ever. There’s the thriving Xiaohongshu (小红书Little Red Book) platform, for example, but apps such as TikTok (known as Douyin in China) also integrate shopping in the social media experience.

Over recent years, China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba has contributed to the rising popularity of ‘social shopping.’ Its Taobao Live unit (also a separate app), which falls under the umbrella of China’s biggest online marketplace Taobao, is solely dedicated to shopping + social media, mainly mobile-centered. It’s a recipe for success: Chinese mobile users spend over six hours online per day, approximately 72% of them shop online, and nearly 65% of mobile internet users watch livestreaming.

Every minute of every day, thousands of online shoppers tune in to dozens of different channels where sellers promote anything from food products to makeup or pet accessories. The sellers, also called ‘hosts’ or ‘presenters,’ make their channels attractive by incorporating makeup tutorials, cooking classes, giving tips and tricks, chatting away and joking, and promising their buyers the best deal or extra presents when purchasing their products.                

Livestreaming on Taobao goes on 24/7 (screenshots from Taobao app by author).

Sometimes thousands of viewers tune in to one channel at the same. They can ‘follow’ their favorite hosts and can interact with them directly by leaving comments on the livestreams. They can compliment the hosts (“You’re so funny!”), ask questions about products (“Does this also come in red?”), or leave practical advice (“You should zoom in when demonstrating this product!”). The product promoted in the livestreams can be directly purchased through the Taobao system.

Over the past year, Alibaba has increased its focus on rural sellers within the livestreaming e-commerce business. Countryside sellers even have their own category highlighted on the Taobao Live app. Chinese tech giant Alibaba launched its ‘cūnbō project’ in the spring of 2019 to promote the use of its Taobao Live app amongst farmers. The most influential livestreaming farmers get signed by Alibaba to elevate Taobao Live’s rural business to a higher level.

One of these influential Chinese farmers who has made a name for himself through livestreaming is Huang Wensheng, a tea farmer from the mountainous Lichuan area in Hunan Province.

Uncle Huang livestreaming from the tea fields (image via Sohu.com)

Huang, who is nicknamed ‘Uncle Farmer,’ sells tea through his channel, where he shows viewers his work and shares stories and songs from his village. He is also known to talk about what he learned throughout his life and will say things such as: “It is important to work hard; not necessarily so much to change the world , but to make sure the world does not change you.”

With just three to five livestreaming sessions per week, ‘Uncle’ Huang reaches up to twenty million viewers per month, and, according to Chinese media reports, has seen a significant increase in his income, earning some 10,000 yuan (€1300) per week.

Huang is not the only farmer from his hometown using Taobao Live to increase their income; there are some hundred rural livestreamers in Lichuan doing the same.

Some random screenshots by author from rural livestreaming channels, where online shoppers get a glimpse of countryside life

The rural livestreaming category is significantly different from the urban fashionistas selling brand makeup and the latest must-haves: these hosts do not have the polished look, glamorous clothes, or stylish backgrounds. They usually film outside while doing their work or offer a glimpse into their often humble rooms or kitchens.

Viewers get to see the source of the products sold by these rural sellers; they often literally go to the fields to show where their agricultural products grow, or film themselves getting the eggs from their chickens or the oranges from the trees. From fruits to potatoes and flowers, and from fresh tea to home-made chili sauce – a wide range of products is promoted and sold through Taobao Live these days.

Some rural livestreamers are trying to stay ahead of their competition by coming up with novel concepts. A young farmer from Sichuan, for example, recently offered viewers the opportunity to “adopt” a rooster from his farm, allowing them to interact with ‘their’ rooster through social media and even throwing the occasional birthday party for some lucky roosters.

Image via sina.com.

Examples such as these show that although the countryside livestreamers usually lack glitter and glam, they can be just as entertaining – or perhaps even more so – than their urban counterparts.

Who benefits from the recent ‘cūnbōboom? One could argue that the rising popularity of livestreaming farmers is a win-win situation from which all participants can profit in some way. The commercial interests are big for Alibaba. The company has been targeting China’s countryside for years, as it’s where China’s biggest consumption growth will happen while mobile internet penetration is still on the rise. Alibaba earns profits from an increasing number of rural e-commerce buyers, as well as e-commerce sellers.

Alibaba’s early focus on the countryside as a new home for e-commerce has previously also led to the phenomenon of so-called ‘Taobao Villages,’ where a certain percentage of rural residents are selling local specialties, farm products or other things via the Taobao platform with relatively little transaction costs.

Many Chinese villages and farmers are profiting from the further spread of Taobao in the countryside. Not only does Alibaba invest in logistics and e-commerce trainings in rural areas, these e-commerce channels are also a way to directly boost sales and income for struggling farmers.

Chinese media predict that the rural livestreaming trend will only become more popular in the years to come, bringing forth many more influential farmers like Huang.

But besides the commercial and financial gains that come from the rising popularity of rural livestreamers, there is also a significant and noteworthy social impact.  At  a time in which China’s rapidly changing society sees a widening gap between urban and rural areas, these rural channels serve as a digital bridge between countryside sellers and urban consumers, offering netizens a real and unpolished look into the lives of farmers in others parts of the country, and gives online buyers more insight and understanding of where their online products came from.

Taobao Live is actually like a traditional “farmers’ market,” but now it is digital, open 24/7, and accessible to anyone with a mobile phone. It’s the Chinese farmers’ market of the 21st century.

By Manya Koetse
Follow @whatsonweibo

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

This text was first published by Goethe-Institut China under a CC-BY-NC-ND-4.0-DE license (Creative Commons) as part of a monthly column in collaboration with What’s On Weibo.

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China Digital

WeChat’s New Emoji Are Here (Including a Watermelon-Eating and Doge One)

WeChat’s new emoji are based on popular memes.

Manya Koetse

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On January 14, Tencent’s Wechat introduced new emoji to its existing emoji set. The new emoji include, among others, a watermelon-eating emoji and a smiling Shiba Inu.

On Weibo, the new emoji have become a topic of discussion under the hashtags “WeChat’s New Emoji” (#微信上线新表情#), “WeChat’s Watermelon Eating Emoji” (#微信上线吃瓜表情#), and “WeChat’s Dog Emoji” (#微信上线狗头表情#).

Different from the Unicode emoji (see Emojipedia), WeChat and Weibo have their own sets of emoji, although there is overlap.

The reason why especially the watermelon-eating and dog emoji are being discussed on social media, is because these emoji are based on popular internet memes.

“Eating watermelon” (吃瓜 chī guā) is an online expression that comes from “watermelon-eating masses” (吃瓜群众 chī guā qúnzhòng), which describes a common mentality of Internet users who have no idea what is actually going on but are still commenting or following online stories for their enjoyment – perhaps comparable to the “popcorn memes” that are ubiquitous on Western social media platforms.

The smiling dog has been around since 2013 and is known as the doge meme, based on a photo of a Shiba inu. The meme was originally spread on social media platforms such as Reddit, but then also became hugely popular in China, where it became a symbol of sarcasm (also read this Abacus article on this topic).

Other new emoji are the “wow” emoji, and others to express “ok,” “add oil,” “emm,” “oh!”

There’s also a “shehui shehui” (社会社会, lit. “society society”) emoji, which also comes from online culture and is a way among friends to (self-mockingly) talk about being ‘gangsters,’ ‘brothers.’ or ‘scoundrels.’

As the new emoji are still in their testing phase, not all WeChat users can use the new emoji yet, so you might have to wait a bit before being able to try them out.

By Manya Koetse, with thanks to @caaatchina
Follow @whatsonweibo

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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