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Top 10 of Chinese Apps by What’s on Weibo

A top 10 of the most useful and funny Chinese apps.

Manya Koetse

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What’s on Weibo brings you a short introduction to China’s fast-growing app market, oversight of alternative Android app stores and a top 10 of the most useful and funny Chinese apps.

 
Update 2019: We’ve noticed many people like this article. It’s from 2015, so it’s time to get yourself up to date in our Chinese app section that lists new popular apps. Follow us on @whatsonweibo to get the latest.

China is the world’s largest smartphone market. With approximately   520 million smartphone users in Mainland China, mobile app business is booming.

In 2014, Chinese mobile phone users collectively downloaded close to 185 billion apps – 59% of all app downloads worldwide. In comparison: mobile phone users in the United States only transferred 8% of all global app downloads.

China does not only have a flourishing mobile app market, it is also a unique one. Popular Western app services like Twitter or Facebook have been blocked in Mainland China for over five years. Since the end of 2014, all Google services, including Gmail, Google Search, Google Maps or Google Play, have been cut off. The absence of these major Western app services has created a distinctive Chinese app environment, where alternative brands such as Baidu, Weibo or Weixin dominate the market.

Since April 2015, China has officially surpassed the US as Apple’s biggest iPhone market. Although Apple has the number one spot in urban China smartphone sales (27.6% market share), it is Android that takes the crown in terms of application sales revenue.

Popular smartphone brands like Xiaomi, OnePlus, Oppo or Samsung are all based on the Android operating system. In China, the ‘iOs versus Android‘ battle is not an ‘iTunes versus Google Play’ duopoly, as seen elsewhere in the world. Because of the blockage of Google Play and China’s flourishing domestic app market, Chinese Android users download their apps through a variety of app stores.

NewZoo and TalkingData publish a monthly oversight of the top 10 Android App Stores in China. Alternative Android app stores like 360 (360手机助手), MyApp by Tencent (腾讯应用宝), Baidu app store (百度手机助手), the Xiaomi phone store (小米应用商店) or Wandoujia (豌豆荚) are amongst the most popular ones.

Some of these, like 360 or Baidu, are more than just an app store; they are tools to manage your phone by clearing the cache, deleting apps, saving on battery life, etc. Apart from the Baidu app store, Baidu browser and Baidu maps are convenient for anyone visiting or living in China, since Chrome or Google Maps will not work through normal Mainland Internet connections.

With such a giant mobile market and great variety of app stores, the world of China’s apps is like a mobile jungle if you are not familiar with it. What’s on Weibo has therefore selected a top 10 of useful and funny Chinese apps for you:

 

1. Weixin: the essential app for everyday life

weixin5.0

Weixin (微信), also known as WeChat, is China’s most popular smartphone application. It was launched in 2011 by Tencent. The power of this app lies in its multifunctionality; Weixin is Whatsapp, Twitter, Facebook, Paypal, Shazam, Viber and Uber, all combined into one app. It therefore is the essential app for everyday life.

Through Weixin’s chat functions, you can have individual conversations with your friend or make a group chat. There is a large variety of emoji’s to choose from to express your mood. The ‘moments’ function is comparable to Facebook’s timeline, where you can follow what your friends are doing and comment on their pictures.

Through ‘subscription accounts’ it is possible to follow your favorite companies or media sources, from CCTV to McDonalds. Except for a great social media platform, Weixin is also an important way for (Chinese) media and businesses to stay in touch with their audiences. For more information about Weixin, read our Short Guide to China’s Super App or China’s Weixin Revolution.

Weixin is free and is available for iOs and Android users, from iTunes to Google Play or any other app store, both in Chinese and English versions.

 

2. Sina Weibo: not dead yet

Weibo, the Chinese microblogging site

Sina Weibo (新浪微博) is China’s biggest social media platform, comparable to Twitter, launched in August 2009. Recently, many different media have stated that Weibo is dying as a consequence to new rules that required users to register with their real names. More people allegedly switched from Weibo to Weixin, media argued, and Weibo would soon be on the way out as online free speech becomes more and more limited.

Although Weibo is not the platform it used to be, it is still very much alive. The private dimension of Weibo (talking amongst friends) has made room for Weixin, where P2P is the most important form of interaction. Sina Weibo is now a public social media platform and China’s most dominant source of news content, where netizens discuss trending topics of the day. Weibo has 600 million users; around 175 million of them are monthly active users. 70% of Weibo daily traffic comes through its mobile app.

Weibo is free and is available for iOs and Android users, from iTunes to Google Play or any other app store.

 

3. Taobao: the ultimate mobile shop and more

taobao

Taobao Marketplace is one of China’s largest online shopping platforms, comparable to Ebay or Amazon. It was launched in 2003 by China’s Alibaba Group. Taobao is a place where small businesses and individuals can sell products to consumers – anything from clothes to medicine. For the most funny things for sale, check out our top list of unusual things for sale on Taobao. Taobao has 8.4 million annual active merchants, many of whom mainly run their stores through the Taobao app.

Taobao will have more functions in the future besides serving as a shopping platform. Alipay and Sina Weibo launched a new service last week where mobile users can log in through Taobao, Alipay or Weibo to arrange their public service issues, like scheduling marriage registration or paying a traffic fine.

Taobao is free and is available for iOs and Android users, from iTunes to Google Play or any other app store.

 

4. Pitu: drag queen for a day

pitu

Photoapp Pitu (天天P图) is all the rage this year. Never before did a free photo app come with so many possibilities. Like the Meitu app (美图), which is also pretty good, Pitu is a camera and retouch app that offers a myriad of different filters to make you look your prettiest.

But there is much more: Pitu also allows you to play dress up with different make-up styles that look so real that is easy to trick your friends into thinking you actually did your make-up like Lady Gaga or a Peking Opera star. Besides the pre-made make-up sets (under “cosplay”), you can also apply your own make-up and decide on colors of eye-shadow, hair and lips. The app has many different templates to create collages. The ‘cut-out’ section lets you use your face in different backgrounds. Trust us, this is the most entertaining photo app of 2015. You can also take a normal picture of your friends and later turn them into proper dragqueens (sorry!).

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天天P图 is free and is available for iOs and Android users, from iTunes to Google Play or any other app store.

 

5. MyIdol: you’ve never been this fabulous

MyIdol (小偶) is arguably one of the most fun apps around at this moment. The app allows users to take a picture of their face and then create their own 3D figure with a wide selection of different eye-colors, hairstyles, clothing and skin tones. You can then let your figure do several things, such as singing a popular song, wishing everybody a happy new year, playing the drums or falling asleep.

Although the app has been around for some time, it has been a rage lately – especially because the effects of the app are so well done. If you choose the right colors for skin, hair and eyes, combined with the right hair and outfit, it is almost as if you are standing there singing yourself.

myidol

MyIdol is free and is available for iOs and Android users, from iTunes to Google Play or any other app store.

 

6. DragonFly FM: discover China’s radio

unnamed

Dragonfly or Qingting FM (蜻蜓FM) is a top-ranking radio app that offers hundreds of channels from across China, from national to local levels. The app lets users choose from its most popular channels or by category: music, news, audiobooks, comedy, entertainment, opera, etc. A perfect app for anyone who wants to discover China’s most popular music or for those who want to practice their Chinese.

Qingting is free and is available for iOs and Android users, link to app here

 

7. DouPai: featured in a Chinese news broadcast

DouPai is an original video app where personal images can be placed in pre-made scenes. Always wanted to be featured on the Chinese news? This is your chance. The app, a product of 360 Mobile, has a wide range of different scenes. Different from the MyIdol app, this app also allows two users to be in the same scene together; like two tigers holding hands in the woods, for example. It’s the app you know you always wanted.

Doupai is free and is available for Android users, app link here.

 

8. Blued: the ultimate gay app

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Blued is a social network app for gays. It is a product of China’s gay website Danlan, that was launched eight years ago. Blued was added as a mobile app in 2012. It can be compared to gay dating app Grindr; users can look for other users based on their location and scan their profiles or hang out in a chatroom. Users can privately connect through chat and arrange a date if there is mutual interest.

The app has over 15 million users. In December 2014, the company received 30 million US dollars from American investors. 3 million of Blued’s users are located outside of China.

Blued is free and is available for iOs and Android users, from Google Play or any other app store.

 

9. Chef’s Table: play restaurant at home

image

The luxury of restaurant food in the comfort of one’s own home – this is what the new Chinese app ‘Good Chef’ (好厨师) offers. ‘Good Chef’ allows users to search for specialized cooks based on their location and food preference, and hire them to come and cook in their own home kitchen. As online services like Uber are rapidly gaining popularity all over China, the app’s home cooking service has become a hot business.

‘Good Chef’ was launched in September 2014 and operates in Beijing, Shanghai and Hangzhou. Its formula is simple; users can indicate what kind of food they like (Hunan cuisine, Sichuan style, Shandong food, etc.) and browse the different chefs that can be hired to cook for them in their area. Afterwards, users can rate the chefs with one to five stars and leave a comment about their experience. The system generates a list of top-rated chefs.

As Chinese website Wabei reports, over 20,000 people ordered a chef to cook in their home during the Chinese New Year period. The company currently employs 320 chefs on full-time basis. Founder Xu Zhiyan (徐志岩) has revealed that the start-up company recently raised 5 million USD from investors. The money will be used to expand to more cities in China and invest in product development.

The app is available for both iPhone and Android: www.chushi007.com.

 

10. Expression Factory: be your own emoticon

PicMonkey Collage

The expression factory (表情工厂) has been on the market for quite some time but has remained relatively unknown. The app lets users take a picture of their face, and then use it to create hundreds of different emoticons – from Japanese sumo wrestlers to naughty nurse. The emoticons can be exported to QQ, Weibo or Weixin, where they will be saved to use every time you feel like sending someone your personalised kisses or farts.

表情工厂 is free and is available for iPhone and Android users. If you cannot directly download on iPhone it might be because you’re outside of China, you can try to download online and then transfer via iTunes. 

Enjoyed this article? Check out our Top 10 apps for studying Chinese!

– by Manya Koetse

 

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©2015 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 Arts & Entertainment

Luo Tianyi and the Booming Virtual Idol Market in China

The virtual entertainment market is exploding in China.

Manya Koetse

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They are featured on China’s biggest TV shows and on the covers of fashion magazines: they’re virtual idols yet their success is very real.

 
This is the “WE…WEI…WHAT?” column by Manya Koetse, original publication in German by Goethe Institut China, see Goethe.de: WE…WEI…WHAT? Manya Koetse erklärt das chinesische Internet.
 

At the Spring Festival Gala of 2021, the Chinese state media’s annual televised event that only invites the country’s top-notch performers, the virtual idol Luo Tianyi (洛天依) made a guest appearance.

It was a big media moment that showed the growing importance of virtual superstars in Chinese pop culture. Luo’s performance was even announced on the show’s promo posters, making this the first time ever for a virtual star to be on the show like this.

Virtual celebrities such as Luo Tianyi are also called ‘vsingers’ and often have an enormous fanbase. What is the story behind Luo Tianyi and the boom of virtual superstars in China, leading to the remarkable appearance of a non-human celebrity in the country’s biggest mainstream TV show?

 
Luo Tianyi: The First Chinese Vsinger
 

Although it was the first time for Luo Tianyi to appear at the Spring Festival Gala, it was not her first big performance. The superstar previously showed up as holograph live at big events such as the Bilibili night, and in 2019 she shared a stage with renowned Chinese pianist Lang Lang.

Promotional poster for the Luo Tianyi and Lang Lang concert.

Such a performance does not come easy. It takes months to design the looks and the moves. The holographic appearance of Luo Tianyi and the spectacular two-hour show took around six months of preparation by around 200 professionals involved in the production of Luo Tianyi.

Luo Tianyi is a so-called ‘vocaloid’ singer – a Mandarin Chinese language virtual character that was originally featured in the voice synthesizer software called VOCALOID developed by Yamaha, using third parties to create the characters. Vocaloid is a commercial product (released in 2004) with the purpose of enabling users to get a singer for lyrics and melodies without needing to hire an actual human singer.

The Shanghai Henian company collaborated with Tokyo-based Bplats in developing Luo Tianyi. The character was based on the winner of a contest that was organized in support of creating the first Chinese Vocaloid. The real-life singer whose voice was used for the creation of Tianyi is Chinese singer Shan Xin (山新).

Luo Tianyi was officially launched in 2012 as a 15-year-old entertainer and vsinger. By now, she has around five million followers on her Weibo account (@Vsinger_洛天依) where she posts about her performances, with thousands of people liking and sharing these posts.

 
Virtual Idol Boom: From Japan to China
 

According to Chinese state media outlet Global Times, 2020 was the year that virtual idols really took off in China, going hand in hand with the growing popularity of livestreaming.

Chinese video-sharing site Bilibili has contributed to the growing success of virtual idols in China. Bilibili is a homebase for many fan communities in China, since it is mainly themed around animation, comic, and games (ACG). It is one of the earliest platforms in China to broadcast virtual idol concerts, and in 2020 it held China’s first concert consisting solely of virtual performers under the title ‘BML-VR 2020’ (link).

The Bilibili concert featured a performance by various virtual entertainers, including the popular Hiseki Erio. Hiseki Erio is not Chinese, but Japanese. So is Hatsune Miki, one of the most famous virtual idols ever.

You could say Japan is the birthplace of virtual idols – a history that goes back to 1996 when Kyoko Date, also known as DK-96 or ‘Digital Kid 1996,’ made her debut as the first virtual talent.

Virtual idols come in various shapes, forms, and subgenres, and they all have their different background stories. Hatsune Miki was released in 2007 as the embodiment of the Vocolaid software developed by Crypton Future, and then there are the popular virtual Youtubers, ‘vtubers’, with virtual talent agencies such as Hololive also thriving in Japan.

The term ‘virtual Youtuber’ came with the arrival of Kizuna AI, who posted her first introduction Youtube video in late 2016. Kizuna, who later became a cultural ambassador for the Japan National Tourism Organization, is still considered one of the most popular vtubers on earth.

With the great popularity of Japanese manga and anime on the Chinese market, Japanese virtual idols also gained a strong foothold in the People’s Republic since around 2017. Hatsune Miki alone already has over 3,4 million fans on Weibo (@初音未来CryptonFutureMedia).

Virtual idols are increasingly popular in China, where Chinese virtual stars are springing up (Luo Tianyi, Ling, Xing Tong, Yousa).

The virtual entertainment market is now exploding in China, where the online ACG culture is flourishing on Bilibili and beyond.

Since Japanese popular culture products began to gain popularity in China in the early 1990s, there have been various developments that have shown the government’s dislike of the ‘Japanese cultural invasion’ in the country. As a counter-reaction, there has been stronger promotion of the production of made-in-China animations and other ACG products.

While China is seeing a steady release of domestic animated films and series, there is now also a wave of new China-born virtual stars, such as the Bilibili idol Yousa (冷鸢), or Xing Tong (星瞳), a virtual idol from Tencent. Chinese gaming company Papergames made the virtual character Nuan Nuan (暖暖) to also live outside of the gaming world; she is now a singer, a stylist, and a popular fashion ambassador.

Ling (right) featured on the cover of Vogue Me.

There is also Ling (翎), the Chinese virtual influencer who loves Peking opera, tea culture, and calligraphy. Ling, who was created by Next Generation studio and Shanghai AI startup Xmov, appeared on the CCTV show Bravo Youngsters (上线吧华彩少年) and was featured on the cover of Vogue Me in February 2021 alongside actual real-life celebrities.

Chinese virtual influencer Ling.

The number of Chinese virtual celebrities is expected to grow along with the growing market. In October of 2020, the Chinese variety show Dimension Nova (跨次元新星) first aired as a talent show scouting new virtual talent.

 
Virtual Commercials and Controversies
 

The growing influence of the virtual entertainment economy and culture in China is becoming more and more noticeable in pop music, commercial culture, and even in the sphere of politics.

Virtual celebrities are so popular that brands are also jumping in on this craze by hiring them as brand ambassadors or by creating their own cyber stars. Tencent’s Xing Tong, for example, modeled for Levi’s and sportswear brand Li Ning. Nuan Nuan, among others, was featured in a commercial for hair care brand LUX. Luo Tianyi appeared in campaigns for Huawei, Pizza Hut and KFC.

In January of 2021, McDonald’s China announced their own virtual idol “Happy Sister” (开心姐姐) as a brand ambassador. They are not the only one: there are over thirty companies in China now using a virtual brand ambassador. The new McDonald’s idol was welcomed by Weibo users, where the news of her launch received 200 million views.

McDonald’s China announced their own virtual idol “Happy Sister” (开心姐姐) as a brand ambassador.

The virtual idol influence also became apparent when Japanese ‘Hololive’ virtual celebrities Akai Haato and Kiryu Coco recently got caught up in a diplomatic row because they referred to Taiwan as a “country” when discussing their YouTube channel analytics during a livestream, leading to controversy among their Chinese fanbase.

In a statement published on Bilibili by Cover (the Japanese company behind the Hololive talent agency that the virtual celebrities in question were under), the agency apologized for what had happened. Nevertheless, both virtual stars involved in the controversy were banned from Bilibili and eventually the entire Chinese Hololive branch was shut down.

This example shows that although virtual idols are generally regarded as a safe option for brands and companies because, unlike real celebrities, they are not likely to get caught up in scandals, it is still possible for them to spark controversy.

Nevertheless, the future looks bright for virtual stars in China with still an enormous market for Luo Tianyi and others to conquer, with plenty of room for growth. From concerts to fashion shows to live streaming channels, from Weibo to Bilibili and beyond, we are bound to see virtual stars increasingly become a part of everyday life in China.

 

By Manya Koetse
Follow @whatsonweibo

 

This text was written for 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.

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.

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China Digital

From Red Packet to Virtual Hongbao: Lucky Envelopes in China’s Digital Era

Raising virtual cows, shaking with phones – this is the Chinese New Year tradition of giving red envelopes in the digital era.

Things That Talk

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The custom of giving out red paper envelopes has evolved into a world of virtual lucky money and online games. This is the transformation of a Chinese New Year’s tradition, reported by Koen van der Lijn and Xiaojun Zhang.

 
When objects meet social media, two websites meet as well. This is a collaboration between What’s on Weibo and Things That Talk (follow on Insta @thingsthattalk).
 

Ever wanted to raise a digital cow? This year, you can raise your own lucky cow (福牛) for Chinese New Year on Weibo. Through maintaining and raising their virtual cow (or ox), users can participate in this online game to win red envelopes, a well-known and beloved tradition linked to Chinese New Year.

The hashtag “Lucky Cow’s New Year’s Travelogue” (#福牛新春旅行记#) is linked to Weibo’s celebration of Chinese Spring Festival and the Year of the Ox. Users are expected to be active on Weibo daily to raise their cow/ox, similar to the once so popular Tamagotchi. Whilst leveling up their cow, users get the possibility to earn digital red envelopes.

The online game is another development in the story of the red envelopes, known in China as hongbao (红包). Often given during Chinese New Year, the envelopes can also be given at other joyous occasions like weddings. These red envelopes are given to each other by friends and family members to wish each other a happy new year and are always filled with an amount of money.

Red envelopes for sale via Taobao.

The practice of giving money during Chinese New Year goes far back in Chinese history. The earliest form of the red envelope is said to be yasuiqian (压祟钱). In order to keep evil spirits away, called sui (祟), people put money underneath children’s pillow since the evil spirits were said to be warded off by coins.1 These coins were woven together using a string.

Yasuiqian

As time went by and paper money and envelopes became more widespread, string and coins were replaced and the red envelope was created.

Red envelopes are used by Chinese all over the world nowadays. The amount of money inside depends on many factors. Recently, the tradition has left behind its tangible form and entered the digital era.

 

“Adding the thrill of gambling to the practice of giving away red envelopes”

 

In 2014, the popular Chinese messaging app WeChat (微信) launched a new function that allowed users to send virtual red envelopes. Users could send an amount of money directly to another user, or an amount of red envelopes could be sent into a groupchat. When the function launched, users worldwide could shake their phones in order to receive free red envelopes. The amount of money that was given to users surpassed 500 million yuan ($77.5 million).

WeChat’s inventive idea put digital red envelopes on the map in China. During the peak of the event, 800 million shakes were recorded per minute. There were two types of envelopes introduced in 2014 by Tencent, the company that owns WeChat:

1. A regular red envelope that could be sent directly from one user to another.
2. A ‘group’ red envelope, with a limited number to be grabbed and a limited sum of money which can be grabbed by all users in a group if they are fast enough. The sum inside this envelope is randomized, adding the thrill of gambling to the practice of giving away red envelopes.

Other companies also wanted a piece of the digital red envelope cake: Weibo and AliPay combined their strengths a year after WeChat introduced its digital hongbao in order to promote their version of the digital red envelope.

A ‘war’ then broke out between the two companies. AliPay handed out 600 million renminbi ($93 million) worth of red envelopes as a response to WeChat’s 120 million envelopes sent out during the televised celebration of Chinese New Year.2

 

“Digital red envelopes can cross time and place, but cannot replace the method of face-to-face contact”

 

In the years after, the digital red envelope became more and more popular. Weibo and Alipay also came with their version of sending red envelopes online. The companies organized large-scale actions to make users make use of their form of digital red envelopes.

WeChat, for instance, gives users the option to make the red envelopes very personal through adding stickers and personal messages, making the digital red envelope an even more enjoyable experience.

Does this new development of the traditional red envelope make the tangible envelope obsolete?

When asked by the digital newspaper The Paper (澎湃新闻) about whether the digital red envelope might replace its tangible brother, scholar Tian Zhaoyuan (田兆元) of East China Normal University said that the digital red envelope can cross time and place, but cannot replace the method of face-to-face contact. Though friends and family may send one another digital red envelopes, it does not mean that it replaces the tangible red envelopes.3

The tradition of sending red envelopes is and will be inherently linked to Chinese New Year. Though both the paper and digital forms of the tradition remain incredibly popular, the virtual hongbao will definitely win territory once more this year as travel is restricted due to COVID-19. Especially in these times, the digital red envelope is the best digital way of wishing family and friends a happy new year.

Why are ‘lucky envelopes’ not just red, but sometimes also green or purple? Read more via Things That Talk here.

 
By Koen van der Lijn and Xiaojun Zhang

Koen van der Lijn (China Studies, BA) is a ResMa student Asian Studies at Leiden University focused on Chinese history and its international relations. He is a student ambassador at Things That Talk.

Xiaojun Zhang (China Studies, BA) is an MA student Asian Studies at Leiden University focused on contemporary Chinese culture, symbolism and food. For Things That Talk, she currently works on a project about Chinese-Indonesian restaurants in the Netherlands.

This story was made in collaboration with ThingsThatTalk.net – exploring humanities through the life of objects. Things That Talk is an educational digital project where staff and students produce narratives and metadata about objects in Leiden collections and beyond. Check out the story “Hongbao: from paper envelope to digital gift” on Things That Talk here!

 
Footnotes (other sources hyperlinked within the article)

1 Kin Wai Michael Siu. 2001. “Red Packet: a Traditional Object in the Modern World.” Journal of Popular Culture 35 (3), 103.
2 Chen, Liyan. 2015. “Red Envelope War: How Alibaba and Tencent Fight Over Chinese New Year.” Forbes, Feb 19 https://www.forbes.com/sites/liyanchen/2015/02/19/red-envelope-war-how-alibaba-and-tencent-fight-over-chinese-new-year/?sh=1b88bccccddd.
3 The Paper, Zuowei yi zhong “xinnian su”, weixin hongbao hui qudai zhizhi hongbao ma? 作为一种“新年俗”,微信红包会取代纸质红包吗?, https://cul.qq.com/a/20160208/012888.htm.

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.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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