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From Study Xi to Himalaya FM: Top 5 Popular Chinese Learning & Study Apps

These are some of the most popular study and learning apps for Chinese mobile users.

Gabi Verberg

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Study apps are more popular in China than ever before. These are the apps that are favorites among Chinese mobile users, to expand their knowledge and study online.

Just three years ago, we wrote about the booming business of e-learning in China and the increasing popularity of cyber studying. In a time when Chinese mobile users spend more time on their phones than ever, the market has developed a lot since then, and study apps have become more popular than ever before.

The rise of online education (在线教育) has made it possible for people to study any topic they like, no matter how old they are, where they live, or what they do. Moreover, compared to traditional education, online studying is relatively cheap, or even free, making education more accessible to people from all layers of Chinese society. In this way, online education is a source of opportunities – both for mobile users and for companies tapping into the market.

We made our selections in our lists based on the data from the Android app stores Tencent, Baidu, Huawei, and Zhushou360. We tried our best to give you a representative overview of a variety of apps that are currently most used within this category in China, but want to remind you that these lists are no official “top 5” charts.

This article is the last of a series of five articles, listing popular Chinese apps in the categories of short video & live streaming, news, health & sports, and mobile games. We’ll list the other categories for you below this article, but let’s move over to review these mobile study and learning apps now.

 

#1 Help with Homework  作业帮

Help with Homework, as the name already suggests, is an app that provides primary and secondary students with study-enhancing features, offering help with courses including Chinese, English, math, history, physics, and chemistry.

In the partly free app, students can take pictures of their homework or tests. The app will then tell them if they made any mistakes. There is also a tutoring function including audio, free lessons, extra study material, a question bank, and a dictionary. It is also possible for users to upload their own essay which will then serve as an example for others.

The app was launched in 2014 by a like-named company in Beijing. Throughout the years, the app won several awards, but more importantly, it became the holy grail of every young student across the country.

According to their own website, Help with Homework has over 400 million users. And according to a report by Jiguang, more than 84 percent of the children up to the age of 15 who have a smartphone have a favorable attitude towards the app. But not only children benefit from the app. More than 82 percent of people in the age category 36 to 45 also showed a positive attitude toward the app.

In the Tencent Appstore and Apple stores, the app currently ranks subsequently first and fifth most popular education app.

 

#2 Study Xi Strong Country  学习强国

Study Xi is an app that was launched by the Propaganda Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. The app was launched on January 1st of this year, and has been a hit ever since.

The app is a multi-functional educational platform that offers users various ways to study Xi Jinping Thought, Party history, Chinese culture, history, and much more. To encourage users to study, the app also awards its users with incentives. There are several ways to earn points, for example through reading articles, watching videos, spending a certain amount of time on the app, sharing or saving articles or getting all the answers right with a quiz. With enough points, users can get discounts or free items online.

For more about this app, check out our ‘Everything you need to know about the Study Xi app‘ article.

In the Apple store, the app currently ranks the most popular app overall.

 

#3 Himalaya FM 喜马拉雅FM

Himalaya is China’s most popular audio sharing platform. The app was first launched in 2013 and was an instant success. Within two years, the app reached 200 million users, and continued steady growth. In 2017, Himalaya was selected amongst the 30 most influential Chinese enterprises of the century.

According to the company’s website, Himalaya currently caters to 450 million people. They offer users a wide variety of (educational) podcasts, audiobooks, (live) radio, and music. Some audio is free, some features need to be paid for. For most paid features, users can first partly listen to the audio-book before they can decide upon whether or not they want to purchase it.

But Himalaya is not only about audio content. It is also Himalaya‘s mission to “empower podcast creators.” By providing production, distribution, and marketing support, the app also helps creators to connect with their audiences and allow them to earn money.

In the fourth quarter of 2018, Himalaya’s daily active users grew from 12 million to 13.4 million, making it the most popular app of 2018 in the category of knowledge.

Himalaya is also available in English. However, the Chinese and International Himalaya are two separate apps and use a different logo.

 

#4 iReader 掌阅

iReader is amongst the leading digital reading distribution platforms globally. The company was established in 2008, and since then set up cooperations with over 600 copyright collectives. Following the domestic success, iReader went global in 2015, and is now available in more than 150 countries and has 500 million users worldwide.

The Chinese version of the app divides its content in manga and “bookstore or book city” (书城), meaning everything but manga. Both categories, however, offer a wide variety of subjects. At first sight, most content is (partly) paid, but there is also a button for free books, audio books, and podcasts, offering access to a mass of content that helps to build on knowledge and to study.

According to a report by Jiguang, iReader was China’s 62nd most successful app in 2018.

 

#5 Kai Shu Story 凯叔讲故事

Kai Shu Story is both a storytelling app for young children as a publishing house for children’s books. The app is mainly focused on children in the kindergarten and primary school age group, offering a wide range of genres including fables and fairy tales, science and history, famous foreign works, and  – perhaps the most popular – Chinese literary works.

Different from most of the apps we covered in our “top 5 selections”, the most popular content of Kai Shu Story is has a paywall. Top paid packages include The Three Kingdoms, Poetry is Coming, Journey to the West and Kai Shu Tells History, where China’s history starting from the Shang Xia period up to the end of the Qing Dynasty is told in 635 stories.

In order to offer all users the opportunity to explore and learn in a fun way, the app also provides plenty of free content. But that is not all there is to it. Most stories end with a question to readers, who are then free to share their answers or post other remarks in a group chat. And for those whose listening skills are not so strong, most stories come with a written script too – also making this an excellent app for foreigners studying Chinese!

Kai Shu Story is founded by Mr. Wang Kai (王凯), a former host of China’s Central Television Station (CCTV) and dubbing artist (see featured image of this article). Kai dubbed thousands of famous TV dramas and movies before he resigned to spend more time with his children.

One afternoon – so the story goes – he accidentally shared a story recording for his daughter with his daughter’s kindergarten group-chat. After hearing the audio, Kai immediately received enthusiastic reactions from parents asking him to upload more stories. With his love for telling stories, he continued sharing his readings, and in no-time gathered a small fanbase. The members in the group chat gave him the affectionate name ‘Kai Shu,’ which literally translates as ‘Uncle Kai.’

From 2014 to 2016, the group-chat evolved into an official WeChat account, which subsequently led to the app. Since the launch of the app in 2016, Kai and his team have uploaded more than 8000 stories, which have been played around 3 billion times, adding up to a staggering 229 million hours of listening, according to the official website.

Kai Shu Story is currently ranked among China’s top-grossing education apps in the Chinese Apple Store.

Also see:

By Gabi Verberg, edited by Manya Koetse

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

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

Gabi Verberg is a Business graduate from the University of Amsterdam who has worked and studied in Shanghai and Beijing. She now lives in Amsterdam and works as a part-time translator, with a particular interest in Chinese modern culture and politics.

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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.

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©2021 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

Conversations Behind the Wall: Clubhouse App Now Blocked in China

While the Clubhouse app is no longer accessible from within the PRC, conversations continue behind the wall.

Manya Koetse

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The Clubhouse app became a hot topic among web users in mainland China this weekend. On Monday, the platform was no longer accessible from within the PRC.

On Saturday, we posted an article about the surge in popularity of American ‘drop-in audio chat’ social media platform Clubhouse in mainland China.

As conversations about the popular app continued throughout the weekend, the app was no longer accessible from within mainland China on Monday.

Clubhouse describes itself as “a space for casual, drop-in audio conversations—with friends and other interesting people around the world” where you can “go online anytime to chat with the people you follow, or hop in as a listener and hear what others are talking about.”

The app has virtual rooms and events themed around various topics – anything from politics to music – and lets hundreds of members join conversations as moderators, speakers, or listeners.

The Clubhouse app was developed by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Paul Davison and ex-Google employee Rohan Seth. It was first launched in April 2020 on iOS only, and is still only accessible through iPhone for users who have an invite.

Before Monday, the Clubhouse app was freely accessible from within China for those people who had an invite, but only if they had access to the non-Chinese Apple store to download the app.

The app was a hot topic on various Chinese social media platforms this weekend. On Weibo, the civilized and open character of the Clubhouse conversations were praised, allowing a broader understanding of issues that otherwise remain untouched or are limited within the Chinese social media sphere.

One Chinese-language virtual room about the Xinjiang camps was joined by hundreds of people on Saturday. But besides the room focused on Xinjiang, there were also other rooms where discussions took place about the status of Hong Kong and about issues such as whether or not (overseas) Chinese are willing to return to the mainland and why.

“It is like a small crack in a window,” one person on Weibo said about Clubhouse, while others already predicted the app would become unavailable from within mainland China soon.

When it finally happened on Monday, the responses on Weibo were mainly those of disappointment. “Bye bye Clubhouse,” some Weibo users wrote, with others expressing their surprise: “What?! It was just popular for two days and it’s already blocked? They move so fast it’s scary.”

“I was active on Clubhouse for two days. I didn’t expect it to be shut down so soon already.”

Although many commenters previously expressed that they expected the app to become unavailable within the PRC, the fact that it was shutdown while it was just exploding online comes as a surprise to some, as various commenters write.

The term ‘Clubhouse’ was also temporarily blocked on Weibo by Monday night Beijing time; over the weekend various hashtags relating to the app made their rounds on Chinese social media, but the hashtag pages were no longer online by Monday evening.

‘Clubhouse’ no longer shows results on social media platform Weibo. Screenshot by What’s on Weibo.

Meanwhile, various Chinese-language rooms on Clubhouse discussed the topic of its disappearance in China.

A room titled “Clubhouse is blocked, and now?” was joined by over a hundred people on Monday night. The room “Clubhouse is blocked” attracted over 3000 participants. These conversations are likely to continue for the time to come, but now they must continue behind the Great Firewall of China.

By Manya Koetse

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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