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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.

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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 and Covid19

The Curious Case of the Henan Bank Depositors and the Changing Health QR Codes

“It must be American hackers who did this, right?”, some Weibo commenters wrote in light of the miraculously changing Health Codes.

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Where can people turn to once their money seems to have gone up in flames? How could Health Codes randomly turn from green to red? And who will stand up for justice? These are the questions asked by Chinese netizens in the Henan bank depositors case that is making headlines this week.

This week, the story of a Henan banking scandal and depositors’ Health Codes suddenly turning red triggered online discussions in China and even made international headlines.

In between online deposit products, financial platforms, regional banks, and Health Code systems, the story is a bit messy. Here, we’ll explain the story and its latest developments.

 

DUPED DEPOSITORS

 

The story starts in April of this year when people discovered that they were unable to withdraw money they had invested in online deposit products offered by various smaller regional banks.

Some people had deposited money via the Baidu money app (Du Xiaoman Financial 度小满), others had used another third-party platform, intermediaries, or one of the mini-programs run by the banks themselves.

By early May, it had become clear that dozens of depositors who once thought they had invested their money wisely had actually been duped. Four of the banks involved are located in Henan province, namely: the Yuzhou Xinminsheng Village Bank (禹州新民生村镇银行), Shangcai Huimin County Bank (上蔡惠民村镇银行), Zhecheng Huanghuai Community Bank (柘城黄淮村镇银行), and the Kaifeng New Oriental Country Bank (开封新东方村镇银行).

But there are also other smaller banks involved, including Guzhen Xinhuaihe Rural Bank (固镇新淮河村镇银行) and Yixian Xinhuaihe Rural Bank (黟县新淮河村镇银行) in Anhui.

As reported by South China Morning Post by late May, multiple customers had confirmed that they had not been able to withdraw funds either online or in person.

The sudden apparent closure of their withdrawal channels set off a wave of panic among depositors, who then protested in the provincial capital of Zhengzhou on May 23rd, demanding the return of their money.

Yang Huajun (杨华军), deputy director of the Henan branch of China’s Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission (CBIRC), arrived at the scene of the protests and – speaking through a megaphone – promised the demonstrators that as long as their funds were “legally” deposited, they would be protected by law.

Many depositers, however, were unsure of whether or not their deposits were actually made in a “legal” way and what the definition of “legal” entailed in this case.

Over the past years, Chinese smaller rural banks have partnered with online platforms, often offering relatively high returns, in order to boost their deposit-reliant funding base.

In December of 2020, platforms Alipay, Du Xiaoman Financial, JD.com and Tencent Wealth Management all suspended the sale of online deposit products via their financial apps in light of heightened scrutiny from regulators concerning funds raised by unstable smaller lenders.

The smaller banks that are now at the center of the recent financial scandal then (illegally) reached out to their existing customers directly after December 2020 and convinced them to download the banks’ apps in order to deposit even more money.

One of the persons duped is Mr. Sun from Shenzhen. As reported by Sina Finance, it was in 2020 when Sun came across a seemingly attractive online saving product via the Du Xiaoman Financial app. Although Sun was not familiar with the banks in question, namely the Yuzhou Xinminsheng Village Bank and Shangcai Huimin County Bank, he could not resist the deposit interest rate of 4.6%, which was much better than what the big banks were offering at the time.

In early 2021, Mr. Sun received a text message from Yuzhou Xinminsheng Village Bank saying that although the financial products had been taken offline, users would still be able to deposit through the bank’s own online application. Mr. Sun ended up depositing his entire savings into the Henan-based rural bank, thousands of miles away from his own home.

And then, earlier this year, Sun came across the news that Henan New Wealth Group, the primary shareholder of all banks involved, was under investigation for fraudulous practices. When he opened up his online financial application, there was nothing to see but a notice that the system was under maintenance. Sun could no longer access his funds. Hundreds of other customers were seeing the same empty screens.

According to media reports, the current suspected scam case affects some 400,000 customers of seven local banks and involves a money sum of 40 billion yuan ($5,6 billion).

 

IN THE RED

 

As thousands of depositors have been fighting to recover their savings over the past two months, they were duped a second time earlier this week. Dozens of affected depositors claimed they had seen their Health Codes turn red without any logical reason on June 13 or June 14 – the day of a planned protest.

In China’s Covid era, the Health Code system has become a pivotal tool in the country’s battle to contain the spread of the virus. The Health Code system is embedded in various apps, most importantly in Wechat and Alipay, and uses various data to assess an individual’s exposure risk. There is not one unified national Health Code application; they are developed by different actors and their management is different across Chinese provinces and cities.

If there is no detected risk, an individual is assigned a Green QR Code and is allowed access into any venue or location where a QR code scan is mandatory. With a Yellow Code, you should stay home for a week, and Red Code means you are high risk and need to quarantine for 14 days – this severely limits your freedom to move around and travel.

On June 13th, many affected investors saw their Health Code turn red when arriving in Zhengzhou, where they were allegedly coming to retrieve their savings and protest the injustice they suffered. The QR code color change was unexpected and strange, considering that there were no new reported Covid cases in their vicinity and also considering the fact that accompanying family members who made the exact same journey did not see their Health Codes change.

This raised suspicions that the duped depositors were specifically targeted, and that their Health Codes were being manipulated by authorities.

CNN reported that many distributors who had come to Zhengzhou were taken to a guarded quarantine hotel before being sent back to their hometowns via train the next day. According to a Chinese media report by Nanfang Daily, the depositors were not even asked to do nucleic acid testing and were told by local staff that they would get their Green Code back as soon as they left Henan.

Various media report that minimally 200 depositors saw their Health Code change from Green to Red earlier this week.

 

“OPERATION CODE RED”

 

The curious case of the Henan depositors scandal and the changing Health Code colors has become a trending topic on Chinese social media this week.

The topic of the duped depositors was also discussed online before this week, and it brought back memories of earlier financial scandals, such as the P2P chaos that occurred back in 2018.

But the topic of depositors’ Health Codes changing to Red is something that attracted much wider discussions on the apparent abuse of a system that has now become a part of everyday life for people in China’s Covid era.

The main proof for people that the Henan depositors were targeted in this apparent “Operation Code Red” is that, as mentioned before, the family members that were traveling together with the duped depositors never saw a change in their Health Code: those people who were listed on the affected regional banks’ depositors list were seemingly singled out and purposely targeted.

“Who is in charge of changing the Health Code colors?” became a much-asked question on Weibo, with many blaming local Henan authorities for abusing their powers to try and stop protesters from raising their voices in Zhengzhou. One Weibo post on this issue received over 1,6 million views. Meanwhile, Henan authorities still said they did “not understand” what had happened.

“It must be American hackers who did this, right?”, some Weibo commenters wrote, putting in a sarcastically smiling emoji, with others adding: “No, the aliens did this – it must have been the aliens!”

Others wrote that the situation at hand should be simple to figure out: “There is no way that this is an oversight or a data error. If you want to know who did this, look at who or which department has the authority to manage both epidemic prevention measures as well as finance affairs.”

Many comments also showed a sense of disillusionment with how China’s Covid management affects the people: “After seeing the chaos during the Shanghai lockdown, this does not even surprise me anymore,” one person wrote on Weibo: “All we can do is pray that it won’t happen to us.”

“Why is Henan’s “messy Red Code” incident so extremely vile and scary? Because once a person or institution holding public power looks at you in a bad light, they can give you a Red Code and take you away, in the name of legality. This is the evil that comes from unmonitored power,” one blogger from Anhui wrote.

Other people also worried about foreign media reporting on this issue, saying this incident is being used to cast China in a bad light while local authorities are to blame: “We should unify the Health Code system into a national system in order to avoid this from happening again.”

According to Chinese state media reports, the case has now been forwarded to the Health Commission of Henan Province for further investigation.

We will keep tracking upcoming developments. Meanwhile, check out our other reports on trending topics relating to China’s banking and finance here. For more about Covid-related trending topics, check here.

By Manya Koetse
With contributions by Miranda Barnes

Image via Weibo

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References (all other sources included in hyperlinks)

Lee, Amanda. 2022. “Rural Banks Freeze Customers’ Accounts.” South China Morning Post, May 31.

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China Digital

From Teacher to Livestreamer: Ecommerce Move is Game Changer for China’s New Oriental Education

New Oriental is going from classroom to e-commerce. Online shopping has never been more educational.

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After laying off 60,000 staff last year, Chinese private education company New Oriental is now offering unexpected new employment opportunities for teachers in the livestream market. Changing e-commerce channels into virtual classrooms, New Oriental has hit the sweet spot with Chinese netizens.

Last year, an unprecedented crackdown on China’s private education sector left many teachers unemployed and worried about their future.

China’s so-called ‘double reduction’ (双减) policy was announced in August of 2021 and targeted “excessive homework” and off-campus tutoring for students in the mandatory nine-year education system. The new regulations imposed strict sanctions on existing private education institutions, forcing them to register as non-profit organizations. Foreign investment in the private tutoring sector was also banned.

One of the companies that was hit particularly hard by this policy is New Oriental (新东方), the largest provider of private educational services in China. Following the crackdown, the company suffered huge losses and dismissed 60,000 employees.

Facing the new regulations, including the ban on for-profit tutoring in subjects on the school curriculum, New Oriental tried to keep its head above water by exploring new markets and ideas within the private education sector. For example, the company launched a special program to train parents on how to tutor their K-12 children themselves. New Oriental called it their “excellent parenting” (优质父母) training class.

Now, nearly a year later, another initiative by New Oriental has become an online hit. Inspired by the success of livestream e-commerce in China, the tutoring company started its own livestream channels. Although New Oriental already introduced its e-commerce business in late 2021, with founder Yu Minhong (俞敏洪) sometimes hosting the sessions himself, it had not been as much of an online success until it recently introduced bilingual livestream e-commerce sessions.

Now, tutors-turned-sellers are teaching viewers English – or sometimes other subjects – while selling (agricultural) products via the Douyin app. Whether they are selling fruit, rice, or even shrimp, New Oriental’s livestream hosts are grabbing every opportunity to teach their viewers a new word or concept, often using a whiteboard to introduce new vocabulary.

Whatever they’re selling, New Oriental’s livestream hosts make sure it’s educational.

One reason for New Oriental becoming a viral hit is because of Dong Yuhui (董宇辉), who is one of the experienced teachers now selling products online. Dong’s bilingual livestreams are particularly successful among viewers because of his enthusiasm, fluency in English, witty jokes, personal stories, and talent for singing.

Teacher Dong recently had a breakthrough moment with his June 10th livestream, during which he sold bags of rice using English. He has since attracted over nine million viewers. While thanking all viewers for their support in a recent Weibo post, Dong described himself as a “ordinary peasant boy.”

Dong Yuhui (董宇辉) is one of the livestreamers that have turned New Oriental’s e-commerce into a viral hit.

Besides Dong, there are also other popular hosts. English teachers Ming Ming, Yoyo, and Dun Dun are all loved by viewers for their charm and wit.

Although various kinds of social e-commerce categories are particularly popular in China, this new phenomenon of combining education + e-commerce + livestream is appreciated by many netizens who like to learn something while being entertained and perhaps also buying something. “I don’t know whether to place an order or to make notes,” has become a popular comment. Another commenter said: “As a kid I took your class, and now I buy your goods.”

Others say that they like the calm way in which the livestreams are presented, posing a stark contrast to other livestreams where the hosts are hyping up products and urging people to buy fast and buy more.

On June 15th, news came out that New Oriental’s stocks had surged by more than 25% following its livestreaming success.

Although some Weibo users predict that this is just a temporary trend, others think that the educational livestream model is here to stay: “New Oriental really started a new business venture, and I’m learning a lot through their livestream sessions.”

By Manya Koetse
With contributions by Miranda Barnes

Image via Weibo

Read related article: China’s Crackdown on Tutoring Schools: Concerned Parents and Teachers on Weibo

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©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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