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China’s WeChat Revolution

Weixin (微信), also known as WeChat, has become one of China’s most popular smartphone apps. The app is taking over the mobile market, and is impacting Chinese businesses, people’s social lives and even the taxi industry in various ways.

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China has the largest Internet population in the world. Smartphone users make up 81% of this populace. Weixin (微信), also known as WeChat, has become one of China’s most popular smartphone apps. It was launched in January 2011 by Tencent (known by the penguin logo). The core function of WeChat is its messaging function: sending free messages to phone contacts that also use the app. In this sense, WeChat is similar to Whatsapp.

But there is more to WeChat: its success lies its in multifunctionality. WeChat is not just a messenger, it is also a social network, an online wallet, a news source and much more (read our Short Guide to Weixin). With China’s mobile user market exceeding 750 million, Weixin (currently 468 million users) only has more room to grow – a sunny prospect. Longtime Beijinger and specialist on Chinese language and culture, Ryan Myers, explains how WeChat is impacting Chinese businesses, people’s social lives and even the taxi industry: “WeChat watchers will understand how revolutionary it actually is.”

 

WECHAT THE SUPERAPP

“WeChat is Twitter, Facebook, Whatsapp, Paypal, Shazam, Viber, Uber and much more, all in one.”

“Recently I was sitting at a bar with my friends when a nice song came up. I asked for the song’s name, and my friends started shaking their phones to identify it. Music identification is yet another function that WeChat has recently added to its wide range of features. You shake the phone and WeChat recognizes the music. WeChat is all-encompassing. It is Twitter, Facebook, Whatsapp, Paypal, Shazam, Viber, Uber and much more, all in one.

Weixin is a perfect tool for both personal and business use. It is easy to set up a Weixin chatgroup to communicate and share files in an educational or corporate setting. Instead of adding individuals one by one through their telephone number, Weixin allows people to join a location-based group through a collective password. As a teacher, I only have to tell students the password and they can then join the classroom-based group, without them becoming my personal contacts. It is perfect because it keeps business and private separate.

The best thing about WeChat is the sheer volume of its plugins, functions and features, which is basically everything anyone could use on a smartphone. Getting a taxi, paying for drinks, organizing work-related meetings, chatting with friends –  I never have to shut the application because it incorporates all I need to use. I don’t even have to worry about backing up my contacts – WeChat automatically does it every month.”

 

GRABBING A CAB THROUGH WECHAT

“WeChat is a total game changer for China’s taxi industry.”

“Lately WeChat/Weixin is used a lot for getting taxi’s. Didi Dache (嘀嘀打车) is a function that is built into WeChat, so you can now get a taxi through WeChat and also pay for it through the app’s wallet function. Customers can order a taxi and indicate how much they want to leave as a tip. Taxi drivers will see the request through the app. Based on the customer’s location and the tip, the taxi driver can decide whether or not he wants to come and pick them up. Socially it is a huge change that drivers are now accepting tips, since tipping used to be very uncommon. It has also affected those who do not use the app, since hailing a taxi on the streets has become increasingly difficult as drivers are more likely to pick up customers through Didi Dache. It is a total game changer for the taxi industry. What is also noteworthy is that all taxi drivers have smartphones now. I got into a taxi the other day and the driver had three smartphones. One of them was running a movie, the other was used for taking calls and the final one was used for Didi Dache to keep track of incoming taxi requests. It is features such as these that make WeChat so influential in China, impacting multiple layers of society. People who closely follow WeChat will understand how revolutionary it actually is.”

 

MOBILE MARKETING

“WeChat has endless possibilities in the field of interactive marketing and business promotion. Companies who do not keep up with it will not make it.”

“It is innovating how companies market their products through WeChat. Even small and simple restaurants now utilize Wechat’s QR codes. Customers can scan them and be part of the company’s ‘fanbase’. In return, they get a discount or a free drink. Wechat is also used for promotion activities in other ways. I hosted a marketing event for my company the other day where a Powerpoint presentation featured a QR code that the audience could scan. Once they scanned it, their names appeared on the screen, connected to interactive racing horses. The people from the audience had to shake their phones in order for the horses to move. Who shook the fastest won, and got a special prize from our company. When it comes down to interactive marketing and business promotion, Wechat has endless possibilities. And this is just the beginning. Companies who do not keep up with these technologies will not make it. Passing on flyers does not work anymore. Businesses need to use mobile marketing through Wechat if they want to be seen.”

 

THE HARMONY OF WECHAT

“Wechat truly is a culturally Chinese product.”

“Interestingly, the concept of Wechat is in line with the Chinese traditional way of thinking that advocates harmony and the idea of everything, everyone, all together. In Western countries people think in much more individual ways. This reflects in their use of apps; people use different apps for different functions, because it suits their individual needs. They will check the news through Yahoo, message through Whatsapp and talk through Viber or Skype. Wechat has all of these functions under one ‘roof’. In China it is also much more common for a bar to be a restaurant, a study-place, a snooker hall and a shop all in one. From this perspective, Wechat truly is a culturally Chinese product.

To know more about Wechat, read ‘Introduction to WeChat‘. 

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©2014 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Digital

Uh Oh, IP: Chinese Social Media Platforms Now Display Users’ Geolocation

From Weibo to Zhihu, Chinese social media platforms now display netizens’ geolocation to ensure a ‘healthy online environment.’

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Over the past few days, Chinese social media platforms have started to introduce a new function that displays the IP location of online commenters.

Weibo was the first platform to introduce the function on Thursday – the topic also became top trending on April 28 – and social media platforms Douyin, Toutiao, Xiaohongshu and others followed later. Zhihu announced the measure on April 30 (#知乎宣布全面上线显示用户IP属地#).

Weibo has experimented with the function since March 22 of this year before completely rolling it out on April 28. Whenever users post a reply or comment to a thread, their Internet Protocol (IP) address location will be displayed underneath their comment, right next to the post date and time information. The location will also be displayed on the personal account page of Weibo users.

According to Sina Weibo, the function was introduced to ensure a “healthy and orderly discussion atmosphere” on the platform and to reduce the spread of fake news and invidious rumors by people pretending to be part of an issue or city that they are actually not part of. To keep online discussions “authentic and transparent,” social media users’ specific region, city, province, or country will show up below their names. The function can not be turned off by users.

‘Refuting rumors’ is a priority for Weibo management and has only become more relevant during the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak in China and the recent Shanghai outbreak.

On Saturday, the hashtag “What Does It Mean That Platforms Are Unrolling the IP Function?” (#平台开放IP属地功能意味着什么#) was trending on Weibo, attracting over 170 million views.

The new measure has attracted mixed reactions on Chinese social media, where some users think it is useful that you can now discern users located abroad from those who are based in China, making it easier to draw conclusions on what is really going on in society (you can now spot trends that are particularly taking place within one region) and what is merely taking place in cyberspace.

But there are many users who think the new function is just another layer of control and does not really help to combat fake news or malicious rumors, since the IP location could actually still be changed.

Although the entire idea of displaying the IP location is to minimize the gap between cyberspace and reality based on one’s location, the location is merely the geographic location of the internet from the connected device and does not always correspond with the actual location of the social media user.

Once a person is connected to a Virtual Private Network (VPN), for example, internet traffic is sent through a server in another location, and the IP address will be replaced by the IP address of the VPN server in a different location from people’s actual address.

Some Weibo account are also not run by the persons themselves but by a social media or marketing company.

In this way, Bill Gates unexpectedly turned out to be located in Henan province, and Lionel Messi’s location showed up as Shanghai.

Others think that the new rule will only lead to more online polarization and self-censorship: “Who made this unsettling decision?! From now on, Chinese nationals who are studying or living abroad will be extra extra careful in what they write, otherwise, they’ll be labeled as ‘foreign forces.'”

Some people joked about the new function revealing their location, writing: “It made me so embarrassed. I’m pretending to be studying in the UK, while I’m actually in the mountains feeding the pigs.” Others were also surprised that their IP location was completely different from the place where they are actually living: “Weibo, what are you doing? I’ve never even been to Jilin,” one commenter wrote.

According to an online poll held by Fengmian News, 56% of the participants (nearly 300,000 at time of writing) said they supported the new function. 21% did not like the function, 17% said they did not care, and 6% were just curious to see their own IP location and if it matches their actual location.

“I’m gonna go and delete my more extreme comments,” one person wrote: “I don’t wanna give my hometown a bad reputation.”

Global Times commentator Hu Xijin (胡锡进) also gave his views on the new measure, saying that people’s viewpoints and values will always be more important than where they come from, and that all friends of China matter, no matter where they are based. However, he argued, it is also good to know where those who openly express anti-Chinese sentiments come from, exposing those ‘evil foreign force’ who are trying to disrupt social cohesion within the country.

Noteworthy enough, Hu Xijin’s own IP location was not displayed on his Weibo account, as some celebrities seem to have been excluded from this measure or can decide themselves whether or not they would like to display their IP location or not.

One Weibo user wrote: “Twitter can follow its own regulations in banning Trump, while Weibo can transcend its own regulations and not show Hu Xijin’s IP location.”

For recent articles Covid-19 topics on Chinese social media, check here.

By Manya Koetse

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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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China and Covid19

‘Voices of April’: The Day After

“The best way to make videos go viral is by censoring them.”

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On April 23, a day after the video ‘Voices of April’ briefly took over social media before it was censored, the trending topic of the day is a hashtag related to new Covid cases reported in Shanghai.

Shanghai reported higher Covid-19 cases and deaths on Friday than the five days prior, which showed a daily decline in new cases. Shanghai reported a total of 23,370 new cases (including 20,634 asymptomatic ones), the municipal health commission said Saturday. A related hashtag by Xinhua News received over 910 million views on Weibo on Saturday (#上海新增本土确诊2736例无症状20634例#).

Although the hashtag was initiated by state media to inform about the Shanghai Covid situation, netizens started using it to criticize Shanghai’s handling of the crisis, with more commenters questioning China’s zero-Covid strategy. Similarly, other state media-initiated hashtag places also became online spaces where Weibo users vented their frustrations earlier this month.

Besides the ongoing online criticism and vocal disagreement with China’s Covid handling and policies, there are also many who express shock at the recent crackdown of any form of protest or criticism regarding the situation in Shanghai.

“‘Voices of April’ has been shutdown all over the internet, I’m simply dumbfounded,” one person said about the popular video that contained real recordings of events that happened during the city’s lockdown.

“If you still can find the video anywhere, forward it,” another person writes.

Besides Voices of April (四月之声), there have also been other videos over the past week that are meant to expose the mishandling of the Covid situation in Shanghai.

One of them is titled Farewell, Language (再见语言), another one is Shanghai Late Spring (上海晚春).

Farewell, Language (再见语言) is a 42-second sound art video by artist Yang Xiao (杨潇), who used over 600 commonly used propaganda phrases from Chinese official channels and randomly broadcasted the audio in the community where he lives.

The anti-epidemic workers just continue their work and do not seem to notice anything out of the ordinary at all. The video shows how this kind of language has been so normalized that for most, it has just become background noise in their everyday life – without even noticing nor critically assessing its meaning or logic anymore.

The Shanghai Late Spring (上海晚春) video is a compilation of video footage from the Shanghai lockdown, showing people struggling to get food, violent altercations between anti-epidemic workers and residents, people living in deplorable conditions in quarantine centers, and more (link to video).

The video uses the song Cheer Up London by Slaves, its chorus being:

You’re dead, already, dead, dead, already-ready
Dead, already, dead, dead, already-ready
Dead, already, dead, dead, already-ready
Dead, already, dead
.”

One Weibo commenter responded to the video in English, using a text from Les Misérables: “Do you hear the people sing / Singing the song of angry men / It is the music of a people / Who will not be slaves again!” The phrase “do you hear the people sing” was also used by other social media users to address the situation in Shanghai and the censorship of related topics.

“The best way to make videos go viral is by censoring them,” one commenter replied.

Read our previous article about ‘Voices of April’ here.

For more articles on the Covid-19 topics on Chinese social media, check here.

By Manya Koetse, with contributions by Miranda Barnes

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our weekly newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

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.

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

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