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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.

Manya Koetse

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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‘. 

Follow What’s on Weibo on Twitter. 

©2014 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

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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Backgrounder

‘Good Doctor’, Digital Hospitals: How Mobile Apps Are Alleviating China’s Healthcare Problems

With the rapid digitalization of China’s healthcare, Chinese patients now have more ways than one to receive medical assistance.

Manya Koetse

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China’s healthcare industry is facing some serious challenges. As Chinese society is rapidly digitalizing, mobile apps now provide innovative solutions to alleviate pressing problems in the country’s health services sector.

 
This is the “WE…WEI…WHAT?” column by Manya Koetse, originally published in German by Goethe Institut China on Goethe.de: “Good-Doctor Apps und Digitale Krankenhäuser.” 
 

Social Credit System, artificial intelligence, surveillance cameras; these are some of the hottest topics making headlines in mainstream Western media when discussing China-related developments recently.

With the rapid digitalization of Chinese society, these topics certainly have come to play a more important role in social media discussions within the People’s Republic of China (PRC). But if there is one issue that seems to concern Chinese social media users the most, it is not facial recognition nor their ‘Sesame score’: it is the topic of healthcare.

In December of 2017, a photo showing a crying mother kneeling down beside a toddler on the sidewalk in front of a Shanghai hospital went viral overnight. The moment was captured on camera by a reporter who was visiting Shanghai’s Children’s Hospital.

The photo of Guo Yinzhen and her son that went viral in China (image via NetEase, source: https://3g.163.com).

The mother, Guo Yinzhen, is a single parent who had traveled from a remote village to seek medical help for her 3-old-son, who was suffering from congenital hydrocephalus or ‘water on the brain.’ Already having traveled to the city multiple times and spending all her money on medical bills, Guo could not afford the additional 100.000 yuan (€ 12.600) for medical procedures needed to save her son’s life.

Guo’s story struck a chord with Chinese netizens, who continue to share the heartbreaking photo on social media to this day. It has become emblematic of China’s healthcare problems.

 

Crowded Hospitals and ‘Healthcare Disturbance’

 

The key to an adequate healthcare system, no matter where in the world, is that there is a right balancing in the “iron triangle” of efficiency/cost containment, high quality care, and patient access.[1] China, however, struggles with all three sides of this triangle.

Guo’s case is an extreme example, but many people in China dealing with less serious health issues and needing basic medical services also struggle to afford and access the healthcare they need.

Over 95% of people in China have health insurance, but people from different regions do not enjoy the same benefits and their out-of-pocket expenses can vary greatly. Uncovered medical costs can sometimes be catastrophic and simply unaffordable for patients and their families.

As more money flows are going to healthcare facilities in China’s cities, there is also the issue of varying levels of providers’ medical education and the overall healthcare quality, with the substantial majority of modern hospitals still existing in urban areas.

Easy access to the right kind of healthcare can be especially problematic for China’s rural population, as people often need to travel long distances and have to go through the lengthy process of registering and waiting for their doctor’s appointment, which sometimes requires them to stay in the city overnight.

For all of these reasons, China’s bigger public hospitals can get super crowded, sometimes resembling shopping malls on an end-of-season sales day. On social media, both patients and medical workers often complain about the stress brought about by the huge crowds and the shortage of doctors in hospitals across the country.

Perhaps it is no wonder that China even has a word to describe outbursts of violence between patients and doctors: ‘Yī nào’ (医闹, literally: “healthcare disturbance”).

Weibo user ‘Sunscreen’ complains about the crowds at Huashan Hospital.

One major problem within China’s healthcare conundrum is the lack of local family or primary-care doctors, which often makes bigger hospitals the first stop to any kind of medical treatment for Chinese patients.

The reasons for this issue are manifold. There is a general lack of trust in private and smaller local healthcare clinics, for example, and patients often choose to go directly to a bigger hospital to avoid making extra costs.

This makes it extra difficult for many community health care centers – that are already struggling – to make enough money and to retain qualified staff. In a society that is rapidly aging, the challenges facing China’s healthcare industry are only becoming more pressing.

 

A Doctor Today, Just an App Away

 

As China’s online environment is thriving, new innovative online apps are popping up on a daily basis. Some of these apps, that have found their ways into China’s most popular app rankings, are offering solutions to some of the country’s most pressing healthcare problems.

One of these apps is Ping’an Good Doctor (平安好医生), which was developed by health insurance provider Ping’an in 2015 and calls itself China’s “one-stop healthcare ecosystem.”

“Ping’an Good Doctor” promotional image by Ping’an.

Employing some 1000 medical staff in its in-house team, contracting over 5,200 external doctors, and collaborating with 3000 hospitals and thousands of pharmacy outlets across the country, the app is somewhat of an “online hospital.”

Through the app, users can look through an online database of medical professionals, order medicine at nearby pharmacies, get 24/7 online medical consultancy, search for information about both Western and Chinese Traditional Medicine, etc., but they can also use Ping’an Good Doctor as a fitness app to track their own health.

Screenshot of Ping’an app screen, by author.

When looking for a specific doctor for a one-on-one consult, the app first lets users select an area of expertise (e.g. dermatology or gynecology), and then offers a list of different specialists in various price categories.

Doctors from well-known hospitals, for example, or those with excellent ratings, have a one-time consultation fee of 100 yuan (€ 12,60). Other doctors can be consulted starting from 30 yuan (€3,70). All costs can be paid efficiently via online payment apps.

Doctors to pick from within the app’s various price categories.

Ping’an Good Doctor uses an AI-driven system to ask patients various questions about their symptoms and to automatically create a user’s medical record to save time. Based on the AI-generated record and the conversation with the patients – files such as photos can also be uploaded to the app -, the doctors can prescribe medicine or refer the patient to a hospital for an offline appointment if needed.

Ping’an recently announced that its number of registered users exceeded 300 million users, with 62 million monthly active users. Because the app keeps building on its AI-driven system, Ping’an Good Doctor can be expected to only become a ‘smarter’ smart health app the more popular it gets.

Although Ping’an is now leading within China’s medical app category, there are many other apps providing similar services, such as Chunyu Yisheng (春雨医生), Haodafu Online (好大夫在线), or DingXiang Doctor (丁香医生).

The emergence of these apps is just one of the many ways in which China’s digital developments, online media, and tech giants are impacting the healthcare industry, profoundly changing how patients receive healthcare information and access medical services now and in the future.

List of recommended medical apps in the Tencent app store.

In a way, China’s medical consultation apps fill the void in offline primary care. Patients who would otherwise turn to hospital care as their first stop can now  access medical consultations any time, any day, at a relatively low cost. Those who suffer from relatively harmless conditions could be diagnosed by a medical specialist via the app and get the medicine they need within a matter of minutes. With the growing popularity of these kinds of apps, many patients no longer need to visit a hospital at all.

Are smart health apps such as Ping’an Good Doctor the solution to China’s healthcare problems? No, they’re not. Struggling mums like Guo Yinzhen will not find the help they need there. But they do contribute to a more efficient healthcare environment where crowd flows in hospitals can be reduced, and patients do not need to spend a lot of time and money to stand in hour-long queues to get five minutes of their doctor’s time.

Although smart health apps could not help Guo Yinzhen and her son, social media apps could. As soon as their story went viral in late 2017, Shanghai Children’s Welfare Foundation Xiaoxingxin offered to cover medical treatments for the little boy, with a notable pediatric neurosurgeon operating the child. According to the latest updates, the boy’s situation was “looking good.”

Hopefully, the same holds true for the challenging sides of China’s healthcare industry.

By Manya Koetse
Follow @whatsonweibo

[1] Burns & Liu, 2017: 3-4.

References/Linked Sources

Burns, Lawton Robert, and Gordon G. Liu. 2017. “Introduction.” In China’s Healthcare Industry: A System Perspective, Lawton Robert Burns and Gordon G. Liu (eds), pp-1-116. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Economist, 2017. “China needs many more primary-care doctors.” The Economist, May 11 https://www.economist.com/china/2017/05/11/china-needs-many-more-primary-care-doctors [20.10.19].

Zhou, Viola. 2018. “Does China Have Universal Healthcare? A Long (And Better) Answer.” Inkstone, Oct 10 https://www.inkstonenews.com/health/china-translated-does-china-have-universal-health-care/article/2167579

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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