Social media in China is nothing like what we’re used to in the West. Although the country’s Great Firewall blocks most external social media platforms, it is not short of its own unique social networks, as technology is a driving factor for the Chinese economy. RenRen, Weibo and Youku Tudou are examples of social media platforms that, from a Western perspective, are often said to be similar to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Yet, having just returned from Beijing, my argument is that they can't be so easily compared - especially when it comes to the WeChat app.
One of the most noticeable technological advancements in China can be found within WeChat. Often referred to as ‘China’s WhatsApp’, it offers so much more than simply private messaging. With approximately 500 million users, WeChat has integrated various social media features into one app. For example, users can upload ‘Moments’ using a Facebook Messenger style chat whilst being able to book taxis, purchase cinema tickets, rent bikes, or even pay at vending machines. Through the use of QR codes, living and getting around the city has been made easier - an important part of China’s technological development. The significance of WeChat can be seen through its power of starting up new businesses. For instance, Mobike and Ofo are billion-dollar dockless bike-sharing companies that use WeChat Pay as its main payment method.
However, the pressure of the Great Firewall and its strict regulations can be felt by WeChat, as ‘suspicious’ behaviour on the app such as inactivity or having few contacts could result in an automatic user block. The success of WeChat is also inevitable as the government actively enforces its use. For example, QR codes can be seen in Beihai Park tied onto trees to access further information about the park - accessed through, you guessed it: WeChat.
China is progressively rooting mobile technology into everyday life through apps like WeChat whilst increasing the use of QR codes. Therefore other social platforms like WhatsApp have a long way to go before it can truly be called the ‘WeChat of the West’.
Finally, if you’re planning a trip to China, remember that unless you’ve downloaded a working VPN before arriving, you’ll need to get ready to switch up your platforms!
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