WeChat （Wēixìn 微信） is a very popular messaging app used primarily in mainland China and by overseas Chinese from the mainland. It is not used much in Taiwan. It serves the basic messaging function of many other phone apps. It also includes the ability to pay and transfer money.
In the early 2010s, QQ was among the most popular messaging apps available. It was available on PCs independent of cell phones. QQ is more comparable to Facebook. It is produced by Tencent, a Chinese technology company. They later released WeChat, which at the beginning had many of the same functions but served more as a messaging app. It is phone based, but there are ways to use it from a PC, but they still require a phone installation and often require logging in through a phone.
In the mid-2010s, it became widely used within mainland China to pay for goods and services at many smaller stores or roadside vendors. WeChat’s Chinese name means micro-message, a reference to its quick messaging style. Many street vendors in China will display QR codes for WeChat and Alipay. A user opens either app and scans a QR code. They can easily be used for person to person transfer as well. The receiver can quickly create a QR code in the app and show it to the payer. The person paying scans the code, then types in the amount being sent. Alipay is more financially centered (essentially mobile banking) as opposed to a messaging system such as WeChat.
The app provides the convenience of credit cards without the fees for transfers. Businesses in the United States will pay credit card transaction rates that tend to be around 3 percent. It allowed people to avoid banking fees for simple transfers, so it quickly took off. It does limit the amount of money being transferred without a mainland Chinese bank account. Since foreign visitors aren’t allowed mainland accounts, it prevents extensive financial use by foreigners without work permits. It can, however, be used for purchases of up to a few tens of dollars such as food and drinks.
The app has become near ubiquitous within. Business is often conducted through the app. Many sales people will have their WeChat contact information (which is normally their phone number) included wherever they include contact information. It passed one billion active users in 2018 (Jao).
There are some concerns about WeChat’s privacy. The app must comply with all Chinese laws, which ensures the Chinese government monitors activity within the app. This will include the ability to find location history of users. It also means mass surveillance and censorship even within messages among friends (Davidson).
Davidson, Nicola. “WeChat: the Chinese social media app that has dissidents worried.” The Guardian. 2012, Dec. 7. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/dec/07/wechat-chinese-social-media-app
Jao, Nichole. “WeChat now has over 1 billion active monthly users worldwide.” Technode, 2018, Mar. 5, https://technode.com/2018/03/05/wechat-1-billion-users/.