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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Singer

I just moved to Beijing. This is my experience with mobile payments

Back in the early 1990's before China's economy took off, the country maintained two, separate paper currency systems. Now cash has virtually disappeared from Chinese society. As Louise Moon writes, "Almost all payments are done via mobile phones." I have difficulty envisioning this happening in America anytime soon.


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“You might not have to make that trip to the bank after all,” Rob, a friend, messaged me over WeChat the other day. He attached a press release saying Alipay had launched an international version of its mobile payments platform for visitors to China.

Named “Tour Pass,” the app can be used for up to 90 days and could prove handy for me, as I had moved from Hong Kong to Beijing for three months just over a month ago.

The last time I lived in Beijing, five years ago while studying at Peking University, cash was still currency, shared bikes did not exist and people did not have their morning Starbucks delivered via an app.

Since then China has transformed into an almost cashless society at an exceptionally fast pace. According to China’s central bank, People’s Bank of China, the volume of domestic mobile payment transactions reached 277.4 trillion yuan ($41.51 trillion) in 2018, more than 28 times greater than five years earlier.

Still, I told Rob I wasn’t sure I could be bothered with the hassle of setting up a bank account, figuring it was easier to go without and withdraw from my Hong Kong account.

But the realization quickly hit – life here functions completely through screens and mostly through two apps, WeChat, with its mobile payment arm WeChat Pay, and Alipay.


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