Popular messaging service WeChat is hogging the
limelight this Chinese New Year — by giving the traditions typical of
this festive period a facelift.
As technology has altered the way people in
China carry out certain traditions during Chinese New Year, at no point
is it clearer that Weixin, the version of WeChat available in the
country, has emerged as a frontrunner in the wave of change.
The Weixin team came upon a brilliant idea of
taking the Chinese New Year tradition of gifting money into the digital
era. Basically, rather than (or, perhaps, in addition to) giving red
envelopes of money to family and friends, Weixin users could tap into
digital payments and send monetary gifts of up to CNY100 (around $16.50)
per go to others on the chat app.
State media Xinhua reports (hat/tip Tech in
Asia) that the first two days of Chinese New Year saw more than five
million people across China taking part in Weixin’s online red envelope
activity, with more than 20 million red envelopes handed out, according
to data from Tencent, the company that owns WeChat.
At its peak, 585,000 people took part in
gifting red envelopes over a mere five minutes on Weixin, with 121,000
red envelopes being claimed. The messaging service has an estimated 500
million plus registered users in China alone, while it has 270 million
active users worldwide.
Another tradition has been entirely revamped by Weixin as well.
It is customary to send New Year well-wishes
to your friends on the eve of Chinese New Year — and this year, a
whopping 10 million messages were sent in one minute at peak on the eve
of Chinese New Year via Weixin. The number of messages sent this year on
the chat app was double that of last year, showing that more people are
flocking to the app instead of sending cards or SMS-es.
Chinese New Year is a time steeped in
tradition, and the fact that Weixin has managed to make its presence so
strongly welcomed by users speaks volumes about its ability to straddle the space between old and new.
As WeChat moves into verticals such as
m-commerce, it wouldn’t be any surprise if the app soon disrupts other
traditions next year. Who knows, we may just get to see Chinese New Year
grocery shopping or delivery, or the booking of transportation back to
people’s hometowns, done entirely via WeChat in the future.