The Rising Popularity of WeChat & Live-Streaming Apps in Mainland China

                                                                             A WeChat logo

                                                                             A WeChat logo

Recently, I spent three weeks in my small hometown in China. You may have heard of it, it’s called Beijing. The three-week vacation was a bless and curse.

It’s a blessing because I was able to take my kids to visit my hometown and my parents. It’s a curse because all the social media sites that I used on a regular basis when I was in the United Sates were all blocked, including, but are not limited to, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Google, Gmail, and Medium. As a social media enthusiast, you can only imagine my frustration. Even though I purchased a VPN (Virtual Private Networks), my Internet connection was still unstable. Later, I read a thought-provoking article on Forbes that talked about China’s recent VPN crackdown, which helped explain the situation.

Nevertheless, I was able to witness the rapid social media and technology development in mainland China. In this article, I will share two of my major takeaways with you.

I. Carrying cash💸 is cumbersome in mainland China

The first day when I was in Beijing, my kids wanted to eat some ice-cream. We went to a McDonalds to purchase two ice-cream cones. I handed the cashier 100RMB ($15). The cashier looked at me as if I came from Mars and said, “That is too big. I don’t have change for you. We accept WeChat mobile pay.”

That’s was my first encounter with Mobile Pay in China. Then, I noticed that WeChat Mobile pay is everywhere, and carrying cash is extremely cumbersome.

Street vendors selling newspapers and waters have QR codes on display so that people can use their WeChat to scan and pay. By no means is this a fancy shop, as you can see from the image below.


A local small food vendor selling traditional Chinese pancakes has a QR code on display. Again, it is not a fancy shop. During the three weeks while I was in Beijing, I went to this shop a dozen times to buy pancakes for my kids. Not ONE time did I see an individual using cash.

Rental bicycles have QR codes on display.

These QR codes are indeed rampant. I learned even beggars in the street are holding QR codes to ask for money. See the tweet below.


Below are several screenshots of my WeChat’s “Wallet” feature. You can see that the Wallet feature allows you to do many things with simply a few clicks.

II. The State of Live-Streaming: Internet Celebrities & Virtual Gifts

Three popular live-streaming apps in mainland China. Image from  here

Three popular live-streaming apps in mainland China. Image from here

I have been having some conversations with friends in China and in the US regarding the rising popularity of live-streaming apps in China. I learned that live streaming has become increasingly popular since 2015. Several Internet celebrities emerged as a result of it. The above three pictures are three different and popular live streaming apps in mainland China. I found a research article that ranks the top 45 live-streaming apps in mainland China. Needless to say, there is an abundance of live streaming apps.

A unique feature about these live-streaming apps is that they allow people to send virtual gifts to the hosts of the live broadcast, such as boats, cash, jewelry, luxury goods, etc. Below is a picture of an Internet celebrity receiving virtual gifts from her fans.

Image found from  this article

Image found from this article

Apparently, these Internet celebrities are making huge profits from these virtual gifts. For example, I researched that one Internet celebrity received an amount of 900,000RMB as a gift from fans, which is equivalent to 134, 778 USD. Other smaller-scale Internet celebrities are also making a huge amount of money on a monthly basis. See the chart below. The first column is the rank of the reputation of the Internet celebrities. The third column is their monthly income before tax in Chinese currency. On average, the monthly income of these celebrities ranges from $122,077 to $35,757.

Data found from  this article

Data found from this article


In general, for every single popular US social media app, there is a Chinese counterpart. I recently learned that there is a Chinese version of Quora, where people ask and answer questions. It’s interesting to witness the rapid technology and social media development in China. In terms of mobile pay, it seems that China is leading the US. On the other hand, the media censorship does make me wonder or feel concerned regarding how start-ups, scholars, students, and multinational corporations in China are staying in touch with people overseas or staying in touch with the latest trends and tools that are gaining popularity overseas. If you have any insights, please do share.

Glenn Nuñez