Living in the Future: China’s Cashless Culture

“Alipay or WeChat Pay?” The street vendor holds my jianbing (a traditional Chinese crepe-like breakfast) in one hand and gestures at the mobile phone I hold in my hand. I’m caught by surprise for a second, still fumbling through my wad of yuan.

Alipay or WeChat Pay? I’m embarrassed to tell her, in front of her other impatient customers, that I have neither. No-one’s holding their wallets out like I am. I end up stashing my phone in my pocket abashedly, quickly handing her a single note (to a weird look from her and the guy behind me) and making my hasty exit, jianbing in hand.

Chinese street vendors are mostly going cashless as well.

This paints a vivid picture of China’s cashless transactions – truly a thing of the future. Walk the streets and you’ll see phones brandished in place of cash. Even the street musicians no longer have their signature guitar cases strewn with loose change and notes. Instead, they wield QR codes for the audience to scan on mobile devices and send some yuan their way. All through urban China, you’ll never have to do another panicked scramble for exact change in the front of a long line of foot-tapping shoppers.

Dominated by QR codes, China is showing the world how to transit seamlessly into a cashless society. With 900 million active users monthly on Tencent’s WeChat Pay and over 500 million on Alipay (almost all of whom are Chinese nationals), Apple Pay pales in comparison with 127 million users globally.

Your app is your online e-wallet linked to your bank account. At restaurants and shops, Alipay and WeChat Pay prove ubiquitous – press the ‘pay’ button for the QR code to be scanned by the seller using a point of sale (POS) device. Smaller stores provide you a QR code to be scanned for the transaction to be completed online. WeChat also facilitates convenient transfers between users should you decide to go Dutch on a date.

On the flip side, short-term visitors struggle with turning their phones into wallets while they’re in China. Similarly, the elderly fall behind this cashless generation where cash has become increasingly obsolete. This divide between the tech-savvy millennials and those being left behind has to be bridged – and probably in due time too given China’s efficiency.

On your next trip to China, ditch your physical wallet and embrace her cashless culture like a true Chinese – you don’t want to be getting strange looks and rapidfire Chinese directed at you for your wad of crumpled yuan.

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