Alipay and WeChat — the two largest mobile payment platforms in China, owned by Alibaba and Tencent, respectively — are truly ushering in a cashless society. They are to Chinese commerce as the credit card is to middle-class American shopping, only better — there are no bills to pay, no need to worry about late-payment penalties or minimum balances. I find myself going weeks, even months, without withdrawing from the ATM.
China has 780 million smartphone users, and its consumers reportedly sent $2.9 trillion — trillion, with a T — through these two services last year. Meanwhile, the number of WeChat users slowly creeps toward a billion:
Between Alipay and WeChat, you can pay all utilities, top up your mobile phone, call cabs or Didi drivers (Chinese Uber), pay for cabs, pay for groceries, pay deliverymen, pay barbers, pay bar tabs, split restaurant bills, pay escorts (…I dunno, probably), basically do everything.
Let’s go to the video, shall we?
A beggar approaches a car window holding a big tin bowl, so oversized as to seem cartoonish, like a prop.
The driver has seen this before. She waves her hand and says, “I don’t have any change, I don’t have any change. None of us have change.”
She’s barely finished talking before the beggar has, from his inner breast pocket, produced a laminated sheet with two QR codes: one for Alipay, one for WeChat.
“Damn!” snorts the person behind the camera.
“Hand me my phone,” the driver laughs.
What a world we live in.
Youku version of video here.