Life in China

5 wrong ideas about China

China can be a very mysterious country if you have never been there. Urban legends and misconceptions seems legit until you get to Mainland. Let’s have a closer look to 5 of the most common wrong ideas:×738.jpg×512.jpg

1. You won’t see the sky because of pollution

Actually, you will. And it’s blue. But it’s true that is happening mostly in summer. Cold winters leading to a mass coal consumption are one of the reasons off huge pollution smog appearing in most of the provinces. Air quality in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region can reach the “hazardous” PM2.5 level for several days. This coupled with heavy use of cars and energy by factories, the situation in China seems a bit scary.

But the country is aware of it. To lower pollution in the North, government has set up measures such as going after polluting firms, controlling coal use, and reducing industrial output. As a result, the region’s PM2.5 levels dropped 33%, and a fall of 54% for Beijing at the end of 2017, according to Greenpeace last report.

To learn more about pollution and the ways to prevent it in your everyday life, check this article (French).×680.jpeg

2. Chinese people are rude and unfriendly

At first sight they could seem rude, yes. Because they speak loudly or may push you to get in the bus. But like in every other place in the world, you will find good or bad people. The 2 examples I quoted above are cultural. People talking in the street may look like arguing but there’s more chance that they are just telling some story. The public transport issue is true, but it’s not on purpose of hurting you, they just want the seat.

It might be complicated to meet a Chinese person, because of the language barrier. But once you got some words to say everything is easier. City life and countryside are a bit different though. In countryside it’s less usual to see a laowai (foreigner) around, so you can expect curious look and extremely kindness. This less happens in bigger cities, where contact could be a little more complicated. But once you meet friends, you become part of the family.

3. China is a communist country

Well, let’s say on the paper. China is led by the Chinese Communist Party, but China is capitalist. Very capitalist.

Living in China is quite similar to every other place, especially in large cities. But while Chinese people can get a passport and travel around the world, they have to deal with censorship. As a foreigner, you don’t really feel it (VPN is here to save your life).

For a local it’s more complicated. For example, criticizing the CCP on social media is not a good idea. Talking and defending LGBT community neither…

4. Chinese people can’t drive

It seems funny, and it’s totally true. Always look everywhere when you cross the road. Notice that cars can turn right when the traffic light is red. Get a good insurance. What is bigger goes first. Hold the bar in the bus. Sometimes your taxi driver will sleep while waiting for red light, that’s normal, just make sure to wake him up when driving. At the end it is just a matter of adaptation. We just don’t use the same driving laws.

In a more optimistic way, Chinese big cities tend to carry out a more controlled traffic and laws to avoid dangers, but it’s not for today.

5. Chinese people eat dogs

“Have you tried to eat dog?” “What do you eat besides rice?” “Do they eat cats too?” Classic questions. What to say about it?

First, the consumption of dog meat is pretty rare in China. And no, they don’t eat cats. You would be surprised to see that a lot of people own cat or dog as pet. They even dress them.

Second, food in China is good and wide as the country. All Chinese regions have a specialty. Cantonese, Sichuanese, Fujian, Shanghainese, Hunan, Beijing cuisine… Have you heard about Peking duck? Dim sum? Xiaolongbao? Hot pot? Mapo tofu? Sweet and sour pork? Dumplings? Lamian?

We are too far in Europe to get a proper taste of Asian food. Even for Taiwanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean… it’s hard to get a similar taste. To sum up, let’s say that Chinese people eat the same ingredients (local version of course), meat, vegetables, fruits as us, but in a different way.

Also, food is an important part of the culture. It’s gathering people. Time spent around a table eating and drinking is very valuable. This is how you get to know people, how you do business. Also, if a Chinese friend invite you to dinner, don’t expect to get a chance to pay the bill.

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How China is reinventing the concept of bike sharing

Have you noticed all those colored bikes appearing everywhere in large US and European cities these last months? If you live in China, you know what I’m talking about.

It has been 2 years now since this new sharing bike system has been launched in China. First in universities campuses, later in all big cities. The concept is simple: use an app that let you find the closest bike around you, ride and leave it where you want after use. No need to find a station to park it anymore. No more full stations. Park as closest as your destination is.

How can it be more convenient?

After a fight for over a year between at least 10 Chinese startups to conquer the market, only 2 succeeded. They became unicorns by raising billions thanks to giants Tencent, Didi Chuxing, Huawei or Alibaba. They are called Mobike (orange) or Ofo (yellow) and claim to get around 9 million daily active users.

What’s next

Now, they are facing a new challenge: expand to the rest of the world. Let’s have a closer look to what’s happening.

This new system of bike sharing is completely different to what already exists in US or European cities. New York City’s Citibike, London’s Boris Bike or Paris’s Vélib’ for instance, provide bikes to their citizens, but require them to pick up and let the bike in a station. The service is public, meaning that it takes longer to get improvement, or funding. Transition between new and former company managing bikes in Paris is a good example: it takes time, while Parisians can’t use the service.

What startups provide thanks to private financing is lighter bikes, cheaper fare and deposit, no subscription, and promotion. Even more important: useful data collection about users’ riding behavior.

Challenges to face

But they are facing 2 main problems: defected bikes and public space use. Many cities are afraid to face wrong bike parking, or worst case over flooding.

Bike floodind in the city of Seattle

In French cities Lille and Reims, Gobee Bike had to remove its bikes because of vandalism. In San Franscisco, Bluegogo has suspended its business after few months because of local political resistance. Even Amsterdam, the world bike-friendly city intends to ban rental bikes because of parking issues.

Vandalism against LimeBike in Seattle

To succeed, companies will need to insure an efficient bike sharing service and get agreements with each city about public space use.

In the end, those new markets are very challenging for Chinese startups (or local copycats 😉) because it seems that every city reacts in a different way towards the service.

Last but not least, it puts actual bicycle operation and financing into question.

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WeChat: an essential overview of Mini Programs

WeChat Mini Programs

WeChat is a platform which generates a lot of trafic and engagement from its users. Today, it has more than 938 million users, and half of them would be spending more than 90 minutes a day on the app. In this environment, Tencent created the mini programs. You have probably heard of them, since the firm communicated a lot since its launch last January.


What are mini programs ?

Launched on January 9th, mini programs are apps within WeChat, meaning that you can open it and access services without downloading or installing anything. WeChat’s goal is to keep the user in its app as much as possible.
There are many ways to get it:

ways to get mini programs


The most innovative one is the nearby function, which shows the mini programs available around you according to your location.

untitledThe feature brings several benefits to the user. Because it’s a lightweight version of a native app, it loads faster, uses less storage space, and is more convenient in term of user experience.


Which services do they provide ?

Order food, book movie ticket, do online shopping, order a taxi, do bike sharing… Mini programs have an interesting potential for any kind of businesses, because they shorten the gap between online and offline.
Here are some examples:

Convenience service
Metro map, bus hours, taxis, public toilets close by, travel agency, task manager…

didi mobike bus mini program

Ecommerce platform
Like Xiaomi or JD website, you can find all their products and buy it online through the feature.


Specific services
The Peninsula Hotel Beijing provides a platform to buy their famous mooncakes, or offer special spa deals.

peninsula hotel beijing mini program

McDonalds and KFC offer coupons and implement a loyalty program through their mini program. Starbucks and Dior follow the same gifting cards mechanism: sending a gift card to friends who can afterwards go to the shop to get the present.

starbucks dior mini program

Marketing campaign
Longchamp was the first luxury brand to launch its mini program. The brand actually created two:

  • ParisianING”, aimed to recommend places which introduce Parisian lifestyle like French bakeries, art galleries, and Longchamp stores nearby.

longchamp mini program

  • Pliage bag” to customize your bag and buy it directly from there.


Swarovski also launched its mini program for Mother’s Day, giving the users the chance to buy its “brilliant” collection.

starbucks dior mini program


Simple “store mini program”
Even if you’re not a big brand, you can create your store business card. This is very innovative because it’s combined with the “Nearby” feature, so you can get more visibility from the users passing by your store. Cafés, bars, restaurants, shops, convenience shops, hotels, SPA, manicures, fitness clubs… they all display basic information about their location, their operating hours, address and show some photos.



Is it a success already ?

Since January, the users have been mostly pioneers. However, we have observed a growth on daily active users since April. And although mini programs are a good alternative to native apps or, in WeChat ecosystem, to official accounts, they are still facing some challenges:

  • Cost: it’s not cheaper to develop a mini program than a H5 page
  • Relation with the user: a mini program cannot push notifications to its users, whereas official accounts can, so it’s more difficult to build a personalized relationship with them
  • Level of awareness still pretty low: only 20.4% of WeChat users have heard and used it according to the Tencent Penguin Intelligence Survey Platform
  • Payment method: only WeChat is supported



Mini programs’ goal is to try to shorten the gap between online and offline by providing a specific service at a specific time, in a lightweight version, to improve the buying experience.

So before creating a mini program, make sure to define exactly what you want your mini program to be and which service it will deliver.


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The virtual Hongbao war in China

As you have probably noticed, Chinese New Year started two weeks ago, and after all the celebrations, big family dinners, fireworks and parties, it’s now time to talk about numbers.

Every New Year Eve, as a tradition, Chinese people offers Hongbao (红包) to family and friends. It means ”red envelopes” containing lucky money. Due to the massive use of mobile in China, Hongbao are now becoming virtual.

This is also turning into a financial battle between the 2 biggest Chinese tech companies Alibaba and Tencent through their payment solutions.


alipay                           wechatpay

When did it start ?

Tencent was first to play during the 2014 Chinese New Year, by introducing the Hongbao as a new feature on WeChat, allowing people to gift lucky money through the messaging app.

Indeed, after linking a WeChat account to a debit card, it was possible to send money directly to a contact, or even a chat group by giving to all the same amount, or funnier, a lucky draw with random ones.

This launch was a big success : 40 million red envelopes were sent, representing 400 million RMB, and WeChat Pay won 8 million new users, not to mention that this was its main goal.




And then ?

After that, what Alibaba founder Jack Ma called a “Pearl Harbor attack”, the company decided to strike back in February 2015 by creating a partnership with the microblogging platform Weibo.

Together, they launched the “Let’s Hongbao Fly” campaign, allowing users to win lucky money or vouchers, but also let them to help finance Hongbao for their favorite celebrities, all thanks to Alipay payment solution.

Even Jack Ma himself gave away 999 999 red packets, “catched” in less than 3 minutes.
The total amount the lottery reached around 600 million RMB.



His own Hongbao shared on Weibo, with David Beckham

Shake your phone to earn money

Hearing this, Tencent decided to give 800 million RMB to users, simply by shaking their phones at special moments. During CCTV Spring Festival Gala TV show for example. To make this happen, people just had to use the “Shake” feature on WeChat, which usually serves to find other users nearby. The biggest amount to win each time was 4 999 RMB. In total, 1 billion Hongbao were sent this year through WeChat, whereas only 240 million sent through Alipay…

For 2016 Chinese New Year, e-commerce giant Alibaba won the CCTV partnership for the Spring Festival Gala against Tencent. The company gifted 400 millions RMB during the show in order to reach 700 million viewers. On the Alipay app, users were also invited to collect 5 “Happiness Hongbao” to get a chance to win a 215 million RMB lottery.

On the other hand, Tencent used again the WeChat “Shake” feature to offer red packets, but also the “Moments” creating a photo game. The goal was to unblurry photos posted on “Moments“ by sending a Hongbao. It became a hit for users straight away. Results : over 8 billion Hongbao sent on WeChat during Chinese New Year, and 4 billion RMB cash only during the New Year Eve !
Seems again that Tencent won the battle…

Looking for red packets with augmented reality

In December this year, Alibaba launched a new mini game within the Alipay app, allowing users to search or hide virtual Hongbao with augmented reality (AR) technology.
As WeChat did in 2014, it’s a new fun and innovative way to share the traditional red envelopes.

Here a video from Sixthone which explains how it works :


The goal of the game might remind of Niantic’s app Pokemon Go launched this summer, and that’s right, as it was inspired by and because it is also using AR combined to user location. Obviously, brands are also using the game : Coca Cola, KFC and P&G already have signed up to give away vouchers. And it looks that’s the feature will stay after Chinese New Year.

2017 New Year, WeChat numbers become crazy again

Alibaba numbers aren’t yet communicated, but with 760 000 Hongbao sent in 1 second to a total of 14,2 billion in 24h during New Year Eve, Tencent is probably winning again the red packet battle this year.


                                                                Source : Walk The Chat

As a reminder,
520 : I love you
8.88 or 88.886.66 or 66.66 : luck and money


To learn more about WeChat and Chinese traditions