WeChat cash gifts become virtual reality

Updated: 2014-02-03 21:24

By XU WEI (chinadaily.com.cn)

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The Spring Festival holiday not only saw a peak travel rush but probably a peak cash rush as the tradition of red envelopes moved into the virtual world.

The popularity of WeChat, China’s mobile chat app with more than 600 million users, means that the tradition of giving cash gifts, or “red envelopes” has taken on a strong online dimension.

WeChat launched a new feature allowing users to swap virtual red envelopes. This means users can direct money transfers to individuals, or more interestingly, to put cash up for grabs in a designated chat group.

The sender can then decide how much to give in total - with a ceiling of 200 yuan ($33) per transaction - and to how many people, but leaves it up to the app to allocate the money randomly.

The first two days of Spring Festival saw more than 5 million people nationwide taking part in online red envelope activities, with more than 20 million red envelopes being handed out, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

The report, quoting data provided by Tencent Holdings, developer of WeChat, said the peak of red envelope activity came in a five-minute spell when 585,000 people took part, with 121,000 red envelopes being claimed.

“It was like a game. It brought a fantastic atmosphere and plenty of talking points to the chat group,” said Yang Yi, a 25-year-old who works at a government institution in Beijing.

Yang took part in numerous “competitions” for the red envelope in different chat groups and she managed to get 122 of them, including of course, those that were specifically delivered to her.

Even though the amount ranged from just 0.01 to 100 yuan in each “grab”, she said the fun of the game was in the competition.

Yang said she would sit close to, and monitor, the router in her home each time she knew somebody was going to send an electronic red envelope to ensure the network was up to speed.

“The amount of money does not matter. The excitement lies in the moment you can get the envelope,” she said.

Yang said she got 1,200 yuan from the online red envelopes and distributed it all through red envelopes.

Yao Xuan, manager of a company in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, said he uses electronic payment to replace the traditional way of giving gifts.

He spent 1,300 yuan on four chat groups comprised of classmates from his primary, junior and high schools and college.

"Compared with sending text messages or online posts, this is a better way of wishing good fortune for the coming year,” he said.