After nihao, xiexie and laowai, one of the first Chinese words you’re going to learn after arriving in Shanghai is probably Weixin – the Chinese word for WeChat.
WeChat is often referred to as China’s answer to WhatsApp, but that wildly underestimates its ambition and bewildering array of features. WeChat often refers to itself rather grandiosely as a ‘lifestyle,’ and as cringeworthy as that sounds, it’s kind of accurate when you realize how deeply embedded it is in many people’s lives.
If you wanted to put it in Western terms, you could describe it as being simultaneously China’s WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, FaceTime, Instagram, and increasingly its PayPal, too. And of course a hub for the world’s most bizarre, baffling, and sometimes downright disturbing stickers.
Getting to grips with WeChat’s basic chat functions is pretty simple, but there are a lot of really useful features that I didn’t discover for months, but now can’t imagine living without. Here are my top five tips for making the most of WeChat:
1. Quick Pay
Quick Pay is part of WeChat Wallet, WeChat’s mobile payment service, and it’s awesome. You have to have a Chinese bank account to use it, but if you’ve already got one then connecting your debit card to your WeChat account is really simple. You can find instructions on how to set it up here, here and here.
Once you’re set-up, you can’t quite make like the Queen of England and give up carrying cash altogether, but it’s not far off. Go to the ‘Me’ tab and then press ‘Wallet’ to see all the different ways WeChat can help you empty your bank account.
Quick Pay is Wallet’s take on contactless payment and can be a real lifesaver in those awkward moments when you get to the front of a line and then realize you’ve forgotten to get cash out. It’s now accepted in a lot of chain convenience stores, restaurants, and shops, and even some independent stores. (If you’re not sure whether somewhere accepts WeChat payment, a simple “Weixin keyi ma?” usually does the trick.)
To pay, tap Quick Pay and then simply hold up your phone so that the cashier can scan your QR code.
2. Mobile Top Up
Another great Wallet timesaver is Mobile Top-Up, which you can use to add credit to your phone, or even to your friends’ phones if you’re feeling really generous.
To top up a phone, simply type in the number of the phone at the top of the screen, tap the amount you want to add, enter your verification code, and voila – you should get a confirmation text through almost instantly.
You can also use Wallet for a whole range of other things, from paying for cinema, train or plane tickets, ordering a taxi, transferring money between bank accounts, giving to charity, or even setting up savings accounts at preferential interest rates.
Some of these more complex features are only available in Chinese, but they are so intuitive that even if you only have basic Chinese you should be able to figure it out fairly easily with the help of Pleco, so give it a try!
3. Edit Alias
As soon as you get WeChat, you’ll find that you acquire connections at the same alarming rate at which you collect business cards. What’s more, you’ll also find that a lot of your Chinese friends have chosen usernames that are at best cryptic, or at worst just random combinations of emoticons.
But luckily there’s a handy trick to help you keep track of who’s who and avoid those embarrassing situations where you can’t work out whether the person who just messaged you is your colleague or the girl you met at the bar last weekend.
When you add someone with a particularly confusing username, you can set an ‘Alias’ for them that will replace their username on your WeChat account. So if your friend Dave has chosen *smiley face* *sad face* *Christmas tree* as his username, you can manually set up an Alias for him so that he appears on your contacts list as Dave (or whatever else you prefer to call him).
To set up an Alias for one of your contacts, just find them on your contacts list, and on their profile select ‘Set Remark and Tag.’ You can then simply type in your preferred Alias in the textbox at the top of the screen. You can also use this screen to ‘Tag’ contacts, which allows you to organize them into different categories.
Most of the time, you’re probably going to be using WeChat via the same device, but if your battery dies, or you get an upgrade, for example, you may need to login via a different phone or tablet.
But if you’re anything like me, you’ll then find that you’ve completely forgotten which password you used when you set it up 9 months ago.
To avoid this happening, WeChat has launched a handy little feature called Voiceprint, which allows you to use voice recognition instead of a password to login to your account. It’s more secure than a password, and also gives you the opportunity to unnerve passersby by murmuring a random stream of numbers into your phone.
To set up Voiceprint, go to the ‘Me’ tab, tap ‘Settings’, then ‘My Account’, and you will see ‘Voiceprint’ near the bottom of the screen, next to ‘Password.’
Then, simply select ‘Set Up Voiceprint’ and follow the instructions. It’s very easy – WeChat will display a series of digits, and you just have to hold down the ‘Hold to Talk’ button and read out the numbers a couple of times.
Once you have Voiceprint enabled, you will be given the option to login using it every time you sign in.
What’s your favorite lesser-known WeChat feature?
If you’ve got a useful tip for anyone trying to get to grips with WeChat, post us a comment below and let us know!