China lives in the future. As the rest of the world still uses credit cards and cash on a daily basis, in China, a massive part of the population already pays using their phones. In this article, we take a closer look at China’s mobile payment market and trends.

  • Credit cards were accepted in limited circulation, and cash was a long-time king in the Chinese community—all until the emergence of mobile digital wallets.
  • In China, about 85% of a payment transaction was done via mobile in 2018.
  • Alipay and WeChat Pay are the two dominating technologies in fintech market in China.
  • Chinese mobile payment users choose convenience over their privacy.

While the world is still using credit cards, China has already been snapping QR codes to pay for their purchase and even donate to street performers! When it comes to mobile payment adoption, China—no doubt—is way ahead than any other country in fintech solutions.

According to Daxue Consulting, China is a mobile-first nation. In the country, 85% of a payment transaction was done via mobile in 2018, dwarfing the 17% recorded non-mobile payment transactions.


In terms of mobile transaction value, China also leads to the global mobile wallets market worth $405 billion in 2017. Before the Coronavirus outbreak, the total market value was expected to jump over $1 trillion in 2020.


As early as 2017, 92% of China’s urban population uses mobile as per CGAP’s report, particularly using mobile apps as modes of payment. Accordingly, 47% in rural regions use the same mobile wallets for their daily payment transactions. The mobile payment market in China is a staggering $17 trillion industry, dominated by the two biggest applications—WeChat and Alipay.


In 2018, WeChat’s TenPay surpassed Alipay in terms of mobile payment market share. WeChat and Alipay together have a 93.3% penetration of all the Mobile mobile payment population. Relatively, WeChat Pay has a larger penetration of 86.4% users, mostly due to widespread use of its messenger services on its application.


WeChat and Alipay: Fintech Success Stories

Mobile payments became such a massive success in China, all thanks to the wise decision to use Quick Response (QR) codes for its payment transactions. A Japanese company invented the technology for the automotive industry, but the Chinese were the first to use it to handle mobile payments. All thanks to QR codes have been quickly adopted because of the fast and straightforward transaction process.


Currently, about a billion of Chinese people run their lives by WeChat—an instant messaging (IM) app with payment features. Having an established social network, WeChat Pay quickly escalated to the top in the mobile payment market—as it became part of life for most Chinese.

Aside from being a jam-packed social media app and digital wallet, WeChat can also perform money transfers. The “Red Envelope” feature allowed seamless and convenient money transfers to social contacts within the messenger.

Tencent, WeChat’s developer, is not only leading in the fintech sector; Tencent is also a prominent name in the global mobile gaming industry.

On the other hand, there is AliPay. Launched by e-commerce giant Alibaba, Alipay takes the lead in the online shopping scene and ranks second in the digital payment market with 900 million registered users.

Aside from Alipay’s exclusivity as a checkout payment gateway on Taobao, Alipay runs on Amazon and other online or in-store retail businesses that want to target Chinese consumers. Due to the surge of Chinese tour groups worldwide, Alipay’s QR code sticker can now be seen in countries with a high Chinese tourism rate and expects.

China: Leading the Future of Digital Payments

China being the top manufacturing nation in the world proves to have a highly-competitive trading market. Despite that, payment advancements in the country had experienced a delay in development from 1990 to 2013—resulting in a slow credit card adoption in the country.

Moreover, the Chinese were not fond of the high-transactional expenses in using credit cards. Transaction fees were some of the barriers in propagating the nationwide use of credit cards.

According to Oliver Rui, professor of finance and accounting at China Europe International Business School in Shanghai, “Chinese people have jumped from using cash to using phones without the middle steps of cheques and bank cards.”

Credit cards were accepted in limited circulation, and cash was a long-time king in the Chinese community—all until the emergence of mobile digital wallets.

The evolution of payment has truly come a long way and for the Chinese, it was more convenient to use their phone—over cash and credit cards—for payment transactions. Mobile fintech gives an incredible amount of data to a few companies which are handling many other parts of our social life. So far, this majority’s choice is clear: Chinese users have chosen convenience over privacy.