In May 2008, I taught in a private English school in Yangshuo, a small town in China.
After the course was over, one of my students asked me to download the QQ app so that we can keep in touch with each other. This app worked on the desktop just like MSN Messenger.
I asked him to add me to his friendlist on Facebook and asked for his email address. There was no Facebook block in China then.
Some students gave the email address but it was very difficult to remember them because they were like this- zwpzjg59826 @ 126 dot com.
I found these email addresses a bit strange, but it was not uncommon to create such email addresses in those days, not even in Britain.
A few years later, I started working as a freelance journalist and copywriter in Beijing, the capital of China. I rarely worked with any Chinese via email.
Often I used to get copywriting done on my smartphone through the Chinese messaging app WeChat.
After completion of the work, I used to send work with this app and on that I used to get paid.
This whole process seemed to be a big magic because of its speed and mobile efficiency.
In many western countries, email is preferred, especially in the area of work.
Email is popular both in USA and UK. There are 90.9% users in the US and 86% in the UK.
In these countries, the use of email is more important than other online activities like browsing, internet banking, watching videos or using social media.
But this is not the case in China.
The 2018 China Mobile Consumer Survey of Deloitte Company shows that Chinese people check their emails 22 percent less than other users of the world.
At the same time, 79 percent of China’s smartphone users use WeChat regularly and 84.5 percent of the messaging app users use WeChat.
A report by Panguin Intelligence, the research team of WeChat company Tencent, says that 88 per cent of the people surveyed said that they use WeChat for daily work.
At the same time, there are 59.5 percent people who use phones, SMS and fax. After all this comes the email number which is used by only 22.6 percent people.
Eva Soo is a Taiwanese who runs a digital branding company and has lived in the United States for quite some time. She has been working in Shanghai for six years now.
She says that she uses email and LinkedIn for her overseas customer contact but is different for Chinese customers.
“Chinese customers use WeChat and send all files there.”
WeChat is ubiquitous in China with more than 1 billion users.
But the reasons for the use of WeChat arose many years ago.
In 1999, Chinese company Tencent launched a product named QQ based on ICQ, an instant messaging program for desktops.
According to the World Bank, at that time only 1.2 out of every 100 people in China had a computer. But in America, one out of every two people had a computer.
But as the 21st century progressed, Internet cafes started growing in China and young people started using them.
One of the reasons for the popularity of these cafes was the QQ app as well because it had entertainment, games, music and an early Chinese social media network where people used to do micro-blogging.
QQ had more communication options than email, such as avatar and instant messaging.
Just like a driving license
Writers James Yuan and Jason Inch wrote in their 2008 book ‘Supertrends of Future China’ that Chinese people did not work without a QQ or MSN account.
He writes, “This is similar to what people in Western countries think of an unlicensed person.”
Senior executives of the company used to write their QQ numbers on their business cards and many businesses had their own QQ accounts.
By the year 2012, QQ in China had become 798 million active users per month and this figure was more than half the population of China at that time.
But Tencent started WeChat in 2011 and upon seeing WeChat became the most popular means of communication in the country, like smartphones replaced by desktop computers.
Britain’s Matthew Brennan has been working in China since 2004 and is a consultant for China’s digital innovation. He says that in many countries, having an email address is part of the identity of the people, because many online services require email to register.
But in China, mobile apps work only and through them all kinds of online transactions are done through Alipay app or WeChat.
You can book appointments, shop and send messages to your friends from the same app.
Zong Ling, professor of economics at Cheung Kong Business School, says WeChat fits into China’s working culture.
She says, “working on WeChat takes less formal time than email”
“Because of this informality, people respond immediately and the need to respond immediately is because of China’s clutch and business environment.
Zong says that there is no strong border line between people’s work life and personal life in China.
“The result is that owners and managers often hold work even after normal working hours or ask a question rather than waiting for an answer the next day.”
He says that if there is a need to communicate frequently for some work, then WeChat is much faster than email.
However, one of its disadvantages is that employees are always under pressure to respond.
Want a quick answer
The way a platform is built, it also affects our way of communicating. This effect is also visible on Facebook, WhatsApp or WeChat.
Brennan says that on instant messaging you are expected to reply quickly.
“So no matter what message you get on your weekend, you have to reply.”
In the English-speaking countries such as Britain, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, the old practice of writing in email still goes on.
Addresses such as ‘Dear ABC’ and the formal “thank you” at the end are still used today.
But in many Asian countries, instant and informal messaging apps have become more popular.
Alan Casey works at a consultancy firm called Proffet, which has offices in many places in Asia. He says that he and his team find the chat app more relevant than email in Asia.
Casey says, “Many countries such as China and South East Asia entered the era of direct mobile connectivity rather than the computer age.
“Because of this, users of social platforms such as Facebook, WeChat, Line, Zalo etc. increased all of a sudden.”
Apart from WeChat in China, the work of big companies is done through business apps.
Like Alibaba’s Dingtalk and BiteDance’s Lark. WeChat also has a business version – WeChat Work which has document sharing and online editing features. The level of pay roll service and privacy is high.
DingTalk has a feature that users can see whether their message has been read or not and if not they can also send a push message so that they can read.
Online services are scattered in the west
Helen Jia, 30, is a public relations manager at a Chinese cryptocurrency trading company.
In the year 2018, she came to stay with her partner from Beijing to England.
He says that online services are quite scattered in England.
She says, “You buy something on Amazon, buy food on another app, book an appointment on a website and all of this requires email or Facebook. Whereas in China all this with a WeChat account It only happens.
Helen is not used to checking her email yet.
Many people in China have an email address, but they see fewer emails than Americans and Europeans.
“I never watch email in China, so there is no expectation that people will reply to email and I am not there for any entertainment on email.”
But this also does not mean that Chinese people do not use email at all.
Many people have an email address but they see fewer emails than Americans and Europeans.
Brennan says that big cities such as Beijing and Shanghai operate according to international standards.
An old student of mine in Yangshu, Lili Wang, was one of the people who gave me her email address after the course was over.
Email a relic of the past
We kept in touch via email for some time. She is now 30 years old and lives in Guandong, China. She works in a lighting company.
Many years ago I got that on WeChat and now through that we talk.
I asked her if she still uses the email we used to contact.
He asked with a laugh, “Which one? I had enough – 163, 126 and MSN.”
Now she rarely checks her email and she does not even remember when she last checked.
She says, “I mostly use WeChat, QQ doesn’t use that much but sometimes they will.”
For many Chinese like Wang, WeChat is part of everyday life and email is a relic of the past.