Photo credit: estherpoon / 123RF.

It was almost Angel Zhang’s 22nd birthday. She wanted to do something special, spend a little extra on herself. But instead of asking her parents for more money — they give her a US$300 monthly stipend — she used Huabei, a virtual credit card run by Ant Financial.

“Almost every shopping app has their own credit service these days,” says Zhang, a fourth-year university student in northern China. Like many of her classmates, Zhang doesn’t earn any income. “As long as you pay back your loans on time, you can increase your credit line.”

She pays for all kinds of…

Photo credit: Hannah Morgan.

On a tree-lined street in Shanghai, a glass storefront shows off frilled dresses and high heels. It looks like a typical clothing store, except that it belongs to online fashion sensation LinForeverGirl, who has over four million followers on Weibo, China’s Twitter equivalent.

Now, she’s funneling those fans into foot traffic — and turning them into customers of her own clothing brand.

“[Key opinion leaders, or KOLs,] understand what people want. They understand what they’ll buy,” says Elijah Whaley, chief marketing officer of Parklu, which helps brands find and collaborate with social media influencers in China.

“All they have to…

Image credit: Tiger Pixel.

Global Brain, one of Japan’s largest venture capital firms, is doubling down on the blockchain industry with a new entity that will conduct research and participate in ‘initial coin offerings’ or ICOs — a type of blockchain-based crowdfunding that was recently banned in China.

The new subsidiary, dubbed Global Brain Blockchain Labs Corporation (GBBL), will complement the Japanese VC fund’s investment activity in the blockchain space, which includes backing Singapore-based Bluzelle and Filipino remittance and payments startup

“With the recent movement of initial coin offerings, Global Brain looks to support blockchain startups from equity finance to ICO in order…

Photo credit: Tech in Asia.

China’s most popular messaging app WeChat is quietly developing its own framework for augmented reality (AR).

Made with smartphones in mind — not HoloLens-esque headsets — it’s a big step in WeChat’s plans to bring AR into its ever-expanding world of payments, entertainment, shopping, transportation, and other services.

Here are some demos released by WeChat’s AI team this week and last week. This is its 3D rendering engine — used to create virtual warriors and characters that can pop out of objects.

Photo credit: Sole Treadmill.

Encased in a glass pedestal, Huawei’s Mate 9 Porsche Design was the most expensive phone I’d ever seen. It sat next to a gleaming, black Porsche (the car) at Huawei’s launch event last November with a price tag of over US$1,500.

China’s smartphone market today is a much different beast than it was five years ago. A Porsche-inspired smartphone may not be for everyone, but it shows what lengths companies need to go to dazzle increasingly sophisticated Chinese consumers. Domestic brands that were once known as cheap copycats of Apple have also expanded to pricier flagships. Xiaomi, for instance, rolled…

Photo credit: Ant Financial.

In China, smartphone apps have never felt more obsolete. WeChat, China’s most popular messaging app, hosts an overwhelming number of services inside itself: food delivery, ride-hailing, live streaming, and more. Now, China’s leading mobile payment app, Alipay, is trying to kill off apps too.

Alipay is pushing out “mini programs,” lightweight apps that live inside Alipay itself.

Like WeChat’s own instant apps, which launched in January, Alipay’s don’t require users to download anything. Instead, people scan a QR code to access them.

Here’s Ofo’s bike-sharing instant app in Alipay. You can’t open it in WeChat or a web browser.

Photo credit: cooldesign / 123RF.

China’s cryptocurrency speculators have had one hell of a week. Since the Chinese government’s announcement on Monday banning all token crowdsales — also known as ‘initial coin offerings’ or ICOs — the country’s blockchain community has scrambled to comply.

ICO platforms where companies list their crowdsales, like Icoinfo and Icoage, have halted their services. Domestic exchanges have taken down tokens from ICOs, forcing investors to withdraw. Even a bitcoin conference in Beijing was affected by the new regulations — the company postponed the event and moved it to Hong Kong.

“Though there will be no ICO related content [during] the…

Rows of mining machines for litecoin, another digital currency, in Bitmain’s Ordos mine. Photo credit: Tech in Asia.

Outside the cicada-like whir of machines, the bitcoin mine is a desolate concrete lot full of plain-looking warehouses. We’re in Ordos, the famed ghost town of Inner Mongolia province where local farmers became rich off coal reserves hidden beneath the earth’s surface. Now, another kind of fortune is being mined.

Inside the warehouses, miniature block-like computers are hard at work. Green and orange lights flash in steady intervals. The machines hum as they furiously solve equations. They’re competing for the right answer as they apply mathematical formulas to data stored on the bitcoin blockchain, a global ledger of all transactions.

Photo credit: wangsong / 123RF

Chinese consumers love shopping online. And no wonder — thanks to mobile payments and speedy logistics, consumers can order groceries, gadgets, clothes, and more in just a few taps.

The ease of online shopping is an important part of China’s booming ecommerce industry. According to the country’s National Bureau of Statistics, online sales hit US$581 billion last year, about half of which were made through a smartphone. Offline retailers, on the other hand, are suffering a decline — a global trend that’s plaguing big box retailers and department stores in the US as well.

But physical stores still have a…

Teenagers going wild at Bilibili’s annual concert. Photo credit: Bilibili.

At the Mercedes-Benz stadium in Shanghai, the rows are packed with teenagers. More than ten thousand of them are here, a glowstick-armed crowd that erupts in a sea of bobbing light as the music starts. A group of girls scream as the singer appears on stage. The boy next to me whips out two smartphones — one in each hand — and starts recording.

It would be like any other concert except the singers aren’t typical celebrities. They’re all users of Bilibili, one of China’s largest fan sites for anime, comics, and gaming (ACG). …

Eva Xiao

China Reporter at Tech in Asia

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