WeChat Changes Lives
A Chinese app is changing the way that people, government agencies and businesses interact
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Print Edition> Nation
UPDATED: May 4, 2015 NO. 19 MAY 7, 2015
An Indispensable Part of Life
A Chinese woman's experience of using WeChat overseas
By Lu Anqi


While many of my friends in China revel in the convenience that the social networking platform WeChat has brought them, Chinese living outside China like me are also grateful for the positive changes this homegrown application has brought to our personal and professional lives. It helps families, relatives and friends stay closer, making keeping in touch simple and trouble-free.

I didn't use WeChat until I came to live and work in South Africa in 2013. Before then, I didn't yet have a smartphone, though I did have Internet access. With my computers at home and work having MSN, Skype and QQ messengers, I was well linked with relatives and friends no matter where they—or I—were.

When I arrived in South Africa, I bought a smart phone and WeChat was one of the first apps I downloaded. I was happy to find I could add all my QQ and phone contacts to my new WeChat account. I contacted other friends who were not yet using the app to join me. After that, every morning when I launched WeChat, I would be happy to find old friends had left messages for me. Soon, my network expanded to include more than 100 people.

As the number of contacts exploded I began to use its grouping function. I started one group for my family and two for my other relatives. Every now and then, I was delighted to find myself included in a new group. Now, I am part of a dozen of different groups with friends from different countries with different cultural backgrounds and different religious beliefs.

The groups I use for keeping in touch with my family and relatives are among those I most frequently use. Every morning I launch WeChat, I will see my daughter leave a message for me from China. Sometimes, it is just a smiley face or another emoticon.

I will check through my brother if my father's blood pressure is OK, or if he will in turn ask my brother to pass on messages to me. When they heard of the recent outbreaks of xenophobic violence in Durban and Johannesburg, my brother sent voice messages to me saying my father was worried about our safety. I told them we were OK and promised to inform them of our situation in real time. Geographically, I am more than 10,000 km away from them in China, but I feel they are right beside me.

My former classmates and I were reunited through WeChat last year—29 years after our graduation. We plunged headlong into work and family after our studies and when we had the time to rest and raise our heads, we found we were already middle-aged and had kept in contact with only a few of our schoolmates.

Thanks to WeChat, we are now together again, chatting about who used to have a crush on who, dormitory life, the lakes and trees on the campus, reminiscing about the good old days. We talk about work, family and children, sharing our joy and sorrow.

Though we are now living and working in China, the United States, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa, we never feel the distance between us.

I am also part of a group consisting of dozens of Chinese women living in Johannesburg, mostly housewives. Our topics range from food, cooking, shopping, gardening, exercising, making-up, cosmetics and pets to health and medicine. Pictures of food they made and vegetables they have planted in their gardens are often shared. We all learn a lot from our shared experiences.

Sometimes, we find out about important news through the group. One day, a woman in the group witnessed a shoot out between the police and a gang of robbers in a parking lot opposite the shopping mall where the robbery took place. She sent the voice message to the group and asked us not to get near the area. This news was released by the official media organizations an hour later.

As a news editor, I have also benefited from the convenience in communicating that this application affords me. In addition to e-mail and telephone, I will now add a writer to my WeChat if he or she uses it. If I want to ask them to write an article or if I want to make an appointment for an interview, I could call them, send them an e-mail, an SMS, or contact them through WeChat. The great thing about this is that all of the aforementioned can be done with my mobile phone I carry with me anywhere I go.

I have subscribed to about 60 news services delivered through the WeChat social network platform, each of which publish two to eight pieces everyday. Browsing through all the content is indeed quite a task, but it keeps me in touch with what's going on around me and in the rest of the world.

There are still many functions of the application I haven't used, but I feel my life has been changed, and will continue to change more and more in the future. I think most of the changes are positive and will make life easier and bring people closer. WeChat has become part of my life and work and I simply cannot live without it.

Copyedited by Kieran Pringle

Comments to zanjifang@bjreview.com

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