Digital Yuan Goes Head to Head With Alipay, WeChat in Beijing

Swipe your bracelet, watch or even a walking stick, and you can pay for your goods with digital yuan

These are just some of the quirky gadgets that China’s central bank, lenders and technology giants are showcasing to Beijing residents ahead of a broader rollout of the e-currency when the city hosts the Winter Olympics in February. The wearable devices, embedded with a digital yuan chip, can be tapped against a scanner, transferring the currency from an e-wallet without needing an internet connection. 

Digital Yuan
Visitors line up to buy discounted coffees from a machine using digital yuan at the Bank of Communications booth at the trade fair in Beijing.Source: Bloomberg

The People’s Bank of China is pulling out all the stops to promote the e-currency to a population far more used to transacting on a daily basis using Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s WeChat Pay and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s Alipay. The central bank has rolled out pilot programs in 11 cities and regions from Shenzhen to Hainan so far and has recruited major banks and technology firms to help get an otherwise indifferent population to make the switch to the e-yuan.

Beijing consumers got their first taste of what a digital yuan future might look like during a services trade fair in the capital city last week, which attracted 36,000 visitors. Major banks like Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd. and China Construction Bank Corp. as well as tech firms like Alibaba’s Ant Group Ltd. had booths promoting the e-currency.

Hao Xiujie, a 45-year-old resident of the city, queued for 20 minutes at a booth run by Bank of China Ltd. to sign up for an e-yuan account and get a cup of cappuccino for one cent of the digital currency. 

“I’ve always wanted to try the digital yuan and experience how different it is from Alipay and WeChat Pay, after seeing it so much on TV,” she said, as she waited in line for her cup of coffee. “It’s really easy to use, whether it’s paying or topping up.”

Digital Yuan at Services Trade Fair in Beijing
Attendants at the Bank of China booth help residents set up digital yuan accounts on their phones.Source: Bloomberg

Long queues formed at vending machines that take digital yuan to buy stamps, drinks and Winter Olympic-themed souvenirs. A handful of shops including a book store, dental clinic and museum shop set up booths to sell products that could be bought with digital yuan at the fair. 

Li Jun, 36, who works in asset management and had spent 200 yuan ($31) in a free digital-yuan handout in February, said he would prefer digital yuan, which is backed by the central bank, to WeChat Pay and Alipay when it’s officially launched, because he feels it’s safer. 

At Ant Group’s booth at the Beijing fair, staff showed visitors how to open the e-CNY wallet through the Alipay app and top-up funds through it. E-commerce giant Inc also showcased vending machines and self-service payment machines at its booth. Food delivery firm Meituan launched a promotion in nine cities last week that gave out free digital yuan to users who register for shared bike rides. (Source: