Features

An A to Z of China's tech scene: All the terms you should know


China's tech scene is, in a word, overwhelming. It's full of superlatives — each tech giant is vying to be the biggest, the strongest, the fastest, the best. And with more than 800 million internet users at their fingertips in their own country alone, it seems like they have a pretty good shot at world domination.

As a starting point to help you wrap your head around it all, we've put together a quick guide to some of the key Chinese tech companies, concepts and products — from Alibaba, to ZTE.

Alibaba Group Holding: China’s biggest e-commerce company almost defies definition, because it has so many subsidiaries beneath its giant umbrella. In essence, Alibaba acts as a middleman, connecting buyers with sellers on its many platforms and facilitating transactions between them.

Baidu: Often compared to Google, Baidu is the dominant search engine among China’s 800 million internet users. It draws almost all of its revenue from advertising. The search giant has faced criticism for its practice of promoting paid results over the most relevant information.

China Mobile: China’s largest wireless carrier and the world’s largest mobile phone operator by number of subscribers (it has over 900 million of them). A key player in the 5G race, China Mobile has said it will launch 5G smartphones in the first half of 2019.

Douyin: Also known as TikTok outside China, Douyin is a hugely popular app for creating and sharing short videos. It was launched in September 2016 by Beijing-based tech company ByteDance, and in July 2018 reported half a billion monthly active users across 150 countries and regions.

China tech

Douyin, or TikTok, is also popular outside China.

E-commerce: The process of buying and selling goods or services over the internet. China is home to the world’s largest e-commerce market, with more than 40 per cent of the world’s e-commerce transactions taking place there.

Fintech: Short for “financial technology”, fintech is the umbrella term for technology that helps deliver financial services in more effective ways. China has become the global leader in fintech, and is the world’s largest market for mobile payments – in 2018, more than 525 million people used their phones to pay for stuff.

Great Firewall of China: Refers to the Chinese government’s legislative actions and technologies to regulate the internet, in what is considered the most sophisticated online censorship system in the world. Sites that are blocked under the Great Firewall include Google, Facebook, and YouTube.

Huawei Technologies: The world’s largest supplier of telecommunications network equipment and second-biggest maker of smartphones has been grabbing headlines as it pushes for a global leadership role in 5G. Headquartered in Shenzhen, what sets Huawei apart from other Chinese tech giants is the fact it has managed to crack foreign markets.

China tech

Hollywood actress Scarlett Johansson starred in a Huawei campaign.

Influencer: In China, influencers are known as KOLs (key opinion leaders). Most of China’s social media sites have direct partnerships with e-commerce platforms, making it even easier for KOLs to influence their followers’ purchasing decisions.

JD.com: Also known as Jingdong, JD.com is China’s second-largest e-commerce company after Alibaba. JD.com’s business model is different from Alibaba’s in that it focuses on direct sales, delivering goods from warehouses to customers. This makes it more comparable to Amazon.

Kuaishou: Known as Kwai overseas, Kuaishou is another popular short video app in China. The app is notorious for featuring users who do stunts and pranks. Unlike Douyin, Kuaishou’s target audience is largely based in China’s rural areas and smaller cities.

LinkSure: The Shanghai-based internet technology company made headlines in November 2018 when it unveiled its plans to launch a constellation of 272 satellites into space, with an end goal of providing free wi-fi worldwide by 2026.

Meituan-Dianping: Sometimes described as China’s “app for everything”, Meituan-Dianping is a platform that allows users to buy movie tickets, book transport and hotel rooms, and order food (it’s the world’s largest food delivery company). In February 2019, it was named the world’s most innovative company by American business magazine Fast Company.

China tech

Meituan-Dianping is the world's largest food delivery service.

Nanjing: The capital of China’s eastern Jiangsu province is the site of a new tech research park that the government is positioning as the next Silicon Valley. The city offers tax rebates and other generous incentives to attract tech companies and startups.

Oppo: China’s second-biggest smartphone maker behind Huawei and the fifth-biggest in the world, Dongguan-based Oppo has western markets in its sights. The company officially launched in the UK in 2019, so expect to be hearing a lot more about it.

Pinduoduo: An e-commerce platform that sells everything from groceries to electronics. The platform is unique in that it encourages group-buying - users are encouraged to tap into their social networks to create “shopping teams” which gives them discounts on their purchases.

QR codes: QR (quick response) codes can be found everywhere in China – from major retailers, to hole-in-the-wall street vendors. Instead of using cash, users can simply scan a QR code with their smartphone, and the payment is deducted from a mobile wallet.

China tech

QR codes are ubiquitous in China.

Reddit: The self-described “Front Page of the Internet” has caught China’s attention, with reports in February 2019 that Tencent was investing $150 million into the American social news aggregator. This has been viewed as a rather odd move, as Reddit is among the sites blocked in China.

Sina Weibo: Often described as China’s Twitter, Sina Weibo (or just “Weibo”) is a microblogging site that was launched in 2009. It remains one of China’s most popular platforms, with 430 million monthly active users (compared with Twitter’s 326 million).

Tencent: China’s biggest social media company, Tencent owns the WeChat messaging app, as well as an instant messaging service called QQ. It is also the world’s largest video game publisher by revenue. In November 2017, Tencent became the first Asian company to top US$500 billion in value.

Uyghur: A Muslim ethnic-minority group mostly based in China’s semi-autonomous Xinjiang province, Uyghurs have experienced the dark side of China's tech boom. Chinese authorities have been accused of using advanced surveillance technology – such as drones disguised as birds – to track Uyghurs and other minority groups.

VPN: Short for “Virtual Private Network”, a VPN is a connection method used to create a secure “tunnel” between a computer and a network. VPNs are used in China to get around the Great Firewall and access blocked content. Their use remains something of a legal grey area.

WeChat: Known as Weixin in Mandarin (or “micro-message”), WeChat is the most popular social app in China, with more than one billion monthly users worldwide. As well as messaging, the app can be used to make voice and video calls, for mobile payments, to order food, and book taxis.

China tech

WeChat has more than one billion monthly users worldwide.

Xiaomi: Sometimes referred to as the “Apple of China”, Beijing-based Xiaomi is the fourth-largest smartphone manufacturer in the world. The brand is best known for producing affordable smartphones which run on their own version of Google’s Android operating system, called MIUI.  

Y Combinator: US accelerator Y Combinator is behind some of the world’s most successful startups, including Airbnb, Reddit and Dropbox. In 2018, it announced it was setting up in China, marking its first international expansion. YC China is led by Qi Lu, the former chief operating officer of Baidu.

ZTE Corp: Headquartered in Shenzhen, ZTE is one of China’s biggest manufacturers of Android phones and telecommunications equipment. Often compared with its larger rival, Huawei, ZTE has also faced scrutiny over concerns that its ties with the Chinese government present a security threat.

- Asia Media Centre