No coins, no red faces: Apps change Chinese attitudes to splitting bills

Zhou Ye and her friends experienced a new digital way of going Dutch in a Beijing restaurant on August 28, 2015.

Story highlights

  • App makes splitting bills easier in China
  • But older Chinese still uneasy about going Dutch
  • Paying traditionally an honor and they fear 'losing face"

Beijing (CNN)No messy coins -- and more importantly -- no embarrassment.

This is how young Chinese "go Dutch" these days -- scan a QR code and pay their share via smart phones in one easy click or swipe.
    It was the first time most of the 13 people at my dinner table last weekend had used the function on social networking tool WeChat and they were sold.
    "It has made going Dutch less hassle and so much more fun," said Zhou Ye, a Beijing-based journalist.
    "Young people think splitting bills this way is fun, and older ones may find it fashionable to do so."
    Most importantly, it saves people the embarrassment of figuring out who owes what.
    Splitting the bill is a relatively new idea to most Chinese.
    It's being embraced by cash-strapped young people, but for many older folks, who fear "losing face," it feels embarrassing and stingy.
    At dinner parties, families and friends often fight over who will cover the expense.
    Payment options on WeChat wallet, left, and Alipay wallet, right.
    Used by 600 million Chinese, WeChat is similar to WhatsApp but has many more features.
    One of them, WeChat Wallet, allows people to pay for almost any service by smart phone. The bill splitting function was launched last year.
    Owned by Chinese Internet giant Tencent, the payment platform competes with Alibaba's Alipay, which is widely used and also boasts a bill splitting function.

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    The smartphone apps that rely on these payment platforms have transformed the lives of many urban Chinese.
    Massages, haircuts, manicures, pedicures, house cleaning, laundry services and personal trainers can be ordered in your own home with a swipe.
    Zhao Mengsha, 28, an editor with a bilingual arts magazine enjoys a manicure once every month, and pays half of the price charged in salons.
    "It's just really convenient," she told CNN.
    "For people like me, going to a manicure salon and sitting there for hours is just impossible."
    She's also ordered a massage when she had to work overnight and the masseur came right to her office.
    "I wouldn't have thought about getting a massage at work without the apps."
    Like millions of others, Zhao uses Alipay and WeChat to pay for the services as well as her utility bills.
    "You can make do without a wallet but can't [live] without your smartphone when you go out these days," Zhao said.