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Understanding rejection on WeChat (Weixin)(See also audio/video etc limitations and URL encoder for mobile chat.)
Many Chinese people now prefer to manage their contacts using a proprietary mobile messaging and social networking application called WeChat
Error message when adding peopleIn early 2021 WeChat started to display the Chinese-only error message 请先设置朋友权限 when you try to add a contact. This message was displayed too fast for me to read and it could not be copied: I had to screen-shot it and use OCR to find out what it said---it's basically "please set friend permissions first" and refers to a new setting at the bottom of the Add screen (you might have to scroll down if you're in large print on a small device) that lets you choose whether or not to also share your "Moments" with this person. It might have been better if the developers had set it to focus those controls when this happens, but at least we now know. (In particular, this message doesn't say the person is refusing your Add request.)
After a few months, sharing Moments seemed to be always set by default, so that message was no longer an issue.
Emoji warningIn 2020 it was pointed out to me that the standard WeChat "smile" emoji (the one that can be produced by typing [Smile] or [微笑] in your text, or selecting the closed-mouth smile from the menu) is seen by some as mocking rather than happiness, and it is now safer to use [Chuckle] ([偷笑]), [Grin], [Joyful], [Laugh] or the Unicode emojis
U+1F604(I'm not sure where the older
U+263Afits into this).
A related issue is "stickers" (called "emoji packs" in the Chinese version)---some youngsters have sticker-packs with seizure-inducing strobic flashes. I have contacted Tencent urging them to implement a "disable animations" option and I suggest you do the same (they might notice if more people ask); meanwhile if you have photosensitive epilepsy you'd better stay out of any chat that might include young people, in case in their innocence they post one of those or (even worse) a whole series of them and accidentally give you a seizure. (In 2022 some people also had Chinese New Year greeting stickers that stobed, and sent these to all their contacts, unaware that the flashing can create problems.)
Don't bother with "red packets"If someone tries to send you a "red packet", the funds they deposited will be returned to them if you don't open it within 24 hours.
WeChat used to allow non-Chinese accounts to open "red packets" and later forward the balance to other Chinese friends (it could not be spent outside China), but in 2019 they began to require a China bank card for any transaction---and the app takes you through a lengthy "real-name confirmation" process before it even tells you this requirement.
WebsitesIn late 2021 WeChat introduced a partially-translated message whenever any non-Tencent URL is tapped: "This webpage may not be provided by Weixin/WeChat" with a button 继续访问 that means 'continue visiting'---that "may not" could be less ambiguously translated might not (it's not a "site blocked" message). These 'external' pages are now opened in a browser that lacks the WeChat-specific Share controls, although any pages previously shared in the 'WeChat link' format (i.e. without a visible URL) could still be re-shared as such (this is likely a bug to be fixed later).
Network effectWeChat's dominance in China was perhaps assisted by the company's good relationship with that country's network police, with its mobile operators (SIM cards with WeChat-specific data allowances are not unheard of), and with integrated shopping and payment services and "portals" to local facilities. Outside China, WeChat tends to lack these advantages, but many mainland Chinese visitors and immigrants keep using it anyway due to their existing network of contacts, and due to the convenience of WeChat's automatic contact-exchange facilities. Scanning a QR Code seems to have become the most popular method (this wasn't introduced to WhatsApp until mid-2020). A WeChat update in mid-2017 prevented the generation of QR codes while offline: if you expect patchy signal coverage, you now have to prepare by taking a screenshot of your QR code while connected. For most of 2017 it seemed these codes needed re-generating every 4 weeks, but in 2018 one of mine still worked after 28 weeks.
The network effect does not appear to be very much diminished by the need for their data to be sent through Chinese servers (which, apart from anything else, can be slow when you're outside China), nor with the "vanishing contacts" issue or WeChat's limited functionality on the desktop. At least its sound compression ratio is reasonable, and Version 7 made a dark mode available (although not on the desktop version) and improved the range of font sizes under Settings / General (Version 8 fixed some layout issues this caused on small screens).
Sometimes they'll accept an alternative installed alongside WeChat for use while they're in the UK. My current recommendation is Telegram Messenger, which is run by a non-profit, can be set to larger fonts, has a good range of desktop clients, etc. But not everyone even understands what it means to install a different application. Some of the older generation I met evidently had it installed by the manufacturer, a shop, or a friend or relative, and don't know what I mean by "install something else". Additionally, some older devices (e.g. iOS 4.x) cannot run recent versions of many applications, so it would be necessary to find an old version and somehow 'side-load' it, or risk an OS replacement.
ScamsAs with any form of messaging, it's probably best not to accept an `add' if you don't know who it is, especially if you actually visit an Asian country: con artists have reportedly tricked victims into going to a particular location for a "first meeting in person", only to be held to ransom by gangsters on arrival (this crime is easier to commit in small countries like Singapore). In June 2016 my WeChat ID (which I had given only to selected Chinese people I met in Cambridge) suddenly received an `add' request claiming to be from Malaysia and not giving me any clue who it was; to give them the benefit of the doubt I wrote "Apa khabar?" but received no reply and the next day eight other anonymous "Malaysians" had tried to add me. I find this highly suspicious. My ID could have been found via brute-force search, most likely of QQ numbers: I had my old QQ number linked to the account, but disabled "find by QQ ID" after this incident because I believe none of my genuine earlier contacts who had my QQ number are still likely to use it to find me. (I later discovered that QQ number was stolen so I unlinked it from the WeChat account completely.)
MalwareOn iOS, a pre-6.2.6 version of WeChat was infected by malware due to its developers having accidentally downloaded "XcodeGhost" instead of Xcode. Additionally, we don't know what Tencent itself does with the information WeChat can read, so it's probably best to avoid storing things like company-confidential documents on the same device, just in case.
Disclaimer: The notes on this page are provided in the hope that they are useful, but they are not official instructions and may contain mistakes. Your use of them is at your own risk.
All material © Silas S. Brown unless otherwise stated.
QR Code is the UK registered trademark of Denso Corporation.
Telegram is a trademark of Telegram Messenger LLP.
Unicode is a registered trademark of Unicode, Inc. in the United States and other countries.
WeChat is a trademark of Tencent Holdings Limited.
WhatsApp is a trademark of WhatsApp Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries.
Any other trademarks I mentioned without realising are trademarks of their respective holders.