WeChat is *the* most important app in China. It's absolutely crucial for navigating life in mainland China, and we tell all artists heading that way to download it immediately. To help convey all the wonders of WeChat, we here at China Residencies commissioned Katy Roseland, artist & co-founder of Basement6 Collective, a Shanghai artist run space and residency, to write this guide. Katy's been based in China since the construction of the Great Firewall in 2009, she makes performance work and research centering on the Chinese internet. This guide was generated from her years of researching WeChat along with interviews from Chinternet Noobs and her fellows at the Swatch Art Peace Hotel, where she's currently an artist-in-residence.
An Artist's Guide to WeChat
1. INTRODUCTION (LIFE WITHOUT WECHAT)
In preparing your transition into the "other side of the world", it's safe to assume you have done a bit of research no? You're thinking about what to pack, but you might not have anticipated how to plan for your first encounter with the Chinese internet. The Great Firewall. The big data dissolve. The weirdest facet of this country.
You say censorship, I say xxxxxx xxxx xx.
Once your flight touches down, instinctively you’ll reboot your phone to what might feel like a data void. Maybe you’re adorably surprised by all the new things you can’t access... Not all internets are the same, I met a girl from Japan who couldn’t understand why her Gmail wouldn’t refresh, a friend thought her Facebook had been hacked, and, for a visiting writer, his “critical tweets” were out of reach. If you’re wondering why you’re lacking notifications, it’s because you’re in the land of 404. This is daily life on the Chinese internet, VPN off, we survive.
editor's note: here's our favorite VPN just in case : )
Let me show you how... Tencent’s China-centric answer to Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp, Twitter, Vine, and Paypal in a single application. You download this one thing [download it now! do it!] and place it very centrally on your homescreen. You have not a single choice.
drag that WeChat icon to your home screen!
Here all your new friends will live, your raving fans will contact you, project teams mobilize, this is where you will find out about gallery openings and a taxi to get to and from there. You will join online communication boards, you will know people you’ve never met and wish to never meet. All the while falling so deep into hypnosis you won't notice your lack of gchats and snapchats. Welcome to the world; this is WeChat.
this is your homescreen on WeChat
Here you are. WeChat is China's most used app (aside from the 4 that are blocked in by the Great Firewall) so let's start with the basics of operation and get your foundation strong. Venture into the deep end when you're good and ready.
3. SET IT UP
STEP 1: From ME menu, click your icon to change your default photo, find your QR code (learn this gesture!), alter your onscreen name. Further shape and mold your identity.
choose a super cool profile pic
scan a QR code
STEP 2: Let's make some friends? There are three ways to add a contact: you can scan someone’s QR code -- this happens in person, fumbling over each others devices, figuring out who scans whom, otherwise you can search for their phone number or their WeChat ID.
Sniff around. You’ve made a name for yourself but! Please go the extra step to not get locked out of your account.
DO THIS: From the ME menu click SETTINGS, click MY ACCOUNT... link your phone number, email, and set a password. If and when you leave the country, you’ll be able to return to your beloved WeChat community from where ever you log in.
4. TALK TO PEOPLE
I’ve accepted your friend request. Now let’s chat!
Communication is not limited to language. Long press any text for automatic translation. [PROTIP: set your phone to Chinese, text yourself in your native language and long press to translate into Chinese. Copy and paste your way to high esteem.]
Tell me everything, some words are magic.
sending a sweet note of longing
If you’re feeling like text is a bit vanilla, since anything that slightly resembles SMS is nauseatingly 2010, opt for the more direct approach and simply talk at a bunch of people. This is a voice note, like a deconstructed phone call without all the pleasantries. See how much chat you can jam in 60 seconds, hold the bottom button and speak.
Angry or needy? Click all those white bars to find out.
send and listen to voice notes if you don't feel like typing or reading!
In addition to normal text, and talking, you can send a plethora of content to your contacts. Let's smear some spam around. You can send and forwad Photos, Sights, Voice calls, Other people [name card], And articles from official accounts, wechats slightly uglier cousin to emojis, and STICKERSSSSSSSSSS.
send some things
Brands, companies, organizations often use official accounts to send updates directly to their followers. The CMS backend is not that comprehensive (read: anyone can publish articles, and even rip articles from the "deluxe internet" so check your facts!) Welcome to the content slums, populate your feed by going to ADD CONTACTS > SEARCH BY ID.
Find and follow these China Residencies members' accounts by searching their account name.
Wechat’s voice/video call function make your SIM card lonely. Call anyone in your contacts and even groups of nine people at a time. Here is me convincing my mother to never use Skype again:
5. LOOK AT PICTURES
Once you’ve added a person, entity, cyborg etc you should (unless set to private) be able to view the landscape of their moments. Let's take a moment... Click DISCOVER > MOMENTS
This is the Facebook-y, Instagram-ish, Vine side of WeChat. Try it! Up in the corner is a camera icon. A long press will give you a text only option, like a tweet. When you like or comment on a post, you will only see likes from your mutual contacts. This is a semi public feature of WeChat. A "closed connection" that is the essence of Chinese societal hierarchy aka guanxi.
While likes and comments are restricted to only your personal corner of WeChat, your Moments are viewable to the public. If you wish to not broadcast privately or selectively, reset your Moments options. Beijing-based artist and writer, Michelle Proksell uses public moments as the basis of performance and research. She collects and publishes these moments onto her own moments feed as archival and voyeuristic meta-metadata.
Michelle Proksell's moments, screencap.
Watch her talk about her archive and the rest of the Chinternet at Chaos Communication Camp 2015 in Hamburg:
Now for the logical deviations of online tribes. These are group chats, like WhatsApp does. Join a group via its QR code, be “pulled in” by a friend or form your own. They usually center an event, team or topical discussion and range from 3 to 500 people.
a screencap of a few groups I'm in
Ye Funa utilizes WeChat as a performance platform. She hosts live streams through a third party app and more recently, a Wechat group. “I want[ed] to do a Spring Festival gala on Wechat group. The program always some bad kitsch aesthetic. And I like the idea of live performance on group. It's like 弹幕 [a barrage]" There's a beautifully animated re-cap of her performance on my favorite "wechat museum" 文化馆, an entity that supports and exhibits online artists. And like much of the Chinese internet, this link is formatted for mobile view, bub.
You may localize enough to communicate with more groups than individual contacts; everyone loves an audience. Malaysian internet artist WangRou uses group chats as the basis of performance. Check it out here.
When entering a group, stay active, participate and resist the urge to lurk. You creep! It’s easy to discreetly quit a group you’re no longer interested in. Conversations end, unsubscribe. Alternatively, you can mute any group or individual, all these options are found in the upper right hand corner icon of the group chat. Ready yourself for "弹幕[a barrage]"
lots and lots of users in one group
If you’d like to enter a group of over 100 members, you’ll need a verified ID. This means your bank card is linked to your Wechat account.
7. MONEY, MONEY
That’s an easy segue to the even easier task of hooking up a Wechat wallet. Like, eerily easy.
A cultural note is that unlike the west, China has skipped the PC generation of tech evolution. Meaning the days of anxiously inputting credit card info into your desktop computer never happened in mainland. Netizens are not even slightly fussed about having their money digitalized, collapsing their pocket contents into their smartphone and making money move as fast as the rest of China. This is how you split the bill at dinner, buy a plane ticket, top up your phone, receive payments, or use money for money things. You will need a Chinese bank account and the Chinese version of WeChat for this to work properly. Here’s how.
If you are not in China long enough to set up a bank account, disregard this section and keep grips of your paper bills.
Click ME > WALLET and then pass money around like this. Or find the TRANSFER icon in your one on one chat options to pay your friends.
For IRL chat and more chances to spend money-data, you can meet your contact in the physical realm by sharing location, in pindrop or real time! Order a WeChat taxi to find them faster. And keep the ecommerce going.
8. WHERE R U NOW ?
Here is me, luring friends to my location.
There are two ways to do this. You can send a location, like a drop pin, recipient clicks it and view in (unless you can access google) baidu maps to plan their route to you. From your chat window, select LOCATION > SEND LOCATION. Search street addresses or frequent locations as well as drop a pin of your current whereabouts. All locations you send or receive are forwardable, and with the favorite button, savable to create your own index. To forward or favorite, long press the map window.
The second option works better when you are stumbling through one of China’s many real estate graveyards or any other place you may find yourself losing direction. This takes some teamwork. From your chat window, select LOCATION > REAL-TIME LOCATION and now you have begun a cat and mouse game with your contacts. Once your correspondent joins in the real time location sharing session, you both appear as floating mobile points on a map (hopefully). Move around with the aim of getting close together. See what happens when you press the grey button. So many awkward social situations to explore before ever even meeting someone face to face.
9. JUST HAVE A GOOD TIME
Games, you ask? If you somehow manage to have a touch of boredom after all this, I will enlighten you on the biggest game there is… the Hongbao. A hongbao, red packet is a traditional Chinese present, a gifted red envelope of cash; this is a very direct society here.
So Tencent has found a way shift a celebratory rite into a gimmick. Let’s get rich to this. You will find that local Chinese will send hongbaos far more than you foreign friends. It goes like this…
open that hongbao
Enter a groupchat, you don’t know anyone… Throw cash into the crowd. It’s a fast grab game of piñata popping. Everyone loves you, all for less than two dollars.
If you need more friends, try switching on your “people nearby” function. It means exactly what it sounds like; people in a 1 kilometer radius seek each other for “communication”. This is the Tinder side of WeChat and the center of most of my work.
Now for real art. Nothing defines you like your 150 count collection of stickers. Invest wisely.
You’ll find these .gifs passed around or available in PG rated packages via Tencent. If you’re in deep enough, someone will bring you into a sticker-only group chat. This is how we make ourselves feel cool and not bored. Hours and hours of scrolling .gifs. You say we’re not evolved…
the great sticker archive
There is a group called Art Only created by MetaverseMakeovers mostly riddled with shiny gifs and glamour stickers, they have gone next level with personalized watermarks. This is evidence of DIY sticker-making. There is plenty room to make your own by importing .gif files through your phone. Just a few clicks on your android. And for iOS use giphy keys. Have a great time re-inventing antiquated structures of communication!
Further your new blinking existence to a huge clunky web browser for some dual screen action. Web.wechat.com is your portal, or download the desktop app. Scan into the matrix and welcome to the Chinese internet, where you can do anything… Except xxx xx xxxxxxxx.
10. MOBILIZE YOURSELF
Don't get too overwhelmed, some less-than-instant replies are excusable and be nice to strangers. This is the time to flourish in our limitations.
This guide was commissioned by China Residencies to help artists figure out how to WeChat. All visuals courtesy of Katy Roseland and Basement6. Thanks Katy!