Illustrations: Peter C. Espina/GT
At a 7-11 store near the subway entrance, an employee totaled the bill for my breakfast milk and bread, and asked, "How will you pay, by Wechat or Alipay?" I made a quick calculation of what rebate I could get from each of the two payment methods and picked the best one. Then the cashier scanned the QR code on my smartphone. In just a second, the transaction was done.
This happened almost every morning in my first week of this month, known as the Cashless City Week, when the two mobile payment leaders of China were engaged in a fierce battle to woo customers by offering a reward for each mobile payment. The accumulated rebates can be used as a discount on August 8. So on Tuesday, though I didn't plan to buy anything originally, I still rushed to a nearby shop after work to pick up something casually - just to use the discount. After all, any discount matters.
In fact, my days have been cashless for so long that bank notes in my wallet often stay put for months. Why not? Using e-wallet is convenient, efficient and even green. And I am definitely not alone. More than 35 percent of China's 724 million mobile phone users often make mobile payments, according to the China Internet Network Information Center. And it is predicted that China's mobile payments will reach as much as 104 trillion yuan ($15.6 trillion) in 2019. A cashless lifestyle is poised to become the norm.
The cashless lifestyle concept was introduced by Wechat Pay two years ago. Alipay said earlier this year that it planned to build China into a cashless country in five years, and to this end, it will invest 6 billion yuan. Alibaba Group Holding Ltd has worked with local governments in Hangzhou, Tianjin, Wuhan and Fuzhou to promote its cashless movement.
But can our life be truly cashless? Definitely not. Recently a seafood restaurant operated by Alibaba refused to take cash at its checkout, which shut out many old people who don't use Alipay. In response, the People's Bank of China called the rejection of cash payment illegal since the law stipulates that the yuan is the only statutory currency in China.
Promoting cashless payment is fashionable and trendy, but rejecting cash is a dangerous precedent that impairs fairness. After all, if all shops in China follow suit, it will deprive the rights of people who don't like using mobile payment. After all, for residents in smaller cities and elderly people, an e-wallet is still a new thing.
And millions of foreign tourists in China don't even use Wechat or Alipay. That's not to mention those in the countryside that don't have access to smartphones or even the Internet. Their needs should naturally be taken into consideration when the development of technology changes our life fundamentally.
From a different perspective, living a cashless life doesn't necessarily boil down to the mere use of Wechat Pay and Alipay. That would create monopoly otherwise. In fact, there are a variety of other payment methods available. Given the competition for the vast market, more forms of payment will come up in the future and become more customer-friendly so that everyone can find what suits them most. That would make a diverse and equitable society that we hope for.
The author is a reporter with the Global Times. firstname.lastname@example.org Follow us on Twitter @GTopinion