BILLIONS of online money transfers have taken place in China as the ancient Lunar New Year tradition of handing out red envelopes of cash met the Internet age. For centuries parents, relatives and employers have handed out 'hong bao' -- small gifts of money -- to children or menial workers to celebrate the dawn of the new year.
But in increasingly tech-savvy China, givers are abandoning the red paper envelopes and opting instead to transfer money via their mobile phone. On Sunday, the eve of the Year of the Monkey, a staggering eight billion 'hong bao' were exchanged, eight times the number gifted last year. The idea of electronic 'hong bao' was introduced in recent years by WeChat, a mobile messaging system with over 650 million users and operated by Tencent, China's largest Internet service portal.
The service took off and competitors soon joined the fray. Now Alipay Wallet, the payment system run by online retail giant Alibaba, and Tencent are going head to head for a share of the online payments.