A shopper looks at red envelopes ahead of the Lunar New Year at a street market stall in Chinatown, Singapore, on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018. Singapore, scheduled to release forth-quarter gross domestic figures (GDP) on Feb. 14, may unveil an e-commerce tax in next week's budget, setting the tone for a region that's grappling with online retail's assault on brick-and-mortar vendors. Photographer: Ore Huiying/Bloomberg
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Nearly 800m people went online to send money to friends and relatives over the Chinese New Year festival as technology continues to permeate even the most ancient of traditions in China.

Tencent, one of China’s duo of tech titans, said 768m people sent and received hongbao, the red packets stuffed with cash, over Weixin Pay, its third party payments business, during the six day holiday period. Typically people will hand out scores or even hundreds of honbgbao: according to Tencent, one man sent 2,723 while another received 3,429. 

The mass migration to digital hongbao – initiated four years ago by Tencent – highlights the explosion of making payments with the swipe of a phone in China, where even beggars accept alms by proffering a QR code to passers-by. The market was estimated to be worth $15.5trn last year, utterly dwarfing those in the US and other countries. 

Part of the market’s growth is due to poor legacy banking – China has mostly leap-frogged credit cards, for example – but has also been fuelled by innovations like moving hongbao on line. Tencent is seeking to export the custom to other markets, including India where a customised version is available on Hike, the messaging app it backs. 

However, the habit is unlikely to reach the same dizzying heights as those achieved in China: in 2016 64bn packets changed hands over Tencent’s payments platforms. 

Rival Alibaba has also got into the act. This year Ant Financial, its payments affiliate, said over 250 million users collected all the “five fortune cards” in its New Year’s eve promotion. 

But it was not just money doing the rounds on WeChat, which has almost 1bn users, over the holiday period. 

Users sent 230bn messages – suggesting at least some people were spending rather more time on their phones than engaging in family conversation – and shared nearly 3bn posts. At the peak 28m people were playing WeChat mini games at the same time. 

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