‘It’s So Essential’: WeChat Ban Makes U.S.-China Standoff Personal

Noble Horvath

Other people said they were scrambling to find alternatives to WeChat. Sirui Hua, 29, a resident of Jersey City, N.J., told family and friends in China to sign up for QQ, a messaging app also owned by Tencent. He is also planning to use Apple’s FaceTime to video chat with […]

Other people said they were scrambling to find alternatives to WeChat. Sirui Hua, 29, a resident of Jersey City, N.J., told family and friends in China to sign up for QQ, a messaging app also owned by Tencent. He is also planning to use Apple’s FaceTime to video chat with his parents in China. But it is hard to replicate the experience of WeChat, where he has more than 2,000 contacts, he said.

Every Saturday evening, Mr. Hua’s parents, who live in Jiangsu Province near Shanghai, message him — their only child — on WeChat for a one-hour video chat. Lately, they have warned him to stay home and to always wear his mask as coronavirus rates increase in the United States. It’s a reversal from early this year, he said, when he warned his parents to stay home in China because of soaring infection rates there.

During the pandemic, WeChat has been a particularly important line of connection, he said. Mr. Hua has his WeChat desktop app open during the day, getting messages from dozens of friends in China. His phone app is where he sees the app’s scrolling Moments feed, similar to a Facebook Timeline, which keeps him updated on how they are doing.

Other WeChat users in the United States rely on the service to keep in touch with customers or maintain important cultural traditions.

Hong Allen, 53, works for Usana Health Sciences, a nutritional and dietary supplement company that is based in Salt Lake City and has operations in China. Most of her clients and customers are in China, and she uses WeChat to communicate with them. Now, she is afraid she will lose all her contacts.

“I really don’t know what to do,” said Ms. Allen, a resident of Vancouver, Wash. “How do I live?”

Huajin Wang, 43, of Pittsburgh, uses WeChat to send a virtual red envelope of money — a Chinese tradition of giving a cash gift in red packets for special occasions or holidays — to friends and family. The U.S. restrictions would prevent that small but meaningful gesture, she said.

“It’s just a small amount, like 50 cents a person, but it is a tradition and sending it make me feel connected to these traditions,” Ms. Wang said.

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