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June 15, 2021

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Festival boost for digital currency

After winning a prize in Beijing’s lottery-based digital renminbi program, Tao Siyu couldn’t wait to invite his friends for a celebratory meal.

“I didn’t win a digital RMB red envelope in February, and I felt sad for missing a chance to experience (the new payment system),” Tao said as he foot the bill using the lucky money. “Once I got notified as a winner this time, I invited my friends to dine and share the joy.”

In the latest public trial run of China’s digital legal tender, Beijing, with a population of around 22 million, handed out 40 million yuan (US$6.25 million) in digital currency to consumers in a total of 200,000 digital red envelopes, each containing 200 yuan.

The lucky draw results were announced on June 11, the eve of the three-day Dragon Boat Festival holiday, when a travel and spending boom was expected. The digital yuan can be used in nearly 2,000 businesses around Beijing, indicating wider reception.

Lottery winners will need to download the mobile application of the digital RMB to get the online wallets. They should spend the money from 9am on June 11 through June 20.

Back in February, Beijing started with 10 million yuan worth of digital yuan giveaways to local residents in a bid to boost consumption during the Spring Festival holiday. These giveaways were also distributed through a lottery of virtual red envelopes, or “hongbao,” a traditional Chinese practice of gifting money.

More and more consumers are signing up for the digital yuan, which promises to make daily life easier and digital payment more secure.

Shanghai doled out 350,000 virtual “hongbaos” before the Dragon Boat Festival. A student from Donghua University, surnamed Ding, said he and two of his roommates all won a hongbao and tried it out in the city’s busiest commercial districts.

“I saw many people ask if digital RMB payment could get special discounts,” Ding said.

In Shanghai’s Zhujiajiao ancient town, a popular tourist destination, stores, including those selling festival delicacy of Zongzi, a pyramid-shaped glutinous rice dumpling wrapped in reed leaves, have put up “Pay with Digital RMB” signs.

A merchant surnamed Pan said that she could sell up to 4,000 Zongzi a day during the Dragon Boat Festival holiday, and many of the orders were paid via the digital yuan that is convenient and free of transaction commissions.

China is aiming to upgrade its domestic retail system by further developing its digital currency. Gradual steps will expand its use via trials, according to the country’s monetary authorities and experts.

The country began piloting its digital currency in selected regions at the end of 2019. The currency will be issued by the central bank as an alternative to paper money.

During the pilot programs in cities, including Beijing, Shenzhen, and Suzhou, businesses such as groceries, daily necessities, and catering, among others, already supported payments using the digital yuan.

As the digital RMB trial expands its scope in public life, China is expected to enrich its operational experience to pave the way for large-scale adoption in small-scale and high-frequency retail business scenarios, experts say.


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