10 Chinese Apps for an Immersive Experience on Your Phone
We all love to travel. But sometimes we just wish we were somewhere else at that exact moment. Making your phone ready for anytime immersive Chinese culture experience does not replace a trip beyond the Great Wall, but certainly it helps your mood when you just wish to be there.
Here are 10 apps that will bring you great and diverse experiences about China. So, switch your phone language to Chinese (if you are brave enough!) and, without further ado, let’s get started.
1. WeChat (微信)
Any Chinese apps list that doesn’t start with WeChat may not be worth reading. WeChat is one of the most popular messaging apps in the world, and by far the most popular app in China. It is much more than a messaging app, though.
On WeChat, Chinese people can make and receive payments (in-store payments as well), send/receive money to/from friends, split the bill, call a taxi, buy products, book flight tickets, download and use other apps, and so much more. It is also a must-have app for business from China and also abroad looking for opportunities on the mainland. It is just part of daily life in China.
Although most of these extra features are only available for those in China mainland and/or with a Chinese bank account, this app is also a must-have for you. This is not only the best way to communicate with Chinese but also it may help you engage with your local Chinese community, and soon enough you will make good friends with them, taking your immersion to the next level.
Official website: https://www.wechat.com/en/
2. TikTok (抖音)
A well-known app outside China, TikTok has a separate version for China. What you will be looking for here is Douyin (抖音).
TikTok is a great opportunity to get in touch with Chinese culture. Just by scrolling down videos on the main screen, you will find content ranging from government news to regular people doing (non)regular stuff. You will be able to follow your favorite streamers, exchange messages with users, and so on. It is also a good way for advanced learners to practice their Chinese language skills.
Official website: https://www.tiktok.com/en/
3. iQIYI (爱奇艺)
This top class online video app is certainly among the best in the world. It is definitely worth having it on your phone whether you can speak Chinese or not.
If you are either a beginner or you don’t understand any Chinese, you can watch some of the dramas with English subtitles offered by iQIYI, such as The Thunder, Ten Years Late or Hero Dog 3. For those who can speak some Chinese, I recommend watching some cartoons – Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf (喜羊羊与灰太狼) is my favorite one. For advanced/fluent Chinese speakers, just play around and enjoy this amazing app!
Official website: https://www.iqiyi.com/
4. NetEase Cloud Music (网易云音乐)
There are many great music streaming apps in China, I chose NetEase Cloud Music because it is the easiest one to use among them.
Although it is a freemium music app, many features are actually available for free. You can, for example, find free western music there. You should be able to find your favorite Chinese artists for free as well. If you are new to Chinese music, NetEase Music has a “radio” feature, which is basically random playlists. Artists like Mayday (五月天) are also great starting points.
One curiosity about this app is that it recently went viral on Chinese social media because of its user comments. They often feature depressive stories, like lovers breaking up, loneliness, and so on. It made some users start complaining that they just couldn’t enjoy their songs in peace after reading such comments. Anyway, feel free to drop by NetEase Music comments box and read – or even write your own – sad stories.
Official website: https://music.163.com/
5. Ximalaya (喜马拉雅)
Ximalaya is the app for those who would rather listen to quality podcasts than music. It is also a great source of free popular audio books in Chinese. The app was first launched in 2013 and has been a top-scoring app since then.
Ximalaya is a fantastic immersive experience for when you are walking, cycling, exercising, stuck in traffic, or just want to close your eyes and relax.
Speaking of relaxation, my recommendation here is to listen to Ruixi’s Radio (蕊希电台). Her slow-paced voice and standard Beijing accent make her podcasts great for some Chinese practice before going to bed.
Official website: https://www.ximalaya.com/
6. Toutiao (头条)
Toutiao, just like TikTok, is a core product of ByteDance. It has, however, a totally different approach. Toutiao is a customizable news app, which makes it an excellent source of information.
Don’t be scared about customization here. Toutiao will actually automatically learn from your behavior in the app to better shape the content accordingly using one of the best algorithms in the market. You will also find a lot of video content, and even an open discussion community. Although its content is uploaded by third-party creators, it is very serious to fake news moderations, keeping the app free of unreliable information.
Official website: https://www.toutiao.com/
7. Baidu (百度)
Baidu is the number two most used search engine in the world and the most accessed website in China. Just like Google, it is more than a search engine.
Baidu has its own forum, its own online encyclopedia, and you can create an account for you on Baidu and enjoy many other features using their phone app.
My favorite feature is Baidu Maps. It is similar to Google Maps. The main advantage of using Baidu Maps is that you can use its street view feature in Chinese streets. There are many spots to explore, and it can even help you plan your next trip.
Of course, you may still use Baidu as a search engine that will primarily index Chinese websites on your search results.
Official website: https://www.baidu.com/
8. Weibo (微博)
Regarded in the West as “Chinese Twitter”, Weibo has already had its best time. Although Weibo has lost popularity over the last few years, it is still widely popular and a great app for immersion.
Official accounts are still very active on the platform. You can follow news, basketball players, associations/communities and, of course, other regular users.
Because, just like Twitter, users’ posts are public, you can search for posts within your location if you are interested in making Chinese friends nearby. You can also do it yourself and publish a post with your current location so others can find you.
Official website: https://weibo.com/
Everytime I talk about QQ or even just see these penguins, my mind is taken by nostalgia. QQ is a messaging app developed by Tencent, the same company responsible for WeChat. Tencent has redirected efforts and investment from QQ to WeChat throughout the years, which makes QQ a little bit left behind and forgotten by developers and users. Recently, Tencent even deactivated the Web QQ, bringing nostalgic and sad feelings to the hearts of those who spent their work days chatting with their friends on a browser.
Although QQ is on the list more for the influence it had until 2013, it is still a very useful app. You may enjoy some of the features WeChat has, but there is something unique about QQ. While your posts on WeChat Moments can only be seen by your friends, QQ Space posts may be open to everyone. It brings some traditional social media experience to the messaging app.
Interestingly, some recent reports have shown that QQ is very popular among Chinese teenagers. This can be due to their parents being WeChat users, so they feel they have more privacy on QQ, long abandoned by their parents.
If you are not yet convinced to have both WeChat and QQ on your phone, keep in mind that talking about QQ is a great conversation starter.
Official website: https://im.qq.com/
10. Tencent My App (应用宝官网)
Finally, you may want to search your own apps. Tencent My App (or Tencent Appstore) is a great alternative to the lack of Chinese apps on Google Play Store. This is only available for Android, though.
Tencent My App is the most popular app store in China. You may basically find any Chinese app there. You may also apply filters on your search and see what is trending at the moment. The downside is that many Chinese apps nowadays require Chinese phone numbers to register.
Official website: https://sj.qq.com/
Honourable Mention #1. Sogou Keyboard (搜狗输入法)
Do you find it difficult to type in Chinese on your phone? Sogou Keyboard is a handy tool for you. It is a popular Chinese keyboard app that offers a variety of features to increase your experience when typing in Chinese.
Its auto correction and word recommendation features are way more efficient than other similar apps. You can even write entire sentences just by typing the first letter of each Chinese character in pinyin.
The only reason why Sogou Keyboard is not on the above list is because it is not an immersive app. It is, however, almost essential to have once you are required to type in Chinese, which makes it worth a honorable mention.
Official website: https://pinyin.sogou.com/
Honourable Mention #2. Radio FM China (中国广播电台)
The only reason Radio FM China is not on the list is because it is not exactly a Chinese app.
Minutenesses aside, the app is very lightweight, straightforward, easy to use, and you can find maybe every major Chinese radio station there. My favourite ones are the CRI radio stations. CRI also has an English language station called CRI NEWS Plus.
Official website: Google play
There are plenty of ways to immerse yourself in the Chinese culture and adding some Chinese apps to your phone is one of them. Use this list as an inspiration rather than a definitive decalogue and you get to find much more and truly immerse yourself.
Guilherme Marcel Dias Santana (令狐轩昂) is a computer scientist graduated from the University of Sao Paulo (2014) and is currently pursuing a Master of Science degree in the same university and same field. A self-taught sinologist, Guilherme began studying aspects of Chinese culture and language during his teenage years. He primarily creates Chinese-related content in the Portuguese language.