The Ultimate Guide to QR Codes in China

In China, QR codes have become a part of daily life. They are used for payments, accessing information, and even tracking health status during the COVID-19 pandemic. Mobile payment platforms like WeChat Pay and Alipay have integrated QR codes, making cashless transactions popular and convenient.

QR codes can also be found on advertisements, product packaging, and restaurant menus, offering additional information and discounts. Overall, QR codes have revolutionized the way people in China interact with the world around them.

Why QR Codes are so Popular in China?

QR codes have become deeply integrated into everyday life in China, with their use extending beyond just scanning for information to encompass mobile payments, social media platforms, and even offline sectors like restaurants, retail stores, and public transportation.

What is a QR Code?

QR codes, or Quick Response Codes, were originally developed for the automotive industry in Japan. However, they quickly became popular outside of the industry because they can be read quickly and store more information than standard barcodes.

QR codes have various applications, including product tracking, item identification, time tracking, document management, and marketing. They consist of black modules arranged in a square grid on a white background and can be read by an imaging device. QR codes can link to a specific webpage or complete a transaction when scanned.

They are commonly used in China for payment transfers, connecting with other users, and linking to official pages or content. From a marketing perspective, QR codes are a convenient way to drive traffic from offline to online, redirect users when online, and complete transactions more quickly.

Integration into messaging apps like WeChat

WeChat, a messaging app in China, has revolutionized communication by integrating QR codes into its platform. This integration showcases how smartphones are effectively used in China, with WeChat leading the way. QR codes on WeChat serve multiple purposes beyond messaging. Each user has a unique QR code that can be scanned for various activities.

For example, social commerce allows transactions to be completed directly within the app. QR codes on WeChat are not just for chats, they also make payments and online purchases convenient and quick.

Adding new contacts is also effortless through these scannable codes. QR codes have even made their way into offline sectors like churches and restaurants, indicating their wide acceptance and potential for growth.

Payment services

The largest third-party, digital payment service in China is Alipay. Secondly is WeChat pay. These e-wallet services link to a user’s bank account and are based on QR codes. For ease of payment, the majority of stores in China now accept Alipay or WeChat pay.

Mobile payment in china

Consumers need to scan QR codes to make instant payments. In frantic, modern China this quick and more convenient method of payment reduces queue times in busy stores and restaurants.

Smaller stores will often scan the QR code on a user’s phone and can then transfer payment to their own personal account, in this way many market stalls and pop-up shops can benefit from the convenience of this type of payment.

Use in online payments, social media platforms, and e-commerce

QR codes have had a significant impact on how businesses and consumers in China engage with each other. These matrix barcodes have been integrated into digital platforms on mobile phones, leading to a revolution in mobile payments, social media, and e-commerce.

Their widespread use has transformed the way transactions are conducted and how people interact in the country. Scanning QR codes became a daily thing for all mobile users in China!

Usage in offline sectors like restaurants, retail stores, and public transportation

Let’s talk about the fascinating usage of QR codes in offline sectors like restaurants, retail stores, and public transportation in China. It’s nothing short of a revolution how these seemingly simple barcodes have transformed day-to-day transactions.

In the restaurant industry, you’d often see QR codes adorn tabletops, menu cards, or payment counters. Customers scan these codes to access digital menus, place orders and make payments – a seamless customer experience indeed.

Retail stores are another great example. They use QR codes extensively – from product descriptions to mobile payment options. It’s become an indispensable part of their operations. QR codes even rule the roost in street markets in China. Whether it’s buskers collecting money or individual sellers transacting goods – everyone has embraced this technology wholeheartedly.

Moving on to public transportation, QR code-based ticketing systems are prevalent across buses, trains, and subways. Scan a code, and book your ride! It doesn’t stop at transport and shopping either; some street musicians accepted donations through QR codes. Truly cashless transactions are at play!

You’d be surprised to know that even foreigners visiting China can conveniently make use of these QR code payment systems. With a variety of local payment apps supporting QR transactions, the ease and convenience of this system extends well beyond locals to tourists as well.


The Role of QR Codes in COVID-19 Tracking and Control

During the COVID-19 pandemic, China has implemented QR codes as part of its efforts to track and control the spread of the virus. These health codes were used in health code data systems, allowing individuals to indicate their contact tracing information and COVID-19 risk status.

Each individual had his/her own health QR code. A green health code meant that this person is free of COVID-19, while yellow and red codes indicated either a risk of contamination or close contact with a sick person. This system was widely used by Chinese authorities, local governments, and public places and only people that had a green QR code could enter public places (or even go out of the house in general).

This helped enforce rules and regulations and enabled authorities to monitor people’s movements in public areas. In Shanghai, for example, a health code program has been implemented where group health QR codes were displayed at company entrances.

When employees and individuals were entering buildings or public spaces, their QR codes were scanned, allowing the government to track those who have been in close contact with suspected COVID-19 patients.

The Benefits and Drawbacks of QR Codes in China

QR codes in China offer unparalleled convenience and efficiency in various fields, from mobile payments to contact tracing. However, concerns about the potential misuse of personal data and accessibility issues for certain populations also exist.

Discover the full range of benefits and drawbacks QR codes bring to China’s digital landscape.

Convenience and efficiency in various fields

QR codes have transformed daily life in China, providing convenience and efficiency in various areas. They are widely used for mobile payments and social commerce, seamlessly integrating online and offline activities. QR code payments accounted for 85% of all mobile payments in China last year, highlighting their popularity.

Alipay app

Whether it’s purchasing goods or accessing online platforms, QR codes offer a quick and hassle-free way to complete transactions. They have become an essential tool for businesses in China, enabling them to offer customers a seamless payment experience.

With a simple scan, users can access information or complete transactions within seconds, eliminating the need for physical cash or lengthy processes.

Potential Misuse and abuse of QR code data

QR codes have become widely used in China, but there have been instances of scammers attempting to exploit users by tricking them into scanning fraudulent codes. This highlights the need for caution and verifying the authenticity of QR codes.

Additionally, legal scholars in China have raised concerns about privacy issues regarding the personal information stored in these codes. It is important to be mindful of these potential misuses and abuses when using QR codes.

It’s crucial for businesses to take measures to protect their customers’ information and comply with data protection regulations.

Furthermore, refusal to provide information through linked systems could result in denial of services, including telecommunications, which further highlights the need for caution and awareness while using QR codes in China.

The digital divide and accessibility issues for older or less tech-savvy populations

The digital divide and accessibility issues for older or less tech-savvy populations in China regarding QR codes should be taken into consideration.

The rapid advancement of technology can leave certain demographics, like the elderly, behind. With China’s aging population and lower technological literacy among some individuals, implementing QR codes can be challenging.

It is important to address these concerns to ensure equal access and usability for all users. Businesses should carefully consider the benefits and drawbacks of QR codes in China and implement strategies that are inclusive and user-friendly for everyone.

Case Studies

Here are some examples of several success stories of businesses in China leveraging QR codes to drive sales and engagement:

  • A popular restaurant chain in Shanghai used QR code campaigns to boost customer engagement and loyalty. By placing QR codes on menus, customers could access promotions, discounts, and personalized recommendations easily. This led to more repeat visits and higher average spending per customer.
  • An e-commerce platform used QR codes on their product packaging for fashion and accessories. Customers scanned the codes to get product info, size charts, styling tips, and exclusive discounts. This improved customer experience, increased repeat purchases, and generated word-of-mouth referrals.
  • A mobile phone manufacturer partnered with a celebrity influencer for a special edition smartphone. Each phone package had a unique QR code that customers could scan to access exclusive content like videos, interviews, and virtual meet-and-greets with the influencer. This innovative use of QR codes created excitement and boosted demand for the product.
Chinese Social Media and Kols - Taobao's Kols Platform
  • A retail store chain added QR code scanning stations for customers to get product info, reviews, and inventory status. This boosted sales as customers made informed decisions independently, without needing help from sales associates.
  • A travel agency used QR codes in their ads to offer virtual tours of destinations. People could scan the codes with their phones to see visuals, videos, testimonials, and book trips. This led to more bookings and happy customers.

Strategies for Businesses to Successfully Implement QR Codes

China has a distinct digital landscape that follows its own rules and preferences. QR code mobile payments are widely used, making integration with platforms like WeChat and Alipay crucial. Adhering to regulatory requirements is also important for businesses in China.

By conducting thorough market analysis and ensuring compliance, businesses can effectively utilize QR codes in industries like retail and event management, where QR codes are dominant.

Partnering with popular platforms or services

Partnering with popular platforms like WeChat and Alipay is a game-changer when implementing QR codes in China. These platforms are the leading payment providers in the country and heavily rely on QR code payments for offline transactions.

By partnering with them, businesses can tap into a vast network of potential customers who are already comfortable using QR codes.

This partnership allows for seamless integration and provides access to additional services like credit card bill payments, bank account transactions, and utility services, enhancing the customer experience.

It’s an effective way to reach a broad audience and leverage the dominance of mobile payments in China’s digital landscape.

We are your local partner in China! Contact us!

QR codes have become a vital aspect of everyday life in China, transforming the way people connect their online and offline experiences. They are used for a wide range of purposes, including mobile payments, social media platforms, contact tracing, and health code systems.

QR codes have seamlessly integrated into various sectors, providing convenience and efficiency. However, it is important for businesses to prioritize the security of user data.

As technology continues to advance, QR code usage in China is expected to evolve even further, offering new possibilities for businesses to leverage this powerful tool.


We are a China-based marketing agency offering cost-effective solutions to foreign brands interested in tapping into the Chinese market. Our team of Chinese and foreign experts has the experience and know-how needed to succeed in this lucrative, yet complicated market.

Gentlemen Marketing Agency offers many digital marketing and e-commerce solutions, such as web design, e-commerce and social media marketing strategies, localization, market research, KOL marketing, and more.

Don’t hesitate to leave us a comment or contact us, so that we can schedule a free consultation with one of our experts, that will learn about your brand and present you the best solutions for your China market strategy.


  • Hi Benji,

    Great article!

    Id like to have a chat if you got some time.

  • Can you explain how the street markets in Beijing and Xian are using the QR codes? Is it for WeChat payment? I tried to scan them and got an error but I was unaware that maybe I had to set up an account somewhere else.

  • Catheryn Krail

    The blog was how do i say it… relevant, finally something that helped me. Thanks:)

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