Chinese people love their smartphones, and they love their apps too!

Apps in China do everything, from buying train and plane tickets to displaying menus and acting as a credit card.

On a social level, Chinese apps have changed the way people interact with each other, play games and even find love.

So what are the top apps in China, as used by the locals?

In this blog I’ll share some of the most popular ones. Many you’ll be able to download and play around with, while others are in Mandarin only.

If you’re looking to travel to China, I recommend these China apps instead – they’re all in English and therefore ideal for travelers.

But if you want to find out which apps in China are used and loved by the locals, then read on.

1. WeChat

  • Available in English: Yes
  • Foreign equivalent: WhatsApp or Facebook
  • Chinese name: 微信

This is the big one. Virtually everyone with a phone in China has WeChat.

In fact, there are now more than one billion people who use WeChat on a daily basis.

WeChat, or WeiXin in Chinese, is a messaging app owned by tech giant Tencent. It’s one of the main ways people digitally communicate in China.

When you meet someone in China, it’s customary to add them to WeChat. And even when doing business, Chinese people prefer WeChat over email.

WeChat Pay payment station

A WeChat payment station. Image by WangXuefei on Pixabay. 

But WeChat isn’t just a messaging app. You can use it for a whole bunch of things to organize your life, like paying for dinner, hailing taxis, playing games, as well as buying train, plane, and movie tickets.

And, you can do all this with WeChat Pay, the most convenient way to pay for things in China.

This makes WeChat by far the most useful and popular app in China. And it’s very much ingrained in the Chinese way of life.

2. QQ

  • Available in English: Yes
  • Foreign equivalent: Skype
  • Chinese name: 腾讯QQ

QQ is an instant messaging app developed by Tencent over 20 years ago. It became famous for the little penguin that made a cute sound whenever you received a message.

QQ was the coolest app on the block until WeChat came along. But QQ has managed to hang on, appealing to a younger fan base than WeChat. And it still has close to one billion users!

QQ Chinese app

QQ is still popular in China, especially with young people. Image by Faizal Ramli on Shutterstock.

Over the years it has introduced features like QQ Wallet for in-app purchases as well as ordering things like food. But QQ Wallet isn’t nearly as popular as WeChat Pay when it comes to mobile payments at physical stores.

3. Sina Weibo

  • Available in English: Yes but limited
  • Foreign equivalent: Twitter
  • Chinese name: 新浪微博

Sina Weibo is the biggest social media site in China. It has over 500 million active monthly users.

Weibo is often referred to as ‘China’s Twitter’ because of the character limit. But the similarities end there.

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Weibo is a highly censored app, so its users often create new words or languages to discuss sensitive issues.

Although you can access the app in English, it’s a stripped-down version and not very popular. Plus, all the posts are in Chinese.

If you want to find out the latest social trends in China and can’t read Mandarin, check out a website called What’s On Weibo.

4. Douyin

  • Available in English: No
  • Foreign equivalent: TikTok
  • Chinese name: 抖音

This one probably doesn’t need much of an introduction. Douyin is the Chinese equivalent of TikTok, the hugely popular short-looping video app.

Both apps are made by ByteDance, a Beijing-based internet company. But the two apps are not exactly the same.

Chinese men looking at their phones

Chinese people love their phones! Image by StreetVJ on Shutterstock.

With a few taps on Douyin, you can do all sorts of things like buy a product featured in a video and book a hotel stay after watching a video shot there.

This is why it’s one of the most used Chinese apps.

5. Jinri Toutiao

  • Available in English: No
  • Foreign equivalent: BuzzFeed
  • Chinese name: 今日头条

Meaning ‘Today’s Headlines’, Jinri Toutiao is the most popular news app in China at the moment.

It uses artificial intelligence to source and curate daily news from thousands of sites. Using things like your location, click and browser history, Toutiao recommends articles and videos that you’re probably going to be interested in.

Chinese news app Jinri Toutiao

Toutiao is a popular and addictive Chinese app. Image by Ascannio on Shutterstock.

Toutiao is also one of the most addictive media platforms in the world, especially with younger people. The average user spends 76 minutes a day on it!

This app is also part of the ByteDance family.

6. Keep

  • Available in English: Yes
  • Foreign equivalent: Fitbit
  • Chinese name: 自由运动场

Chinese people are just as concerned about their physical fitness as people in Western countries. And that’s why Keep is the top fitness app in China.

Created in 2015, the app gives you workout categories based on answers to questions about your fitness level, age, preferences, motivation and overall health.

Chinese woman stretching

If you care about fitness in China, Keep is your must-have app. Image from Pexels.

When you choose a category, you’ll find lots of exercises as well as videos and detailed workout plans. The app increases the difficulty of your workouts as you get fitter and offers fitness challenges as well.

There’s also a food page with diet plans and recipes and a shop selling workout clothes, supplements and workout supplies. You can also share your fitness journey through the social pages.

7. Tencent Video

  • Available in English: Yes
  • Foreign equivalent: YouTube
  • Chinese name: 腾讯视频

Tencent Video is one of the top apps in China. It’s China’s equivalent of YouTube so you can imagine how popular it is (close to a billion users!).

Many of the videos are not available outside mainland China due to licensing issues. But that’s easy to overcome with a VPN (like this one) or you could try iQIYI which I talk about further down.

Tencent corporate offices Shenzhen China

Tencent is based in Shenzhen. Image by Katjen on Shutterstock.

Tencent Video is in the same stable as WeChat and QQ, making it a powerful player in the Chinese apps and tech space.

8. Ping An Good Doctor

  • Available in English: No
  • Foreign equivalent: Doctor On Demand
  • Chinese name: 平安好医生

More than 300 million Chinese people are registered users of Ping An Good Doctor – China’s largest healthcare platform.

This sophisticated Chinese app provides access to good quality online medical consultations. In China, medical assistance isn’t always easily accessible to everyone, so having this kind of expert help available anytime is an incredible bonus.

Doctor's coat with stethoscope and pens

Health apps are becoming more popular in China. Image from Pexels.

You can pay to see a ‘family doctor’ privately, or consult with a doctor openly in the consultation hall (but the session isn’t private).

Ping An Good Doctor is a handy tool for the coronavirus too. In early 2020, you could even get a free consultation if you were concerned about catching the virus.

9. Taobao

  • Available in English: No
  • Foreign equivalent: Amazon or eBay
  • Chinese name: 淘宝网

Taobao is China’s Amazon and it’s the biggest online marketplace in the world.

You can buy anything you need or want from this site, and it’s simple to use. You can also sell stuff, and each seller has a rating set by previous customers.

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If you’re living in China and need something delivered fast, Taobao is the place to find it.

The app is in Chinese, but with a little practice and know-how you can learn how to use it knowing only English.

10. Jingdong

  • Available in English: No
  • Foreign equivalent: Amazon or Best Buy
  • Chinese name: 京东

This is another super-popular shopping app in China. It’s really good if you’re shopping for electronics.

Compared to Taobao, Jingdong only has verified sellers. So people have a lot of trust in this app.

It’s only available in Mandarin, but there are ways you can still use it. Check out the video below for a quick tutorial.

Jingdong is a must-have Chinese app for great bargains on Singles Day. This is China’s version of Black Friday.

11. iQIYI

  • Available in English: Yes
  • Foreign equivalent: Netflix
  • Chinese name: 爱奇艺

I love this Chinese app!

iQIYI is a fast-growing video streaming platform that offers a huge number of movies and television shows for free.

Unlike Netflix, iQIYI makes most of its money from advertisements and content license purchases. That’s why most of their audience can watch without paying a cent.

iQIYI app

iQIYI is for streaming Chinese shows and movies. Image by Faizal Ramli on Shutterstock.

Not all of the content on this site is free however, which is why paid subscriptions are slowly increasing. But if you’re bored one evening while you’re in China and just want something to watch, iQIYI is a good option because English (and other foreign language) subtitles are available.

The downside? Like all Chinese media, it’s censored. So don’t expect to find anything sexy, controversial or thought-provoking.

Tip: If you’re heading to China soon and want to be able to watch Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime on your hotel’s Wi-Fi, you’ll need a VPN like this one. Make sure you download it before you arrive, otherwise you won’t have access.

12. Alipay

  • Available in English: Yes
  • Foreign equivalent: PayPal
  • Chinese name: 支付宝

China is moving away from cash incredibly fast. In fact, lots of shops don’t like accepting cash at all (even Starbucks), which is why Alipay is essential.

This Chinese app allows you to pay for practically anything in the country.

From paying for airline tickets and transferring money to your landlord to buying street food in China with a quick scan of your phone, you can do it all with Alipay.

Alipay bar code on phone

Alipay and WeChat are the leading payment apps in China. Image by Markus Winkler on Pixabay.

You can get an English version of the app. This means foreigners traveling in China can use it to pay for everyday stuff.

Just be mindful that you need to upload some personal information to get started, including a photo of your passport.

13. Baidu

  • Available in English: No
  • Foreign equivalent: Google
  • Chinese name: 百度

Baidu is one of the top apps in China. It’s China’s version of Google, and has almost every Google alternative, including Maps, Translate and Adwords.

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A staggering 90% of online search queries done in China are done through Baidu. This amounts to billions of searches per month!

Baidu is very diversified. It’s also in the AI space and is testing self-driving cars.

14. Momo

  • Available in English: No
  • Foreign equivalent: Tinder
  • Chinese name: 陌陌

If you’re looking for love in China, Momo is your app.

It includes lots of features that make Chinese dating easier. So, not only can you find a date on Momo, the app will show you advertisements for date locations and special offers so you can get a discounted coffee during your date.

Chinese girls looking at their phones

People use Momo to hook up in China. Image by Pexels.

It’s the largest dating app in China with over 100 million active users. WeChat is probably more popular with young adults though, even though it’s not officially a dating app.

Momo has recently spent a lot of money to clean up its image as a one-night stand app and to regain the confidence of the Chinese government.

If you want to read about Chinese dating apps specifically, check out this page.

15. DouYu

  • Available in English: No
  • Foreign equivalent: Twitch
  • Chinese name: 斗鱼

This popular Chinese app is essentially a video game and e-sports streaming service. Viewers watch professional gamers go head-to-head (Douyu means ‘fighting fish’ in English).

You can also interact and socialize with your gaming idols, and send virtual gifts to your favorites.

Chinese guy looking at phone on subway train

China is home to millions of gamers. Image by wonderlustpicstravel on Shutterstock.

ZTE, one of the leading Chinese phone brands, has a range of gaming phones made especially for lovers of apps like Douyu. The phones come with built-in cooling systems and super-high screen refresh rates.

Gaming is so big in China right now that Douyu is listed on the New York Stock Exchange!

The app is only in Mandarin at the moment, but you can still watch games as long as you don’t mind seeing the Chinese characters.

(The Chinese are also into ‘real’ sports – you can find out the 10 most popular sports in China here.)

16. Meituan

  • Available in English: No
  • Foreign equivalent: Uber Eats
  • Chinese name: 美团

Meituan is one of the top apps in China for a reason. It’s for ordering food!

With a few simple taps (in Mandarin), you can get delicious restaurant food delivered to your door in 2,800 areas across China. Just pay using WeChat Pay or Alipay.

Meituan driver

Meituan drivers stand out in their yellow attire. Image by StreetVJ on Shutterstock.

Meituan’s slogan is “We help people eat better, live better”. So, it’s no surprise that the company is branching out into other areas like supermarket and pharmacy deliveries, car hailing, bike sharing, and hotel and travel bookings.

In China, Meituan is downloaded more often on iOS than all other apps in the food and drink category.

Ele.me (饿了么) is the other major food delivery app in China, a close second to Meituan.

Psst! A quick travel tip

If you plan on visiting China, don’t forget the internet is censored when using Wi-Fi in your hotel.

So, to access all your favorite websites and apps (like Facebook, Instagram, Google, Gmail, WhatsApp, etc), you’ll need to get a VPN before you arrive. Otherwise, the signup page will be blocked in China.

Check out my review of the best China VPN before you fly over there.

Apps, glorious apps

In a lot of ways, China is more developed than many Western countries, and this is particularly obvious when it comes to how they embrace their apps.

If you ever get over to China, you’ll be surprised at how technology completely permeates every aspect of life there.

What’s really interesting is the speed at which new apps become popular, and how once-popular apps can quickly fade away.

There are many more awesome Chinese apps, and I haven’t been able to include them all here. But hopefully you’ve now got a glimpse of some of the most popular ones.

I hope you liked my article on the top apps in China. I’ve also written about why Chinese people drink warm water and do other weird things. It’s a fun read!

Or, stay on the theme of apps and read about Chinese map apps.

Main photo credit: Humphery on Shutterstock.

FAQ about top China apps

What are the top music apps in China?

KuGou and QQ are the most popular music apps in China. They’re both owned by Tencent.

What are the top shopping apps in China?

Taobao, JD and Pinduoduo are insanely popular in China.

Where can I download China apps?

All the leading Chinese apps are available in the App Store and Google Play Store. However, if the app is only in Mandarin then you may have trouble using it.

What are the most popular app stores in China?

Huawei App Market, Tencent My App, and Oppo Software Store are the biggest Android app stores in China. Apple’s App Store is also very popular.