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Winter Olympics 2022: digital yuan demo fail

Winter Olympic Games hosted in Beijing 2022 are a big deal. Not the event itself, but the life experience for those inside this guarded COVID-safe bubble. Olympic Village is a very important showcase for the Chinese innovative technologies to be seen and touched by the outsiders since the coronavirus shut access to China for all.

(A robot makes a pot of coffee in a waiting area within the closed-loop bubble. Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

I was curious what technologies China is going to brag about. Here they are — smart beds that monitor your vitals during sleep, robots in all shapes and sizes, cameras with face recognition, health codes (tap your card instead of QR-code), and supposedly e-CNY, the digital yuan payment.

Most people interested in tech heard that China has launched the digital yuan, the first government-issued cryptocurrency in the world. Some would know that it has been tested in selected Chinese cities for at least a year.

(e-CNY screenshot)

Here is where it gets interesting. Photos and videos are circulating from residents showing the beds, the robots, the face recognition tricks, but no digital payment experience. No photos or videos in any large media articles. Only the text about the plans for the demo which comes directly from the Chinese news agencies, understandably as the only source.

I will try to explain why it got my attention. Winter Olympics was announced to be the first time and place ever that digital yuan would be experienced by foreigners — strictly the Olympic Village residents.

Payment with digital yuan is the same as with Alipay and WeChat Pay — it is QR-code based system. You would need to download a special e-CNY app, or, perhaps, any Olympics — approved app (if they decided to integrate the experience) and scan the QR at the cashier.

(Photo by Bloomberg (not taken in the Olympic Village))

I am familiar with this experience, no surprises, but for thousands of foreigners in the Village that should raise eyebrows. Yet no filmed experience, only official stock photos from outside the bubble.

That was my rabbit hole. I turned to TikTok where multiple Olympic Village residents are filming their experience, giving tours, showing all-so-famous robots making and delivering food and drinks. I asked them how they pay for stuff there, if they saw any QR-code stickers at the cashiers.

Here is what I managed to find out. Most of the stuff is free. There is a small plastic card to purchase Coca-Cola drinks in the vending machines. Other than that: it is purely Visa cards and cash. That was the universal answer I got from those who replied. Indeed, it has always been Visa and cash at the Olympics in China, but this year it was promised to be rivaled by the digital yuan experience.

(Screenshot from TikTok app)

Am I missing something? What is going there? Where is the digital yuan showcase at every corner?

I have 2 working theories:

  1. Chinese officials failed to prepare a good onboarding plan.


They had to make sure the app is easy to download for foreigners, and safe to do so, as the western hysteria continues about data management in China. US, Canada and some other countries spoke out saying that it is unsafe to do so. But in this case, it was also not easy to as well.


Foreigners would need to convert their currencies into e-CNY. Currently at the bubble, there seems to be a restriction to being a Bank of China customer — to buy digital yuan at the special ATM.


As bubble residents say — there was no push to download anything apart from My2022, official Olympics app, also they have not seen any QR-code stickers for payment or instructions to such payment experience. It is not easy to say if there is a complete lack of any QR-codes at the cashier, or residents simply do not notice them. In any ways, if it is not on every corner — that is not enough.

2. The experience was supposed to be within My2022 app, but the Chinese officials pulled back last minute due to growing safety controversy.

(A person displays the Winter Olympic Games 2022 official app “My 2022” in Beijing. Francois-Xavier Marit/AFP/Getty Images)

There is a growing scandal over data, speech censorship, and privacy controls for the official My2022 app. True or not, the western media paint a very unpleasant picture of multiple safety breaches, free speech censorship tool for the internal messenger. It is a reputation issue, and as we know, face is everything to China.

In any way — it seems that the long awaited digital yuan demonstration to the outer world has failed to happen. As residents do not seem to experience it at all.

Interestingly enough, the only answer confirming that the digital yuan payment experience exists at the Olympics that I got was from the Chinese troll. One of many serving their duty in the foreign social media comments section.

Disclaimer: if anyone who is a bubble resident pays for stuff with the digital yuan — please let me know. I still want to believe it is there.

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What the Money is a lifestyle channel about fintech, e-commerce, business and innovations by Anna Kuzmina, CBDO at Bank 131. From Russia. With love. Follow Anna on MediumTelegram или на




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