Chinese Koi Fish Goes Overseas

Published on November 17th, 2018

Koi, the colored carp(锦鲤 Jinli), has long been held as a symbol of good fortune in the Chinese culture. As told in a fairly well-known folk tale, koi in the Yellow River would swim against the tide towards the dragon-gate mountain, and those who can leap over the dragon-gate will become dragons, the Chinese totem animal. A cartoon version of the koi story has also come out roughly ten years ago—The Adventures of Little Carp, a popular piece among the generation born in the 90s, when they were still fans of TV instead of smartphones.

On 7th Oct, the last day of the National Day Golden Week, a microblog sent by Alipay broke the Chinese Internet, in which Alipay revealed the winner of its “Chinese Koi Giveaway”—a marketing activity of Alipay in which all you need to do is to retweet a previous microblog by Alipay to get in the pool, at the end of the holiday, one person will be randomly chosen as the “Chinese Koi” and win an incredible list of prizes. Millions of people had retweeted but only one person—an IT engineer girl usernamed Xin Xiao Dai—got the luck.

As soon as Xiaodai realized she was the winner, she sent out a microblog screaming—“am I free from work for the rest of my life?”, which has got more than 769k retweets of which most comments are “let me share the luck of Koi Xiaodai.” So what has Xiaodai won? The long swath of prizes includes “Clothing and Shoes, Cosmetics, Food, Spa, Tourist Destinations, Phones, Travel Accommodations, Airline Tickets/Transportation, and Private Flying Lessons.” Reading between the lines, we can see that most of the prizes need Xiaodai to go abroad—Vancouver, New Zealand, Macao, Hong Kong, Korea, Japan, Thailand. Is it because Alibaba believes the Chinese Koi should find a dragon gate abroad, or if there are other implications?


To understand the brilliance of the marketing campaign of Chinese Koi, let’s first look into what Alipay is up to recently. As we know, China’s cashless society has gained lots of attention, and Alipay, China’s leading third-party online payment platform handling nearly 54 percent of the domestic online payment in China today, is the most prominent driving force behind the story. And Alipay’s biggest rival—Wechat Pay, has handled another 39 percent. However, four years ago, the ratio was 78 percent(Alipay) v. 10 percent(WeChat Pay)—the rapid growth should attribute to two fabulous campaigns Tencent had done—the Red Envelope and the QR code, the former is a WeChat function where money can be sent to family and friends as a gift during chat, and the latter caters fo the smartphones users—when they don’t want to type in a long URL, just open WeChat and scan the QR code. Both functions have formed user behavior unwittingly—when talking about red envelope, the first thing comes in mind among millennials would be WeChat red envelope instead of the traditional monetary gift.

If Tencent can dig up value from the traditional Chinese culture, why cant Alibaba—with few winning combat in the almost exhaustive domestic battle field, Alipay finally has made a wonderful landing battle with Koi Fish in the overseas market. According to South China Morning Post, Chinese tourists would spend over US$255 billion (S$347 billion as at time of writing) by 2025”,1 and the two behemoths has already been wrangling in the overseas market—WeChat Pay is available in about 15 countries and regions for payment in 12 currencies. Alipay, which enjoys first-mover advantage in mobile payments, is accepted in more than 100,000 offline stores in 26 countries across Europe, North America, East Asia, and Southeast Asia.2 This time, the Alipay Koi Fish who is swimming overseas has won more attention from the public.

Companies are not governments, though both are power holders yet the former can expand their power abroad much with less restriction. Alibaba, along with Tencent and other tech giants like Amazon has been investing and extending to the overseas market for years. The US, Japan, and China have all have initiated projects involving economic cooperations abroad— the Marshall Plan, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, the Flying Geese Paradigm, and the recent Belt and Road Initiative. Power is never static in its nature, one’s power is shown only when it overpowers another entity; therefore, expansion is part of the essence of power. When a Chinese Koi goes overseas, could it acclimate?


1“Alipay vs WeChat Pay – A Scramble for Overseas Markets.” One-stop QRcode Payment Solution Provider. November 08, 2017.

2“Tencent Extends WeChat Pay to the US with Focus on Chinese Tourists.” South China Morning Post. August 19, 2017.