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Understanding rejection on WeChat (Weixin)

(See also URL encoder for mobile chat)

Many Chinese people now prefer to manage their contacts using a proprietary mobile messaging and social networking application called WeChat (微信)Wēixìn. If you frequently meet them, you might be tempted to set up your own WeChat ID for their convenience. This can however lead to some quite ephemeral contact sharing (e.g. someone you met on a bus adds you but later deletes you). Since I found very little English documentation about how this manifests itself, I experimentally confirmed the following in 2015:

Other party's actionResult on your side
Delete conversationNo immediate effect. If you send further messages, a new conversation is started on the other device, but it still looks like one continuous conversation on yours.
Clear chat historySimilar to "Delete conversation" above
Delete and Leave (in a group chat)Deletes their copy of the chat history and removes them from the group. The group continues to exist. (To really shut down a group, an administrator can remove each member from it. Even then, each member continues to keep a copy of the group chat history for the time they were a member, until they delete it themselves or reinstall etc.)
Block (加入jiārù 黑名单)hēimíngdānNo immediate effect unless you check their Album (Moments), which behaves as if they'd selected "Delete contact" (below). But if you send further messages, you are told "The message is successfully sent but rejected by the receiver" and the other party is told nothing. They can still send you messages. Note also that if you send a "broadcast message" (群發, located under Me / Settings / General / Features for some reason), you are not told which recipients reject it; you must send individual messages to be told.
Delete contact (删除)shānchúNo immediate effect unless you check their Album (Moments), which will be blank if they've turned off "Public Moments" in the privacy settings (but this could also mean they've seleted "Don't share my moments" with you, or simply haven't ever posted anything for non-Tagged contacts); if they have "Public Moments" turned on then you will see the message "Only 10 posts of this user are visible" (the Chinese version of this message begins "non good-friend" which was lost in translation), and the options to Like or comment on the posts are not displayed (but some versions of WeChat still let you "Like" the album "cover"). Not to be confused with the message "Only 3 days of Moments are viewable" (which happens if they set Settings / Privacy / Set a time limit for Moments viewable by others)---that one applies whether or not you've been deleted, and still lets you comment if not.

If they deleted you and you try to send further messages outside the Album, you are automatically put back through the process of adding yourself to their contacts: if they've turned on "friend confirmation", you'll see "(Person) has requested friend verification. Please send a friend request to chat" with a link to do it; otherwise your message goes through immediately and they are given the message along with the option to add you. Previous conversations are deleted from their side but not from yours. "Broadcast messages" are silently dropped as above.

Incidentally it may be worth knowing that the Chinese version of "Moments" is, not 片刻piànkè as the English word might suggest, but 朋友圈péngyouquān "circle of friends" (sometimes colloquially abbreviated to 票圈piàoquān because 票 has the 'p' and the 'y' sound). But I've seen it used with the measure word tiáo (strip), which suggests at least some users still think of 朋友圈péngyouquān as referring to the list of posts rather than the people to whom they're attributed.

Block and delete contactBehaves exactly like Delete contact alone, since deleted contacts are also removed from the Blocked List
拉黑Lā hēi (拉进lājìn 黑名单)hēimíngdānAs far as I can tell, these are not actual WeChat options but are colloquial terms for the above 'block' or 'delete' operations, probably carried over from other software. However I have not tried every version on all platforms---there might be variation in terminology between WeChat versions.
Report (投诉)tóusùNo immediate effect. I don't know what happens if an administrator approves the report.
Uninstall the WeChat applicationNo effect. They're just offline until they reinstall. I don't know how long it takes for an unused account to expire.
Delete accountContact is greyed out and marked "Account deleted"; selecting it says "account deleted by other user" and presents a Delete button which, if pressed, also deletes the conversations; otherwise any attempt to send more messages is met with "The other user cannot receive message"
Spontaneous "Delete contact" is also possible. This is when WeChat deletes one of your contacts, resulting in the person and all previous chats disappearing without trace, as if you'd deleted it yourself. Since "Delete contact" takes 5 screen taps, it cannot easily be blamed on an overly-sensitive touch-screen, and since I was unable to reproduce it, I can only conclude it's either a race-condition bug or else a user action available only in the China version of the software and/or to an administrator. (Please don't 'gaslight' me: I know that contact existed before it disappeared! On 7th August 2015 a Shanghai Daily reporter used the sentence "The woman vanished from Wang's WeChat contacts afterward", which might imply a "completely disappear from the other party's contacts" function somehow being available in China, unless the word "vanish" was here used metaphorically.)

Cache bloat

The Android version of WeChat can build up multiple gigabytes in a directory with a long name under /sdcard/tencent/MicroMsg. These files are not the chat logs---they're just cache (and I haven't found an option to clear it; Android's built-in cache-clearing option does not affect this). Some subdirectories (e.g. video) contain files present in chats, and removing them may make these files no longer accessible from the chat history, but it seems that at least the avatar, emoji, sfs and sns directories are always safe to delete without losing any history, pictures, files or "favourites".

Image and video limits

If pasting a scanned document into a WeChat conversation as an image, the size limit is 300KiB, after which the image is shown only as a preview and the recipient must take specific action (which might not be obvious to everyone) to download the full image.

The size limit for inline videos is just under 14MiB, and the mobile application should be used to introduce these into the WeChat network (i.e. by 'Share' or 'Send' from another mobile application)---at least some versions of the desktop application send videos as "files" that need extra action to view. Attempts to send videos larger than 14MiB on the mobile application get the error "unable to import", although the "say something" caption (if any) is sent anyway.

By comparison, WhatsApp usually compresses inline images to around 250k (with no option to see full size), Telegram scales down to max 1280 pixels per dimension and sends the result as an 87%-quality JPEG (unless uploaded as a file), and LINE can send large JPGs but the recipient must save (to Pictures/LINE) to access resolutions higher than the zoomed-out screen (this screen's "pinch to zoom" does not add more detail), so you'd have to set a reduced DPI to avoid double-bluring.

Audio recordings

Unlike video, shared MP3 audio recordings need to be added to "WeChat Favourites" before they can reliably be sent to a chat. (No I don't understand this design decision either.) Once in Favourites, the option to "forward" from the "Favourites" screen is unreliable; it seems better to go into the chat itself and press the + button, scroll to the Favourites option, and find the MP3 that way. Ensure it is uploaded before deleting from Favourites. After you delete it from Favourites, you will get the message "This file is no longer available" when you try to open it in the chat, but the other party should still be able to access it for a few days.

Network effect

WeChat's dominance in China was perhaps assisted by the company's good relationship with that country's network police, with its mobile operators (SIM cards with WeChat-specific data allowances are not unheard of), and with integrated shopping and payment services and "portals" to local facilities. Outside China, WeChat tends to lack these advantages, but many mainland Chinese visitors and immigrants keep using it anyway due to their existing network of contacts, and due to the convenience of WeChat's automatic contact-exchange facilities (scanning a QR Code seems to have become the most popular method, although a WeChat update in mid-2017 prevented the generation of QR codes while offline: if you expect patchy signal coverage, you now have to prepare by taking a screenshot of your QR code while connected, and updating this screenshot every 2--3 weeks).

They therefore put up with their data being sent through Chinese servers (which, apart from anything else, can be slow when you're outside China), with the "vanishing contacts" issue, and with WeChat's limited range of font sizes (especially on high-DPI devices) and limited functionality on the desktop. At least its sound compression ratio is reasonable.

Sometimes they'll accept an alternative installed alongside WeChat for use while they're in the UK. My current recommendation is Telegram Messenger, which is run by a non-profit, can be set to larger fonts, has a good range of desktop clients, etc. But not everyone even understands what it means to install a different application. Some of the older generation I met evidently had it installed by the manufacturer, a shop, or a friend or relative, and don't know what I mean by "install something else". Additionally, some older devices (e.g. iOS 4.x) cannot run recent versions of many applications, so it would be necessary to find an old version and somehow 'side-load' it, or risk an OS replacement.

Scams

As with any form of messaging, it's probably best not to accept an `add' if you don't know who it is, especially if you actually visit an Asian country: con artists have reportedly tricked victims into going to a particular location for a "first meeting in person", only to be held to ransom by gangsters on arrival (this crime is easier to commit in small countries like Singapore). In June 2016 my WeChat ID (which I had given only to selected Chinese people I met in Cambridge) suddenly received an `add' request claiming to be from Malaysia and not giving me any clue who it was; to give them the benefit of the doubt I wrote "Apa khabar?" but received no reply and the next day eight other anonymous "Malaysians" had tried to add me. I find this highly suspicious. My ID could have been found via brute-force search, most likely of QQ numbers: I had my old QQ number linked to the account, but disabled "find by QQ ID" after this incident because I believe none of my genuine earlier contacts who had my QQ number are still likely to use it to find me.

Malware

On iOS, a pre-6.2.6 version of WeChat was infected by malware due to its developers having accidentally downloaded "XcodeGhost" instead of Xcode. Additionally, we don't know what Tencent itself does with the information WeChat can read, so it's probably best to avoid storing things like company-confidential documents on the same device, just in case.

Disclaimer: The notes on this page are provided in the hope that they are useful, but they are not official instructions and may contain mistakes. Your use of them is at your own risk.


All material © Silas S. Brown unless otherwise stated.