Tencent won the race to become China’s first $500 billion technology giant

It was a close call, but Tencent won the race to become China’s first $500 billion technology giant — a milestone for the nation and for the tech sector at large. The Hong Kong-listed social media group may still be less known outside China but alongside rival Alibaba, which is snapping at its heels with a $474 billion market capitalisation, Tencent dominates its home turf. Alibaba, founded 19 years ago by former English teacher Jack Ma, started in ecommerce but now spans video, payments and bricks-and-mortar retail. Tencent, founded by Pony Ma a year later (and two months after Google), has similarly expanded from its social media beginnings — into literature, news, financial services, and shopping. More than half the near-1 billion users on its wildly popular WeChat platform spend more than 90 minutes a day on the app. The doubling of both companies’ share prices this year partly reflects some crowd-pleasing tricks… But mostly the rise of China’s tech giants has been about smart ideas — Tencent’s move to make a virtual version of the hongbao red gift packets traditionally given out at Chinese new year; Alibaba’s pioneering blend of online and offline retail — and mass market domination. In the latter, they have been helped hugely by the government’s block on most international competitors: FacebookTwitter, YouTube and Google search are all banned in China. There is little alternative to WeChat.
Louise Lucas