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Whenever Liu opened Alipay on his phone, he saw a neat grid of icons that vaguely resembled the home screen on his Samsung.

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What it did have by the end of 2011 were 356 million smartphone users.

If he wanted to, he could access Airbnb, Uber, or Uber’s Chinese rival Didi, entirely from inside Alipay.

It was as if Amazon had swallowed e Bay, Apple News, Groupon, American Express, Citibank, and You Tube—and could siphon up data from all of them.

Cash, Liu could see, had been largely replaced by two smartphone apps: Alipay and We Chat Pay.

One day, at a vegetable market, he watched a woman his mother’s age pull out her phone to pay for her groceries. To get an Alipay ID, Liu had to enter his cell phone number and scan his national ID card. Alipay had built a reputation for reliability, and compared to going to a bank managed with slothlike indifference and zero attention to customer service, signing up for Alipay was almost fun. Alipay’s slogan summed up the experience: “Trust makes it simple.”Alipay turned out to be so convenient that Liu began using it multiple times a day, starting first thing in the morning, when he ordered breakfast through a food delivery app.

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