The Olympics have always been an opportunity for the host countries to showcase their athletic, economic, political, and, increasingly, technological power. The Beijing Winter Olympics is perhaps the best example of this tech-dominated narrative yet.

So far, the robot baristas, bartenders, and cleaners, as well as the remote-controlled bed with a zero-gravity mode, have generated way more media coverage than the opening ceremony or any actual sporting event.

Cool gadgets aside, the one piece of technology being piloted during this Winter Olympics that has the most far-reaching consequence is China’s Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC), e-CNY. While we have written extensively about many facets of the e-CNY before, one missing dimension is the product itself (see our previous deep-dives on its Technology, Strategic Value and Implications, and the Key Players developing the project).

With the e-CNY’s pilot version now available on both iOS and Android in select cities and districts, we finally have a glimpse into how the product works. And it's more complex than a simple crypto wallet or a traditional bank app.

“Hard” Wallet and a Four-Tier “Soft” Wallet

The e-CNY’s product can be separated into a “hard” version and a “soft” version. The hard version has a physical element to the onboarding experience – ranging from a card with a specific amount similar to a prepaid Visa card, to a smartwatch, ski glove or badge. Most of these “hard” versions are limited to the Olympics “bubbles”, designed to show off this digital currency in the most Olympic-themed way possible.

The “soft” version, aka a software app you can download onto your phone, is more complex and intriguing. It has four different tiers, separated by different levels of registration requirements and transaction limits. Here is the breakdown:


  • Requirements: cell phone number, valid ID, personal bank account
  • Verification process: in-person verification and signature with an authorized operating institution
  • No limit on account or transaction limit


  • Requirements: cell phone number, valid ID, personal bank account
  • Verification process: in-app
  • Account limit: 500,000 RMB (~78,000 USD)
  • Single transaction limit: 50,000 RMB (~7,800 USD)


  • Requirements: cell phone number, valid ID (no bank account needed)
  • Verification: in-app
  • Account limit: 20,000 RMB (~3,000 USD)
  • Single transaction limit: 5000 RMB (~780 USD)

Tier-4 (the “anonymous” tier):

  • Requirements: cell phone number
  • Verification: in-app
  • Account limit: 10,000 RMB (~1500 USD)
  • Single transaction limit: 2,000 RMB (~300 USD)

Users can onboard first with tier-4, then “upgrade” to a tier with higher limits later.

Why the “Anonymous” Tier?

The most curious tier is the “anonymous” tier, where the only registration requirement is a cell phone number. It has the least requirement by far, making it easy for a new user to try the e-CNY, but the single transaction limit is just enough to pay for a dinner for four at a decently nice restaurant in Shanghai. Labeling this tier “anonymous” is also not entirely accurate, because you need to provide a valid ID to get a cell number to begin with.

When Mu Changcun, the director of the Digital Currency Research Institute, was asked about this issue, his response was that user data sharing between telcos like China Mobile and the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) is restricted by data privacy laws, so these “tier-4” accounts are effectively anonymous from the PBOC’s view. That is until there’s a reason to investigate an account for suspected financial crimes. In Mu’s mind, complete anonymity was never part of China’s, or any country’s, consideration when building its own CBDC.

So why have this “quasi-anonymous” tier in the product at all? Two possibilities.

Foreigner adoption: an important long-term strategic purpose of e-CNY is to “internationalize” the RMB. Piloting e-CNY in front of a limited foreign audience at this Winter Olympics is a small, but crucial step towards that goal.

Even during normal times (not Olympics during COVID), almost no foreign visitor to China would bother opening a local bank account just to travel. Getting a cell phone number, however, is quite common and necessary to communicate, move around, and even get wifi at a Beijing Starbucks. Having this Tier-4 version of the e-CNY wallet lowers the barrier to adoption for foreign visitors, so the e-CNY can begin to bootstrap some initial network effects and get product feedback from users beyond China's border.

Root out “pure anonymity”: there are only two ways of using money that is purely anonymous: cryptocurrency on a decentralized platform and stacks of dirty paper cash. China has outlawed the former. The e-CNY appears to seek to eventually remove the latter.

While one of the stated goals of this “quasi-anonymous” tier-4 layer is to enable convenient use of e-CNY similar to having paper cash, a digital currency is much easier to track when implemented without anonymity as a feature. As we discussed in a previous e-CNY analysis, one of the key institutional players is the PBOC’s Currency Gold and Silver Bureau (Security Bureau). This bureau’s main responsibility is minting money and managing money flow. Ever since the rise of AliPay, WeChat Pay, crypto-trading, and a variety of other fintech services, the bureau has been having trouble simply keeping track of the money it has minted.

The ubiquity of mobile digital payment (more than 80%) is the pride and shining jewel of China’s tech industry, but it is also one of its regulators’ biggest headaches. e-CNY’s growing adoption, especially this “quasi-anonymous tier-4”, can finally start the process of corralling the country’s money back to where it was minted – one digital RMB at a time.

The PBOC issues all the digital RMBs that are circulated via the e-CNY, just like how it mints paper money. I can see a day in the next 10 years when the PBOC will stop printing paper money altogether and only mint e-CNY’s. That will be the day when China's economy reaches “pure digitization”. That will also be the day when “pure anonymity” comes to an end.

数字人民币: 产品



撇开这些酷炫的玩意儿不谈,在本届冬奥会期间试行的最具有深远影响的一项技术其实是央行推出的数字人民币 —— e-CNY。虽然《互联》之前已经写了几篇关于e-CNY的许多方面的分析,但唯有一个方面还未得到分析,就是它的产品本身(参见我们之前对技术战略价值和影响以及开发该项目的主要玩家的文章)。


"硬"钱包和一个分四类的 "软" 钱包

e-CNY的产品可以分为 "硬" 版本和 "软" 版本。硬版本的上手体验需有一个硬件成分 —— 比如一个像预付充值卡似的卡式硬钱包,或是滑雪手套、智能手表、徽章等其他硬件。这些 "硬" 版本大多只限于奥运区内,旨在以最有奥运味道的方式展示数字人民币。

“软” 版本,也就是可以下载到手机上的软件app,更复杂,更有分析价值。它分四个不同级别,由不同级别的注册要求和交易限额区分。以下是每一类的区别:


  • 注册要求:手机号、有效身份证、本人银行账户
  • 验证方式:与运营机构现场面签
  • 无交易限制


  • 注册要求:手机号、有效身份证、本人银行账户
  • 验证方式:app内
  • 账户限额:50万元
  • 单笔交易限额:50,000元


  • 注册要求:手机号,有效身份证明(不需要本人银行账户)
  • 验证方式:app内
  • 帐户限额:20,000元
  • 单笔交易限额:5000元


  • 注册要求:手机号
  • 验证方式:app内
  • 帐户限额:10,000元
  • 单笔交易限额:2000元

用户可以先从第四类开始,然后 "升级" 到有更高限额的类别。

为什么做一个 "匿名" 版?

最令人好奇的类别就是"匿名"版,唯一的注册要求就是一个手机号。注册要求最简单,降低试用e-CNY的门槛,但单笔交易限额也最少,只够在上海一家档次还算不错的餐馆请顿饭局。给这第四类标为 "匿名" 也稍微有点牵强,毕竟办手机号也是实名制的。

当央行数字货币研究所所长穆长春被问及这个问题时,他的回答是,电信公司和央行之间的用户数据共享是有法律限制的。因此从央行的角度来看,这些 "第四类" 账户实际上是匿名的。当然,直到有理由对某个账户因金融犯罪嫌疑开始调查之前。穆所长的观点是,“完全匿名”从来不是央行,或任何其他国家的中央银行,在打造各自的数字货币时的考虑。

那为什么还在产品里做出这个 "准匿名" 的第四类呢?有两种可能。

便利外国人试用:e-CNY的一个重要的长期战略目的是使人民币更 "国际化"。在本届冬奥会上,在有限的外国人用户面前试行e-CNY是朝着这一目标迈出的一小步,但也是关键的一步。


根除 "纯匿名":目前只有两种花钱的方式是“纯匿名”的:在非中心化平台上的加密货币和纸币现金。中国已经取缔了前者,e-CNY似乎试图最终消除后者。

虽然这个 "准匿名" 的第四类的既定目标之一是使e-CNY的使用更加方便,好比是在用纸币现金,但一款数字货币的构架里如果没有做匿名这一功能,则更容易跟踪。正如我们在之前的一篇e-CNY的分析中所讨论到的,项目的关键机构参与者之一是央行的货币金银局(保卫局),该局的主要职责是印造货币和管理货币流动。自从支付宝、微信支付、加密货币交易和其他各种金融技术服务兴起以来,该局一直难以跟踪所有它印造出的人民币。

移动支付普及率超过80%,这是中国科技行业的一颗璀璨明珠和骄傲,但它也是中国监管机构最头痛的问题之一。e-CNY的采用率越高,特别是这 “准匿名” 的第四类,就越可以把印的钞票一元一元地归拢回来。

央行发行所有通过e-CNY流通的数字人民币,就像印纸币一样。我可以看到在未来10年内的某一天,央行将完全停止印纸币,只铸造数字人民币。那将是中国经济达到 "纯数字化" 的一天,也将是 "纯匿名" 的结束之日。