Today, as China’s tech companies expand their influence beyond the country’s borders, it’s hard to tell where Chinese internet begins and ends. TikTok, owned by Chinese tech juggernaut ByteDance, is used by a third of the American population. Transsion is Africa’s number one phone supplier, and drone maker DJI dominates more than two-thirds of the world’s consumer drone market. E-commerce giant Pinduoduo’s sister app, Temu, landed its first Super Bowl ad; Shein, more valuable than H&M and Zara combined, launched a reality TV show with Khloé Kardashian. 

But besides these household names, a whole roster of lesser-known Chinese tech companies have found success overseas, particularly in markets outside of the Western bubble — from South Africa to the United Arab Emirates. Here are five Chinese apps you’ve never heard of that are succeeding outside of China.


A collage of three phone screens showing the Yalla application.

Yalla, a Chinese-owned social media network based in Dubai, has become wildly popular in the Middle East — the number of its paid users grew by almost 50% to 12.5 million last year. Since its 2020 IPO, Yalla has been hailed as the first tech unicorn from the UAE. CEO Yang Tao, who previously worked for Chinese telecommunications equipment company ZTE in Abu Dhabi, came up with the idea for the app while traveling around the region. He noticed how much time people spent talking on their phone, and decided to create a voice-based social media network based around chatting instead of typing. Yalla functions as a virtual majlis, an Arabic term for “sitting room,” used to describe social gatherings around shared interests. Users gather in online rooms of up to 20, themed around interest groups ranging from music to movies to flirting.

Bigo Live

A collage of three phone screens showing the Bigo Live application.

Bigo Live is a livestreaming platform with 400 million users in 150 countries across Europe, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. Launched in 2016 by Singapore-based Bigo Technology, the platform was acquired in 2019 by Joyy, the Chinese social media company that also owns domestic livestreaming platform YY. Similar to YY’s model, Bigo Live profits from in-app purchases. Users can buy virtual gifts, called “beans,” for their favorite broadcasters, while the platform takes a cut. Recently, it also introduced a feature called Fans Group, which allows streamers to create content “tiers” for monthly subscriptions, and Bigo Marketplace, an e-commerce arm to support small enterprises in Malaysia.


A collage of three phone screens showing the ShareIT application.

ShareIt is a peer-to-peer sharing app that allows users to transfer files, music, and apps without using the internet. With over 2.4 billion downloads globally, the app has become indispensable in regions where users find the cost of data to be prohibitively high, such as Pakistan, South Africa, and Indonesia. First developed as a part of Chinese mobile company Lenovo, ShareIt later spun off into a separate Singapore-based tech company called Smart Media4U. Recently, ShareIt also introduced a gaming center for users to play HTML5 web games. After ShareIt was banned in India in June 2020, along with 58 other apps of Chinese origin, the company has pivoted its focus to Southeast Asia. 


A collage of three phone screens showing the CamScanner application.

Founded in 2011 by a pair of Chinese developers based in Shanghai, CamScanner has since become one of the world’s most popular document-scanning apps, used by 550 million people in 200 countries. Through the app, iOS and Android users are able to “scan” images with their device’s camera, convert them into high-quality PDF files, extract text, and add watermarks and signatures. In 2021, former U.S. President Donald Trump issued an executive order banning eight Chinese apps, including CamScanner. But the order was later revoked, and the app remains a popular option on U.S. app stores. 


A collage of three phone screens showing the Lark application.

While most people have heard of ByteDance’s TikTok, fewer know about Lark — the company’s workplace collaboration platform. First released to the public in 2019, Lark is ByteDance’s answer to Microsoft Teams, Google Workspace, and Slack. Its features include automatic note-taking for video calls, shared calendars, and collaborative documents. After Lark’s sister app in China, Feishu, faced growth bottlenecks in the domestic market, ByteDance set its sights abroad: Lark already operates in the U.S. and Singapore, and during the Covid-19 pandemic, made its service free across Southeast Asia. Its major clients are companies that operate their businesses worldwide, such as smartphone giant Xiaomi and logistics provider Lalamove.