What is Digital Yuan? Examining China’s New Digital Currency

Digital Renminbi

Consult an Expert

Learn about our solutions and receive a proposal and guidance about your business inquiry.

Share this article

Key Takeaways

  • Digital yuan is a digital currency, fixed to the value of the yuan and backed by China’s central bank.
  • Digital yuan is not a crypto currency as it does not rely on a decentralized platform
  • While digital yuan has had some distribution in China, it is not clear whether it will be popular outside China.

The digital yuan, also known as Digital Currency Electronic Payment (DCEP), is a digital version of China’s currency, the Yuan. It is a central bank digital currency (CBDC) that is issued and backed by the People’s Bank of China (PBOC). 

In this article, we break explain how digital yuan works, how it was developed, and how it is likely to evolve from here. 

What Is China’s Digital Yuan?

Digital yuan, also known as digital renminbi or digital RMB is a digital currency that is issued by the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) and is also known as the Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC). It is a digital version of China’s fiat currency, the yuan, and is designed to be used for everyday transactions.

One of the key features of digital yuan is that it is backed by the Chinese government and is considered legal tender. This means that it can be used to pay for goods and services just like physical cash. However, unlike physical cash, Digital Yuan is entirely digital and can be used for online transactions as well.

Like traditional cryptocurrencies, digital yuan is built on a blockchain-based platform and is designed to be highly secure and tamper-proof. The PBOC has also implemented measures to ensure that Digital Yuan transactions are anonymous and do not compromise the privacy of users.

Many see digital yuan is seen as a significant step towards the digitization of the Chinese economy and is expected to play a major role in the country’s future financial landscape.

Video: CNBC on How Digital RMB Works

Historical Development

1. Origins of Digital Currency in China

China has been exploring the possibility of a digital currency since 2014. The People’s Bank of China (PBOC) established a special research team to study the feasibility of digital currency issuance. In 2016, the PBOC officially announced the launch of its digital currency research institute to accelerate the development of a digital currency.

2. Evolution into Digital Yuan

In 2017, the PBOC started testing its digital currency in a closed environment, and in 2020, it launched pilot programs in several cities. The digital yuan, also known as e-CNY, is now being tested in various scenarios, including retail, transportation, and government services.

The digital yuan is designed to be a digital version of China’s physical currency, the renminbi (RMB). It is issued and backed by the PBOC, and its value is pegged to the RMB. The digital yuan is not a cryptocurrency, as it is not decentralized. 

The digital yuan is part of China’s efforts to modernize its financial system and reduce its reliance on the US dollar. The digital yuan has the potential to improve financial inclusion, reduce transaction costs, and enhance the efficiency of the payment system. However, it also raises concerns about privacy, surveillance, and the impact on the global financial system.

Technical Aspects

1. Technical infrastructure

Digital yuan is built on traditional payment architecture (i.e., not blockchain technology) to allows secure and transparent transactions. It is a “permissioned” architecture meaning that only authorized parties can access it. In this sense, it is technically much like other payment platforms and gateways such as Tencent’s wechat pay. 

2. Digital Currency/Electronic Payment (DC/EP) System

Digital Yuan is part of the Digital Currency/Electronic Payment (DC/EP) system, which is designed to provide a secure and efficient way to make digital payments.

The DC/EP system is built on a centralized architecture, which means that the PBOC has complete control over the issuance and circulation of digital currency. The system is designed to be interoperable with existing payment systems, making it easy for people to use Digital Yuan for everyday transactions.

Overall, the digital yuan’s technical aspects make it a secure and efficient digital currency that is designed to handle high transaction volumes and provide fast transaction processing.


1. Pilot Programs

China has been conducting pilot programs of the digital yuan since 2020. These pilot programs have been conducted in various cities such as Shenzhen, Suzhou, and Chengdu. The aim of these pilot programs is to test the digital currency’s functionality, security, and feasibility in real-world scenarios.

During the pilot programs, the digital yuan was distributed to selected individuals through a lottery system. The users could then use the digital currency to make purchases at participating merchants. The pilot programs have been successful so far, with positive feedback from both users and merchants.

2. Integration with Banking Systems

The digital yuan is expected to be integrated with China’s existing banking systems. This integration will allow users to link their digital yuan wallets to their bank accounts and use the digital currency for various transactions.

The integration with banking systems will also allow for easier conversion between the digital yuan and other currencies. This will make it easier for international users to use the digital currency for transactions within China.

To ensure the security of the digital yuan, China’s central bank has implemented various measures such as encryption and multi-factor authentication. These measures are aimed at preventing fraud and ensuring the safety of users’ funds.

Economic Implications

1. Domestic Economic Impact

By digitizing the currency, the government can track every transaction made in the country, which could help reduce tax evasion and money laundering. Additionally, it could help reduce the cost of printing and distributing physical currency, which could save the government money in the long run.

Moreover, the digital yuan could make transactions more efficient and convenient, which could boost consumer spending. This could have a positive impact on the domestic economy, as it could increase demand for goods and services.

2. International Trade Considerations

The digital yuan could also have implications for international trade. If the digital yuan becomes widely adopted, it could challenge the dominance of the US dollar internationally. This could have significant geopolitical implications, as the US dollar has been the dominant global currency for decades.

However, it is important to note that the digital yuan is not yet widely accepted outside of China, and it is unclear if it will ever become a globally accepted currency. Additionally, concerns have been raised about the potential for the Chinese government to use the Digital Yuan to exert greater control over its citizens and the global economy.

Regulatory Framework

1. Chinese Government Policies

The PBOC, as regulator of the digital yuan, has implemented various policies to regulate the use and issuance of the currency. The policies include strict KYC measures, which require users to provide identification information when using the digital yuan.

The PBOC has also set limits on the amount of digital yuan that can be stored in a single wallet, currently set at 10,000 yuan ($1,550). The central bank has stated that the digital yuan is not a speculative asset and should not be used for investment purposes.

2. Global Regulatory Perspective

The global regulatory perspective on digital currencies is varied. Some countries have embraced digital currencies, while others have been more cautious. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has called for a coordinated global approach to digital currencies, citing concerns about financial stability and the potential for money laundering.

In the United States, the regulatory framework for digital currencies is still evolving: The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has classified some digital currencies as securities, while the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) has classified them as commodities. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has also issued guidance on the tax implications of using digital currencies.

In Europe, the European Central Bank (ECB) has been exploring the potential for a digital euro, but has not yet made a decision on whether to issue one. The Bank of England has also been exploring the potential for a digital pound.

Security and Privacy

The digital yuan is designed with robust security features to prevent counterfeiting and protect user data.

2. Counterfeit Prevention

The digital yuan uses a two-tiered system to prevent counterfeiting. The first tier is a digital signature system that verifies the authenticity of each transaction. The second tier is a centralized database that records all transactions and ensures that each digital yuan is unique.

In addition, the digital yuan uses advanced encryption technology to protect against hacking and fraud. This ensures that each transaction is secure and tamper-proof.

2. Data Protection Measures

The digital yuan is designed with user privacy in mind. All transactions are anonymous and cannot be traced back to individual users. In addition, the People’s Bank of China, which oversees the digital yuan, has implemented strict data protection measures to ensure that user data is kept confidential.

Comparison with Other Currencies

1. Digital Yuan vs Cryptocurrencies

Digital yuan is often compared to cryptocurrencies, as both are often referred to as digital currencies. However, there are some significant differences between the two: Firstly, digital yuan is a centralized currency, meaning that it is issued and controlled by the Chinese government. By contrast, cryptocurrencies are decentralized, meaning that they are not controlled by any central authority.

Secondly digital yuan is a stablecoin, which means that its value is pegged to the value of the Chinese Yuan. This makes it less volatile than cryptocurrencies, which can experience significant price fluctuations.

2. Digital Yuan vs Traditional Fiat Currencies

Digital yuan is also different from traditional fiat currencies, such as the US dollar or the Euro. Obviously, the main difference is that digital yuan is digital only whereas traditional fiat currencies are physical currencies. This means that digital yuan can be easily transferred and used for online transactions.

Another difference is that digital yuan is issued and controlled by the Chinese government, whereas traditional fiat currencies are issued and controlled by central banks. This means that the Chinese government has more control over the supply and circulation of Digital Yuan than central banks have over traditional fiat currencies.

Overall, digital yuan has some unique characteristics that set it apart from both cryptocurrencies and traditional fiat currencies. While it is still a relatively new currency, it has the potential to play a significant role in the global economy in the future.

Challenges and Controversies

1. Adoption Barriers

While the digital yuan has been gaining traction in China, there are still some barriers to adoption. One of the major challenges is the lack of familiarity with digital currencies among the general population. Many people in China still prefer to use cash, and may not be comfortable using a digital-only currency.

Another challenge is the need for reliable internet access. In order to use the digital yuan, people need to have access to the internet and a smartphone. While many people in China have smartphones, there are still some areas where internet access is limited.

2. International Skepticism

The digital yuan has also faced skepticism from the international community. Some countries are concerned about the potential for the digital yuan to be used for money laundering or other illegal activities. There are also concerns about the Chinese government’s control over the currency and the potential for surveillance of non Chinese citizens.

In addition, some experts have raised concerns about the impact that a digital yuan could have on the global financial system. If the digital yuan becomes widely adopted, it could challenge the dominance of the US dollar as the world’s reserve currency.

Despite these challenges and controversies, the Chinese government is continuing to push forward with the development and adoption of the digital yuan. It remains to be seen how successful the digital yuan will be in the long term and whether it will be able to overcome these obstacles.

The Future of Digital Yuan

China’s push to establish the digital yuan as a global currency has already gained significant momentum, with several countries expressing interest in adopting the currency for international trade and investment.

If the digital yuan gains wider acceptance, it could potentially challenge the dominance of the US dollar as the world’s reserve currency. This could have significant implications for global financial markets and geopolitical power dynamics.

However, it remains to be seen how quickly and how widely the digital yuan will be adopted outside of China, and whether it will be able to overcome regulatory and technological barriers in other countries.


What is the difference between digital yuan and traditional yuan?

The Digital Yuan, or e-CNY, is a digital-only version of traditional Chinese currency. It is designed to facilitate digital transactions more easily and efficiently. 

Yes, in principle. But in reality, it is unlikely that it will be widely accepted overseas. 

No. It is backed by the Central Bank of China (CBOC) and therefore lacks the decentralized nature of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum.