(This February 4 story has been corrected to reflect that South Korea saw most spending by Chinese tourists using WeChat Pay, not that South Koreans were most active senders of WeChat "red packets")
BEIJING Users of WeChat sent around 46 billion electronic red packets - digital versions of traditional envelopes stuffed with cash - via the Chinese mobile social platform over the Lunar New Year period, the official Xinhua new agency reported on Saturday.
China has a long tradition of giving red packets during the Lunar New Year, which fell on Jan. 28 this year.
Internet giants such as Alibaba Group Holding have promoted the use of virtual red packets, also known as "hongbaos", to grow business in the country's booming mobile payment market.
The number of digital red packets sent via WeChat, owned by Alibaba rival Tencent Holdings Ltd, rose 43 percent in the Jan. 27 and Feb. 1 period compared with a year earlier, according to Xinhua.
People in the provinces of Guangdong, Jiangsu, Shandong and Hebei led the red packets mania, Xinhua said. South Korea saw the most spending using WeChat Pay by Chinese travelers outside of mainland China, a Tencent spokesman told Reuters by email.
Since its launch in 2011, WeChat has become China's most popular mobile social media platform. Besides sending text, audio and video message for free, users can also use the WeChat digital wallet to pay utility bills, make donations and buy plane tickets.
(Reporting by Ryan Woo; Editing by Sam Holmes)