In Shanghai, China's commercial hub, six big state banks are quietly promoting a digital yuan ahead of a May 5 shopping festival — carrying out a political mandate to provide consumers with a payment alternative to Alipay and WeChat Pay.

The banks are persuading merchant and retail clients to download digital wallets so that transactions during the pilot program can be made directly in digital yuan, known as e-CNY, bypassing the already ubiquitous payment plumbing laid by technology giants Ant Group, an affiliate of Alibaba, and Tencent.

"People will realize that digital yuan payment is so convenient that they don't have to rely on Alipay or WeChat Pay anymore," said a bank official involved in the rollout of e-CNY for the Shanghai trial, under the guidance of China's central bank. The official was not authorized to speak with media and declined to be identified.