E-commerce injects vitality into rural development in China
Yiwu in eastern China's Zhejiang Province has not only won world fame as an international distribution hub for small commodities, but has also brought business opportunities to local farmers through development of e-commerce.
Yiwu's Qingyan Village, which is praised as China's No. 1 "e-commerce village", is home to over 1,000 permanent residents and nearly 2,000 online shops. It recorded more than 800 million yuan (121.2 million U.S. dollars) in online sales in 2009.
The online shops, which are engaged in selling such daily-used merchandise as scarves, toys and lamps, have also attracted some 20 express delivery companies and more than 7,000 workers and business people from other parts of the country.
"Starting up a business on the Internet has helped change livelihoods and lifestyles of local farmers. They have gotten used to computer keyboard and mouse," Liu Wengao, deputy head of the e-commerce association of Jiangdong community in Yiwu, told Xinhua.
In order to ensure that small online businesses can find sources for commodities inside the village, a special supermarket tailored to the online shops was established at Qingyan***. Online business people are able to shop for thousands of real items at the market, instead of going outside the village. They may log in descriptions and pictures of the commodities they are going to sell onto the Internet and go to the supermarket to pick up the products after having received clients' orders.
Business people from other areas of Zhejiang, and even from Chongqing Municipality in southwest China, Anhui in the eastern part of the country and Liaoning in the northeast, have flocked to Qingyan***. Any of them may rent a house in the village and start an online business with a computer. All parts of the business process, from online shop registration to goods purchases and delivery, can be done inside the village.
Two years ago, Zhang Haiyang from Anhui moved to Qingyan*** to run an online shop selling daily necessities. He told Xinhua that the village boasted the nation's lowest cost for express services and professional homepage designers for online startups.
Qingyan*** is a showcase of e-commerce development in China's rural areas. Official statistics show that in 2009 rural Internet users numbered more than 100 million throughout the country, an increase of 26.25 percent year on year. Between 2007 and 2009, the annual growth rate for rural Internet users averaged 71.6 percent, much higher than the 34.6 percent rate for urban Internet users.
Apart from population growth, rural online shop operators have expanded their business scope from farm produce to industrial products, which they committed local workshops to process.
In the northern county of Qinghe, China's largest cashmere spinning base, local villagers began to launch online shops to sell cashmere yarn beginning at the end of 2007. At Donggaozhuang village of Qinghe, there are 400 households running 400 registered online brands, with over 20 online shops each reporting at least 1 million yuan in annual sales income.
In Suining, an impoverished county of Xuzhou City, eastern China's Jiangsu Province, several young villagers from Shaji town succeeded in selling simple furniture in online shops in 2006. More local residents have since followed suit and expanded businesses to include sale of computers and small hardware pieces, as well as repairing PCs.
There are now 600 online business people running approximately 1,000 online shops in Shaji town. Among them are college graduates and owners of groceries and small supermarkets. Their suppliers include over 180 furniture producers, ranging from traditional household workshops to modern factories.
In 2010, online shops in Shaji recorded 300 million yuan in sales income.
Wang Weike, Party chief at Dongfeng village of Shaji, told Xinhua that between 1,000 and 2,000 out of the 4,000 local residents used to migrate elsewhere to find jobs. However, 90 percent of the migrants have returned home to run online shops. They employ people from nearby county seats and even from the provincial capital of Nanjing. "We farmers have begun to make city dwellers work for us," Wang commented.
According to Wang Xiangdong, head of the information technology research center under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, farmers used to be vulnerable to markets, as information was controlled by big companies. Now farmers have received direct access to information through e-commerce based on the Internet.
Other experts suggest that local governments should take measures to encourage sustainable development of e-commerce in rural areas and build more infrastructure to support the businesses.
Further, it is necessary to provide training courses on e-commerce for farmers, and efforts should be made to improve farmers' awareness of intellectual property rights in the e-commerce environment.