The first episode of Beijing Review’s Web series: 40 Years of Reform and Opening Up: China's Rural E-Commerce Going Global
By Ma Xiaowen | Web Exclusive
The period from the 1990s to 2018 has been life changing for Ren Qingsheng, a villager from Dinglou Village, Daji Town, Heze City in east China's Shandong Province. Thanks to the development of the Internet and e-commerce, Ren made the transformation from a farmer who could hardly pay his bills to the owner of an online store with annual sales of 8 million yuan ($1.16 million).
Ren’s life is not the only thing that changed. His entire village and its residents have had a grand makeover as well. They are the epitome of rural areas in China that have benefited from 40 years of reform and opening up.
In the past, due to a lack of arable land, most villagers had to find work in cities. In addition, although the villagers had a long history of making stage costumes, they couldn’t make a living from this skill anymore since door-to-door sales proved ineffective in modern society.
After graduating from high school in 1990, Ren got married and chose to work in the city like his fellow villagers. Unfortunately, he could barely make ends meet.
Looking back at that time, Ren still has a bitter taste in his mouth. “In 1992, my wife was about to give birth. I bought a bed curtain for 51 yuan ($7.4 in today’s dollars) to hang over her bed. It took me two years to pay it back,” he told Beijing Review.
At the end of 2009, Ren and his wife Zhou Aihua pooled together 1,400 yuan ($203) and purchased a computer, opening up the very first online store in their village. At the beginning, business was tough; they didn’t get their first order, which earned over 600 yuan ($87), until 2010. Ren began to see a glimmer hope.
Soon after, other villagers followed suit. They formed an e-commerce model of online stores and costume processing, and it developed vigorously. At first, processing households were isolated, but they eventually connected to each other and formed an industrial cluster. It has been the economic highlight and engine of the entire village.
“Every villager, young or old, can find a suitable position in the costume business and earn money, as long as they are willing to contribute,” Ren said.
In 2017, the annual per-capita income of Dinglou villagers reached 80,000 yuan ($11,623).
By October, almost all Dinglou villagers shook off poverty, with the exception of five households who suffer from major disease or disability, but they receive full government subsidies. “Dinglou’s e-commerce is a great trial for rural poverty-alleviation and revitalization for the underdeveloped western and southern parts of Shandong Province,” Li Tao, Secretary of the Communist Party of China's Daiji Town Committee, said.
“By utilizing the Internet and e-commerce, villagers are able to sell local specialties and increase their income. Since the economy developed, rural governance will also see an improvement. It’s a model explored and developed by villagers themselves,” Su Yongzhong, chief economist with the Bureau of Commerce of Heze City, told Beijing Review.
Copyedited by Rebeca Toledo
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