The third 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
Shuyang, a county in east China's Jiangsu Province, is one of the major flower and tree production areas in the country. It boasts over 34,000 hectares of land under cultivation and more than 40,000 online stores. In the village of Zhouquan, the tradition of growing trees and flowers goes back to more than five centuries.
But in the past, the county struggled to make ends meet. "Shuyang had a large population but limited arable land and lived under the national poverty line. Many people couldn't even get enough to eat," a local taxi driver said, describing the changes. "So though now people are well off, some still have the habit of eating only two meals a day."
Prosperity came with thinking small—cultivating bonsais and selling them online. A growing number of bonsai producers are now making full use of innovative online advertising to sell their plants. Jiang Aihua is one of them. She quit her low-paid job in 2007 and took the plunge, starting a bonsai business with her husband Zhou Hangbo.
Jiang was one of the pioneers who entered the unknown e-commerce field in early 21st century when the trend had just started. In 2007, she opened several online stores on some e-commerce platforms. Ten years later, when online live streaming emerged in China, she seized the opportunity to promote her products by live streaming. She was the first bonsai seller in the town to sell her bonsais in this novel way.
Her act is different from the live streaming commonly seen, such as singing, dancing or playing online games. Jiang caught the audience's eye by taking them to her bonsai garden, virtually. In the morning, her live streams give them a tour of the garden, showing them the plants and interacting with them. In the afternoon, she focuses on instructing her viewers how to trim and nurture the bonsais. People who like what they see can place an order directly online.
Jiang, with her persuasive and comprehensive introduction to her garden, managed to sell bonsais worth 3 million yuan ($435,000) in the first half of this year. She says the biggest advantage of live streaming is that it increases the interaction between seller and buyer and brings them closer. Also, customers can have a better understanding of the product.
"Compared with posting photos of the products online, live streaming is a more effective way of selling," she said.
The economic growth and improvement in people's lives brought about by the reform and opening up have created a huge demand for Zhouquan's bonsais. With the rise of e-commerce, villagers can sell their products from home instead of having to cart them to big cities, as they did before.
As a frontrunner of e-commerce in her village, Jiang shares her experience with fellow plant growers to help them achieve prosperity. Every night, she herds them together to discuss their live-streaming experiences and techniques. "After becoming a live streamer and online store owner, I'm no longer confused," Jiang said. "I also have a sense of fulfillment."
Also, she believes that e-commerce is a great choice for housewives. E-commerce can help them increase the family income and reduce the economic pressure and at the same time, spend more time with family members, especially the young and the elderly.
Copyedited by Sarkar Sudeshna
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