Vigorous consumption growth in China’s countryside outpacing urban areas

(People's Daily Online) 10:56, October 09, 2021

In the first eight months of the year, retail sales in China’s rural areas reached 3.68 trillion yuan, an increase of 17.2 percent, indicating the rising purchasing power of China’s rural residents.

A villager shops at a mart in Wangzhuanggou village of Wuxiang county, north China's Shanxi province, Feb. 17, 2019. (Xinhua/Zhan Yan)

Tang Xiaoqiang, a 53-year-old farmer from northwest China’s Shaanxi province, witnessed his spending power become stronger over the course of 20 years. During the seven-day National Day holiday this year, the man bought a SUV that suits his needs better than the minivan that he has been driving over the past 10 years. “Twenty years ago, I spent 400 yuan on a black and white TV, which was a large sum of money for me. But nowadays, as I live a better-off life, I’ve purchased various kinds of electric appliances for my family,” said Tang.

Tang’s story is a typical instance of consumption upgrading in China’s rural areas, which is characterized by consumers’ rising demand for healthy, high-quality, comfortable and convenient products and services.

Last year, retail sales in rural areas stood at 5.3 trillion yuan, compared with 4.19 trillion yuan in 2015. Rural residents’ spending on education, culture and recreation, transportation and communications, and health care and medical services was up by 35.1 percent, 58.3 percent and 67.6 percent, respectively, from 2015.

“Rural residents have thickened their pockets by developing characteristic industries, becoming migrant workers, and starting their own businesses at home. Having more money, they become more confident to purchase,” said Li Guoxiang with the Rural Development Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. In the first half of the year, the per capita disposable income of China’s rural residents surpassed 9,000 yuan, a year-on-year increase of 14.1 percent.

By cultivating watermelons and kiwifruits, Tang can earn more than 200,000 yuan this year. “Not only myself, but my fellow villagers have also adopted a new consumption behavior, caring less about money and more about the quality of the products we buy,” said Tang.

“The subsidy program for purchases of home appliances in rural areas, the subsidy program for new energy vehicles in rural areas, and the availability of express delivery services in rural areas have helped enterprises open up the rural market and have delivered benefits to rural residents,” said Shen Qiong, an economics professor with Zhengzhou University based in central China’s Henan province.

The accessibility of shopping facilities in rural areas has enabled farmers to buy things they need without having to go very far from their homes. Zhoujiayu village is located in the Enshi Tujia and Miao Autonomous Prefecture in central China’s Hubei province. In the past, farmers had to travel 20 kilometers to get to the township for shopping, with the long distance becoming a major factor that made their lives very inconvenient. After four stores were established in the village, each offering more than 1,000 kinds of commodities, the residents found that they could shop in their own village. The annual turnover of one store is estimated at more than 2 million yuan.

Enshi has been constantly improving the rural commercial system so that farmers’ shopping enthusiasm is fully unleashed. It has built shopping facilities in county seats and townships, thickening the network of rural vegetable markets, convenience stores, and distribution stations for farming tools and materials, making sure farmers can buy what they need at places they can access within a half hour distance. According to Zhang Yuanxu, head of Enshi’s commerce bureau, the prefecture has set up 1,281 service centers, covering 89.63 percent of the villages.

In addition to promoting agricultural products, e-commerce has brought industrial products closer to rural residents. Zhao Huarui is a sweet potato grower based in east China’s Shandong province. During a live-streaming session he held earlier this month, the man received as many as 4,000 orders, which added up to 10,000 kg of sweet potatoes. “Involving no intermediaries, e-commerce enables us to earn 25 percent more than we would by selling our products at markets,” said Zhao.

Since 2014, China has built more than 2,000 county-level e-commerce service centers and logistics facilities. In the first half of the year, online retail sales for agricultural products surpassed 208 billion yuan. During the period from January to July this year, the number of parcels delivered from and received by rural residents exceeded 20 billion.

(Web editor: Hongyu, Liang Jun)