The Internet in Rural China

(Beijing Times via ChineseNewsNet)  Investigation of new rural construction outside Beijing: How the Internet changed rural life.  By Dong Shibiao (董世彪).  October 3, 2006.

(in translation)

(Editor: The new socialist rural construction is an important mission in the modernization process of China.  New rural construction has been occurring rapidly in Beijing.  What happened to the lives of the peasants as a result of the new rural construction?  What experiences were derived from the construction?  What are the remaining puzzles?  Recently, our reporters went to various rural areas outside Beijing and investigated the situation of new rural construction.  Beginning today, we will publish a series of reports on Beijing new rural construction.  The first issue today is about the digitalization of the new rural village -- Shunyi district, Beiwu town, Yudi village.)

In constructing the new villages, apart from developing production, another important element is to improve the living conditions and to raise the quality of life of the peasants.  This includes beautifying the living environment, providing a full set of infrastructure, and solving the information deficiency in rural areas (such as through digitalization).  In the whole Shunyi district, Beiwu town, Yudi village was the among the first to receive the "Four Nets In One": cable television, cable radio, electronic government and distance learning in the form of a rural information network.

"When I first saw the computer, I was worried because I was scared that I might wreck the machine by pressing the wrong button."  So said the villager Liang Guoyu from the Yudi village, Beiwu town, Shunyi district.  But it was the same computer-scared Liang Guoyu who is not only accustomed to "leisure" work on the office network, but she is also finding business tips on the Internet to generate wealth and help her neighbors to start their own folk businesses.

Like Liang Guoyu, many more peasants have begun to come into contact with the Internet.  Even as the Internet is becoming commonplace in the cities, it has also become part of new rural life.  At 9am on September 26, Liang Guoyu showed up at the office on time for work.  She turned on the computer first.  While the computer was botting up, she poured a cup of tea for herself.  She  next entered the special family planning section of the e-government website and updated the family planning information of the women in the village.  Then she clicked the mouse and submitted the report to the town family planning office.

Liang Guoyu is the director of the women's association in Yudi village, Beiwu town, Shunyi district.  At 34 years old with big eyes, she looks like an urban white-collar worker as she sits in front of the computer.  She is used to the Internet work style.  In Yudi village, there are 110 women under the age of 50.  In Liang Guoyi's database, there are detailed entries on each person's health status, family status and so on.  Every few days, some information is changed.  For example, Little Yu got married, Little Liu is pregnant, Little Li gave birth to a baby, and so on.

Therefore, the timely update of the personal files is an important part of Liang Guoyu's work.  But this seemingly trivial task used to require vast amounts of Liang Guoyu's time and energy prior to the Internet era.  "Previously, the paper files of the 110 women were placed in manila folders and I organized them on the office desk.  Each time that I had to update something, I had to search through the files for the right person.  It was quite troublesome.  When I had to provide updates to the town government, I worked into the night to locate and verify things.  Then I had to get up early the next morning to travel more than 10 kilometers to bring the forms to the town government."

Earlier this year, Beiwu town, Shunyi district was the first to receive the rural information network of "Four Networks in One": cable television, cable radio, electronic government and distance learning.  In March, the various district and town family planning workers in various villages began to receive training on Internet skills and knowledge.  The training allowed Liang Guoyu to increase her knowledge and it also changed her life.

"I was born in this village.  First, I farmed.  Then I ran some small businesses.  I had not seen a computer in my entire life of thirty plus years," said Liang Guoyu.  "At the training class, the first thing was to learn to turn on the computer.  At the time, I was worried that if I pressed the wrong button, I could wreck this high-technology stuff.  Later, I found out that turning on/off a computer is just as simple as turning on/off a television set."  From the training class, Liang Guoyu learned basic functions such as how to use the word processor to write documents, prepare forms, browse the web and search websites.

At the time, Liang Guoyu was dubious about the functions of the Internet.  "Frankly, I could not imagine that a network could contain so much stuff."  After the training class, the district and town issued orders to have the family planning reports be done completely on the Internet.  "The first time that I got on the Internet, I was very worried that the report did not get through.  I sent it five or six times, and I saved it many times."

The idea that one can click the mouse on this side and then the document would be received on the other side was still incredible to Liang Guoyu even after the training class.  After she sent the document, she was still worried.  So she nervously called the town family planning office.  They told her that they have definitely received the report.  This type of quick and easy method was fresh and interesting to Liang Guoyu.

Through this state of nervousness, Liang Guoyu has eventually gotten used to this "leisure" style of working  The "quite troublesome" reports now become something that takes less than 20 minutes.  Liang Guoyu has more time and energy, and she became the village computer room's administrator.  As network administrator, Liang Guoyu has more time and chance for Internet information.  That information made her recognize the true capabilities of the Internet.

Liang Guoyu is acknowledged publicly as the master in the village.  She can try just about anything and she will do well.  Some years ago, she started a hair salon and she did the hair for her neighbors when she was not busy.  One day, she found a website that showed Japanese and Korean hairstyles.  She quickly learned the key points about how to design these hairstyles and she practiced it on her neighbors with good results!

But a small village cannot keep this "big news" under wraps.  Very soon, people in neighboring villages heard about this and many people travelled to Liang Guoyu's village to get their hair done, especially when there are festive occasions.  When the performance troupes in the surrounding villages needed to go to the town or district to perform, they would ask her over to do their hair.  Thus, a formerly unknown small hair salon became a red-hot big salon.

Liang Guoyu was a believer: "The Internet is awesome!"  Even as the business at the hair salon boomed, she did not ignore her duties as network administrator.  She felt that it was not enough for her to do well alone, but it was also necessary to help her neighbors to do well through the Internet.  This year, Beiwu town was going to begin folk tours based upon the theme of vegetable harvests.  The town government has a general requirement for the hardware requirements of the folk families, but they left it up to the individual families to come up with their own unique features.

One day, Liang Guoyu was visiting neighbor Yu Xiuling.  Liang saw that Yu appeared worried, so she asked what the problem was.  Yu Xiuling said that she bought a new bed and closet for the folk family theme and she had cleaned everything up, but somehow it did not look right.  Since she had never seen what folk homes look like, she could not come up with any ideas.  Liang Guoyu was delighted and said: "Isn't that simple!?  What don't you come down to the computer room tomorrow and I'll show you."

Yu Xiuling grew up with Liang Guoyu in the farm fields and she was very dubious about Liang's computer.  But the next day, she went to the computer room anyway to give it a shot.  Liang Guoyu turned on a computer for Yu Xiuling and helped her to use the mouse.  At first, Yu Xiuling could not steer the small and sensitive mouse and she was getting impatient.  She accused Liang of not teaching her useful things and instead gave her a child's toy to distract her -- this was a waste of time and effort.

Liang Guoyu was not concerned, but helped Yu to open the search page and type in "folk tour."  Then tens of thousands of pages on folk tours appeared, with information from all over the country.  There were advertisements for the folk tours, room setups, restaurant setups, special menus, together with tourist experience and feedback.

Yu Xiuling was now in love with this "child's toy."  She held the mouse in her hand and stayed in the computer room for the whole day.  Engrossed in the wonderful world of the Internet, she occasionally emitted loud sounds of exclamation.  Over the next two or three days, Yu Xiuling put aside everything else and stayed in the computer room.  After a few days, she used the information that she found on the Internet and re-decorated her own home.  She build a new 40-square-meter house that was separated into a kitchen and a restaurant.  All this was based upon the setup for a certain flat-valley rural home that she saw on the Internet.

Based upon the Internet experience, the new house did not use roof tiles as is normal.  Rather, the roof was flat.  She said that she may be able to build a second level if business is good.  She also wants to promote her place on the Internet.  Yu Xiuling was very grateful to Liang Guoyu for taking her into the Internet world.  She said, "Before this, I seemed not to know anything.  Once I learned how to get on the Internet, I can see the outside world."

Actually, the bigger worry for Yu Xiuling is whether the folk tour will succeed.  This is her most frequent question to Liang Guoyu.  Each time, Liang Guoyu answers firmly: "Yes.  Definitely yes."  Liang Guoyu does not answer without a basis.  She is presently following the town government's instruction to collect information of the folk tour environment and characteristics in the village.  When all the information for the folk tour in the town have been collected, they will have unveil the Beiwu folk tour website and then the town will advertise and promote on behalf of the villages to attract the tourists.

From Yu Xiuling, Liang Guoyu can see the importance of knowledge in developing the new rural villages.  Basically, the linkage of the village library with the district library has solved this concern of her.  There is a small conference room on the second floor of the village committee office, and this is a simple and crude library with about 500 books, mostly world classics, bestsellers, agricultural and scientific references, etc.  It was hard for Liang Guoyu to read more about computers.

Fortunately, with the Internet, the village library is now part of the Shunyi district library network.  If a villager has any special reading requirement, he/she can request a book through the Internet from the district library, which makes regular shipments of books down to the villages.  Thus, Liang Guoyu does not have to worry about her computer books, and other villagers can read the books that they want.

From now on, dropping by the library and using the Internet to borrow books have become an integral part of the lives of Liang Guoyu and other villagers.  "The Internet has changed living in the rural area.  In the near future, there may be more changes that are hard to imagine right now," said Liang Guoyu with self-confidence.