China’s on-demand economy booms with tech drive

HAIKOU, Dec. 1 (Xinhua) — Wang Wei’s eight-year-old daughter, who lives in the subtropical Chinese city of Haikou, has never seen snow in her life, but it is her dream to have a snowman of her own.

To fulfill her daughter’s wish, instead of traveling thousands of miles, Wang turned to the internet. He found on Xianyu, an e-commerce platform under Chinese tech giant Alibaba, a seller who could make the wish come true at the price of 30 yuan (about 4.5 U.S. dollars).

The seller, Li Bingxuan, 28, is a graphic designer from Harbin, capital of China’s northernmost province of Heilongjiang. She started her part-time business offering snow-related on-demand services on Xianyu last year.

Li got her first order just several hours after posting service details online.

On-demand businesses like Li’s have become popular in China, with diverse services offered online, ranging from finding a chauffeur for a drunk customer to asking other pet owners to take care of your dog while you are away.

“I never expected anyone would show interest or even make a deal with me, but it happened,” Li said.

Upon Wang’s demand, Li made a snowman wearing a red hat and scarf with a note beside the snowman reading “Papa &Mama love you.” She took pictures and recorded videos of the snowman and sent them to Wang.

“My girl was so happy that night when she saw the pictures and videos. The snowman has brought us so much joy; it was definitely worth it!” Wang said.

For Li, the part-time job working as a “proxy” also brings her handsome profits. Up till now, she has received hundreds of orders, which could earn her up to 400 yuan a day.

“I enjoy this proxy job as it can help generate income with no cost. I have encouraged my friends to try it,” Li said.

Experts attribute the booming on-demand economy to the rapidly improving consumption power of Chinese people as well as mushrooming Chinese internet technologies.

Take China’s on-demand chauffeurs, for example, the job first emerged in 2003 after a revised road safety law imposed stricter penalties for drunk driving. Multiple Chinese tech companies have moved to offer such services in the following years.

As of September 2019, the total number of orders for chauffeur hiring services in China have amounted to over 1 billion, according to a report released last year by the big data center of eDaijia, a Chinese company in the industry.

Internet technologies connect people from different places with various demands in minimal time and enable transactions to be made online, said Xu Yaquan, a professor with the School of Humanities of Nanchang University.

Data released by the China Internet Network Information Center in September showed that, as of June, China has over 940 million internet users, about one-fifth of the global total. The number of online payment users reached 805 million, accounting for 85.7 percent of internet users in China.

“These technologies offer sound support for the development of the on-demand economy,” Xu added.

Li Xiaojia, a professor at the School of Public Administration of the University of International Business and Economics, said the phenomenon reflects new social demands and the precise social division of labor.

“The demands are diverse and services can be customized,” Li said. “You can ask someone to shop for you abroad, take care of your pets or even classify your garbage.”

Such services play a role in improving social efficiency and, for service providers, they can cash in on their spare time while enjoying a more fulfilling life, he added.

Some experts believe that the emerging form of economy breaks the stereotype of the traditional economy and helps create new job opportunities, but it has also led to concerns that it may give rise to illicit acts, like hiring people to cheat on an exam.

“The government should improve relevant regulations to ensure the legitimate rights of consumers and promote the rational development of the new model of the economy,” Li said.

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