'Taobao village' rides on Yiwu's success

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 September, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 September, 2010, 12:00am

Five years ago, Qingyanliu was an unknown village of about 1,000 farmers in a suburb of Yiwu, Zhejiang . Today it has become an important business area of the city with a population of 8,000 and more than 1,800 thriving online businesses.

Five-storey farmers' houses with similar designs stand as if in a queue along Qingyan Street, the main street of the village, where large trucks pass through once in a while.

Bruce Huang is one of the online 'shopkeepers' in this neighbourhood. Like many other businesspeople, he rents an apartment and a cellar to operate a shop at, China's biggest consumer-to-consumer e-commerce site.

The apartment is used as an office, where two young employees help him with the business every day, and the cellar is used for stockpiling goods, which he buys from Yiwu's international commodity market.

Huang said homeowners in the neighbourhood, now dubbed the taobao village since it was rebuilt by the government in 2005 and attracted many online businessmen with its cheap rent, lived a much better life than many in huge cities.

'Now that they don't have farmland to work on, many followed the trend and started their own shops and some lazier ones can simply live on the rental income,' he said.

'Since 1999, Yiwu, then a small town, has been rebuilding surrounding villages to expand its urban area.'

The project is now in full swing as the city has become a commodity-trading hub in eastern China. Qingyanliu is one of the dozens of villages that have been made part of the city.

The fastest urbanisation in the world has been taking place on the mainland. According to a report on urban development by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, 620 million people, or 46.6 per cent of the total population, now live in urban areas.

Only 36.2 per cent lived in cities in 2000, meaning the urban population has grown by an average of one percentage point a year.

The academy expects urbanisation to reach 52 per cent by 2015.

However, academics said improving the quality of urbanisation should be a priority in the next five years.

Yuan Chongfa, a researcher at the National Development and Reform Commission's urban research centre, also noted that 'disputes over land ownership due to two different systems of ownership in rural and urban China have been a major problem during this process'.