Skip to Content

China’s e-commerce explosion is creating massive cultural change in its rural areas

July 16, 2018

Online shopping in China is reshaping economic opportunity outside of larger cities and creating unprecedented access to new products.

The great leap forward: China’s lack of big-box stores has allowed the country to leapfrog the age of brick-and-mortar retail and head straight to online ordering. In the United States, “e-commerce is a dessert,” says Jack Ma, cofounder of Alibaba. “In China, it’s become the main course.”

Reaching all of China: The Chinese government and e-commerce giants like are investing heavily in creating infrastructure to deliver to rural areas of the country. By drawing on locals to oversee deliveries and serve as brand ambassadors, companies can encourage potential customers to embrace the new technologies.

The air delivery network: Drones have been key in helping get its products to rural customers. According to the New Yorker, small cities like Zhangwei now get about four drone deliveries a day. Demand for drone piloting classes is soaring, too, as people look to capitalize on the trend.

By the numbers: China might have the largest e-commerce market in the world—twice the size of the US—but hundreds of millions of people in rural areas aren’t yet shopping online. As giants like reach into far-flung areas, that’s changing fast: China’s e-commerce market is predicted to double in the next two years.

Deep Dive


stock art of market data
stock art of market data

Maximize business value with data-driven strategies

Every organization is now collecting data, but few are truly data driven. Here are five ways data can transform your business.

Modern security demands an empathy-first approach to insiders

While attention is often focused on threats from outside the organization, employees too can pose a risk to security—even inadvertently.

image of library due date card on fire over black background
image of library due date card on fire over black background

The book ban movement has a chilling new tactic: harassing teachers on social media

Educators who stand up to conservative activists are being harassed and called “groomers” online, turning them into potential targets for real-world violence.

two images made by DALL-E 2
two images made by DALL-E 2

OpenAI is ready to sell DALL-E to its first million customers

But the company has had to rush out fixes to the image-making model’s worst flaws to do so.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.