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Social network paints new picture of China's villages

Xinhua | Updated: 2016-11-16 16:26

BEIJING - Liu Hui's parents used to chastise him for spending all day online chatting, they soon changed their minds, however, when he found a way to make money from it.

Two years ago, Liu, 21, who is from a tiny, rural village in Hebei Province, came across the website cuncunle.com. Cuncunle translates to "happiness in every village."

The website appeared to be a social network, with forums and classifieds. Unusually, this website was not full of urbanites posting about their cosmopolitan lives, it was for people, like Liu, who lived in the countryside.

Liu was drawn to the classifieds section, which featured casual work offers, many of which were for people who could paint. Liu had worked as a painter and decorator for two years, so he applied at once. He earned 2,000 yuan (293 U.S. dollars) in six days.

Purportedly China's biggest website for rural communities, 640,000 villages now have a homepage on Cuncunle, where they share photographs, find new friends, write blog posts and post classifieds.

"I envisioned Cuncunle as a rural version of Alibaba," Hu Wei, who founded the website in 2010, said.

Hu, 41, is from Shizhuang Village in the central province of Henan. When he was growing up he would tune in to any radio show about computer science, and when the time came around for him to apply to college, he was in no doubt that he wanted to study the subject.

"When I received my admission letter from college, everyone from the village came to congratulate me and handed me money stuffed in red envelopes to help me with my tuition fees," he said. "Those who did not have enough money brought dumplings. In return, I wanted to do something for them."

As villagers began using the website it began to grow organically.

"It became more than just a social tool, users began to use it as a support network, a place to tips on how best to feed swine, or how to grow fruit."

One man, a veteran soldier from Taiwan, even found his long-lost brother through Cuncunle.

In the website's early days, the electrical appliance manufacturer TCL approached Hu about using the site to run a survey on rural residents use and opinions of television sets.

"No company would have attempted to do a survey like this before, they were put off by having to physically travel from village to village," he said.

The survey showed TCL where its potential rural customers lived, so it asked if it could advertise for a sign writer on cuncunle.com.

"In China's rural areas, people often paint advertisements on walls, usually those opposite shops, these shops are often many people's only line to the outside world," Hu said.

Hu posted the job opportunity on his website, the first of many to follow. Nowadays, Cuncunle has an app that makes posting classifieds much easier.

Some village officials even began posting opportunities on the website, asking for people who could paint publicity slogans. The characters they painted reflected the changes occurring in China's rural areas.

"In the past they painted things like; 'have less children and plant more trees,' while now their slogans are mostly about using the Internet and traffic safety," he said.

Hu told Xinhua that after four years of the website being live, it had helped decorate walls with adverts and slogans equal to 20 times the size of Tian'anmen Square.

In 2011, 76 percent of wall ads were for agricultural products, three percent were automobile related and e-commerce ads were unheard of. By 2015, however, agricultural ads' share had dropped to eight percent, automobile adverts had risen to 23 percent, and e-commerce now held the lion's share of 42 percent.

"Now that many rural residents have smart phones, the Internet is becoming more important in their day-to-day lives," Hu said.

According to a report by China Internet Network Information Center this August, China had 710 million Internet users as of June, among whom 191 million, or 27 percent, were from rural areas.

The government has said it will connect at least 50,000 villages to the country's broadband network by 2020. If successful, by 2020 about 98 percent of China's rural areas will be online.

Cuncunle has come a long way since 2010, it now has 12 million registered users and it employs 200 people.

Hu Wei said that not even in his wildest dreams did he expect his small idea would have been such a success. He likes visiting the villages, he said, and has already been to 300 across 100 counties.

"I hope that one day I can say that I have visited all the villages that have pages on our website," he said.

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