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Tibetan village embraces mobile-messaging app

By Xinhua | China Daily | Updated: 2015-01-02 11:20

Not long ago, horseback delivery was the only viable messaging service in the vast barrens surrounding the village of Changjiangyuan on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.

With houses spread far apart and a lack of telecommunications infrastructure, village Party secretary Cering Zhado said cellphone signals were difficult to come by and landlines were uncommon.

"We lived far away from each other and the cellphone signal wasn't stable," the 42-year-old said.

"Sometimes we had to ride on horseback to deliver a message, just like in ancient tradition."

Even handwritten messages sometimes failed, as several of the elders in the herding village were unable to understand written Chinese. In these cases, Cering said they resorted to loudspeakers to communicate.

"But we couldn't get an immediate response. We did not communicate very often back then," he said.

While messaging apps such as Tencent's WeChat have become commonplace in cities throughout China, the tiny plateau village of less than 1,000 residents was isolated for years from the technological leaps of the modern era.

To improve the situation, Qinghai Province has spent 9.04 billion yuan (about $1.45 billion) since late 2013 on broadband Internet and telecommunications infrastructure.

As of November, all 366 villages and towns in Qinghai Province had access to broadband Internet, allowing services like WeChat to be used by about 235,000 herdsmen for low prices.

In April, Cering Zhado installed WeChat on his smartphone and created two groups: one for all villagers and another for Party members in the village. More than 100 members have already joined his villagers' group.

"Now whenever there's an activity, I send a voice message to notify everyone in my group chat, and I get responses immediately, " he said.

Since then, communication has never been easier, he says.

"For example, anything lost can be found more easily, whether it's a key, a cellphone or even a person," Cering Zhado said.

A 17-year-old resident was reported lost in May. Her parents found her the next day in a city 440 kilometers from the village.

"Zhazha Lamo's parents reported the girl missing in the group chat first, and people started to seek help from their WeChat networks. A villager who worked in the city later provided the tip," he said.

One of the village's youngest residents, 15-year-old Yangar Zhoema, said that in the past year all of her family members have signed up for a WeChat account, except for her grandmother.

"The elders can't speak Mandarin well, and some people don't know how to type. Now they can send voice messages through the application. It's convenient," Yangar Zhoema said.

Kangar Namje, deputy Party secretary of Changjiangyuan village, said he uses a 50MB data access plan for 10 yuan per month. "The plan is a lot cheaper than making phone calls. I spend an average of 50 to 60 yuan per month on my cellphone," he said.

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