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Beijing Review Exclusive
Zhang Quannian: A Social Media Farmer
A Xinjiang farmer in his 60s uses social media to promote his village
Edited by Cui Mingyuan & Chen Ran | Web Exclusive

Zhang Quannian (TS.CN)

Every morning after he wakes up, Zhang Quannian immediately checks his microblog accounts and WeChat, his messaging app. Two hours before sleeping, Zhang consults social media again. It has become a daily routine for the 60-year-old farmer in Tawenghamuer Village, Bole, in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

Hi-tech life

A native of Wuwei in neighboring Gansu Province, Zhang has worked in the village for 40 years--as an accountant for the first ten years and the village's Party chief since 2004.

Over 224 households from eight ethnic groups live in this village, most of whom are farmers.

Due to its remote location, the village did not have Internet or computer access, meaning that villagers could only sell their products through traditional means, which heavily rely on vehicles for transportation.

Zhang didn't begin using a computer until his 40s, but he learned fast.

During a trip with his wife to Shanghai in 2007, Zhang found that local people never heard of his village. "People knew little about Xinjiang and Bole," he recalls. "If I had the chance, I would introduce Xinjiang to more people."

In 2012, Zhang managed to persuade a telecommunication company to design a new system for the village and distributed free mobile phones to 150 families.

With their new communication devices, families can send free messages to each other and receive weather warnings or urgent messages from Zhang while they are at work in the fields. Zhang also set up a free Internet room so that villagers could learn and improve their computer skills. In 2012, the whole village got Wi-Fi coverage, making it one of few places today that have city-wide Wi-Fi.

In March 2011, Zhang opened a microblog account and posted his first Weibo, the Twitter-like platform in China. His verified accounts now have over 50,000 followers. In 2013, Zhang opened his WeChat account.

"I've learnt a lot of Internet-related knowledge and would like to make good use of it," Zhang said.

As of 2014, in Xinjiang, the per capita net income of rural residents is 8,296 yuan ($1,316), lower than the national average of 9,892 yuan ($1,570), according to the National Bureau of Statistics of China. Zhang managed to increase villagers' incomes by promoting their products online. He posted a picture of a farmer holding a Chinese cabbage last November. His followers read his blog and called the farmer for purchases. The cabbages sold out just in a week, faster than ever.

From then on, whenever there was a harvest in the village, Zhang would come and promote local produce on social media. More and more people got to know his village, and local farmers can now rest wealthier because of their new Internet sales outlet.

Villagers can promote their products via social media, attracting businessmen from far and wide. "They learned how to use social media and now they can promote products by themselves," Zhang noted.

Besides e-commerce, Zhang also captured snapshots of everyday life, such as villagers jumping rope together, helping each other harvest and sharing homemade special dishes during festivals.

"Younger generations working outside the village can communicate with their parents through mobile phones and these apps," Zhang said. "When they have difficulties, we can support them from the other side of the screen."

"I like to blog about our village and post pictures of our village activities," Zhang continued. "We all believe it's the best way to show what farming life is like today."

(Source: Xinhua, ts.cn)

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