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A New Bottom-Up Process: The Rural Urbanization Driven by E-Commerce in China

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Rural urbanization driven by e-commerce is a new bottom-up urbanization process originating in the information era. The systematical restructuring that this process brings about in the social life, economic environment, and physical space of the countryside, which is reflected in characteristics such as the leaping non-agriculturalization of employment, the comprehensive modernization of rural life, and the intensive spatial urbanization. Obviously, there are many common features between this new process and the old one in the past three decades, but progresses also exist. The distinctions of the countryside , such as a low-cost entrepreneurial environment, local non-agricultural industry, and resources of specialty agricultural products, are manifested in the process. Combined with the Internet and e-commerce by the rural grassroots entrepreneurs, they enable rural area to break the location constrains and join in the national even global industry division, and further realize the leaping development of scale and function. Meanwhile, the capital and talents back to the rural areas are an important guarantee for the upgrading of rural development. Consequentially, the developing and planning idea of smart shrinking is necessary for the rural urbanization process driven by e-commerce in China.
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Theme Documents
A New Bottom-Up Process: The Rural Urbanization Driven by E-Commerce in China
25
A New Bottom-Up Process: The Rural Urbanization
Driven by E-Commerce in China
Luo Zhendong, He Heming
Abstract
Rural urbanization dr iven by e-commerce is a new bottom-up urban ization process originating in the information era. The systematical rest ruc-
turing that this process brings about in the social life, economic environment, and physical space of the countryside, which is reflected in characteristics
such as the leaping non-agriculturalization of employment, the comprehensive moder nization of rural life, and the intensive spatial urbanization. Obviously,
there are many common features between this new process and the old one in the past three decades, but progresses also exist. The distinctions of the coun-
tryside, such as a low-cost entrepreneurial environment, local non-agricultural industry, and resources of specialty agricultural products, are manifested in
the process. Combined with the Internet and e-commerce by the r ural grassroots entrepreneurs, they enable rural area to break the location constrains and
join in the national even global industry division, and fu rther realize the leaping development of scale and function. Meanwhile, the capital and talents back
to the rural areas are an important guarantee for the upgrading of rural development. Consequentially, the developing and planning idea of smart shrinking
is necessary for the r ural urbanization process driven by e-com merce in China.
Keywords
bottom-up urbanization; e-commerce; rural urbanization; characteristics; spatial mode; mechanism
1. Introduction
The bottom-up urbanization process, i.e. the in-situ urbanization
process led and promoted by the grassroots government and farm-
ers in rural areas (Gu and Li, 1998; Cui and Ma, 1999), has played
an important role in the “first half ” of China’s urbanization, which
has drawn due attention and attracted wide studies. The sudden rise
of rural enterprises in the past three decades changed the sing ular
economic structure in the rural areas, providing economic impetus
for spontaneous urbanization. Like a quiet revolution (Shen, 2007), it
directly brought about the development of small towns. The rural ur-
banization with small towns as carriers was once regarded as an ur-
banization path with Chinese characteristics that could not only real-
ize industrialization but also avoid the “urban disease” in Western
countries. However, along with the deepening of decentralization,
marketization, and globalization in China, the increasingly diversi-
fied economic entities and the continuously explicit relationship be-
tween the property rights began to weaken the leading and support-
ive role of rural enterprises in the development of small towns. In
particular, with the sharp rise of the “new southern Jiangsu” mode,
the impet us for the bottom-up urbanization gradually declined
(Wen, 2011), and the diversif ied urbanization process centered on
big cities began to take the lead and quickly promoted China’s ur-
banization rate to exceed 50%. Nonetheless, the rapid increase in the
urbanization rate cannot conceal the many problems in the quality of
urbanization. The development mode that focused on big cities and
central cities caused a massive outflow of the rural labor force, and
the decline of villages and small towns and other social and econom-
ic problems became more and more obvious. Thus it has become an
important issue to re-focus on the development of rural areas and on
the coordinated development bet ween urban and rural areas in the
beginning of the “second half” of China’s urbanization.
While r ural development and urban-rural coordinated develop-
ment are faced with many difficulties, a rural industrialization
and urbanization wave driven by e-commerce is spreading rapidly
throughout China, and a new bottom-up process provides new
possibilities for the “second half” of China’s urbanization. Over
the past decade in China, the number of rural netizens has grown
at a high speed, and the emergence and rapid increase of “Taobao
villages” have further demonstrated the great transition of rural
areas that have stepped over the industrial era and directly entered
the information era. According to an analysis on the data of Ali
Research, in 2016, the number of administrative villages whose e-
commerce concentration scale had met the “Taobao village” stand-
ard reached 1,311, increased by 68% on a year-on-year basis (see
Table 1). These villages were widely distributed in 18 provinces,
municipalities, and autonomous regions, with its number rising
rapidly (there were only 3 such villages when the standard was set
in 2009). In geographical space, the rural e-commerce showed the
characteristic of “strongpoint concentration” (see Fig. 1). A total of
135 “Taobao towns” were found throughout the country in 2016,
whose number increased by 90% on year-on-year basis, dem-
onstrating a trend of scale transition from group villages to town
clusters. The vigorous development of rural e-commerce and its
effects in poverty alleviation and reduction have been quickly rec-
ognized by the Central Government. In the
Opinions of the State
Council on Further Promoting the Constr uction of New Urbaniza-
tion
issued in February 2016, the development of rural e-commerce
as an important approach to accelerate the new urbanization and
China City Planning Review Vol. 26, No. 4, 2017
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proposed in the relevant literature and mass media, while the in-
depth studies on the characteristics and mechanisms based on field
research are limited, and the studies on the impact of e-commerce
on spatial development and urbanization process in rural areas are
inadequate. On such a basis, the author has carried out a nationwide
field sur vey since 2015, visited many Taobao villages and towns in
Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Shandong, Guangdong and other provinces, and
systematically analyzed the characteristics of rural urbanization
driven by e-commerce. Meanwhile, the author hoped that, through
comparative analysis, this study could deeply and comprehensively
reveal the mechanism and trend of this new bottom-up urbanization
process, thus providing a reference for decision-making for rural
development and planning as well as for the choice of a new urbani-
zation path in the information era.
2. Characteristics of rural urbanization driven by e-com-
merce
Rural urbanization driven by e-commerce is the systematic re-
structuring of a socio-economic environment and physical space
in rural areas. This new bottom-up process has completely dif-
ferent spirit and characteristics of the times although it is also led
and promoted by farmers in the countryside. Compared with the
bottom-up process of three decades ago, the leaping non-agricul-
turalization of employment, comprehensive modernization of life,
and intensive spatial urbanization are three typical characteristics
of this new process, in which the welfare of rural residents is
improved through “spatial urbanization” driven by the “people’s
urbanization.
Fig. 1 Distribution of Taobao villages (nuclear density method, 2016)
Table1 National distribution of Taobao villages and Taobao towns
Province
2014 2015 2016
Number
of Taobao
village
Number
of Taobao
town
Number
of Taobao
village
Number
of Taobao
town
Number
of Taobao
village
Number
of Taobao
town
Zhejiang
Province 62 6 280 22 506 51
Guangdong
Province 54 5 157 20 262 32
Jiangsu
Province 25 2 126 11 201 17
Fujian
Province 28 2 71 7 107 13
Shandong
Province 13 – – 63 6 108 12
Hebei
Province 25 2 59 5 91 8
Henan
Province 1 – – 4 – – 13 – –
Hunan
Province – – – – 3 – – 1 – –
Jiangxi
Province – – – – 3 – – 4 – –
Tianjin City 1 – – 3 – – 5 – –
Sichuan
Province 2 – – 2 – – 3 – –
Yunnan
Province – – – – 2 – – 1 – –
Beijing City – – – – 1 – – 1 – –
Hubei
Province 1 – – 1 – – 1 – –
Jilin Province – – – – 1 – – 1 – –
Liaoning
Province – – – – 1 – – 4 – –
Ningxia Hui
Autonomous
Region
– – – – 1 – – 1 – –
Anhui
Province – – – – – – – – 1 – –
Total 212 17 778 71 1,311 135
Source: Ali Research, 2015; Ali Research, 2016; Ali Research, 2017.
drive the new countryside construction was clearly mentioned.
Furthermore, the “No. 1 Document of the CPC Central Commit-
tee” issued in February 2017 gave a special section to elaborate
“Promoting the Development of Rural E-Commerce.”
The emergence of “Taobao villages” and “Taobao towns” in large
numbers is like the reproduction of that quiet revolution in more
than 30 years ago, which has deeply influenced the production and
life in rural areas and the urban-rural relationship in contemporary
China, and also begins to draw the attention from more and more
institutions and scholars (Zhang, 2011; Ge, 2013; Qian and Zheng,
2013; Yi, Liang, and Zhang, 2014; Cui, Wang, and Li, 2014; Xu, Lü,
and Wen, 2015; Chen, Luo, and He, 2016). However, as related stud-
ies are in the initial stage, the main results of these studies are dom-
inated by interpreting the mechanism and summarizing the modes
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A New Bottom-Up Process: The Rural Urbanization Driven by E-Commerce in China
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2.1 Increasing job opportunities in non-agricultural sectors
The rise of e-commerce has stimulated diversified employment
opport unities in rural areas. At village and town levels, the local
employment has changed from engaging in the primary industry
to the tertiary industry, which is an iconic sign of the new bottom-
up process. The process of the previous ru ral urbanization basi-
cally followed the general path that industrialization promoted
urbanization, in which the in-situ non-agriculturalization was
realized by farmers engaging in both the “secondary industry”
and agriculture, thus bringing along the development of the ter-
tiary industry dominated by the circulation of daily consumer
goods and the agricultural and sideline products in rural areas. In
contrast, the rural urbanization driven by e-commerce jumps out
of the traditional development mode of successive development of
the primary, secondary, and tertiary industries, and establishes a
leaping path in which urbanization is driven by informatization.
Villagers, through online sales platform, are involved in e-com-
merce activities by selling self-produced goods, selling goods on
a commission basis, or other means, forming a new local business
model of “farmer + e-businessman.” While promoting the produc-
tion and processing procedures, the continuous development of
rural e-businessmen also brings about a great number of service
needs in logistics, warehousing, art design, marketing, finance,
and talent training, which thus leads to the integrated development
of processing and manufact uring indust ry, life service industry,
and even production service industries and realizes the integration
of the whole industrial chain (see Figs. 2 & 3). The great poten-
tial that e-commerce has on non-agriculturalization employment
makes the villages where the e-businessmen are fostered not only
the local labor pool, but also the gathering place of a foreign labor
force and professional and technical groups. According to statis-
tics, as of the end of August 2016, the active online shops of Tao-
bao villages all over China exceeded 300,000, directly creating
more than 840,000 employment opportunities as was estimated.
According to a rough estimation, the non-agricultural employ-
ment rate created by e-commerce in a large number of Taobao vil-
lages was at least 20% or more. The non-agricultural employment
opportunities broaden the income channels of rural residents,
narrow the income gap between urban and rural areas, become
the main source of income growth of rural residents, and create a
number of rural entrepreneurs and rich groups.
2.2 Overall modernization of rural life
E-commerce builds a new channel for a two-way flow of ele-
ments between urban and rural areas, and triggers systematic
changes in r ural lifestyle, with the new bottom-up process being
a synchronization process for the comprehensive moder nization
of rural life. In the last round of rural urbanization, although the
channel for rural products entering the urban market was built
through infrastructure constr uction and sales market develop-
ment, the urban services and culture was not synchronized to the
countr yside. Industrialization was realized in rural areas, but the
weak points of public services and the gap between traditional
local culture and modern civilization still existed, which could be
regarded as a low-level or incomplete urbanization process. The
rise of e-commerce promotes the modernization of rural life in
two aspects of material consumption and cultural life. In terms of
the material consumption of rural areas, the constantly improved
online consumption pattern lowers the threshold of the com-
modity distribution scale, improves the efficiency of circulation,
and completely changes the situation that the retail industry is
underdeveloped in rural areas due to the limitation of population
density, so that rural residents can enjoy the same commodity
services with a great variety and good quality as urban residents.
In terms of rural cultural life, based on the nature of e-commerce
and consumer demand, farmers are fully motivated to access the
Internet, and the social atmosphere of using the Internet is gradu-
ally formed in rural areas, which builds the channels for outward
exchange. Modern cultural information and ideas penetrate to ru-
ral areas via the “open” and “fair” Internet, and gradually change
the backward cultural environment in rural areas, thus laying a
good social foundation for creating modern local culture, inte-
grating urban civilization, and promoting advanced knowledge in
rural areas.
Fig. 2 “E-commerce Street” in Daji Town, Caoxian County, Shandong Province
Fig. 3 “Express Delivery Street” in Xinhe Town, Shuyang County, Jiangsu Province
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2.3 Intensive urbanization of built environment
The industrial character istics of e-commerce and the macro-
environment of urban-rural spatial governance have determined
that the new bottom-up process is an intensive spatial urbanization
process. More than thirty years ago, as the economic value of land
was not prominent, there was no control over the production space
and urban construction, and industrialization and urbanization
space was basically in a disorderly and extensive state. The land
use in a large number of villages and small towns was inefficient
with mixed functions, which brought about many challenges for
the future planning and construction and intensive development.
In the new era in which the limitation of land resources becomes
prominent and the urban-rural integrated spatial governance sys-
tem is gradually completed, the urbanization process would be
inevitably restrained by the relatively strict control on land use.
As a result, the early development of rural e-commerce industr y is
highly compatible with the r ural stock space. Heavily relying on
self-built houses and courtyards on their homestead, far mers are
engaged in e-commerce activities by mixing the functions such as
housing, office, processing, and warehousing, which greatly im-
proves the space use efficiency, lowers the th reshold of industrial
development, and realizes the in-situ urbanization of functions.
Along with the increase of e-commerce concentration effects, e-
commerce service, production and processing, logistics and ex-
press delivery, etc., have rapidly increased demands for new space,
and it is becoming more and more difficult for the traditional spa-
tial pattern and facilities standards in rural areas to meet the needs
of e-commerce indust rialization and spatial urbanization. The
more intensive and efficient land use patterns, such as e-commerce
featured towns, begin to seek breakthroughs in the town scope
or even at greater regional levels, which can thus have more far-
reaching impacts on the urban and rural relationships.
3. Dynamics for new rural urbanization driven by e-commerce
The rural urbanization driven by e-commerce is a process in which
the rural grassroots entrepreneurs take full advantage of the low-
cost entrepreneurial environment, the local non-agricultural basis,
or the agricultural product resources, enter the regional or even
global production system through the information network (e-com-
merce platform), break the constraints of traditional location, and
achieve the transition of rural stat us, size, and function. This pro-
cess fully demonstrates the new mechanism that the space of flow
(Castells, 1999) enters the rural areas, combines with rural local ele-
ments, renovates the space of place, and restr uctu res the urban-rural
spatial systems.
3.1 Impetus of e-commerce to promote rural urbanization
(1) Internet + low-cost entrepreneurial environment
Considering a relatively free f low of elements between urban
and rural areas, the low threshold of business startups in the e-
commerce industry and the low-cost entrepreneurial environment
in rural areas correspond to each other, becoming the basic driving
force for the rapid development of e-commerce in rural areas. The
online sales platform with Taobao as the representative provides
low-threshold business star tup opportunities for small and medium-
sized enterprises and individual entrepreneurs. The typical charac-
teristics of Taobao sellers are that their stores are small (nearly 50%
of the stores did not have employees) and the overall investment is
low (the total investment is less than 30,000 yuan). For low-income
farmers with low risk resistance abilities, this low threshold is par-
ticularly important. The low-cost ent repreneurial environment in
rural areas is mainly ref lected in three aspects. Firstly, the lower
cost of time. With the improvement of agricultural infrastructure
and the popularization of scientific planting techniques, the labor
productivity of agriculture has been improved, so farmers are
having more leisure time. E-commerce is more dependent on the
investment of time, so the lower cost of time becomes an impor-
tant advantage for farmers to participate in e-commerce activities.
Secondly, the lower cost of living. Self-sufficient production and
lifestyle in rural areas and the free work pattern of home business
combines with each other, weakening the reversed pressure of
operational income on the entrepreneurial activities. Finally, the
lower cost of clustering. Although the e-commerce cluster may
bring about homogeneous competition, it has a positive signif i-
cance in the aspects like reducing logistics costs, creating regional
brands, promoting the industrial chain extension, and product up-
grading. The att ribute of rural areas as an “acquaintance society”
provides good social background for the spontaneous clustering
of the industry. In the social “circle” linked by the relationship of
blood and family, the spread of information is very fast and can be
highly trusted. The cost for recruiting e-commerce par tners is also
lower. An excellent e-commerce leader, takes the role of building
e-commerce cluster either initiatively or passively, and can quickly
complete it.
(2) Internet + local non-agricultural base
The existing non-agricultural basis in the county and city region
is often an important support for the development of e-commerce
in rural areas. While r ural e-commerce activities have relatively
convenient access to the supply of goods, they often in tur n pro-
mote the upgrading of existing industries and the extension of
existing industrial chains, thus bringing about the restructuring of
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A New Bottom-Up Process: The Rural Urbanization Driven by E-Commerce in China
29
the regional industr ial pattern. Small and medium-sized enterprise
clusters are important subjects of a county’s economic development,
which is also an important legacy from the last round of urbaniza-
tion process. The in-depth combination of these small and medium-
sized enterprises and e-commerce is an inevitable trend for the
informatized and intelligent development of the industry, which
will stimulate a new round of industrial development vitality. E-
commerce is of strategic significance for the promotion of industrial
upgrading in the county region. In particular, the e-commerce elites
in the suburban areas, relying on the geographical advantages of
neighboring goods supply sources, actively participate in the indus-
trial labor division of the county by acting as sales agents, which
becomes an important extension of the county’s industrial chain.
Through the exploration on the consumer market, the e-commerce
practitioners conduct county product integration and demonst ration,
and gradually form a network sales brand. Among them, the e-busi-
nessmen with inf luential network brands achieve a role transition
from the spontaneous division of labor to leading the clustering,
thus promoting a new industrial cluster led by product sales.
(3) Internet + agricultural product resource endowment
With the rapid improvement of urban living standards, people have
a growing demand for ecological and healthy agricultural products,
which provides a broad market for the online sales of agricultural
products. The combination of agricultural products rooted in rural
areas and e-commerce can not only meet the needs of urban con-
sumption, but also realize the market value of ecological agricul-
ture, improve the inferior position of traditional agricultural produc-
tion and management, and realize the connection between farmers
and the market. The traditional agricultural sales mainly take the
prompt goods trading mode of “on-spot purchase – distribution
in the origin market – sales market – distribution – retail” (Chen,
2013). This model has a long production and marketing chain and
poor exchange between production and marketing infor mation,
which is likely to cause a mismatch between market demand and
production and supply, lowered profit margins of agricultural pro-
duction by intermediaries, serious loss in the circulation of agri-
cultural products, and other problems. At the same time, scattered
farmers do not have the initiative to participate in the trading of
agricultural goods, and profit margins of agricultural products are
limited. E-commerce, through technical advantage of information
integration, can reduce the mismatch between ag ricultural pro-
duction and market demand information, shortens the intermedi-
ate links of agricultural product circulation, and lowers the scale
threshold for agricultural product sales. Farmers can be directly
involved in the trading of agricultural goods through the online
sales platform, which enables farmers to not only reasonably ar-
range the production according to market demands, but also publish
production results to look for customers. At the same time, farmers
can achieve the scale effects of logistics through relatively flexible
self-organization in order to further reduce the logistics cost and
enhance the market competitiveness. In recent years, the online
trading of agricultural products has shown a rapid growth trend,
the barriers for agricultural goods development are constantly re-
moved, and relying on the advantages of local agricultural products,
some villages have transformed from a t raditional agricultural vil-
lage to a Taobao village with a local brand identity.
3.2 Core impetus for e-commerce to promote rural urbanization
The core impetus for e-commerce to promote rural urbanization
comes from the business startup of the rural grassroots. It is such
a group of grassroots ent repreneurs who exist in all the Taobao
village stories that combines the Internet with a low-cost entrepre-
neurial environment in rural areas, connects the non-agricultural
basis with the agricult ural product resources, and initiates and
continues to promote e-commerce to inf luence rural development
and urbanization. To a certain extent, it can be understood as the
“people’s urbanization” promoted by the “urbanized people.” From
the perspective of time and space, the grassroots entrepreneurs
in rural areas can be divided into two categories, with one being
“transferred” grassroots entrepreneurs, and the other being “new
grassroots entrepreneurs.
The so-called “transfer red” grassroots entrepreneurs were already
entrepreneurs before they are engaged in e-commerce, but they did
not live in the countryside or were not involved in e-commerce.
Nonetheless, these people have a business gene, and they will grasp
a more favorable opportunity once they find it. Such grassroots en-
trepreneurs usually exist in the southeastern coastal provinces with
a more developed economy, such as Zhejiang, Fujian, and Guang-
dong provinces. These regions generally have a long tradition of
emphasizing business, while the geographical environment of being
surrounded by mountains and seas, together with the realistic pre-
dicament of more people with less land, brings up a group of local
residents that have not only the intensive, diligent, and practical
farming culture characteristics, but also the open, enterprising, and
adventurous marine culture spirit. They are the first group of peo-
ple who discover the great potential of “Internet + village,” and also
are the first to return home to start business.
The so-called “new” grassroots entrepreneurs were not entrepre-
neurs before they are engaged in e-commerce. Most of them were
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30
migrant workers (including just graduated college students), and it
is the village and e-commerce that enabled them to become entre-
preneurs. They either have come into contact with the Internet and
e-commerce in their work and then given up the working career
to return home to start business, or join the e-commerce business
group as guided by the leader of rural e-businessmen. Such entre-
preneurs generally exist in the eastern provinces with a relatively
backward economic development that have a large number of outgo-
ing migrant workers. The young people in these areas are common-
ly characterized by being unreconciled to poverty and daring to tr y,
while the geographical advantage of being close to the economically
developed areas make it convenient for the working group to learn
professional skills and access to e-com merce. It is also such “new”
grassroots entrepreneurs that create an “out-of-nothing” Taobao vil-
lage development model without any industrial basis and support.
The young people returning home to start business bring capital,
technology and advanced operation and management ideas to their
hometown, which substantially opens up the channel for production
element circulation from city to countr yside, changes the long-term
embarrassing situation of capital and talent outf low in rural areas,
and inputs core impetus to rural urbanization.
4. Spatial pattern of rural urbanization driven by e-com-
merce
Although the new bottom-up process is characterized by the inten-
sive spatial urbanization, the urbanized spatial pattern has a variety
of types due to the difference in e-commerce products and village
locations. The difference between the product types of e-commerce
transactions determines the difference in spatial needs; the differ-
ence in the link between the rural and urban areas determines the
difference in the basic conditions of rural urbanization. Based on
these two factors, four types of relatively typical spatial models can
be found by observing the process of spatial urbanization driven by
e-commerce.
4.1 Spontaneous upgrading at the village level
The spatial urbanization model of spontaneous village upgrad-
ing usually occurs in the village that is far away from the city and
engaged in industrial product e-commerce. The industrialization
driven by e-commerce requires space, while the location that is
far away from the city gives this type of villages a space for the
spontaneous generation and upgrading of various functions. In the
early stages of industrial development, relying on their own homes,
villagers simply transformed the original house with residential
function only into a mixed space containing manual production and
online sales. With the rapid expansion of production scale, limited
living space was basically unable to meet the requirements of ex-
panded reproduction, and the mix of such functions as production,
housing, sales, and warehousing also exposed many potential safety
hazards. Therefore, the insightful e-businessmen in the village
began to move the production space out of the residence in the vil-
lage, and built temporar y factory buildings along both sides of the
county roads to provide a more specialized production and ware-
housing space with a larger scale. Synchronizing with the outward
relocation and expansion of production space, the comprehensive
service function and space also shows a trend of concentration.
Relying on relatively favorable transpor t conditions and its loca-
tion as the geographical center of a number of Taobao villages, the
“Taobao Street” which is spontaneously planned and constructed,
concentrates facilities such as the Ali Rural Service Station, Daji E-
Commerce Public Service Platform, Taobao Funding Cooperation
Office, etc., thus having a variety of functions such as public ser-
vice, goods demonstration, financial service, and express delivery
and logistics. With constantly improved public ser vice facilities
and a strong entrepreneurial at mosphere, the “Taobao Street” has
shown the protot ype of a new small town (see Figs. 2 & 4).
4.2 Interactive spatial upgrading between town and village
The spatial urbanization mode of town-village interacted upgrading
generally occurs in villages that are close to small towns and en-
gaged in industrial product e-commerce. The industrialization rate
brought about by e-commerce firstly promotes the urbanization of
village, but with the industrial upgrading and scale expansion, the
village cannot provide a larger production space and higher-quality
services. So the value of small towns became signif icant, and small
towns gradually became main carriers for industrial upgrading.
Fig. 4 Land use changes in Sunzhuang Village and Dinglou Village, Daji Town,
Caoxian County, Shandong Province
Mar 10, 2013 Mar 28, 2015
Dinglou Village
Sunzhuang Village
Sunzhuang Village
Dinglou Village
Taobao Street
Manufacturer con-
centrate zone
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A New Bottom-Up Process: The Rural Urbanization Driven by E-Commerce in China
31
The rural family workshop takes farmer’s residences as “shops,”
and builds temporar y factor y buildings in the courtyard or on the
land behind the residence, for ming a typical spatial pattern of “shop
in the front and factor y in the back.” With the constant expansion
of sales and production scale, timber processing, machinery sales,
logistics and express delivery, and other functions continue to ap-
pear, transforming an old village street into a “Taobao Street.” In
such a way is the industrialization and urbanization process of a
village completed. However, the village’s space and energy level,
after all, is limited, fragmented space and backward infrastructure
cannot meet the requirements of constant industrial upgrading.
Especially after experiencing the market impact and the industry
competition, the willingness of the e-businessmen for upgrading
and transformation becomes increasingly stronger, and industriali-
zation and urbanization began to break the village boundary. Sup-
ported and guided by the governments at all levels, Shaji Town in
Jiangsu Province began to carry out indust rial and spatial planning
and construction. An e-commerce Pioneer Park, which integrates
production, housing, logistics, public service, and other f unctions,
began to rise in the far mland between the town area and village. In
consequence, the spatial scale and str ucture of the town has also un-
dergone fundamental changes (see Fig. 5).
4.3 Built environment upgrading at the town level
The spatial urbanization mode of town area upgrading mainly oc-
curs in the rural areas dominated by agricultural product e-com-
merce, but the main body of spatial urbanization is the town area.
As the agricultural product e-commerce generally does not generate
a significant process of industrialization, it will not lead to the de-
mand for spatial expansion of a single village. However, the expan-
sion of the scale of agricultural product e-commerce will cause the
expansion of the planting scale and the concentration and upgrading
of supporting service functions, then bringing about the agricul-
tural land circulation in a wider range as well as the concentration
of transaction and supporting service functions in the town area.
Without the industrialization of rural areas, there would be no ex-
pansion and concentration process of village built-up areas. Villag-
ers basically make use of private plots behind or neighboring their
residences to build nursery gardens so as to form experimental fields
and display space, while in the land far away from the village, they
conduct large-scale planting and thus constitute a complete small-
scale family production and marketing unit through online sales and
on-door pickup by express deliver yman. However, a large number
of comprehensive service functions surrounding e-commerce can-
not be scattered in the various Taobao villages, which can only be
concentrated and constantly upgraded in the central town area. On
the one hand, the professional market, logistics and express deliver y,
business startup services, and other functions continue to gather
in the town area, which cultivates a group of e-businessmen who
are not engaged in planting but specialize in sales based on profes-
sional marketing. The formation of “Express Delivery Street” and
“E-Commerce Street” greatly boosts the upgrading of e-commerce
level in towns. On the other hand, the manufacturing and commerce
of related products also begin to gather in the town area, which not
only improves the supporting service functions of the industry as a
whole, but also extending the industrial chain.
4.4 Suburb reconstructing
The spatial urbanization mode of suburb upgrading occurs mainly
in villages close to the county towns or the central cities, which are
mainly engaged in industrial product e-commerce and character-
ized by high-density spatial expansion with filling as the main
Fig. 5 Land use changes in Dongfeng Village and Shaji Town area, Suining County, Jiangsu Province
Mar. 21, 2010
Shaji Town area
Dongfeng Village
Shaji Town area
Apr. 5, 2014
Dongfeng Village
Residential area
Processing
factory area
Logistics park area
China City Planning Review Vol. 26, No. 4, 2017
Theme Documents
32
mode. On the one hand, the special spatial location of the suburbs
makes it convenient for rural e-commerce to make use of the city’s
existing industrial base and facilities; on the other hand, the mixed
use of urban and rural land in the suburbs and the scarce land re-
sources make the bottom-up industrialization and urbanization
space more mixed and highly dense. As many Taobao villages and
towns are currently distributed in the suburban areas, this spatial
urbanization model takes up a large proportion in the rural urbani-
zation driven by e-commerce. The prosperous e-commerce industry
brings about a strong demand for the land development in the urban
fringe areas. In the surveyed Taobao villages, the newly-completed
or under-construction self-built buildings by villages that are 12- or
13-stroey high and equipped with elevators can be seen ever ywhere
(see Fig. 6). These buildings have complex functions like housing,
business, production, and warehousing. Except a small number
of the houses that are used by the owners, most of the houses are
rented. Due to the vigorous development of e-commerce, rents have
correspondingly gone up, so that more villagers are stimulated to
invest in housing constr uction to meet the market demand. Through
a comparison on satellite imagery in recent years, a spatial develop-
ment model with a high density and filling pattern can be clearly
seen. Through the regular land plots and road network, it can be
judged that these villages are well planned and different from the
urban villages full of spontaneous construction, and that the devel-
opment density, landscape, and facilities are increasingly close to
the mature urban areas.
5. Conclusion and discussion
The rural urbanization driven by e-commerce is a new bottom-up
process in the information era. Taobao villages and Taobao towns
are the epitome of urban-rural spatial and temporal relations and
functional pattern reconstruction in the information era, which
reflects the evolution of ru ral society and economic environment
driven by e-commerce, and reveals a new path to realize the syn-
chronous development of industrialization, informatization, new
urbanization, and agricultural modernization. The systematic re-
structuring of this process on the social economic environment, and
physical space in the rural areas is embodied as the leaping non-
agriculturalization of employment, comprehensive modernization
of life, and the intensive spatial urbanization. Although there are
many things in common with the bottom-up process of more than
thir ty years ago, the new urbanization has obvious differences and
progresses, which, in essence, is a process of the interaction be-
tween the space of flow and the local space in the rural areas in the
information era. The rural grassroots entrepreneurs combine the
local elements such as low-cost entrepreneurial environment, local
non-agricultural industrial base, and agricultural product resources
of the rural areas and the Inter net and e-commerce, which enables
the villages to break the traditional location constraints and to get
involved in the national and even the global industrial division of
labor, thus achieving the leaping development of scale and function.
With the growing inf luence of e-commerce, this new process has
gone beyond the simple bottom-up mode and entered a new stage
in which the government, market, villagers coordinate with each
other to conduct governance and promote the development in both
bottom-up and top-down ways. In par ticular, the capital input to the
countr yside and talent cultivation have provided a strong d riving
force for the upgrading of rural urbanization, and the f low of ele-
ments will inevitably rebuild the new pattern of rural urbanization
in a more profound way.
Although the rural urbanization driven by e-commerce has pro-
moted the clustering and upgrading of some villages and towns,
it is still not enough to change the overall trend of population re-
duction in the entire r ural areas in the process of urbanization in
China, and it is even possible to accelerate the shrinking of some
villages. Therefore, the new urbanization process requires that the
development of rural areas should establish a smart shrinking con-
cept with positively increasing the welfare of rural population as
the fundamental purpose and with “using increments to promote
reduction” as the basic means (Zhao and Chen, 2013; Zhao, You,
and Chen, 2015). Efforts should be made to change the traditional
thought of achieving reduction by way of removing and merging
towns and villages, initiatively build an open urban-rural functional
network, predict the possible role that different villages may play
Fig. 6 Villager’s self-built houses in a Taobao village of Puning City, Fujian Province
Theme Documents
A New Bottom-Up Process: The Rural Urbanization Driven by E-Commerce in China
33
Authors
Luo Zhendong, Associate Professor, School of Architecture and Urban Planning,
Nanjing University; Deputy Director, Research Center for Regional Planning, Nanjing
University; Member of Academic Committee of Rural Planning and Construction,
Urban Planning Society of China; Guest Researcher, Research Center for New Coun-
tryside. Nanjing, P. R. China. E-mail:zhendongl@sina.com
He Heming, PhD Candidate, School of Architecture and Urban Planning, Nanjing
University; Deputy Director, Center for Strategic Planning, Institute of Urban Plan-
ning and Design, Nanjing University, Nanjing, P. R. China.
in the urban-rural human settlements system, and actively promote
the development of potential areas. The “increments” in the “using
increments to promote the reduction” means increasing the input of
elements in selected rural areas, accelerate the integration between
rural areas and e-commerce, improve the quality and attractiveness
of human settlements, promote the modernization of rural social
life, so as to build a high-quality and modernized incremental
spatial urbanization. The “reduction” in the “using increments to
promote the reduction” means reducing the environmental factors
in rural areas that are not adapted to the modernized development
like traditional inefficient agriculture and polluting rural indus-
tries, guiding the migration of the population in the villages with a
shrinking trend to the high-quality r ural incremental space, so as
to create favorable conditions for replacing low-level and scattered
rural stock space. The new urbanization process, while guiding
the restructuring of rural space, should also pay attention to re-
establishing rural governance, seeking the best combination and
balance point between the market, the government and the citizens
as well as between top-down and bottom-up governance models,
promoting the modernized upgrading of rural governance system
and governance capabilities, and ultimately forming a modern r ural
society with the capacity of sustainable development.
(This paper is supported by the Natural Science Foundation of China, No.
51478216.)
Translated by Li Caige
Proofread by Mao Qizhi
From
City Planning Review
, 2017, 41 (3), pp. 31 – 40 (as a shortened version).
Notes:
The standard of a Taobao village defined by Ali Research is as follows:
place of transaction: the site for business operation should be located in the rural
areas, with administrative villages as measurement units; scale of transaction:
the annual sales of e-commerce reaches more than 10 million yuan; size of
e-businessman: the number of registered online shops reaches more than 50 in
the village, or the number reaches more than 10% of local household number.
Source of data: China Taobao Village Research Report (2015), China Taobao
Village Research Report (2016).
According to the definition of Ali Research, Taobao town refers to the
Jiedao, township, or town that has three Taobao villages” and more in their
administrative region.
Source of data: China Taobao Village Research Report (2016).
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Article
Full-text available
Starting with the connotation of e-commerce and its development in counties, this paper analyzes the impact of e-commerce upon the urbanization pattern in China, and argues that influenced by the growing popularity of e-commerce in the internet era, human resources and economies at all city levels will get increasingly equal access to opportunities, and the centrality of big cities is compromised. In addition, counties and villages within their jurisdiction are presented with unprecedented opportunities. Development in rural areas will achieve a radical transition from being industrialization-driven to information-driven. This paper further sheds light on the fact that under this new urbanization trend, county in-situ urbanization and rural development driven by e-commerce will be a new approach toward urbanization in China. Then, in-depth analysis into the connotation and approaches of county in-situ urbanization is given, alongside with three different patterns for rural development which are the extension pattern, intervention pattern, and endogenesis pattern respectively, providing implication for the new urbanization in the context of information age of China.
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The “space of flows,” the concept I advocated a decade ago, represents the material arrangements that allow for simultaneity of social practices without territorial contiguity. In this article, I refer to a series of dimensions of autonomous expression of social meaning in the space of flows, with emphasis on electronic spaces, but in interaction with the space of places. I argue that a new dynamics is operating, a dynamics of interpenetration of uniformity and autonomy, of domination and resistance, and of instrumentality and experience, within the space of flows. The geography of the new history will not be made of the separation between places and flows, but out of the interface between places and flows and between cultures and social interests, both in the space of flows and in the space of places.
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Alibaba (China) Co., Ltd. (2014). China Taobao Village. Beijing: Electronic Industry Press.
Study on the Pluralistic Reconstitution of Rural Governance Driven by E-Commerce: A Case Study of Daji Town of Cao County
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Chen F, Luo Z, and He H (2016). Study on the Pluralistic Reconstitution of Rural Governance Driven by E-Commerce: A Case Study of Daji Town of Cao County, Shandong Province. Modern Urban Research. (10), pp. 22 -29.
The Development and Mechanism of Urbanization from Below in China
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  • R Ma
Cui G and Ma R (1999). The Development and Mechanism of Urbanization from Below in China. Acta Geographica Sinica. (2), pp. 79 -85.
Research on the Path of the Development of Urbanization by E-Commerce. Regional Economy
  • H Cui
  • N Wang
Cui H, Wang N, and Li Q (2014). Research on the Path of the Development of Urbanization by E-Commerce. Regional Economy. (7), pp. 3 -6.
E-Commerce Boost the Process of Urbanization: Based on The Perspective of Rural Consumption Capacity Upgrade. Special Economic Zones
  • S Ge
Ge S (2013). E-Commerce Boost the Process of Urbanization: Based on The Perspective of Rural Consumption Capacity Upgrade. Special Economic Zones. (8), pp. 112 -113.
Institutional Analysis of Urbanization from Below in China
  • S Gu
  • Z Li
Gu S and Li Z (1998). Institutional Analysis of Urbanization from Below in China. Social Sciences in China. (2), pp. 60 -70.
E-commerce Clusters Based on Taobao Industrial Chain: A Case Study on Qing Yanliu Village in Yiwu City
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  • Z Zheng
Qian J and Zheng Z (2013). E-commerce Clusters Based on Taobao Industrial Chain: A Case Study on Qing Yanliu Village in Yiwu City. City Planning Review. (11), pp. 79 -83.
Interpretation of South of Jiangsu
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Wen T (2011). Interpretation of South of Jiangsu. Suzhou: Suzhou University Press.