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Xi-endorsed fungus reaps 3 million yuan online sales in his Shaanxi visit

Chinese President Xi Jinping, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, waves to local residents during his inspection in Jinmi Village of Xiaoling Township in Zhashui County, Shangluo City, northwest China’s Shaanxi Province, April 20, 2020. (Xinhua/Xie Huanchi)

Li Xuying, a 20-something livestreaming sensation based in Zhashui, a small county deep in the Qinling Mountains in Northwest China’s Shaanxi Province, has never imagined she would see 420,000 viewers from across the country rush into her livestream all at once and buy up her entire stock of agaric mushrooms in just half a day.

The rush of orders followed Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to the village of Jinmi in Zhashui to learn about the region’s poverty relief efforts on Monday. Zhashui bid goodbye to the country’s National Poor County list just two months ago. During Xi’s inspection, the president visited the local e-commerce livestreaming center and hailed the local specialty fungus as a “small fungus, big industry,” which soon made the agricultural product the hottest thing among consumers across the country.

After the promotion from Xi,also dubbed “China’s strongest endorser,” Li told the Global Times that she has been overwhelmed with new orders coming in every 10 seconds. 

People searched for Zhashui fungus more than 200,000 times on Alibaba’s e-commerce platform on Tuesday morning, and in total more than 24 tons of fungus worth 3 million yuan ($424,000) were bought up by Tuesday night – equivalent to four months of online sales of all products from Zhashui in 2019.

Fungus is not the only agricultural product that has seen a boom in online sales. While sales of fungus surged by a factor of 10, pineapple sales increased as much as three times as usual, according to Alibaba.

Zhashui is also not the only beneficiary of the country’s digital economy. As 2020 is a ripe year to win the fight against poverty in China, the emerging industry has become a driving force that could help hundreds of millions of farmers escape poverty even as the COVID-19 pandemic brings many economic activities grinding to a halt. In China’s vast rural areas, data is becoming a new agricultural resource, mobile phones are becoming the new agricultural tools and livestreaming is becoming a new agricultural activity, combining together to empower the country’s final step in its anti-poverty fight, analysts say.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, learns about poverty alleviation efforts in Jinmi Village of Xiaoling Township in Zhashui County, Shangluo City, northwest China’s Shaanxi Province, April 20, 2020. (Xinhua/Ju Peng)

E-commerce is an emerging business with great potential that can promote sales of agricultural products, help rural residents shake off poverty and facilitate rural vitalization, President Xi said during his tour, according to the Xinhua News Agency.

E-commerce booming in rural areas

 “There were always opportunities that come with risks – the pandemic has indeed been driving the development and popularization of livestreaming and e-commerce technology in my village more rapidly than ever,” Liu Dingding in Lüliang, a prefecture-level city in the western part of Shanxi Province, told the Global Times on Friday.

Liu is a veteran internet sector analyst who has long been based in Beijing but was stranded in his hometown for months due to the pandemic.

Seemingly overnight, it became quite normal to see villagers set up their phones and livestream from anywhere, their farms while planting, scenic views in the village and their kitchens while showing off local specialties, Liu said, adding that on a mobile phone as cheap as 400 yuan, they can earn thousands by simply setting up the phone wherever they go.

By the end of March, more than 60,000 farmers across the country have settled on Taobao for livestreams. There have been more than 1.4 million livestreams of agricultural products on the platform, covering more than 2,000 counties in 31 provinces across the country. Fields, greenhouses, warehouses and fishing boats have all become livestream settings for rural anchors, Taobao said in a statement sent to the Global Times.

Local officials have also joined the livestreaming force to boost online sales. Moreover, to help farmers navigate the entire industry chain and concentrate on selling products from their home, tech giants in China have also rapidly built a full system that covers packaging procurement, vehicle scheduling in cities while they were under lockdown and also green channels and fee reductions when setting up new online stores.

With Chinese e-commerce giant Suning’s e-commerce platform and TTK Express Co’s logistics lines, more than 10,000 kilograms of onions that were unable to be sold locally in Yuanmou, Southwest China’s Yunnan Province, sold out in four days, Suning said in a statement sent to the Global Times.

Zhang Chunlai, a local villager who is also a migrant worker in Shenzhen, South China’s Guangdong Province, told the Global Times on Friday that he decided to drop his previous plans to work at a factory in Shenzhen after the lockdown and instead will stay in Yuanmou to help local farmers build up the onion industry.

Having helped local farmers sell agricultural products over the past two months since he was stuck in the village due to the pandemic, Zhang has discovered that the management skills he learned in the factories back in Shenzhen are just what his hometown needs right now.

“I find there is great potential yet to be unleashed. I hope to help build a complete industrial chain that will bring more added value to the onions in the future and persuade more people in cities to buy our products using my connections,” Zhang said.

The rapid rise of this emerging industry in those less developed areas has prompted many tech giants including Alibaba, Suning and to expand recruitment there, which in turn has mitigated the increasing unemployment rate caused by the pandemic and even become a source of stability and growth for the rural economy., a food-delivery platform under Alibaba, told the Global Times that it will open 20,000 delivery man jobs in poverty-stricken areas this year due to the rise of the digital economy. So far, has 300,000 such jobs in poverty-stricken areas.

At a time when the Chinese economy is facing a difficult time, the digital economy is serving as a stimulator for the nation’s yet-to-recover economic growth, say analysts, noting that while e-commerce is booming globally, not every country can replicate China’s success in promoting this emerging businesses in poor regions.

“This development has not happened overnight, it follows years of the central government’s efforts to build internet infrastructure even in the most remote areas of China; not with the intention of turning a profit, but just to make sure everyone is connected,” Liu said.

Although this year marks the deadline for the current five-year plan’s poverty reduction efforts, China has enough capabilities, including support policies and a top-to-down task force, to win the battle, said analysts.

By the end of 2019, 5.51 million people were still living in poverty, according to Xinhua, while none of them will be left behind on the nation’s way to become a moderately prosperous society in all respects.

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