Across China: Digital nomads inject new vitality into southwest China tourist city

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Xinhua, April 25, 2024
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DALI, Yunnan Province, April 25 (Xinhua) -- Dali, a tourist city in southwest China's Yunnan Province known for its stunning landscapes and inclusive cultural atmosphere, is becoming one of the hot spots for China's young digital nomads, people with professional skills who work remotely.

Li Binpeng is a digital nomad based in Dali, specializing in graphic design. He receives client requests online and tailors his work to individual assignments.

Previously commuting for 30 minutes to his job in Shenzhen, Li now enjoys the convenience of working from home in a city famous for its picturesque views. During his downtime, he relishes sitting by the window of his Dali apartment, watching the clouds drift over the Cangshan Mountain.

In recent years, Dali has seen a surge in the number of digital nomads with jobs in the technology sector, such as creative design, programming and content creation. Many of them are drawn to Dali by the city's touristic charms and backpacking culture, but the possibility of living frugally is also an attraction.

In the first quarter of 2024, posts for "Dali digital nomad" on the Chinese lifestyle-sharing platform Xiaohongshu surged by 11 percent, according to BigOne Lab, an alternative data company in China.

"Most of our guests are digital nomads, aged between 25 and 35. Many prepay for several months' rent in advance," said Zhang Yu, manager of "Snowy House," a boutique hotel brand in Dali. He told reporters that as of April 2, over 90 percent of the 100-plus rooms at Snowy House were occupied.

June resides in Dali as a digital nomad, working from home as an online English conversation tutor. After graduating from college and working in the art sector in Beijing for three years, June sought a career change. After leaving her job, she stayed at her parents' home and worked online for two months, but she found it "intolerable," deciding instead to seek a community where she could live for a while and exchange ideas. First she moved to a digital nomad community elsewhere in China, then relocated to Dali, attracted by its superior resources and more convenient location.

Yao Jianhua, a professor at the School of Journalism at Fudan University, has been observing and researching digital nomad communities for nearly two years. Yao noted that China's digital nomad communities act as a buffer for young people facing employment challenges or career stagnation. The communities serve as transitional zones for exploring different careers, offering a cost-effective alternative to metropolitan areas.

Citing Dali's digital nomad communities as an example, Yao highlights how young people can experiment with various online jobs while exploring their next career steps and building new friendships through on-site events in these communities.

Currently, in the vicinity of the old town of Dali, there are already more than 10 digital nomad commune brands, including Snowy House, making it one of the main destinations for digital nomads in China.

Many digital nomad communes often organize sharing events on topics such as science, technology, creativity and investment, as well as concrete skills and personal experiences. Some communes require application in advance for residency, and occupants need to offer their knowledge and skills, to contribute to the commune's vibe of innovation and reciprocity.

There are also numerous communities of digital nomads worldwide. Yao noted that Chinese digital nomads make greater contributions to the rural economy, compared with other similar groups abroad.

Zhao Leran, a village Party chief in Dali, said that there are around 50 digital nomads living in his village. "Unlike tourists, digital nomads tend to live in the village for a more extended period of time. When not working, they explore local attractions in depth, and share their findings on social media. As more attractions are discovered by the digital nomads, more opportunities emerge in local economy and rural revitalization," Zhao said.

Zhan Ziqi, who came to Dali less than a week ago, is currently exploring the digital nomad lifestyle. Her profession involves editing documentaries. The notion of relocating to Dali first crossed her mind when she observed a friend embracing the digital nomad lifestyle in the region online. She expressed her fondness for the atmosphere in Dali.

Recognizing the critical role of digital nomads in developing digital creative industry clusters, the Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture is actively fostering the integration of digital nomads with local culture, including establishing digital nomad associations to explore ways to support rural revitalization and the preservation of intangible cultural heritage.

"We hope to integrate innovation and entrepreneurship, online and offline, incubation and investment, and provide a low-cost, convenient and comprehensive open service platform for digital nomad entrepreneurship," said Zhou Zinan, deputy secretary of the Dali Bai Autonomous Prefectural Committee of the Communist Youth League of China.

Zhou believes that by ensuring comprehensive support for digital nomads and establishing a favorable ecosystem, Dali can attract more digital nomads to settle and become a force for local development.

However, not everyone is suited to the digital nomad lifestyle and work model, as it requires strong self-motivation, effective time management skills, and a resilient nature in the face of uncertainty. It is a lifestyle that involves an inherent sense of fluidity. Some individuals happily settle into a digital nomad lifestyle of moving between different locations, often staying in picturesque and rural locations, while others give up in the face of the challenges and return to regular city life.

"The relationship between digital nomads and society is akin to that of planets and stars in the universe," said Sun Yike, a Ph.D. candidate from the Communication University of China, who came to Dali to study digital nomads. "I believe they will eventually each find their own orbit, revolving around their lives like planets, yet simultaneously revolving around the needs of society, much like orbiting a star."

After a year of studying digital nomads in Dali, Sun told reporters that she plans to become one herself after graduation. Enditem

(Xinhua intern Sun Ruoqi contributed to the story.)

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