Sharing economy is transforming Chinese society

By Daniel Hyatt
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, January 21, 2019
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This April 5, 2017 photo shows people use shared bicycles in Kunming, capital of southwest China's Yunnan province. [Photo/Xinhua]

The advent of technology has given rise to a phenomenon that is disrupting traditional business models. The "sharing" economy, a financial ecosystem revolving around short-term renting of resources, is opening up new streams of income for millions of people across the world. The concept has also kicked off in China and experts forecast encouraging returns from this contemporary form of commerce.

Competition has been tough yet profitable in the sharing sector. Colorful bikes dotting the landscapes of major Chinese cities are the most prominent sign of this business. Car-hailing is also going strong, with discernible market leaders even as multinationals fervently jump in. Accommodation-sharing and hospitality follow close behind, where international players such as Airbnb are progressing well alongside local ventures. Other inventive initiatives include sharing battery packs, self-service gyms, and even works of art. A highly productive application, meanwhile, has been in the field of manufacturing, where factories share their production capacities and industrial designs to hatch additional profits.

Multiple factors have enabled expansion of the sharing economy in China. Foremost is people's willingness to rent rather than own infrequently used assets – thereby keeping the excess capital for more pressing needs. At the same time, they have embraced the idea of making purchases solely for the purpose of spawning proceeds through sharing.

The practice is especially pervasive in China, as compared to other parts of the world. In the United States, for instance, only 43 percent of people are willing to accept sharing, whereas in China the ratio goes as high as 94 percent.

Young people, the first to break conventional business models and reach for radical opportunities, have been the heaviest users of sharing platforms. With more millennials in China than the whole population of the United States, sharing is now an inseparable segment of the Chinese financial structure.

Owing to its sizable tech-savvy population, China has been more accepting of the sharing model, displaying an implicit trust in mobile payment platforms, which has boosted the use of cyberspace for renting and hiring.

Moreover, traditional models worldwide have not been efficient in terms of meeting customers' needs. Sharing, on the other hand, provides numerous choices based on value for money, immediacy of the service's availability, and the performance history of the host.

At the same time, the Chinese government has been giving due focus to this promising aspect of the new economy. It has not only made sharing a priority but is also working with private firms to make the industry sustainable and an integral part of the reform process.

Photo taken on May 24, 2017 shows a student using shared washing machine in a university in east China's Shanghai. [Photo/Xinhua]

Effects of sharing enthusiasm are already evident. Most prominent is the boom in the service sector. Mobility is evolving with ride-hailing, hospitality is transforming with accommodation-sharing, and startups are succeeding by using facilities provided by established manufacturing units.

The sharing furor is also enabling more judicious use of private and public resources. People are saving costs on their daily commutes and the government is saved from raising expensive mass transit systems. Even the burden of traffic has eased in major cities and instead of burning fuel, people interestingly are now burning fat.

Home-sharing entities are, likewise, easing the load of the hospitality industry during peak holiday seasons. Though hotels have complained of revenues being affected, for society on the whole it is a step towards better distribution of wealth and a means of supplemental earning in the community. 

Finally, the sharing economy has been remarkably beneficial for the environment. As pollution remains a significant issue in some Chinese cities, bike and car-sharing are contributing to the reduction in carbon emissions. In a formal recognition from the United Nations, Mobike, a bicycle-sharing company from Beijing, received Champions of the Earth Award a while back.

Sharing is leading the innovative wave by coming up with fresh ways of stirring commercial activity. At a time when sharing is turning into a buzzword, many enterprises are trying to cash in on the trend. While few might not be entirely true to the concept, only the productive ones will survive, thus further refining the sector.

In the foreseeable future, Chinese society's massive adoption of technology will continue to drive the sharing economy. New avenues of resource sharing will arise and people will find it increasingly beneficial to micro-rent. Business practices will, however, need a conceptual overhaul to give more power over to the consumer.

Daniel Hyatt is a Pakistan-based freelance journalist and commentator on modern China.

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors only, not necessarily those of

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