New highways and trains and changes in farming are opening up the country’s poorer cities and rural areas, long laggards amid China’s torrid growth.
LIANGDUO, China — One crisp October morning, Han Youjun got into his silver delivery van and left this small town in eastern China. Within minutes, his van brimming with boxes of every size and shape, he was rumbling through rice paddies, down narrow village lanes and past modest farmhouses, deeper and deeper into China’s vast hinterland.
In the past, delivery drivers like Mr. Han would have had little reason to travel so far. China’s boom over the past four decades made its crowded metropolises wealthy. Much of the rest of the country, especially farming communities like those surrounding Liangduo, in the eastern province of Jiangsu, remained relatively poor.
But more and more, the benefits of China’s economic miracle are penetrating into smaller cities and countryside hamlets — as Mr. Han, a 32-year-old deliveryman for JD.com, an online retailer, knows all too well. The 70 packages crammed into his van that day were double the amount he usually hauled only 18 months earlier.
“The workdays have been getting longer,” he said.
China needs spenders in those places. The government is trying to shift the country’s growth engine away from its traditional dependence on factories and building things. Those old growth sources are no longe and require more and more costly debt.
Thanks to China’s digital revolution, advances in farming and billions of dollars spent on thousands of miles of new highways and railways, Chinese people away from the biggest cities are responding. Many of China’s more remote areas are catching up to rich metropolises and connecting to the broader economy in ways they had not before, with potential long-term benefits for the Chinese economy and the world.
In the prefecture that contains Liangduo, Yancheng, locals’ wallets are fattening more quickly than the national rate, and their household spending — which surged 8 percent per person in 2016 — outpaced the rises in Beijing and Shanghai.
Signs of that new prosperity can be seen at Auto City, a jumble of ramshackle, boxy buildings in Yancheng where Toyota, Ford and just about every other major brand compete for customers. Zhou Zhengguo, owner of a dealership for the Chinese automaker Geely, expects to sell 2,000 cars this year, four times more than just two years ago.
“Most people who bought cars were private businessmen,” Mr. Zhou said. “Now working-class people buy, too.”
Those who live in China’s less developed places could be crucial to the next stage of China’s development.
Robin Xing, an economist at Morgan Stanley, believes consumer spending in places like Yancheng’s urban center will continue to outperform bigger cities. As a result, two-thirds of all additional private consumption growth will come from these less developed areas through 2030.
“We do expect them to catch up, to narrow the income gap with the large cities,” Mr. Xing said.
Businesses are looking at such areas in a new light. New highways and high-speed railways make relocating factories and other operations into smaller cities easier, allowing companies to take advantage of their lower costs. Industrial output in Yancheng expanded more quickly than the national rate last year.
The gains are not limited to the hinterland’s main towns. Farms are becoming bigger, more efficient and more lucrative.
More: The New York Times: China’s Next Potential Boom Spot: The Places People Overlook
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