China’s Rural Tech Revolution and the “Blockchain Chicken Farm”

In letter

  • American artist, programmer, and writer Xiaowei Wang ventured into the most distant regions of China to study the effects of the technological revolution.
  • A remote, blockchain-enabled chicken farm embodied the challenges and opportunities that are transforming China’s economic landscape.
  • The ongoing changes are of unprecedented proportions and come at a time when food safety concerns are paramount.

When Xiaowei Wang When they made the arduous journey to the mountain village of Guizhou to visit China’s most modern chicken farm, they weren’t sure what to expect.

Wang was born in China, immigrated to the United States as a child, and began a career as an artist, programmer, writer, and creative director of logic Magazine. Like many Chinese, Wang, who prefers to use the pronoun “she”, continued to visit his ancestral home and other Chinese villages.

Recently they told Decrypt about a rather unpleasant visit, but one that aptly shows how inappropriate the technological boom that is sweeping China’s landscape is.

The result is now the title of a book: “Blockchain Chicken Farm: And Other Tech Stories In China’s Land, ”Was published by FSG Originals last month and supported by a number of publications from the New York Times to the Guardian and Huck.

Not just another book on blockchain

Blockchain may appear in the front and middle of the title, but Wang’s book is not specifically about blockchain. Rather, it’s a kind of disquisition about how technology is changing rural China in general at the speed of light – and not always for the better.

Blockchain Chicken Farm author Xiaowei Wang. Image: Xiaowei Wang

China’s landscape is a densely populated area filled with government and large business funded e-commerce startups, data centers, and small manufacturing facilities, Wang writes. It stands in stark contrast to the misconception that the technological revolution is entirely in urban China.

Blockchain Chicken Farm is a tableau of situations, sketches and even recipes and conveys the shock of recent transformations facing an old way of life and the hacker culture that emerges when people adapt technologies to their own needs.

Blockchain chicken farm

One of the central technologies in this rural revitalization is the blockchain. After a number of food safety fears, this is helping to build trust in the food supply chains. That means China’s city dwellers are very familiar with blockchain and cryptocurrencies compared to most U.S. city dwellers – and the government is making efforts to promote the former but not the latter, Wang said.

However, the landscape is a different proposition. “There is a big difference between those who live in the big cities and those who live in rural areas,” they said. “Life in the country compared to a Chinese city – it’s like day and night.”

China has one of the highest income inequality rates in the world thanks to the income gap between rural and urban areas. As a result, the intrusion of Chinese mega-corporations like Alibaba, JD.Com and NetEase in the dining room was greeted. The tech giants have been busy centralizing production and shipping, supported by AI, computer science, blockchain and sensors. They aim to optimize agricultural production and provide affected and affluent urban consumers with the data they are now demanding about food origins – at one price.

The Blockchain Chicken Farm in Guizhou. Image: Xiaowei Wang

Wang was interested in the local impact, and so they made the long and arduous journey to the remote and economically disadvantaged Guizhou. There they visited a farm that supplies poultry for “GoGoChicken,” a partnership between the local government and Shanghai-based Lianmo Technology that develops technologies to track the origins of chickens on a blockchain. These are being sold for the princely sum of RMB 300 (USD 40) on the e-commerce platform JD.Comwith the profits that are distributed between the farmer and 300 other households in the village.

However, their visit did not go quite according to plan. “The district officials [were] I’m very happy to show me how modern your village is, how modern it is, ”said Wang, describing the free-range chickens who pecked at selected feed and wore something like QB-code-embossed FitBits.

The wristbands tracked the chickens’ movements and location with instantly visible data that customers can access via the QR code after slaughter (they can even see their chicken’s photo). These new age chickens are ambassadors for a range of infrastructures, including a proprietary blockchain called Anlink, that demonstrate the latest technology in the supply chain.

But then everything got a bit embarrassing. “It was actually a very uncomfortable visit… when I started asking people, ‘Well, what do you think of blockchain? ‘You are like’ why? What are you talking about?’ They thought I was making fun of them, ”Wang recalled.

Farmer Jiang, owner of the blockchain chicken farm. Image: Xiaowei Wang

The farmer told them that he had sold 6,000 chickens as part of the project. His son, who had recently returned from town and was now employed by the local government, was responsible for putting it together.

It seemed like the perfect solution to their problems: lack of a reliable market, low profit margins, and buyers who struggled to trust that the chickens were free-range and worth the asking price. But the future was still uncertain; In the following year, Lianmo did not reorder 6,000 chickens or assist with handling the complex infrastructure needed to run the blockchain chicken farm. In the meantime, the farmer’s overheads had increased to account for all of the technology.

Wang later discovered that Lianmo and the other companies involved in the project had left Guizho because it was simply too remote, but the program continued elsewhere.

“There are actually a lot of these little tech companies in China doing all sorts of small, fascinating, and smaller projects,” they said. “It’s surprising how easy it is to start a small startup in China.”

Tech thrives in remote, rural China

It is the bigger companies that are making the most of the waves with initiatives like Taobao Villages, a home industry founded by Chinese giant Alibaba, named for its phenomenally successful e-commerce website that caters to both consumers and retailers beat . It serves 600 million users and puts Amazon in the shade.

Since the program began in 2012, around 3,000 villages have almost entirely displaced their local economies with companies serving Taobao, and now manufacture everything from snow-white costumes to electronic devices. Even the most distant farmer now knows how to use WeChat for cash transactions, Wang said.

Netease, one of the world’s largest internet gaming companies, Alibaba and others are also making great strides in agriculture. China’s situation is difficult. Feed 22% of the world population It’s just difficult and puts enormous pressure on farmers on only 10% of the world’s arable land.

“Blockchain Chicken Farm” describes how the big companies want to optimize agricultural production; They want to combine it with “internet thinking” and want to perfect the art of rearing perfect pigs – one of the largest industries in the country.

Data is fed into Alibaba’s “ET Agricultural Brain,” and the AI ​​provides optimal nutrition, exercise, and even music to help prevent these sensitive creatures from becoming stressed.

But China’s pork wonder comes at a price. There is a risk that pigs will be homogenized and certain breeds will become extinct, writes Wang.

The scene from the ground is, as “Blockchain Chicken Farm” tries to demonstrate, more and more nuanced. Blockchain, for example, risks more inequality by making food a commodity rather than a basic human right, warns Wang. What is needed is incentive structures other than producing most at the lowest price, and a way to counter what might be construed as a different kind of colonialism “because the technical systems are only readable by a few,” they explained.

Wang believes that the question of whether or not the technology thrives in China ultimately depends on whether people trust blockchain more than the government, and part of it depends on whether the community can expand and diversify.

The “hectic culture”

China’s rural revitalization is aided by dazzling new infrastructure, and entrepreneurs are encouraged to return to their rural homes after years of struggle in China’s cities. In one small village alone, Wang was told that over 500 young people had returned last year.

These young transplants have helped spark a “hectic culture” in the remote rural areas where China’s authoritarianism coexists with less well-defined local rule. Where counterfeit goods replace luxury goods – which are in short supply – and where playing the system on your own needs is customary (these practices are collectively referred to as Shanzhaiand the name literally means “mountain fortress”.)

“[The] Amount of creativity or type of unintended use [of technology] It’s just very fascinating to see and it actually gives me a lot of hope, ”said Wang.