A Guide to the Internet in China – E-Commerce

Posted on 25. Jul, 2014 by in Business, Culture, internet

We’ve talked a lot about the Internet in China recently, so here are the previous posts in case you’ve missed any of them:

We’ve just about covered it all, but there can’t be a discussion about the ‘net in China without talking about e-commerce. This is certainly a hot topic in the worldwide business community, and it’s crucial for anyone who wants to do business in China to learn more about the online market.

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It’s a few years old, but this video gives you a rough idea to how big e-commerce is in China.

Just last year, China topped the United States as the world’s top e-commerce market, with a total value of online shopping just under $300 billion. That’s a lot of kuai, and it doesn’t look like things are going to let up any time soon. With the explosion of smart phones, tablets, and other mobile devices that are constantly connected, more and more Chinese people prefer to do their shopping online than in person.

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A short discussion on e-commerce in China on CNN.

According to Forbes, by the end of the year e-commerce will account for 10% of all retail sales in China. That’s not all, though – this article from China Briefing states that, “e-commerce in China will be worth US$540 billion by 2015, and by 2020 worth more than e-commerce in the U.S., the UK, Japan, Germany and France combined.” Those are astounding figures, and of course these high numbers are attracting more and more attention to e-commerce in China. When this topic comes up, there’s always one name that comes to mind first…


E-commerce giant Alibaba.

E-commerce giant Alibaba.

The Alibaba Group (阿里巴巴集团 – Ā lǐ bā bā jí tuán) is a massive group of e-commerce businesses with a share of about 80% of the Chinese market. Founded by Jack Ma in 1999, this online giant did more in sales in 2012 than both eBay and Amazon – combined! The Economist even goes so far as to predict that Alibaba could be one of the world’s most valuable companies by next year, right up there with Apple. Last year on Singles’ Day (11/11), the company did 35 billion RMB in sales in just 24 hours. That’s about $5.75 billion, and that was just one day. After failed talks with Hong Kong, the company is gearing up for its IPO in the USA, which some investors believe could be valued at over $200 billion.

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A great and insightful video on Alibaba and its IPO.

All of those staggering numbers and business jargon are interesting and all, but exactly how and what are Chinese people buying online?


A look at Taobao's home page.

A look at Taobao’s home page.

Taobao (淘宝网 – táo bǎo wǎng) is the driving force behind Alibaba’s success. This online shopping giant (similar to eBay and Amazon) is not only the top place to shop online in China, it’s one of the ten most visited websites in the entire world. Back in 2003 when eBay purchased Eachnet (the online auction leader at that time in China), Alibaba launched Taobao to compete with the American e-commerce behemoth. Knowing the Chinese consumer much better, the folks working on Taobao introduced a variety of features that quickly won over the Chinese market and drove eBay out entirely within a few short years. It allows for free listings of services and products, and there is an instant messaging service on the site that allows buyers to communicate with sellers directly and in real time. Another big draw was its launch of Alipay (支付宝 – zhī fù bǎo), an escrow-based online payment system that ensures sellers do not receive payment until buyers have received their goods and are satisfied with the transaction. You can find just about anything on Taobao, and you’d be hard pressed to find someone in China who hasn’t used it. It’s not just city dwellers who are seriously into e-commerce in China, which brings us to our next topic…

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A great short titled “The Life of Taobao Couriers.”

E-Commerce in Rural China

All across China, there are places that have come to be known as “Taobao Villages.” According to Alibaba, these are rural areas where at least 10% of households have online stores and the village rakes in more than 10 million RMB in total sales per year. While the rapid urbanization of China is a topic that has been covered ad nauseam, this growing trend in rural China hasn’t received quite as much air time. Farmers are leaving the fields in favor of setting up their own online Taobao shops, more jobs are coming to these villages, and even young people – who just a few years ago wanted nothing more than to escape to the city – are deciding to return home to help out in the e-commerce venture. People in the big cities enjoy buying locally made crafts from rural areas, and in recent years there has been a huge hike in demand for fresh, locally grown produce after many scares about food safety. Just check out this article from Business Week that tells the story of two elderly, illiterate villagers who joined a joint Taobao shop in their village to sell their vegetables.

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Even former farmers are cashing in on the e-commerce explosion. Watch this interesting video from the Financial Times.

It’s obvious that e-commerce is here to stay in China, and it will be interesting to see how this changes the business landscape not only in the country, but around the world. Stay tuned to the blog as we finish up our “Guide to the Internet in China” series with one final post about looking for love on the ‘net.

My Favorite Meal in China

Posted on 23. Jul, 2014 by in Beer, Culture, Drinking, food, travel

When it comes to eating in the Middle Kingdom, your options are practically endless. In such a huge country with an incredibly diverse population, it’s no wonder that there are many different styles of cuisine. For a quick crash course in the major culinary styles of China, check out these posts highlighting the different regions of China from a while back:

  • Northern Cuisine: This post details the food from Beijing, Dongbei (Northeast), and Shandong. Learn about Peking roast duck, pickled cabbage, braised abalone, and much more.
  • Western Cuisine: The western part of China is famed for its mouth-numbingly spicy food, especially the provinces of Sichuan and Hunan. In this post you’ll even learn about Chairman Mao’s personal favorite dish.
  • Southern Cuisine: Sweet and sour pork, drunken prawns, and dim sum are on the menu in this post about Cantonese food.
  • Eastern Cuisine: There’s a lot to cover when it comes to the eastern part of China – Anhui, Fujian, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang provinces.

With so many choices, it’s hard to pick a favorite when it comes to food in China. Personally, I like a nice mixture of everything. From tasty dumplings in the NE, to dim sum brunches down south, to the spicy hot pots of the west, it all tastes great to me. Whenever I leave China for an extended period of time, however, there is always one thing that I miss the most – Xinjiang food (新疆菜 – xīn jiāng cài). Although I’ve never actually been to Xinjiang, there are tons of migrants from that region scattered all over the country, and many of them run restaurants.

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A short news clip about a food festival in Urumqi, Xinjiang.

Xinjiang food is known for a few things – lots of mutton, lots of spice, and lots of naan. As most people in Xinjiang are Muslim, their cuisine is predominantly Halal. You won’t find any pork here, but you will find an abundance of mouth-watering, spicy grilled lamb. An evening at a Xinjiang restaurant with friends is by far one of my favorite things to do in China, and I would recommend anyone traveling in the country to try their best to at least enjoy one such experience.

A table full of food in a Xinjiang restaurant.

A table full of food in a Xinjiang restaurant.

Here’s a little guide to my favorite meal in China, with pictures and the Chinese names of the dishes. Note that you’ll need quite a few friends to help you eat it all!

Grilled Naan

(烤馕 – kǎo náng)

You'll need plenty of this.

You’ll need plenty of this.

As rice and noodles are staples in most Chinese restaurants, it’s always refreshing to have some tasty, spicy, grilled naan bread to enjoy your meal with. You can dip it, cover it, or just eat it on the side. Make sure you order up a few plates of this stuff!

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Watch tasty Xinjiang naan bread being prepared.

Smashed Cucumbers

(拍黄瓜 – pāi huáng guā)

A classic salad in China.

A classic salad in China.

This isn’t exactly a traditional Xinjiang dish per se, but it is widely available in restaurants all across China and it’s always done well in Xinjiang restaurants. Cucumbers are smashed up with garlic, oil, vinegar, and a little bit of chili for an amazing appetizer.

Tomatoes and Scrambled Eggs

(西红柿炒鸡蛋 – xī hóng shì chǎo jī dàn)

A perfect dip for your naan, and good for vegetarians as well!

A perfect dip for your naan, and good for vegetarians as well!

Again, this is a typical dish anywhere in China and isn’t exactly exclusive to Xinjiang, but damn do they do it well! I’ve tried this dish well over a hundred times in restaurants all over China, but my favorite version remains the one at my local Xinjiang joint in Beijing. With a bit of chili sauce, this becomes the perfect dip for your naan bread.

Spicy Diced Chicken

(辣子鸡丁 – là zǐ jī dīng)

Mmmm... spicy chicken.

Mmmm… spicy chicken.

So far, this meal has been great for vegetarians, but we need some meat! This dish is simple but amazing – diced chicken, green and red peppers, plus a spicy sauce. Many restaurants make this dish, but Xinjiang joints do it the best.

Twice Cooked Beef

(回锅牛肉 – huí guō niú ròu)

Cook that meat again!

Cook that meat again!

This dish gets its name as the meat is cooked twice – once on its own and again with the spices and sauce. “Return to the pot meat” is a famous dish all around China, but it’s usually cooked with super fatty pork. Since Xinjiang restaurants are Halal, they use lean, tasty beef instead, which actually tastes much better.

Big Plate Chicken

(大盘鸡 – dà pán jī)

It sure is a big plate of chicken.

It sure is a big plate of chicken.

The shining star of this cuisine and the main event of any dinner in a Xinjiang restaurant, the “big plate chicken” is an epic dish. On one massive plate, you’ve got thick noodles, potatoes, onions, peppers, and diced chicken covered in a delicious, spicy gravy. It’s not just a clever name – it really is a huge plate of chicken. Usually, you can order either a small or a large portion. Unless you have at least 5-6 people, it’s best to go with the small.

Of course, you’ll want to wash this meal down with a few cold glasses of beer (啤酒 – pí jiǔ) and perhaps a few sticks of lamb kebabs (羊肉串 – yáng ròu chuàn) if you’ve still got room. After such a huge meal, you might just need to be rolled out of the restaurant.

100 Most Common Chinese Characters (21-40)

Posted on 17. Jul, 2014 by in Culture, Pronunciation, Vocabulary

Keep going through the 100 most common Chinese characters with us in the 2nd video covering #s 21-40:

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为  – wèi

for, because of

子 –

child, son

和  –

and, together, with

你 –


地 –

earth, ground, position, place

出 – chū

go out

道 – dào

way, path

也 –

also, as well

时 – shí

period, hour

年 – nián


得 –

adverbial particle

就 – jiù

just, simply, right away

那 –


要 – yào


下 – xià

below, under

以 –

use, take, according to

生 – shēng

life, birth

会 – huì

can, able, meet

自 –

from, since

着 – zhe

verb particle