Over 650 million people live in the rural areas in China, and 'rural informatization (Nóngcun Xìnxi huà)' – improving access to information communications technology (ICT) and enhancing the lives of rural citizens – has been one of the top development priorities in China since the last decade. A significant number of rural ICT investments have been made by the central and local governments as well as by the private sector.
This report, titled Information and Communications in the Chinese Countryside: A Study of Three Provinces, offers central and local government policymakers recommendations for enhancing rural informatization. It is informed by several years of research carried out in rural areas of three provinces (Shandong, Jilin, and Guizhou). The scope of the study included: (a) a demand survey to assess rural ICT access and usage; (b) a review of ICT in primary and secondary schools; (c) a survey of public libraries, including the extent of ICT use in rural libraries; and (d) an assessment of specific ICT interventions to examine how they have affected rural users. Much of the published information about rural ICT development in China describes infrastructure deployment, with top-level target monitoring statistics. This report sheds light on findings at the grassroots level through surveys and interviews, exploring the nature of demand for ICT services from rural populations, and considers whether this demand is being adequately addressed. Though there are differences in infrastructure and access across the three provinces, the structural challenges are similar. The lessons learned are not only consistent across the three provinces but are also similar to research findings on rural informatization in other provinces. Thus they are likely to be relevant for making recommendations about future approaches in other rural areas in China.
Information and Communications in the Chinese Countryside: A Study of Three Provinces considers the impact from investments in rural ICT in selected provinces, and what can be learned from these experiences. It identifies the key drivers of demand for ICT services from the perspective of the rural population, and highlights some innovative approaches taken to use ICT for agricultural productivity enhancement. A notable feature of the report is an assessment of the role of public libraries whose network extends from major metropolitan centres all the way to the village level. The main messages emerging from the report acknowledge the significant progress in improving basic access to ICT infrastructure, emphasizing the need for a stronger focus on demand-side interventions, user skills development and outreach, and institutional collaboration.