A drone glides through the air over fields of green carrying a red box—the iconic red of China’s e-commerce giant JD.com—under the center of its body. When it reaches a tiny village in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu, the drone releases the payload to a landing pad in front of a distribution center, where a contractor picks it up and makes the final delivery to the buyer’s doorstep.

“What used to take two hours to ship… now takes about ten minutes by drone,” Eric Zhao, VP of Technology at JD, says as he plays a video to an international crowd at the RISE Conference in Hong Kong.

Almost half of China’s 1.3 billion people still live in rural areas. Poor infrastructure, fewer orders, and higher logistics fees have long been a challenge for China’s e-commerce companies. JD’s rural drone plan, however, came at a time when the nation’s urban-rural income gap is narrowing and internet penetration is growing. A report released by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) on July 1 shows that the share of China’s rural population living below the poverty line fell from 30% in 2005 to 5.7% in 2015. The rise in rural income has boosted rural e-commerce where small-town residents can enjoy aspects of urban quality and convenience without having to relocate to expensive and competitive cities.

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Rita Liao

Telling the uncommon China stories through tech. I can be reached at ritacyliao [at] gmail [dot] com.