Surprising photos show how online shopping has affected even China’s most far-flung regions

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In China, like many other places around the world, online shopping is spreading rapidly, connecting consumers to goods they may never have had access to before.

China’s biggest online retailer, Taobao, has been racking up serious numbers since it was founded in 2003. It’s created 9.7 million jobs and is currently the 10th most visited site on the web.

Chinese photographer Huang Qingjun was recently commissioned by Taobao to document online shopping in China. He decided to offer as a diverse portrait as possible. “I wanted to find people from all directions: east, west, south and north,” he told the BBC.

Qingjun discovered that even the most isolated parts of the country have started to use the internet as a point of contact to the modern world. Thanks to the growth of mobile technology, it’s estimated that 81% of Chinese citizens have access to the internet. This means that people in even the most remote areas can still shop online for things they need.

Qingjun asked his subjects to pose with every object they have purchased online. The results give us a surprising look at the far-reaching effects of online consumption today. The captions are Qingjun’s own, edited for clarity.

You can see more at Qingjun’s site.

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“Wang Yafeng, a 28-year-old young man from northeastern China, owns a travel service business and youth hostel in a remote arctic village. He recalls his first memory of online shopping, when he spent over $US35,000 on Taobao, China’s most popular internet shopping website. Almost all the items in his hostel and home were purchased online.”

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“Mao Hongwei, a 48-year-old man, is not very familiar with the internet. His first online shopping experience came from last year’s Taobao “1212” promotion, during which he was aided by a Taobao agent in his village. After the first attempt, he began to buy things himself and got gradually got used to the new shopping method. All the material and furniture in his new house are bought online, costing $US3,200. To him, shopping online is finding a new life.”

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“Liu Jun and his family are Mongolian, and his ancestors lived a nomadic and herding life. He settled down in a town named Ulanhot, but goes back to his Mongolian yurt every spring and autumn. While living in the yurt, he used to have to drive almost 90 miles to the town to buy necessities. Since he began to shop online in 2012, he has spent over $US4,800 on Taobao. To Liu Jun and his family, the greatest benefit brought by online shopping is its convenience, which saves time and energy.”

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“Liu Chunxiao was a student living and working in Europe for over 20 years, who experienced ups and downs in both studies and business. When she returned to China, she began to use Taobao for online shopping. More than half of the new products she’s bought from the internet are toys and clothes for her little son. To her, online shopping is a special way to express love.”

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‘The very first thing Li Nian bought from the internet was a model aeroplane, which opened a new window in his life. He’s a young entrepreneur and a model plane enthusiast who has spent over $US322,000 on his pursuits. He set up an aerial-photographing company and us Taobao to grow his business. To Li, online shopping is a foundation for his career.”

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‘Mahmoodjan, the only college student in a family of four boys, used to be a foreign language guide, a civil servant, and a volunteer. He registered for Taobao in 2006 and likes to buy digital products, such as headsets, Kindles, and USB flash drives. He recently bought an iPhone 6 Plus, which he didn’t want to take out at first.”

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“Huang Jianguang is an engineer who loves outdoor sports and bike riding. He loves to buy tools and parts on Taobao, using them to create his own bicycles. He has spent almost $US6,500 on online. To him, online shopping is the biggest support for his hobby.”

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“Yang Chin, who was born in the Shannan district of Tibet, moved to China for work when she was 17, where she worked in a café. Her boss taught her how to shop online in 2010. Now, Yang Chin often buys clothing and other things online. Her favourite purchase is a ripped pair of jeans, which her mother found inappropriate. To Yang Chin, online shopping is a way to touch the world.”

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I”n May, 2011, Jia Yuhao and Lu Xuefeng resigned from well-paying jobs and settled down in Lhasa, China. Today, they run an inn together there. About 80 per cent of the stuff in the inn was bought online, including an automatic coffee machine, a doll, and board games, some outdoor equipment they love, and the sleeping bags they are wearing in the photo above. Jia spent over $US80,500 on Taobao during the past 9 years, but Lu spent even more, 860,000 in 10 years. To them, online shopping can help them to achieve themselves.”

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“Gyatsoling Rinpoche was born in 1990 and was chosen as the reincarnation of the Living Buddha when he was four. Gyatsoling graduated from Tibet Medical College in his 17th, and is now the youngest teacher in the college. He only buys Buddhist goods on Taobao, such as butter lamps and candles. To him, online shopping is a way to cut down expenses.”

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“Because of his interior decorating background, Sun Bin has spent over $US88,500 over the past six years. He pays a lot of attention to his 126 favourite online stores on Taobao, checking them for new products often. The wall behind him is made up with clocks selected from Taobao. To him, finding distinctive things on Taobao is a new way to enjoy life.”

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“Zhang Boya loves designing clothes, as well as making handcrafts and home decorations. She married her husband last year and 80% of her furniture was bought online by her wedding guests.”

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“Aer Yingming, seen here with her family, started online shopping in 2008 with several of her coworkers. They’re all frequent users of Taobao and often select products together. To Aer Yingming online shopping is part of her life.”

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