As red, yellow and blue bicycles appear more frequently on the streets, a new term is spreading fast around China—the sharing economy. Besides bicycles, mobile device power packs and even cars can be borrowed by scanning quick response codes. Thus, the sharing economy is thriving in China.
Actually, sharing activities have long existed. For example, libraries are open to the public to share the books therein, and people swim in pools at aquatics centers shared by many others. However, these activities did not lead to the creation of a specific economic model.
The rapid development of the Internet has made it possible for the sharing economy to develop on a big scale. The Internet serves as a tie connecting suppliers and consumers, whether for sharing information in online forums and communities or for exchanging tangible goods.
While the Internet is the basis for the expanding sharing economy, government support is the driving force. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has repeatedly stressed the benefit of combining the sharing economy with innovation and startup businesses, laying out a plan for its development.
As for the scale of China's sharing economy, there are no official statistics yet, but according to the Shenzhen-headquartered market research firm Forward, more than 500 million people are involved, with 5,000 or so supplying relevant services. The sharing economy is now worth about 2 trillion yuan ($290 billion) in China.
By lowering the threshold for innovation and creation of new businesses, the sharing economy makes full use of unused resources, provides jobs and is becoming a new area for economic growth. As this model is open to everyone, the sharing economy can also help promote social equality and justice.
However, as a fresh economic sector in China, it still needs further improvement. For example, in this model, suppliers transfer only the right of use to consumers for a certain period of time in return for economic gain, usually in the form of rent. Users are not entitled to the right of ownership. But some users monopolize these resources as their own private property.
Also, the sharing economy has brought some financial concerns. Presently, users pay refundable deposits to access shared items. For bicycles, the deposit ranges from 99 to 299 yuan ($15-44). These deposits amount to hundreds of millions of yuan in total. No detailed policies exist on how to ensure the security and proper use of this money.
The sharing economy is changing people's lives. Nonetheless, the emerging sector needs to be better managed and regulated so that it will deliver greater benefits to consumers and contribute more to the country's sound economic growth.
Copyedited by Chris Surtees
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