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The second World Internet Conference (WIC) is being held from Dec 16 to 18 in Wuzhen, a waterside town in Zhejiang province with a more than 7,000-year history in China.

The WIC, founded last year, is part of China’s effort to “assume the responsibility of a great network power.” Part of the WIC agenda this year is the strategic-level discussions on the Internet industry as an economic growth engine. The three-day event is expected to boast over 2,000 guests from more than 120 countries in the 67-sq-km water town. The CEOs of giant Chinese Internet and technology companies such as Alibaba, Baidu, Tencent and Xiaomi as well as representatives of  overseas companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Yahoo, Qualcomm, Siemens and IBM are all on the guest list.

But why Wuzhen? Apart from the fact that it is a beautiful town held together by interconnecting canals and elegant stone bridges, what makes it stand out from other towns in China? How “internet” or how smart is Wuzhen?

First, the overall Internet coverage and technology facility.

Wi-Fi signals, offered by China Mobile and China Telecom, are covering the town where visitors are able to access a special Wuzhen zone when using Autonavi’s navigation service to get to the various meetings of the conference. Facial recognition technology is used by security to ensure visitors’ identity for greater efficiency of the security process. During the first WIC in  2014, the (in)famous Great Fire Wall system is temporary shut down in Wuzhen, allowing guests use overseas services such as Twitter and Facebook. In the 2015 WIC, invited media would receive a Xiaomi phone and a special Internet surfing account which enables users to “cross” the Great Fire Wall.

Second, the specific Internet usages in Wuzhen.

To better understand these questions, one particular Chinese policy is worth our attention. In March 5, 2015, way before the 2015 WIC, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang spoke of the concept of “Internet Plus” in his 2015 Government Work Report. According to the report, the “Internet Plus” action plan focused on  integration of mobile Internet, cloud computing, big data and Internet of Things with modern manufacturing, fostering new industries and business development, including e-commerce, industrial Internet and Internet finance. In line with the action plan, many of these Internet strategies are manifested in Wuzhen.

  • Internet + Finance

“Internet + Finance” means that financial industries can apply internet technology to their service provision and product sale. For instance, clients can pay bills or transfer money from one account to another through internet. The number of Internet users has reached about 649 million in China, while the e-commerce over 13 trillion yuan.

In Wuzhen, WeChat and Alipay are the dominant platforms via which visitors can enjoy convenient services such as renting a bike, finding and paying for a local hostel and even making food orders.

  • Internet + Healthcare/Elderly Care System

The Internet and hospitals appear to be creatures of two different geological eras—until recently. China’s Internet plus is expected to ease the medical current problems of the general public in China. Specifically, Internet plus will optimize the traditional mode of treatment for patients with one-stop health management services. Through the Internet, the patient’s medical data can be obtained from the mobile terminal to monitor their own health data.

On Dec 6, two weeks before the 2015 WIC, an “Internet hospital” was launched in Wuzhen. Undoubtedly the system would still need improvement , doctors have started consulting and diagnosing their patients on the Internet who could be hundreds of miles away. The hospital also has its own APP that works both on iPhone and Android system, in which patients can consult doctors, get e-prescriptions and have their medicine delivered to their home.

In additional to the “Internet hospital”, Wuzhen has also had its first “Internet elderly care” platform, or the “smart elderly care”  system. At the moment, Wuzhen has nearly 150,000 people aged over 60, which is 20 per cent of the whole Wuzhen population. To strike a cost-efficiency balance in its elderly care system, Wuzhen government has launched its “smart elderly care” initiative on Dec 11, 2015. With a green IC card called i-Life,  the elderly can enjoy online and offline healthcare service. For example, one can test his/her blood pressure at a local service centre and the data will be stored in the card. If the pressure is beyond warning level, staffers at the station will inform his/her family members.

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  • Internet + Government

“Internet + Government”(also known as Internet government, digital government, online government and connected government) consists of the digital interactions between the government and citizens, government and government agencies, government and employees, and government and the commerce.

In this regard, Wuzhen government has coordinated with WeChat, one of the most popular social networking platforms in China, to put this strategy into action. Residents of and visitors to Wuzhen can follow “Wuzhen minqing” public account to get real-time information of government policy, file complaints and ask for service. Since October this year, a pilot project has been launched in Hongqiao village in Wuzhen town where the QR code or “Wuzhen minqing” account was put up near each household’s door. Things as trivial as “the trash on the street hasn’t been cleaned” or “the sewer is stuck” can be directly reported to the public account via text messages and/or audio messages. Such e-government model is relatively low-cost and can effectively bridge citizens and government officials closer.

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Putting aside the concerns of Internet freedom, China’s “Internet Plus” strategy still has its values in integrating the Internet with other traditional industries to boost its economy and technology upgrading. These industries and areas are also future opportunities for internet and technology companies to look into.The case of Wuzhen has showed us the possibility of putting these plans into actions, which startups in other places can learn from and apply to their own situation.

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