Photo Essay: China’s Taobao Families

4 min read · 7 years ago


Westerners sometimes have a hard time understanding the enthusiasm with which Chinese consumers embrace online shopping, but it’s not difficult to explain. The country’s economic growth has put money in the pockets of millions, but a lag in retail development, especially in more remote regions, makes it difficult or impossible to obtain life’s finer things locally. This is why the Internet, and especially Taobao Marketplace, China’s largest C2C online shopping website, has become the nation’s shopping mall. This photo essay by freelance photographer Huang Qingjun and commissioned by Taobao–for which Chinese families from all over China were asked to pose with goods purchased online–is graphic evidence of the reach of the e-shopping craze. The images are pretty striking, enjoy.

Lyu Qunzhi family, Lijiang, Yunnan Province: Lyu Qunzhi, a Naxi farmer in Southwest China, hasn’t learned how to shop online, so he asked his two younger brothers to help him buy irrigation equipment, a second-hand CD player, as well as clothes for his parents and kids.

Liu Chunxiao, Tonghua, Jilin Province: Now settled near China’s border with North Korea, Liu studied and ran a business in Europe for 20 years. She started shopping on Taobao to buy toys and clothing for her son.


Li Nian, Beijing: Li’s first online purchase was a doll of the lead character from popular Chinese movie CJ7 (think E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial). Since then he’s graduated to drones and model airplanes worth RMB 2 million ($320,000). The drones aren’t just for fun. Li runs an aerial photography business; he designs some of his own drone equipment, sourcing the parts he needs from Taobao merchants.

Zhang Yabo, Beijing: Zhang works in Internet industry but enjoys handicrafts and home decorating. She estimates 80 percent of her retro-inspired furniture was ordered online, and says her trophies like an elm desk and stool will accompany her through her life.

Huang Jianguang, Liuzhou, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region: An engineer who loves outdoor sports and mountain biking, Huang built a ride from parts ordered through Taobao–then did it again when his first DIY bike was stolen. Huang says he spent RMB 40,000 ($6,400) online on gear and supplies for a bike tour that took him to 18 Chinese provinces.

Mao Hongwei, Tonglu, Zhejiang Province:  For his first online purchase, Mao sought the help of a neighbor who acts as a buyer for e-commerce neophytes in his village. The houseproud 48-year-old says he sourced RMB 20,000 ($3,200) in building materials, furniture and household items online to deck out his new home.

Wang Yafeng, Mohe, Heilongjiang Province:  The winters are long in Northern China and there aren’t many shopping opportunities. Wang, a hotelier in the tourist industry, says he ordered almost everything, including a nautical clock and faux Christmas tree, for his hotel and home online. E-shopping is entertainment, he says, especially during the dark nights before the arrival of Spring.

Liu Jun family, Horqin Right Front Banner, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region: The UPS guy has a hard time delivering online orders to those with a nomadic lifestyle. Fortunately the Liu family has moved to town, so they’ve been around to sign for some RMB 30,000 ($4,800) worth of merchandise they’ve bought on Taobao since 2012. The Liu clan, of Mongolian descent, still likes to move around. In Spring and Fall, they migrate to their ger, with supplies purchased online.

Gyatsoling Rinpoche, Pinto Lin Temple, Changdu, Tibet Autonomous Region: Devout Buddhists don’t really go in much for material possessions. Still, Gyatsoling, who is considered a reincarnation of Buddha and teaches at Tibet Buddhist College, has turned to Taobao to buy devotional items such as yak-butter lamps and candles for himself and others at his temple. Gyatsoling says he gets a better price online than he does from local retailers.

Yang Chin, Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region: Yang Chin moved to the Tibetan capital at age 17 from her hometown in Tibet’s Shannan district. She works in a cafe and shops online for clothes for herself and friends. Her favorite item?  A pair of ripped jeans, though she says her mother doesn’t really approve of them. Yang Chin says online shopping is her window to connect with the world.