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What’s It Like to Be a Food Deliveryman in China?

What’s It Like to Be a Food Deliveryman in China?


You can see them everywhere in China’s big cities. Hundreds of millions of people use apps every day for delivery. But who are these people literally risking their lives to deliver food in time? To get groceries in China, you don’t even have to leave your house anymore. All you need is to order what you want on an app. And this even includes fresh groceries like fish, crabs, or even bullfrogs. We’re inside Freshippo, a supermarket run by Chinese internet giant Alibaba. You can see staff running around the shop picking up groceries. So how does it work? Let’s say my friend’s dad feels like cooking an eel for dinner that night. He places an order with the supermarket via his phone. The live eel is killed, prepared, packed, and then sent to the back of house for collection. The deliveryman is on a tight deadline. He has to deliver it in roughly half an hour. Food delivery is fast becoming a part of everyday life in big cities. According to a government report, out of China’s 570 million internet users, almost half of them have ordered food online. And the workers powering this $67 billion industry are people like 28-year-old Ren Jiuliang. For the past three years, Ren has woken up every morning for another day of racing against time. Ren works for Meituan, the largest food delivery company in China. Depending on distance, drivers usually only have about half an hour to 40 minutes to make a delivery. I got my groceries. He says he can tackle 40 to 50 orders a day, and gets paid about $1.50 per order at peak hours. But if he’s late, his pay gets cut in half. That’s why the lunch hour is a mad dash for delivery drivers. Many of these drivers are young men who left their small towns for bigger paychecks in the cities. They’re known within China as “migrant workers.” Meituan says over half of its 2.7 million drivers are migrant workers, and in big cities like Beijing and Shanghai, that figure is up to 97%. Nationwide, over 70% of its 2.7 million drivers come from the countryside. Ren earns about US$1,100 per month, which he says is nearly three times what he could make at home. Many drivers are not hired as full-time employees but as contractors or even freelancers. As long-time labor researcher Liu Kaiming notes, they can be in for a tough ride. Apart from that, drivers face an even bigger issue: safety. Traffic accidents involving delivery workers appear to be on the rise. In Shanghai alone, drivers were involved in over 320 traffic accidents in the first six months of 2019. That’s an average of nearly two accidents per day and nearly triple the annual figure in 2017. Shanghai police have begun installing chips in drivers’ license plates so they can track them for traffic offenses. Despite the dangers, Ren says he’s still happy with his job, but he doesn’t see himself on the bike forever. Next up, we’re taking a deep dive into the topic of single motherhood in modern China. What kinds of cultural backlash do single moms face? And why do some women choose to become a single mom nowadays? Stay tuned for the next episode and subscribe to Goldthread.

10 thoughts on “What’s It Like to Be a Food Deliveryman in China?”

  1. After watching this 🔥 vid, I’d watch a documentary series about these guys. Seems like a whole different energy is required being a delivery man in China as opposed to other places. Goldthread putting in great work again!

  2. dang I knew someone would make a vid on this, I wanted to try it, I watched one almost get smashed by a van. slammed on his brakes and flipped over the scooter and rolled on the road. van slammed brakes and just stared. guy got back on the scooter and drove off. was nuts

  3. didn't know how tight of a deadline they had!
    also would be nice to know the original RMB amount before converting to USD 😅

  4. The only reason all these deliveries work in china is cuz there’s so many people that are so god damn poor, it’s a step up from their farming/rural jobs, so they move to cities to work

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