Utility Drives Adoption

Understanding Internet Accessibility in Rural China

by Mingrui Ye (Author)
©2019 Monographs 226 Pages


Utility Drives Adoption: Understanding Internet Accessibility in Rural China addresses the deep digital divide in China by exploring the reasons behind the lagging adoption of the internet in rural communities. With a four-year study and in-depth investigation into a number of rural communities across China, author Mingrui Ye unfolds a picture of internet use in rural villages and answers the questions why and in what scenario rural residents will or will not adopt internet-based digital devices like laptops or tablets.
Additionally, this book contributes to diffusion theory with a newly established research model, by which new determinants responsible for internet adoption were discovered and mutual relations between influential factors at different levels revealed. A series of solutions to improve the adoption rate of the internet in rural China are suggested for implementation at multiple levels. Utility Drives Adoption not only provides a deeper understanding of internet adoption in rural communities but also revisits the theory of innovation diffusion with newly developed perspectives and research models. This book serves as a useful guide for researchers and students in relevant fields to further explore internet utility and adoption in rural China.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Figures
  • Acknowledgments
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Chapter 1. Introduction
  • Rationale
  • The Background
  • Orientation of Policies Relating to Rural Issues in China
  • Divided Status Quo: Access and Usage of the Internet
  • Rural Migrant Workers in Urban Regions
  • Perspective, Questions and Aims
  • Chapter Conclusions and Book Structure
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter 2. To Be Bridged: Perspectives From Literature and Reality
  • Introduction
  • Informationalism and Informatization
  • Informationalism
  • ICT Development and Social Implications in Asia
  • China: Changing and Changed Pattern of ICT Development
  • Digital Divide
  • Understandings of the Digital Divide
  • Digital Divide in China
  • Diffusion of Information Technology
  • Diffusion of Innovations
  • Studies From a Psychological Perspective
  • Studies on Internet Diffusion in Rural Settings
  • Internet Diffusion in China
  • Conclusions
  • References
  • Chapter 3. An Overview of Symbolic Interactionism: Theoretical Framework and Methodological Approach
  • Introduction
  • Diffusion of Innovation: Defined From a Symbolic Interactionist Perspective
  • Symbolic Social Interactions
  • Intentionally Purposive Communication
  • Innovation and Varied Participants
  • Given Situations
  • Research Model: An Approach to Diffusion of Innovations
  • Social Setting
  • Diffusion Networks
  • Innovations
  • Methodological Approach and Research Methods
  • From Symbolic Interactionism to Grounded Theory
  • Data Collection and Analysis
  • Summary of the Theoretical Perspective and Research Framework
  • References
  • Chapter 4. Contextual Analysis: Interactions With Social Settings
  • Introduction
  • Rural-Urban Interrelation
  • Population Mobility: Labor-Shifting and Its Socio-economic Impacts
  • Rural Labor in the Urban Setting
  • Internet Use Among Migrant Workers Within Their Rural Communities
  • “Trading-out”: Rural Residents as Suppliers
  • The Rural Trading Situation
  • An Emerging New Model: A Case Study of Shaji Town
  • Discussion
  • Rural Residents as Consumers
  • Analysis of Consuming Situations
  • Discussion: Rural Residents’ Consumption Situation
  • Summary
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter 5. Diffusion Network Analysis: Interactions With the Immediate Environment
  • Introduction
  • Understanding the Diffusion Participants Involved
  • Migrant-Work Experience and Rural Migrant Workers
  • Migrant-Work: Effects on the Internet Use of Migrant Workers
  • Migrant Workers: Effects on Internet Use in the Rural Community
  • Family Relationships
  • Schools and Local Teachers
  • Government Involvement: Special Roles in the Rural Community
  • Village Cadres
  • Demonstration Households
  • Village Library
  • Commercial Bodies
  • Discussion: Communication in Rural Communities
  • Summary
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter 6. Innovation: Attributes of the Internet
  • Introduction
  • Methods
  • Existing Knowledge
  • Perceived Functions
  • Perceived Importance
  • Anxiety Over the Internet
  • Affordability
  • Parenting Considerations
  • Children’s Needs
  • Undesirable Effects
  • Personal Capacity
  • Perceived Needs
  • Preference for Benefits (Unforeseeable Benefits of Internet Use)
  • Weak Demand for Internet Use
  • Case Studies
  • Case Study One: A Local Grain Producer (Interviewee 043)
  • Case Study Two: A Pig Farmer of a Demonstration Household (Interviewee 042)
  • Discussion
  • Summary
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter 7. Discussion and Conclusions
  • Summary of the Study and Major Findings
  • Literature Review
  • Research Framework and Methodology
  • Research Findings
  • An Overview of Findings
  • Theoretical Contributions
  • Establishment of the ISIS Model for Diffusion Research
  • Extensive Exploration of the Innovation Diffusion Theory
  • Recommendations
  • Recommendations for Practice
  • Recommendations for Future Research
  • Limitations
  • References

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Figure 1.1: Rural Residents’ Behavior in Using the Internet via Mobile Phone (Qin 2009).

Figure 3.1: Categorized External Objects in Diffusion of Innovations.

Figure 3.2: Identity Theory.

Figure 3.3: Interpretation of Innovations: Interactions With Social Settings, Immediate Environment and Self (ISIS).

Figure 4.1: Integration Models of the Outflow of Rural Products.

Figure 4.2: Trading Model of Shaji Town.

Figure 4.3: Allocation of Rural Households Yearly Income.

Figure 6.1: Annual Per Capita Income of Rural and Urban Households 2000–2011.

Figure 6.2: Change Rates of Consumer Price Indices of Telecommunication 2001–2011.

Figure 6.3: Major Impacting Attributes of the Internet Perceived by Rural Residents.

Figure 6.4: The Interrelations Among Major Impacting Attributes.

| xiii →


It is first and foremost important to acknowledge and thank all the participants, especially those who are earning their living in the far remote lands of China. This thesis would be impossible without their generous contributions. Many thanks to my friend Deng Yan and her families, my mate Li Wei, as well as Bi Xinye and his parents, for helping me land my research on the three sample sites and making the field work went smoothly.

Deep gratitude is sent to my lifelong mentor Professor Kerry Philip Green, for his wisdom, guidance, encouragements, considerateness and patience throughout these years and beyond; and to Kerry’s family, Trish and Candice, every single moment spent with this loving family is cherished. Sincere thanks also to Dr Jackie Cook, for her academic guidance, knowledge and valuable advice on my research.

Appreciation also goes to Professor Gao Xiaohong and Professor Hu Zhifeng, for their persistent trust and selfless support. Thanks to Chinese Scholarship Council and my home university Communication University of China for their sponsorship in this research.

I am very grateful to Dr Maggie Ying Jiang and her husband Michael Yijun Wang, Dr Robert Bloomfield, Dr Huang Jing, and my fellows, Dr. Wu Minghua, Dr. Zhang Weimin and Dr. Han Shurong, who offered many valuable ← xiii | xiv → ideas and different voices on my study. Thanks to Ken and Cathy, whose loyal friendship gave me family-like support at times in Adelaide, and to Phyllis Lines, for upholding me with her prayers, and letting me believe I am blessed. And I also would like to thank editors from Peter Lang, Li Na, Magan Madden, Michelle Smith and Luck McCord, for their every effort on this book.

And the most, my special thanks to my dearest parents and sister for pushing me forward through those years.

| xv →


ACFTU All-China Federation of Trade Union

CASS Chinese Academy of Social Science

CCA China Customers Association

CIS Center of Informatization Study, of CASS

CNNIC China Internet Network Information Centre

CNSC Construction of the New Socialist Countryside

CPC Communist Party of China

GAPP General Administration of Press and Publication

ISIS The research model: Interactions with Social Settings, Immediate Environment and Self

MCOM Ministry of Commerce of China

MIIT Ministry of Industry and Information Technology of China

MOC Ministry of Culture of China

MOF Ministry of Finance of China

NBSC National Bureau of Statistics of China

NPCC National People Congress of China

OECD Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development ← xv | xvi →

TAM Technology Acceptance Model

TAM2 Upgraded Technology Acceptance Model

UNESCAP United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific

UTAUT Unified Theory of Acceptance and Use of Technology

| 1 →

· 1 ·



“The speed of a flotilla is not determined by the fastest ship, but the slowest one” (Wen 2007). In contemporary China, the urban-rural dual structure is increasingly becoming one of the most conspicuous and urgent issues for the nation. As the largest developing country in the world, China has an enormous agricultural population which is nearly half of the whole (National Bureau of Statistics of China (NBSC) 2012b). China’s rural residents, compared with those who live in well-developed urban areas, have less power over public opinion formation and policy making, as well as the deployment of public resources and the distribution of social wealth, although their voice has been gradually rising in recent years (Wang 2004).

It is widely considered that the present unequal conditions between rural and urban areas to a high degree were produced by long term economic and administrative dual frameworks (Lu 2009; Zhao 2004). Synchronizing industrialization and urbanization is accepted as a pivotal reason for the social and economic “dual” structure of China. The high-speed growth of eastern areas as the main force of China’s economic development is widening the gap between rural areas and the developed regions (Park 2008), and this is reflected in academic activity. In recent years, along with the huge growth in China’s ← 1 | 2 → economy and market, social researchers have increasingly concentrated on issues involving the industrialized and developed regions rather than problems and phenomena associated with the countryside.

However, dealing with issues related to rural residents has been recognized as among the most important national strategies for both governments and social scholars (Wen 2005). To close the socio-economic gap between rural and urban areas, the national government is testing various technologies, including the utilization and support of information and communication technologies (ICTs).

Technology has long been considered to have an intimate relationship with social and cultural reality (Heidegger 1977). It participates in and influences social and cultural progress. The network-based newly emerging media, acting as a complex cultural-technology and communication tool (Flew 2008) inevitably engage with the formation of social ideology. They are especially powerful as a tool of opinion-making and the social education of potential audiences or actors (McQuail 2010), those who organize around and implement innovations, gradually bringing about changes to consensual social construction, and cultural reality.

An interpretive approach to social innovation and cultural change means examining a given social object in relation to how it is socially taken up and reflected by individuals within specific concrete circumstances (Crotty 1998). In the case of this increasingly large population at the top of the globe (United Nations 2009), an intricate context, together with the effects of history and culture correlating with current social and political realities, is collaboratively shaping the meaning of the internet for China’s society, and consequently determines the unique trajectory of informatization1 (Rogers 2000) within China.

The Background

Orientation of Policies Relating to Rural Issues in China

Construction of New Socialist Countryside

As a pivotally significant political guidance policy, the Chinese Government’s concept of the Construction of the New Socialist Countryside (CNSC) was first proposed during the final decisions of the 5th plenary session of the 16th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) at the end of 2005 (Central Commitee of CPC). After that, the CNSC was constantly ← 2 | 3 → emphasized as a part of the Guidelines for the “11th Five Year Plan for National Economic and Social Development (2006–2010),” which focused on promoting modern agriculture, raising farmers’ incomes, developing the public service, increasing investment, and promoting further rural institutional reform (National People Congress of China [NPCC] 2006). Narrowing the urban-rural gap and improving the welfare of rural dwellers were deemed the prime purposes of this historic document (Tang 2006), which provided strong support and became an effective driving force for subsequent agricultural policy-making. As a semi-political, semi-economic program, with all the force of historical experience of the CPC within China’s countryside, this policy has far-reaching and profound impacts both on China and globally.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (April)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2019. XVI, 226 pp., 11 b/w ill., 1 tables

Biographical notes

Mingrui Ye (Author)

Mingrui Ye received his PhD from the University of South Australia in 2014. He is currently an associate professor at Communication University of China.


Title: Utility Drives Adoption