0325 GMT February 25, 2020
These hardworking couriers — who mostly come from rural areas — choose to stay and ride a motorcycle through city alleys and streets to deliver food to households or office buildings, in pursuit of a prosperous life, xinhuanet.com reported.
Wang Wei trots down to his e-motorcycle, opens the throttle and disappears into the Beijing night. The city is preparing for Spring Festival, but he is still on the go.
"Our job is to make sure that food arrives on time, despite nasty weather and days off," Wang said.
He completed more than 11,000 orders and traveled over 80,000 kilometers last year, which is equivalent to circling the Earth twice.
He has stayed on the job during the Lunar New Year for three consecutive years since he joined Fengniao Delivery and became a full-time rider at the end of 2016. Fengniao, owned by Alibaba Group, is responsible for the latter's O2O delivery services, including its food catering arm Ele.me.
Wang works from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., before handing over his duty to a part-time colleague on the night shift. He has already sent candies and snacks as a New Year gift to his parents and children in his hometown.
Most of food couriers go back a few days in advance for a New Year's Eve feast with their families and return to work before their customers, but staying behind has its benefits, with higher daily pay and bonuses.
Those who decided to stay for the official holiday week and make an off-peak return will get their travel expenses reimbursed by the delivery companies, according to Meituan-Dianping, one of China's largest on-demand online services providers.
Breadwinners and life savers
Domestic Internet market observer iiMedia Research forecasts that China's online-catering market had an estimated 355 million customers, generating an output value of ¥240 billion ($35.8 billion) in 2018.
Food delivery platforms like Ele.me and Meituan-Dianping created millions of job opportunities for young rural migrant workers. Reports on couriers released by the two companies show that 77 percent of their 5.7 million registered riders come from rural areas.
With an average age of 29, each Fengniao rider delivered about 48 orders per day, racking up a total distance of 150 kilometers, according to Fengniao's 2018 Insight Report on Delivery Men.
They've shaped up as the ‘capillary vessels’ of cities, and their service has become embedded in urban life.
The report shows that the income of a Fengniao rider was ¥4,000 to ¥8,000 a month, outstripping the 2017 average monthly salary of ¥3,813 for employees in the urban private sector.
Many young rural workers who choose to deliver food as their first job, settle in cities with a decent salary to support their families. According to a recent Meituan-Dianping report, half of its 2.7 million riders provide the principal source of their household income.
They sit tall in the saddle, chasing their dreams.
One day last November, Yu Chaoqun, a Meituan rider in his twenties, dived into an icy river in the city of Yanji, northeast China's Jilin Province, to rescue a woman trapped in her drowning car.
"I didn't give it much thought," Yu said.
"She'd be dead if I didn't jump into the water."
He felt lucky that they were both safe and sound in the end.
At Meituan's annual awards ceremony on January 17, Wang Puzhong, the senior vice president of the company, gave Yu high praise for his act of bravery.
"A saying goes: 'If the rider is late with his delivery, please take it easy. Perhaps he is saving the world’," Wang said.
The millions of young riders have their own life goals and aspirations. They thirst for knowledge, want to make money and win respect from others.
Nearly 10 percent of Meituan riders are working on personal development by studying online. The company signed a cooperation agreement with Tsinghua University last year, providing its riders with half a million accounts for free on XuetangX, a MOOC (Massive Online Open Courses) platform founded by the university.
"I paid off all debts on the house and its decorations last year," said Wang Wei. Working for several years as a delivery man, he saved ¥400,000 and built a two-story house in his hometown in north China's Shanxi Province.
This year, he wants to work harder, buy a car and drive back to his hometown for next year's Spring Festival.