A man carrying a basket full of red chili peppers to place them among other baskets and woven tins in the yard surrounded by old-looking Chinese buildings – this is an advert that can pop-up in front of your eyes if you are one of those who watch videos on Youku, a Chinese equivalent of Youtube.
At first, I thought it was some kind of tourism promotion inviting visitors to explore ancient Chinese villages. Once I paid more attention to the logo with an image of an ant accompanying the advert, I realized “Ant Financial” is an online payment system which allows small business to easily manage their finance and promote their goods and services online.
This payment system and its founding ideas are very interesting to address in the light of Nandita Dogra’s ideas about representations of poverty. Dogra has noticed that representations of development very often carry the labels of positive/negative. In other words, field of development very often witness how the developing world is depicted and represented as vulnerable and in need of support, whereas the developed world or the ‘world’ which is trying to ‘pull out’ the rest of the world from poverty is depicted as knowledgeable and powerful.
Well, the situation is a little bit different here. Dogra discussed the representation of the developing countries in the developed ones. Ant Financial is a China-based company branching from Alipay – the world’s leading third-party payment online platform founded in 2014. Led by its slogan “Bringing small and beautiful changes to the world” Ant Financial provides inclusive financial services to China’s small and micro enterprises and individual consumers. Thus we are talking about how the developed China is creating opportunities for the developing China through advances of information communication technologies.
Probably one significant aspect to mention is that Ant Financial, with its all digital power and successful history of related Alipay’s products, does not try to make it seem that it is going to save rural China’s commerce and small business through this program. Ant Financial is rather saying that rural China is able enough to spread their businesses across China and the only thing what they need are better tools for communication with those who might be interested in their products and for managing the financial side of the business. In Ant Financial website’s section of ‘Inclusive Finance’ it is explained that the company believes in “equal access to financial services for individuals and businesses in need”. Moreover, their website is full of imaginary of people engaged in work. Some of the pictures are of the farmers or small businessmen who already have experience in selling their products online, e.g. on Taobao.com – China’s massive online shopping platform. What the pictures embody are ambitious, hard-working and motivated people from less developed locations.
Not only personal characteristics are emphasized though these images but historical and cultural aspects draw the attention in the pictures, too. Just like in the picture with chili peppers surrounded by ancient China’s buildings decorated with red color wishes of prosperity, another one shows two men carrying a received parcel through the door of farmer’s home which contains humble furniture and traditional tools. Although both the yard with chili peppers and the farmer’s home look modest, it actually communicates a whole lot of history and culture of China which has a potential to connect those who sell and whose who may want to purchase a product nurtured in such culturally rich environment. It seems that in the case of China’s attempt to develop its own less developed areas culture plays a significant role, which quite opposes the idea developed in the modernization era, where culture was claimed to be a factor holding the developing countries back from the pathway of development that developed countries went through. Like it was acknowledged in the works of two prominent development theorists – Jan Nederveen Pieterse and Susanne Scheck – the development possibility is built upon an idea that knowledge can spring from culture and that indigenous knowledge is essential in empowering particular communities, and this is what China’s Ant Financial represents. The opportunity and power is seen in people’s engagement with their work and through their culture and history.
Another noticeable facet of the program is that is goes along with the idea of “Green Finance” – the idea that business should contribute to sustainable development and assist in supporting environment through green production and green consumption. John Clammer, with his expertise in development, sociology and Asian studies, identifies the need not only to learn how different cultures should live in peace and justice in globalizing world but also the need of “Climate Justice”. The idea of climate justice represents a territory of development that does not only focus on one area of human life but a harmony in and within social and environmental spheres. Ant Financial seem to be on its way to embody “Climate Justice”.
Finally, Ant Financial can warn the users as well as the contributors about the reliability of the users. Jill Walker Rettberg discusses self-representations in social media from the perspective of how one is represented through activity-tracking social media. One’s image through social media becomes a statistical average of one’s actual life. Interestingly, Ant Financial embraces another possibility of self representation. It becomes a representation of one’s responsibility and accountability.
China’s Ant Financial represents a vision of development. This vision does not only sees digital capacities and potentials as tools connecting developed and developing areas but it invokes cultural and historical aspects to connect people through visualizing commitment and ability.
 Dogra, N. (2012). Representations of Global Poverty: Aid, Development and International NGOs. London: I.B. Tauris.
 Nederveen Pieterse, J. (2010). Development Theory: deconstructions/reconstructions (2nd Ed.). London: Sage .
 Schech, S. (2014). Culture and Development. In V. Desai & R. Potter (Eds.), The Companion to Development Studies (3rd Ed.). Taylor&Francis.
 Clammer, J. (2012). Culture, Development and Social Theory: Towards and Integrated Social Development. London: Zed Books.
 Rettberg, J.W. (2017[forthcoming]). Self-Representations in Social Media, In Burgess, J., Marwick, A. & Poell, T.(Eds). SAGE Handbook of Social Media. London: Sage.