In this review of Xiaowei Wang’s Blockchain Chicken Farm, Clive Thompson explores the bewildering, empowering, and alienating forces of technology that are shaping rural China as the country grapples with a deeply cloven urban-rural divide, massive and continuing urbanisation, and the question of how to feed an ever-growing population. The future is here, and not everyone benefits:

“Wang also finds that, for rural China, tech-propelled business models can produce the grim dynamics of the gig economy, where a far-off tech giant runs your life. The blockchain chicken software? It’s nifty, but the farmer neither understands the technology nor owns it; it’s provided by a tech firm that in the first year of their collaboration ordered 6,000 chickens in advance to sell off to an online supermarket, and in the second year, nothing. Meanwhile, those Taobao villages also contain some embittered merchants who hate the e-commerce platform, because it allows buyers to demand refunds long after they’ve received their goods. One shoemaker has lost so much money this way that he’s forced to make lower- and lower-quality shoes to keep his profits up. ‘It’s all a scam,’ he says.”