Jan 18, 2020 09:35 AM

Photo Essay: China Loves Its Smartphones

People look at their mobile phones while waiting for a bus in Beijing on May 28, 2019.
People look at their mobile phones while waiting for a bus in Beijing on May 28, 2019.

One of China’s defining consumer trends last decade was the rise of the smartphone. The country is now the world’s largest smartphone market, accounting for more than one-quarter of global sales.

Around 713 million people in China used a smartphone in 2018, according to data website Statista. That vast market has helped fuel the emergence of four of the world’s six biggest smartphone manufacturers: Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd., Oppo Co. Ltd., Xiaomi Corp. and Vivo Mobile Communications Co. Ltd. Meanwhile, popular smartphone apps like news aggregator Jinri Toutiao, short-video platforms Douyin and Kuaishou, and the one-stop “super-app” WeChat have brought unprecedented levels of convenience to the daily lives of ordinary people.

But smartphones have changed society in other ways, too. Recent years have seen the emergence of the “ditouzu,” or “head-down tribe” — people who spend much of their lives glued to their phone screens. Although officials and experts have warned of the health risks posed by smartphone distraction, the phenomenon shows few signs of abating.


People gaze at their phone screens while waiting for the subway in Beijing on May 28.


Subway passengers in Beijing use their phones on Sept. 9.


A group of overseas students at a Chinese acrobatics school in North China’s Hebei province entertain themselves with their smartphones after training in this undated photo.


Two children in East China’s Zhejiang province play on their smartphones at an event promoting traditional Chinese dress in this undated photo.


Circus workers lie with their eyes fixed on their phone screens following a performance.


A young volleyball player with an injured hand watches a video at a sports school in North China’s Henan province in this undated photo.


A man uses his phone to relax after a day of work.


A courier manipulates his phone during a cigarette break in Beijing.


A group of children play on phones amid the remnants of a meal during the 2019Lunar New Year holiday.

Contact reporter Matthew Walsh ( and editor Michael Bellart (

You've accessed an article available only to subscribers
Share this article
Open WeChat and scan the QR code