Postcards sent from outer space

Updated: 2011-12-02 08:04

By Xin Dingding (China Daily)

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BEIJING - Think getting a letter from the other side of the globe is cool? Imagine getting one from space.

In a new marketing ploy by China's postal service, people can write letters that will be sent digitally to the Tiangong-1 space lab. From a special e-mail box onboard, the letter will be sent back to Earth and then delivered to the receiver in printed form.

"New media has dealt a heavy blow to the traditional postal service. The number of people writing letters dropped significantly in recent years," Sun Buxin, director of the Haidian district post office in Beijing and executive director of the China Space Post Office, said on Thursday.

"Most letters we handle now are business letters, but even this sector is experiencing a sharp drop," he said.

The solution is to change.

"People now like to go on the Internet and use e-mails and micro blogs to communicate, so we have to combine new media with our resources to provide more individualized services and catch up with the pace of people's change in habits," he said.

The China Space Post Office - the latest of its efforts - was opened on Nov 3 at Beijing Aerospace City and onboard the newly established orbital complex Tiangong-1.

The price of the new service has not yet been announced.

Using its own zip code and post seal, the space post office will print the letters on special paper and will also send designed postmarks into space onboard spacecraft, including Shenzhou IX and Shenzhou X, both slated for launch next year.

After returning to Earth, those postmarks will be sold to collectors through a lottery.

In addition, the post office will work as a transit stop for letters whose senders want to have them stamped with the special seal before being delivered to receivers.

The space post office will sell collectible stamps depicting China's major events in space.

Yang Liwei, China's first astronaut in space, is the post office's chief.

China's post service provider has been trying to retain users with creative measures in recent years.

Last year, a future-themed post office opened with a zip code of 101010, and people can send letters in specially designed envelopes that will arrive in 2020 to the designated receiver.

In 2009, a post office was set up for Tian'anmen Square with a zip code of 100060 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China - and tourists sending postcards from there will create memorable souvenirs.

All of these new ideas stem from a bitter struggle in recent years, Sun said.

Yet the results are satisfying, bringing both new revenues and a polished image, he said.

Many young Chinese welcomed the new postal services but expected more.

Yang Tingting, 23, a college staff worker in Shanghai, said that writing a letter with pen and paper is now a romantic thing to do for couples.

"The idea of writing a letter to myself or my boyfriend that will be delivered in 10 years is really great, but the service could be more diversified, such as letting the senders choose when they want the letter delivered," she said, adding how well the State-owned postal service can perform remains a question.

Qian Yili, a postgraduate student in Shanghai who has not written a letter for six years, said the post office should improve the quality of its basic services as well.

"Demand for those creative services won't be there for long. Most people still count on post offices for basic services, but our postcards and parcels often get lost on the way. The quality of services is the focus," she said.

Jin Huiyu contributed to this story.

China Daily

(China Daily 12/02/2011 page1)