China’s economic miracle isn’t buoying all ships

We all know about the two Chinas and the great economic divide. This article shows how the economic prosperity of some is actually making life worse for many rural poor who remain untouched by the great boom.

SANBAIHU VILLAGE, China — The China that Wang Huazhong glimpses on television is in the midst of an amazing transformation. In cities he has never visited, skyscrapers tower over highways choked with cars, and people jam glass-fronted malls buying up jewelry and luggage simply to pass the time.

Here in his village in the country’s northwest, Wang sees the same desiccated landscape that has changed little in his 46 years. A rutted dirt track winds through treeless mountains to the county seat 30 miles away, the outermost boundary of his experience. Watermelon plants emerge reluctantly from chalky soil, waiting for rain that may never come. A wood stove occupies his mud floor, painting his walls with soot.

But Wang’s world is far from cocooned from the larger forces shaping his country’s fortunes: In the 3 1/2 years since China entered the World Trade Organization, aggressive industrialization combined with an outpouring of consumption has jacked up prices for everything from fertilizer to transportation, roughly doubling the average cost of living here.

Those within reach of China’s booming coastal cities have been compensated with new opportunities that have lifted millions out of poverty, such as factory jobs making goods for export and cash markets for fruit and vegetables. But that upside remains beyond this rural community and thousands of others like it across this still predominantly peasant country. The costs of buying food and growing watermelon have climbed faster than what Wang receives for his crop. His household income has slipped by 20 percent over the past five years, to about $300 per year.

While the long article offers some hints of hope, these are well over-shadowed by the over-riding conclusion that since these people have zero purchasing power, they are of zero revelance and will remain totally exploited and without representation.

The Discussion: 7 Comments

Or, they could move to the city and get a different job, like subsistence farmers in every other country in the world have had to do when their economies became industrialised.

It’s not profitable to be a farmer in a lot of places, not only China. The guy could make more money pedalling a rickshaw in Shanghai.

July 13, 2005 @ 2:33 pm | Comment

Generally inflationary costs are a result of some form of government intervention into the market place, usually related to cheap money easy credit schemes, which is the case in China. But even so, with the industrialization of China, the agricultural part will shrink, till it becomes less than one percent of the total economy; and with 40% of the people doing ag work does not let them have much to distribute among themselves. The secret of success of a modern industrial society is the division of labor, and as Yobbo mentions, when your division of labor drops in value and you cannot demand more, then it is time to move on and do something else.

July 13, 2005 @ 5:33 pm | Comment

I agree that if the putrid soil won’t yield crops it might be time for them to do something else. But this doesn’t address the terrible fact that these people are cheated and exploited by their local leaders, a major part of the whole problem. That is what’s at the heart of so much of the rural unrest, not just rising prices.

July 13, 2005 @ 6:01 pm | Comment

The farmers have a special problem, when all the farm land was collectivized, the farmers lost ownership of the farms. Now they have nothing. It goes down hill from there.

July 13, 2005 @ 10:05 pm | Comment

Yobbo, I’m still debating whether to reply to your stupid comments or not. In the meantime, try thinking before you allow yourself anywhere near a keyboard. That would be a good start I think. Thanks.

July 14, 2005 @ 2:28 am | Comment

I would like to add that the dry northwest is basically unarable if without governmental subsidies, the right of which the Chinese government had to give up under the pressure while entering the WTO.

I’ve never been to there, but, according to my experience elsewhere, to give it up may be a choice.

I don’t agree that the situation is completely caused by the land ownership and collectivisaiton, as some assume. The actual situation is much more complex, which cannot be explained by a single term like private or collective.
Even though Chinese farmers don’t own land, in a lot of counties, for example in Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Manchuria, the farmers may hire somebody else, or lease the land to, other people, to farm while they themselves are engaged in more profittable activities.

The fundamental problem here is that there would hardly be any people seriously interested in this land. I have heard that, in dry areas like this, even the technologically perfect equipped and wellmanaged Israeli farms keep losing money and can only survive on the government funds. Does anybody how the farmers in Arizona and Nevada are going?

Basically I think this article is telling a sentimental story while raising a catch question.

July 14, 2005 @ 7:08 am | Comment

A massive rural revolt would be a delight.

We should air-drop munitions on the guys!

July 14, 2005 @ 10:58 am | Comment

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