Seventh Question [Lofthouse]:
How would you describe the differences between urban and rural China?
In some respects, urban-rural differences are not unlike those in North America. In others, they are profound. People are generally more sophisticated in Chinese cities, especially along the coast. I found country folk to be friendly (one family put me up for the night in their home in the middle of nowhere), but impoverished. I spent a day driving through the backwaters of agricultural Hunan and never saw a single piece of farming equipment. Something else that struck me was the voluminous countryside pollution, which some Chinese will tell you is mist or fog. Apparently, Chinese mist and fog smell like turpentine.
I’m aware that in some villages, Party officials listen to local concerns and try to make improvements, but there’s so much graft in this “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” that rural people regularly lose out. Sure, they can migrate to cities, but the hukou, or household registration, makes this illegal (China does not have mobility rights; the hukou creates a sort of caste system), and migrant workers are often discriminated against and denied state services.
Naturally, many of China’s peasants are not happy with their situation or local cadres. A lot of “mass incidents” – riots, protests, strikes – transpire in rural areas, and, from the Ministry of Public Security’s own admissions, we know these number in the tens of thousands per annum. And this is the flipside to China’s glorious development, its Tom Sawyer cleverness in turning itself into the world’s factory floor: farmers forced to irrigate crops from factory-poisoned rivers decide to complain one day and are rounded up, beaten up, locked up, tortured – perhaps in an illegal or “black jail.” This is what China has become. Cadres seize land, sell it to developers, force citizens out of their ancestral homes, pay them a pittance, and threaten them to shut up. Scenarios like this play out literally hundreds of times a day, and except for the occasional corrupt-official-show-trial-and-execution the people are the losers. What the Party calls socialism is really state-capitalism, kleptocracy, Orwellianism, and coercion.
“If there is hope,” wrote Orwell, “it lies in the proles.”
Here’s to hope.
Graft in China exists at the provincial and local level, but is not as bad as India where corruption/graft is estimated at about 50% of GDP and those living in poverty [more than ten times China] are worse off.
The hukou Parfitt describes exists but to understand why requires one to know China’s history before 1949 when life in rural China was worse.
David C. Schak’s paper on Poverty in China points out social unrest in rural China was also common during the 19th century, which had to do more with an unsustainable population than anything else did.
Schak says prior to 1949, marauding armies often confiscated crops and forcibly conscripted men leaving the peasants with no resources, and he describes factories hiring day laborers by throwing the number of tallies for the number of workers they wanted into the crowd of job seekers and letting them fight.
Final Word [Parfitt]:
Corruption in India isn’t germane to this debate.
A June 29, 2011 article in The Atlantic reports the People’s Bank of China announced “17,000 Communist Party members and state functionaries… illicitly obtained and… smuggled out of China… $124 billion from the mid-90s until 2008.”
One would hope that the CCP made rural life better. When it came to power (1949), things couldn’t have been much worse. China was broken, having experienced 22 years of warfare. This is part of what makes the Communists-as-heroes-of-the-people argument so weak; this, and the mayhem, murder, and neglect ushered in by Mao, whose desire to transform China into a socialist utopia resulted in a famine that caused the deaths of millions.
How anyone could purport to love China and its people, and downplay or deny such an event, as Mr. Lofthouse does on his site, is a grave insult to China and its people. [Referring to Mao's 'alleged' Guilt in the Land of Famines]
Continued on December 5, 2011 in Discussion with Troy Parfitt, the author of “Why China Will Never Rule the World – Travels in the Two Chinas” – Part 9 or return to Part 7.
Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.
Subscribe to “iLook China”
Sign up for an E-mail Subscription at the top of this page.