Wednesday, February 6, 2013

China premier's visit casts spotlight on rural poverty

The New York Times ran a story on January 27 about Chinese Premier Xi Jinping's visit to Luotuowan,  "a remote mountain hamlet in north China" in Hebei Province, a place the story characterizes as marked by "grinding poverty."  Andrew Jacobs writes:  
With a gaggle of local party chiefs and photographers in tow, Mr. Xi ducked into ramshackle farmhouses, patted dirt-smudged children on the head and, with little prompting, nibbled on a potato plucked from Tang Rongbin’s twig-fueled cooking fire. 
“It was as if we had met Mao,” said a still-incredulous Mr. Tang, 69, who shares a bed with five family members.
Jacobs explains that the visit, which was broadcast nationally, was intended to show Xi's "concern for China's rural poor" and to "burnish the new leader's bona fides as an empathetic man of the people." 
“I want to know how rural life is here,” he said at one point as the camera lingered on the unvarnished details of the Tang family’s poverty: a single light bulb, a tattered straw ceiling, a huddle of grimy pots and mounds of detritus. “I want to see real life.”
In the aftermath of this visit, Jacobs reports, money and gifts have flowed into Luotuowan.  The government sent $160 in cash, a bottle of cooking oil, and sack of rice to each household.  A businessman drove 500 miles to Luotuowan to deliver more cash and a "car load of flat-screen televisions."  A government work crew came to do some sprucing up.  Finally, government researchers came, having been instructed "to solve Luotuowan's intractable poverty, perhaps by pursuing Mr. Xi's suggestion that, with outside expertise, "the people can make yellow soil into gold."  Whatever that means.  The village is home, Jacobs reports, to about 600 corn farmers.  Jacobs also focuses on Xi's "secretary of the people" demeanor, including his ability to rub elbows comfortably with "farmers and factory workers." 

Searching for this story, which I read when it was first published, brought me to many other stories about rural China in the New York Times, including this one from yesterday, "Satellites Put Small Farms on China's Map."  Lucy Hornby and Hui Li report:
[T]he tiny village [of Yangwang] in Anhui Province was home to a pilot project that for the first time mapped farmers’ land, putting Yangwang on the front line of China’s efforts to build a modern agricultural sector that can underpin the country’s food security — a policy priority for the Communist Party. 
The mapping is a tedious but crucial task to make farmers feel more secure about their rights so that they become more willing to merge fields into larger-scale farms. It could also help protect them from land grabs by local officials, a leading cause of rural unrest.  
Last week China released its annual rural policy document, which "calls for farmland titles to be defined nationwide during the next five years," a project that could cost $16 billion. The Chinese government also introduced "sweeping tax reforms ... to narrow a wide income gap between the urban elite and the rural poor." This separate story from last week discusses the rural-urban income gap in the country, referring to "public concern about the gap between the incomes of residents of dirt-poor villages and those living in privileged urban enclaves."

Other headlines over the years suggest considerable attention to rural poverty in China.  Here are just a smattering of those that pop up from searching "rural China" on the NYTimes website:

No comments: