Sunday, February 2, 2014

"Once the Villages are Gone, the Culture is Gone"

That is a quote from the latest of Ian Johnson's stories for the New York Times on the urbanization of China, a process which a major government push has recently accelerated.  The quote is from Feng Jicai, a well-known author and scholar who adds, “Chinese culture has traditionally been rural-based.”  As Johnson notes, urbanization is occurring "at a stunning rate."  China had 3.7 million villages in 2000, but that number dropped to 2.6 million a decade later according to research by Tianjin University. That is a loss of some 300 villages a day. Johnson elaborates:
China’s top leadership has equated urbanization with modernization and economic growth. Local governments are also promoting it, seeing the sale of rural land rights as a way to compensate for a weak tax base. Evicting residents and selling long-term leases to developers has become a favored method for local governments to balance budgets and local officials to line their pockets. Numerous local officials are under investigation for corruption linked to rural land sales. 
Destroying villages and their culture also reveals deeper biases. A common insult in China is to call someone a farmer, a word equated with backwardness and ignorance, while the most valued cultural traditions are elite practices like landscape painting, calligraphy and court music. 
But in recent years, Chinese scholars have begun to recognize the countryside’s vast cultural heritage. A mammoth government project has cataloged roughly 9,700 examples nationwide of “intangible cultural heritage,” fragile traditions like songs, dances, rituals, martial arts, cuisines and theater. About 80 percent of them are rural.

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