(In translation; 阅读中文原文)
My husband and I were in Chengdu’s Qingcheng Mountains last week, and visited some newly built peasant residences, all beautiful two-story small villas. A woman in her thirties very politely invited us into her house, and answered all my questions in detail.
Monument for a new peasant residence (photo by Maple Xu)
These new peasant residences were built after the [2008’s] earthquake. They look very handsome, however the residents are not victims of the earthquake – they did not have personal or property losses from the disaster. Rather, the new houses are the result of a pilot project taking advantage of the post-disaster rebuilding momentum. These “urban-rural synthesis overall planning” developments are government programs currently ongoing in Sichuan and Chongqing. Simply put, the peasants provide the land, and the government selects a developer to do the unified planning, design, and construction in an urban style. Each participating peasant contributes 2 fens(133.3 square meters) of land, and after the construction is complete, each gets 35 square meters of housing in return. The developer can use the remaining land in any way he wants. Thus, neither the peasants nor the government have to pay a penny, and the developer also gets practical benefits. All are happy.
The family we visited is a household of five. Using 10 fens (666.7 square meter) of their land, they exchanged for a small villa of 175 square meters with a beautiful interior. When asked how they’d make a living without land, the woman replied: 打工- migrant work. They still have a small portion of their land left, and they use it to plant vegetables for sale. Apparently, the woman and her family are very satisfied with their current living condition. After visiting her, I talked to two other people in the neighborhood, and got similar answers.
New peasant residence in Chengdu's Qingcheng Mountains
(photo by Maple Xu)
(photo by Maple Xu)
No farmland could be seen around the residences. There were only a few stalks of corn planted by the “rural home inn” (农家乐) where we stayed, in a small yard, probably smaller than your flower garden.
In my eyes, their life style is no different from that of city people. The peasants themselves also work in the city. But I don’t know if this is a good change. Farmland all turning into villas, vegetable patches become parking, where do we get food and vegetables from? My husband disagrees. He says peasants have the right to live the city people’s life. It is a trend of China’s agricultural reform: centralizing peasants’ scattered residences, and centralizing rural land management so as to bring it to scale. He also says nowadays China imports lots of grains, because the cost is lower than domestic production.
I can only speak intuitively that, when rural is not like rural, city is not like city, it is problematic. Now if you go to Sichuan’s rural areas, you rarely see a piece of farm land, let alone pigs and cows. That’s why when tourists come to Hainan, a relatively backward region, and see water buffaloes pulling plows in paddies, they exclaim, "Exotic!" The media and propaganda keep shouting about building great metropolises, about bringing China’s economy more in line with world standards, about world as one community and the earth as flat, et cetera – I can agree with none of them. If one day Shanghai becomes a clone of Paris, Chongqing a mirror of New York, wouldn’t life becomes meaningless? Look at today’s Chongqing, where hills are dynamited to flatten land, the rubble is used to fill in valleys, and the numerous high rises stand up like a forest. The “mountain city” has no mountain. The “fog capital” has no fog. Isn’t this extremely sad?
And here is a headline from last week’s media: “Sichuan forcefully advances rural tourism and the development of vacation agriculture.”
“Vacation agriculture”: instead of working the fields, peasants take care of tourists from the city. Nothing gets growing – can you call that agriculture at all?