Translation of An Investigation into China’s Peasantry

The inaugural issue of the revamped Far Eastern Economic Review features a translation of a section of an Investigation into China’s Peasantry, by Chen Guidi and Wu Chuntao, who are now being tried for libel. The site is accessible by subscription only, but excerpts are below.

FAR EASTERN ECONOMIC REVIEW

Crisis in China?s Countryside

by Chen Guidi and Wu Chuntao

China is a major agricultural country, with 900 million farmers out of a total population of 1.3 billion. However, for a long time most urban residents have been ignorant about the living conditions of farmers in the countryside…

All of a sudden, it seemed like Chinese farmers had become very wealthy. However, soon after that urban reform took off, and we heard little about agriculture, the countryside and farmers. Yet it didn?t take long for us to notice that more and more farmers were giving up the land they used to treasure like their own lives, and leaving the villages and lifestyles they were familiar with…

Over the past few years of work as journalists, we had many opportunities to go to the countryside and made friends with a lot of farmers who told us about their villages. We discovered that the idealized portraits of the countryside in our minds were nothing but illusions. In other words, they were the imaginings of city dwellers who are used to the comfortable urban lifestyle. In reality, life in the countryside is nothing like that. The farmers don?t have a leisurely or carefree existence, they live with constant pressures and fatigue.

Once we passed by a village on the Huaibei Plain in Anhui Province on our way to report about pollution on the Huai River. What we found there was shocking: Many farmers? families were utterly destitute and had nothing in their houses but bare walls. One family had only five yuan ($0.60) from selling vegetables to spend on Chinese New Year. The poverty-stricken life was even worse than the first few years after the communist liberation…

Farmers worked all year long to earn an average annual income of 700 yuan ($85). Many farmers lived in mud clay houses that were dark, damp, small and shabby. Some even had tree bark roofs because they couldn?t afford tiles. Because of poverty, once someone fell ill, he either endured it if it was minor disease, or else just waited to die. There were 620 households in the whole village, of whom 514, or 82.9%, were below the poverty line?. Even though the village was very poor, the leaders were prone to boasting and exaggeration about their performance, and as a result the government struck it off the list of impoverished villages. So the villagers were burdened with exorbitant taxes and levies.?

This essay is excerpted from a Chinese book entitled An Investigation of China?s Farmers, which exposes the extent of official corruption in the countryside. After selling out its initial press run of 150,000 in January 2004, the book was banned by propaganda authorities. However, it continues to sell millions of copies in pirate editions widely available within China and is driving debate on the hardships of the rural poor. It has also remained in the public eye because one of the officials mentioned is suing the authors for libel. In October the book won Germany?s prestigious Lettre Ulysses Award for the Art of Reportage. The translation is by Xiaohui Restall.

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