Economist: The silent majority – A rare look inside a Chinese village

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In a country where 800m people, about 60% of the population, live in the countryside on an average income of less than a dollar a day, rural backwardness weighs heavily on the minds of China’s leaders as they dream of joining the ranks of the world’s leading economies. And in a country whose Communist Party came to power on the back of a peasant rebellion, distant memories of the vehemence of rural discontent arouse fears that unless something is done to make peasants happier, China will be plunged into turmoil. To assess China’s future, it is crucial to understand the countryside. But it is not easy.

Despite China’s increasing openness to prying foreign eyes, the dynamics of village life remain hidden away. Although the Chinese media report extensively on rural problems, foreign journalists require government approval to conduct interviews in the countryside (as indeed, in theory, they do for any off-base reporting in China). Foreign correspondents can often get away with conducting unauthorised interviews in the more cosmopolitan urban areas, but rural officials invoke the rules with far greater regularity, fearful that critical press reports could damage their careers. The presence in a village of any outsider asking sensitive questions can quickly arouse official attention and often results in detention, the confiscation of notes and other materials, and orders to leave the area immediately.

April 9, 2005 8:30 AM
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