A month ago, farmer Xie Guangfu paused outside his front door at midnight, 18 hours into his usual 21-hour working day, and died with a heavy load of wheat on his shoulder.
Xie’s family was the poorest in their remote village about 100km from the western city of Chongqing. Yet it was also the most successful, by traditional Chinese standards, because the son Xie Zhonghua got into university, a rare feat in these parts.
But university fees, at 6000 yuan ($990) a year, far exceeded the family’s annual income of 1000 yuan. They had already borrowed from friends and relatives just to keep the boy at school. With his wife not well enough to work the fields, the father worked their land and took whatever jobs he could pick up from other farmers, planting, harvesting, carrying wheat and feeding pigs from daylight to 3am each day.