NPR revisits the village of Xiaogang, which, at the height of Maoism in China, wrote up a secret contract which allowed farmers to keep a portion of the crops they grew. Now, 34 years later, Xiaogang is widely known as the birthplace of rural reform in China:
The farmers tried to keep the contract secret — Yen Hongchang hid it inside a piece of bamboo in the roof of his house — but when they returned to the fields, everything was different.
Before the contract, the farmers would drag themselves out into the field only when the village whistle blew, marking the start of the work day. After the contract, the families went out before dawn.
“We all secretly competed,” says Yen Jingchang. “Everyone wanted to produce more than the next person.”
It was the same land, the same tools and the same people. Yet just by changing the economic rules — by saying, you get to keep some of what you grow — everything changed.