China’s countryside, where almost half of its population still lives, lags far behind the cities in its level of development. Average incomes are less than a third of their urban counterparts, and economic migration has eroded the social fabric of rural communities. Further urbanization, repeatedly championed in recent months by premier-to-be Li Keqiang, is one approach to addressing the urban-rural divide. To show that the countryside will not be forgotten, however, new Party general secretary Xi Jinping recently made a highly publicized visit to the poor Hebei village of Luotuowan, followed by a procession of media, researchers and well-wishers bearing gifts amounting to some US$50,000. Among the journalists were The New York Times’ Andrew Jacobs and Jonah Kessel:
[F]or all Mr. Xi’s celebrity wattage, the real manna began to rain down on Luotuowan after he and his entourage left. Money, quilts and pledges of government help have been pouring in from across the country. The government arranged for each household to receive $160 in cash, a bottle of cooking oil and a sack of rice, a precious commodity where corn gruel and corn cakes are often the main course.
That was just the beginning. A businessman from China’s northeast was so moved by Luotuowan’s suffering that he drove 500 miles with more cash and a carload of flat-screen televisions. A government work crew whitewashed the village’s stone walls, adding a band of turquoise paint for good measure.
Then came the government researchers, who were instructed to solve Luotuowan’s intractable poverty, perhaps by pursuing Mr. Xi’s suggestion that, with outside expertise, “the people can make yellow soil into gold.”
But whether the official visit by Mr. Xi, who was recently named Communist Party secretary and scheduled to be anointed president in March, will have a lasting impact on this isolated community — much less others like it — remains to be seen. The average per capita income here, about $160 a year, is less than half the official threshold for poverty, and it is a tiny fraction of the average urban income of slightly less than $4,000. Most young people have long since fled for jobs in distant cities.