Retro Communes: China's New Utopia?

  • Playlist
  • Download
  • Embed
    Embed <iframe src="http://www.npr.org/player/embed/5583917/5616075" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no">
  • Transcript
Zunxian Huang, 71, is one of about 3,000 commune members in Nanjie Village in China. i

Zunxian Huang, 71, is one of about 3,000 commune members. He was assigned this three-bedroom apartment and nearly all the furniture in it, down to the sofa cushions. Diane Geng hide caption

itoggle caption Diane Geng
Zunxian Huang, 71, is one of about 3,000 commune members in Nanjie Village in China.

Zunxian Huang, 71, is one of about 3,000 commune members. He was assigned this three-bedroom apartment and nearly all the furniture in it, down to the sofa cushions.

Diane Geng
A six meter high statue of Mao in Nanjie Village in China i

A six-meter high statue of Mao is guarded night and day by two young men in the center of the village square. It's flanked by huge portraits of Marx, Engels and Lenin. Diane Geng hide caption

itoggle caption Diane Geng
A six meter high statue of Mao in Nanjie Village in China

A six-meter high statue of Mao is guarded night and day by two young men in the center of the village square. It's flanked by huge portraits of Marx, Engels and Lenin.

Diane Geng
The supermarket in Nanjie Village in China's Henan Province. i

The Nanjie Village supermarket has a large selection of goods that shoppers can pay for using either cash or commune-issued welfare stamps. Diane Geng hide caption

itoggle caption Diane Geng
The supermarket in Nanjie Village in China's Henan Province.

The Nanjie Village supermarket has a large selection of goods that shoppers can pay for using either cash or commune-issued welfare stamps.

Diane Geng
Mao memorabilia sold at Nanjie Village in China's Henan Province. i

Tourists can buy glitzy Mao memorabilia, including the clock that all commune residents have for about USD 60. The clock comes complete with psychedelic flashing lights and a soundtrack that plays "The East is Red." Diane Geng hide caption

itoggle caption Diane Geng
Mao memorabilia sold at Nanjie Village in China's Henan Province.

Tourists can buy glitzy Mao memorabilia, including the clock that all commune residents have for about USD 60. The clock comes complete with psychedelic flashing lights and a soundtrack that plays "The East is Red."

Diane Geng

At Nanjie Village in China's Henan Province, the people own everything... and nothing at all.

Nanjie, along with the rest of China, began dismantling its communes during the early 1980s. But the reforms didn't seem to be working. So between 1985 and 1990, the village organized farmers to re-collectivize their land and property.

The furniture and appliances in each home are identical, including the big red clocks with Chairman Mao's head radiating psychedelic colors to the tune "The East Is Red." Huang Zunxian owns virtually nothing in his apartment. The possessions are owned by the collective, right down to the couch cushions.

Huang says the village gives him 30 percent of his income in cash — a total of $32 a month. The other 70 percent is all benefits: free food and housing, cradle-to-grave health care and education. Nobody here has cars or money in the bank. But Huang says he's content.

Welfare benefits are based on a points system. Village committees regularly inspect homes and award points based on compliance with behavioral goals: obedience to the communist party; cleanliness; respect for one's elders.

Some describe Nanjie as a utopia, free of inequality and exploitation. That's an attractive idea in a country struggling with massive income disparities. Some villages around the country have followed Nanjie's example and re-collectivized.

But there are costs involved with the transformation. Wang Hongbin, has been the local communist party secretary since 1977. The village borrowed the equivalent of $150 million in loans from out of state banks in order to industrialize. Wang says the village has not yet repaid the loans.

And cracks in Nanjie's confident facade are showing. The village's annual economic output has declined by nearly a quarter in recent years. Fierce competition has caused the partial shutdown of several village factories. And at least one corruption scandal has marred the leadership's credibility.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.