MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
And I?m Michele Norris. This week we?re taking a special look at the rural parts of China. On average, the people of the country are poorer than their cousins in the city. And they have fewer prospects for benefiting from China?s economic growth.
Today NPR?s Louisa Lim takes us a few hours drive from Shanghai, where one village has come up with its own path toward prosperity.
LOUISA LIM: I?ve just arrived in Huaxi Village. It?s the richest village in the whole of China and it?s a model example of the new socialist countryside that China?s trying to construct. But the strange thing is, it really doesn?t feel like a Chinese village at all. As we drove in, all I could see were row upon row of white houses with red roofs. And it really looks more like American suburbia transplanted to the Chinese countryside.
Unidentified Woman #1: (Speaking in Foreign Language)
Unidentified Man #1: (Speaking in Foreign Language)
LIM: Now I?m being taken on a tour of what I?m being assured is an ordinary villager?s house. A Mr. Sun who lives in it has got three bedrooms, three sitting rooms including the one that I?m standing in now with leather sofas and crystal chandeliers. He also has three bathrooms, a card room, a gym with two running machines because he decided the first running machine didn?t have enough functions. And five or six television sets in the whole house. He can?t quite remember how many he has.
WU HAO: As people know, Huaxi is the number one village in our country.
LIM: Wu Hao is another happy Huaxi resident who?s just come back from studying in New Zealand. He?s 26 years old. He?s wearing designer eyeglasses. He runs one of the village?s import-export businesses. And though he?s never worked the land, he still calls himself a farmer.
HAO: I?m a Huaxi farmer. A rich farmer. I feel so happy because I make a good salary. Everything is okay.
LIM: It?s hard to believe that Huaxi Village was once poor. The secret to its phenomenal success was its move from agriculture to industry. Thirty years ago, the village was starting to behave more like a city and look like one too, as it built factory after factory.
Wu Hao's family was the driving force behind the move. His uncle, Wu Xie En, is currently the party secretary, the village's head honcho.
WU XIE EN: (Through Translator) Huaxi is a small place. If all we did was farm, at best we'd just be able to feed and clothe ourselves. We wouldn't have gotten rich.
LIM: And this is the reason why the villages of Huaxi are so rich. I?m now on the factory floor, watching hundreds of workers in white coats sitting at sewing machines stitching dark blue jackets. This textile shop is part of Huaxi's business empire. Now the village owns about 80 factories. It?s expanded to swallow up 16 neighboring villages and employ many thousands of migrant laborers. And the original villagers are now enjoying the rewards of this strategy. Last year, they earned $10,000 U.S. dollars a head, that?s 25 times the national average for farmers.
This tour group is one of hundreds that come every day to gawk at the little village made good. And soon there?ll be even more jaw-dropping sights. Construction is underway of a clock tower costing two and a half million dollars to be surrounded by fountains that will shoot water 17 stories into the air. Today, many of the visitors are government officials hoping to learn from Huaxi?s success.
Unidentified Man #2: (Speaking foreign language)
If this is socialism, we want it, too, this impressed tourist exclaims. But village chief Wu Xie En says it's not a one-size-fits-all formula.
XIE EN: If industry works for your village, then do that. If business is your thing, then do that. If farming works for you, then go that road. Learning from Huaxi doesn't mean doing exactly what we're doing.
The last stop on my tour, a high-tech agricultural zone, illustrates one vision of the future of China's countryside. It's a massive greenhouse stuffed with bizarre breeds of vegetables. There were purple chili peppers, a pumpkin that weighs 20 pounds, and even one single tree that grows both tomatoes and eggplant. A lone gardener waters some orange trees as hordes of tourists tramp past. It seems that in China's model village of the future, farming has become little more than a tourist attraction.
Louisa Lim, NPR News, Huaxi Village, China.
NORRIS: Tomorrow we?ll meet a family in a common arrangement. The grandparents take care of the children in their rural village while the parents go to the city to earn more money. There is more from this series on our website including a slideshow called Rural China in Transition. It?s at NPR.org.
Commentator Bates Gill has traveled all over rural China. He?d like to share a story now from a recent trip with his wife.
BATES GILL: So it?s midnight and the phone is ringing next to the bed. Who would be calling us here and at this hour- My wife and I had just arrived at this remote and sleepy rural county seat. We?d been driving for much of the day deeper into the mountains of Western Anhui Province and are ready for a good night?s rest. We look forward to meeting with our Chinese friend from Shanghai the next day. He will proudly show us around his Loucha(ph), the home village of his family and ancestors.
I groggily pick up the jangling phone. There?s a youngish-sounding woman on the other end. But in a haze I manage to politely decline her offer of some company and hang up. We are nearly back to sleep when the phone rings again. Different voice, same proposition. How do these people know we?re here- I give the same reply and begin thinking about unplugging the phone from the wall but before I can do that, the phone rings once again. This time, my wife takes the phone and delivers a firm and less than diplomatic Chinese no thank you.
That seems to do the trick. We don?t receive any more calls. Now it?s not so uncommon to get calls like that in lots of places around the world. It?s not so uncommon to get calls like that in China whether you are in Shanghai or out in the countryside. But still we found it a little strange. You see we were staying at the local Communist Party guest house.
NORRIS: Bates Gill is coauthor of CHINA, THE BALANCE SHEET: WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS TO KNOW ABOUT THE EMERGING SUPERPOWER.