It’s only last year that the number of Chinese (total population 1.357 billion) living in urban areas has overtaken those living in the country. This is an extraordinary development achieved in record time and a far cry from the old Maoist philosophy of banishing intellectuals, capitalists and professionals to live and work in the paddy fields.
If you want to see rural China visit it now before the country changes beyond recognition. I have a friend who was utterly shocked at the difference of ten years that separated his first and second visits to the world’s third largest country (after Russia and Canada). He admitted that he’d preferred his first vision of China but that clearly depends on one’s world view.
We did manage to visit various villages and houses in rural areas. As I live in a village myself I was particularly interested in the kinds of activities non-urban Chinese people carried out after the economic reforms initiated in 1979 by Den Xiaoping (which, most significantly, involved the de-collectivization of farms).
Here are a few views outside a village near Lijiang in Yunnan Province. The contrast between city and country could not be starker:
There were also some ancient crafts, particularly an exquisite embroidery school, taking place in another village.
This house has several features which those living in our part of the world may recognise. First is the wood stack (especially since temperatures can go down to minus 15 in the winter nights!)
Sweet corn is grown, some of it for making into maize flour but much of it used to feed the pigs.
Pine cones are collected to gather together their precious nuts which can command high prices in the local markets:
There was a goodly selection of salads and cabbages in the inner courtyard:
Instead of the Briscola card game favoured by Italians there was mah-jong instead – naturally!
We were now ready to leave the lovely Lijiang area and head north by bus and reach a province which has been renamed Shangri-La, although locals still refer to its main town as Zhongdian. It’s the headquarters of the Deqen Tibetann Autonomous Prefecture. Our journey would take us through some spectacular country inhabited largely by Tibetans, although we were still outside the T. A. R. (Tibetan autonomous region). The scenery grew hillier and hillier and the road more and more twisty. What sights would we meet?