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Attached is an interesting article I read today on Asia Times on Line. It, somewhat, explains the cause of the gap and how the government is handling it. This is a historical challenge facing the government today!|
Rural rags to urban riches
By Michael Jen-Siu
GUSHI COUNTY, China - Eleven years ago, Zhang Jin left his village of 300 people and most of his family to see if he could make it in Beijing. Zhang, who worked teaching political theory to other teachers, picked Beijing over other well-off Chinese cities because he wanted to see Tiananmen Square.
He and his wife relocated from Gushi county in Henan province in central China to a gritty downmarket Beijing suburb full of other renters from out of town. While working at a factory, his first Beijing job, Zhang realized that his fellow migrants had no place to send their children because Beijing schools didn't take out-of-town kids.
So Zhang set up his first migrant school, which started small but grew to 1,000 students whose families paid 700 yuan (US$88) per year in tuition. Other migrants would seek him out for jobs as teachers.
Because of Beijing's rush to demolish older buildings for highrise housing, Zhang, 40, moved the school four times and gave up entirely in 2005. But he had saved enough money to build what he expects will be a million-yuan English-language school on two hectares in the urban center of Gushi county.
"I'm always thinking and thinking," he said. "Rural people dare to think and dare to act."
Urban Chinese normally live better than their 800 million to 900 million rural compatriots because of first-rate infrastructure, better job opportunities and special legal privileges. But although China's wealth is concentrated in cities, those who claim it are not all city people. A mix of capitalism, government policy, wits and luck are letting more and more people from rural areas like Gushi county follow Zhang Jin to prosperity.
But while city dwellers drive sedans and live in three-bedroom apartments bought with monthly incomes on average four times those of rural residents, the biggest gap in the world, some people in the countryside still make barely enough money to eat.
Back on a one-lane muddy road in Gushi county, Li Xuegang and his family of four make an annual profit of 300 yuan from their 4 mu (about a quarter-hectare) of rice and wheat in this highly arable county of squat hills, plentiful rainfall and a million people. The state waives the school tuition for Li's two children, but the family, like most rural Chinese, lacks public health insurance.
"We can live, but we don't make anything," Li said. Li could migrate to a city for higher-paid work, as about 40% of his neighbors have, leaving mostly children and elderly people behind, but he has chosen to stay because no one has suggested leaving.
Li expects people such as Zhang to employ people like himself locally when they open companies with their urban savings. "They'll come back and we'll work for them," he said.
The contrast between the Zhangs and the Lis of China has prompted the villages of Gushi county to raise their concerns with the United Nations office in Beijing and the World Bank in Washington. The rural wealth gap could cause a "political issue" that prevents China from achieving its goal of surpassing Japan's economy by 2020 and the US economy by 2050, said Bert Hofman, head of the World Bank office in Beijing.
"It's your neighbor who gets rich," Hofman said. "Somebody has a much better car or a much better apartment than others."
Increasingly obvious wealth gaps sparked the communist revolution in 1949, after which Mao Zedong implemented the land reforms that are in effect today. But as the amount of land per person shrinks, former farmers are coming back to the village loaded with cash, often displaying their new wealth by building nicer homes or opening businesses.
"The first thing is, poor people feel envious," said Hu Jia, who researches rural issues for the Loving Source Information Center, a non-governmental organization that helps AIDS orphans. "Then they get jealous. Everyone came from a poor background, but some are still poor."
The rural income divide could stir social unrest because of a perceived lack of justice, said Alessandra Tisot, senior deputy resident representative for the UN Development Project. "If I know you are not smart and you still make a lot of money, then you'll hear about it," she said.
Chinese celebrities such as television personality A-Bao and China's first astronaut, Yang Liwei, grew up in the countryside and got ahead through hard work, persistence and luck. This success formula works now more than ever because post-1980s growth in manufacturing and construction has created new jobs for migrant workers from the countryside, especially since members of the relatively contented urban middle class don't want these jobs.
Workers in Gushi county can reach the employment centers of Hefei and Wuhan within five hours.
"There's not enough land," a Gushi county mushroom grower complained. "Only if you go out and work can you make any money."
About 200 million country dwellers live just above the $1-a-day poverty line, earning about $2 per day, just enough to move upward, Tisot said. Knowing they lack urban advantages, rural Chinese who are able to endure being apart from their families, dangerous work conditions and long hours try to get ahead in the city.
According to a conservative estimate by the government in 2004, at least 85 million people classified as "farmers" on their government identification cards worked in cities, mostly in construction and service jobs such as foot massage or building security, often for 500-600 yuan per month, but exceeding the average rural income of 2,933 yuan per year.
One person's urban earnings can be wired back to an extended family in the countryside. Many elderly couples say they get by picking up recyclable trash or raising a single pig, but many get a share of income from younger family members with steady jobs in the city.
In villages in the arid, unproductive hills of the northwestern province of Shanxi, older couples idle in cave homes until their children come back from wealthy Guangdong province with money for the week-long Spring Festival holiday. "Rural people are clever. They have all kinds of portals, routes and connections," said Yu Meisun, a Beijing writer and former employee of the late, purged Communist Party chief Zhao Ziyang.
The government is helping rural people move ahead by diluting or rescinding policies that once stopped urban migration. In November 2005, official media announced that 11 provinces would "abolish" the ID-card distinction between rural and urban residents, a move that will allow rural people to live in their home province's bigger cities without being barred from city hospitals, housing or schools.
---- to be continued in the next post due to length restriction ---
[ Last edited by thetruthbut at 2007-3-30 04:13 AM ]