“90% of Chinese Peasants Live As They Did 40 Years Ago”

2014 NPC and CPPCC.


The second most commented article of the day on Chinese web portal NetEase (first was about Malaysia Airlines MH370) with …

From NetEase:

CPPCC Member: The Lives of 90% of Peasants [Rural Residents] Are the Same as 40 Years Ago, Where Are The Fruits of the Reform?

Summary: National Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) member Shu Hongbing said during a CPPCC group meeting of the independent/non-party affiliated that many peasants [rural residents] are as they were 40 years ago, with 90% of peasants dying in their homes because of heavy medical expenses, their children’s access to education have not improved but have instead become even more difficult. Similar to the topic of smog [air pollution] during the Two Meetings, it is “too luxurious/extravagant” [irrelevant, only of significance to the upper classes] for the ordinary common people at the lowest levels of society.

Time: Yesterday.

Location: Small group meeting of the CPPCC independent/non-party affiliated.

Person: Shu Hongbing

Shu Hongbing
Shu Hongbing

Voice: People are unequal from the moment of birth, but are we unable to make it a bit more equal?

Southern Metropolis Daily report — Have the topics in discussion at the Two Meetings been too high-end, impressive, and high-class, that the ordinary common people feel they are very “luxurious” [irrelevant]? Yesterday, during the small group meeting of the CPPCC independent/non-party affiliated, National CPPCC member, Chinese Academy of Science scholar, and Wuhan University Deputy Dean Shu Hongbing expressed that many of the topics discussed at the Two Meetings are very necessary but in the eyes of the lowest levels of the ordinary common people, problems like smog inevitably seem “too luxurious” and not important issues that they care about.

Hometown primary school students continue to suffer “darkness at both ends” to go to school

“Twenty-some days ago, I went back to my hometown Chongqing city Rongchang county Yuanjiao town Qingu village and was extremely saddened. A bit after 6 in the morning, I saw elementary schoolchildren in twos and threes along the road, some six or seven years old, some over 10 years old, carrying bookbags going to school from the fields. The young woman in my car said to me that this is ‘groping in the dark at both ends’, groping about in the dark in the morning to go to school, and groping around the dark to go home at night after school, with 5 Chinese li between their homes and the primary school, with may primary school students having to walk 10 li of mountain roads roundtrip.”

Shu Hongbing says he is 47 years old this year, and 40 years ago, he was like these children as well, rising early and sleeping late rushing along on mountain paths to go to school. What is different is that 40 years later is that the prospects of going to school for children has not only not improved but has actually become more difficult. “Nowadays because of the consolidation/merging of village primary schools, children can only walk longer distances, to go to the central primary school in the town for class.”

“It’s been 40 years now, and the trip I took to go to school back then was even somewhat shorter, while the mountain paths they have to walk now are even longer than during my time, with some children just six or seven years old, sometimes even walking alone. Seeing this is truly heartbreaking! If it were your own child, would you want them to grope around in the dark walking ten li of mountain roads to go to school? That’d be impossible!”

“We still need to do more to help the people at the lowest levels”

What was once an enthusiastic discussion among the small group quieted after Shu Hongbing shared his account. Shu Hongbing continued, “We’ve talked about the problem of education in the villages of impoverished mountain areas all these years, and it has been more than just one CPPCC member who has raised these problems. I know that people are not equal from the moment they are born, but are we unable to make it a little more equal?” Shu Hongbing said passionately, “Their parents are out there [in other parts of the country] working, making contributions to society, returning home only when they are injured and disabled, while the village is filled with the old, feeble, sick, and disabled. At my school, I’m a deputy dean responsible for graduate students, and I ask why our doctorate students don’t go to the villages to do social investigations [sociological research], and write an investigation into [what has changed] over the past 30 or 40 years, investigating how these people are born, how they grow up, how they go to school, how they work, how they live, how they die from illness, and then they will be amazed to discover that are basically [living in the same conditions] as 30 or 40 years ago. Where have the fruits of the Reform and Opening Up gone? 90% of the peasants in our countryside are as they were in the past, not dying in hospitals, dying in their homes, because their households can’t afford the medical care. So I call for us to still do more to help the people at the lowest levels.”

40 years later, children’s access to education have no only not gotten better, they’ve instead become even more difficult.

The younger generation are all leaving their hometowns for work, while those left in the villages are all the old, feeble, sick, and disabled, so tell me where is the happiness in these families?

— Shu Hongbing

The people left behind in China's rural countryside: elderly parents, women, and children.


Shu Hongbing: The value of the people on the lowest levels of society have not been recognized.

Reporter: You just said many of the topics at the Two Meetings are very luxurious [irrelevant to the poorer classes], so how can we make these topics not luxurious?

Shu Hongbing: CPPCC members are all elites, so a lot of the time what they see are the things they themselves pay attention to, but may not be the things of the lowest classes. Perhaps what I consider luxurious is also very important and it is just that I pay more attention to our ordinary common people at the bottommost level of society, because I myself was born in poverty.

I’ve always said that in our village, the changes of these past decades have had both positive and negative effects. Rural households in the mountainous areas, not many are whole and intact [members, usually young parents and small children are separated]. These 40 years happen to be where the changes in Chinese society have been the biggest, but go back to the rural countryside villages and take a look. Other than people having built two-story buildings, the insides are empty and vacant; they’re just two-story shells. Their quality of life–conditions of medical care and how their children go to school haven’t really changed. The younger generation has all gone out [left hometowns] to work, and those left in the villages are all the old, weak, sick, and disabled. Tell me where is the happiness in these families?

Reporter: The Two Meetings will soon conclude; what hopes do you have?

Shu Hongbing: I hope the country/government will attach importance to these ordinary common people at the lowest rung of society, because they have indeed made contributions to the country. If these [migrant] workers were to leave, all the cities would immediately be paralyzed. The reflection and recognition of their value is I think still not enough.

The government needs to be resolute in shrinking the gap between the rich and poor and the income gap, needs to pay more attention to the lowest class. It has to do this. For example, how to increase incomes for rural residents, do more infrastructure.

Reporter: How do you think [the government] can increase the proportion of grassroots [from the lower classes of society] CPPCC members and National People’s Congress representatives, in order for those bodies to better represent the lower classes?

Shu Hongbing: Representation, representation needs to represent interests! People have to be selected from all levels of society. Right now, quite a few people’s viewpoint is that if you select grassroots people to become members, their characters [level of self-cultivation, education, abilities] are not high and their ability to fulfill their duty would be very poor. I also don’t know what to say. It may not be ability that is necessary, but what we need is more representativeness.

Comments from NetEase:

网易北京市手机网友 ip:219.143.*.*:

A person with a conscience.

网易湖北省十堰市手机网友 ip:58.53.*.*:

Dares to speak out what he himself has seen, without glossing over it or hiding it, this is a true representative of the people!

网易山西省手机网友 ip:183.203.*.*:

Shu Hongbing, I support you!!! I also come from the rural countryside, and deeply know [of what you say] from experience!

土生土长的山药蛋 [网易美国手机网友]:

The number of [CPPCC] members who speak the truth are increasing; a good phenomenon.

奇尺大乳 [网易江苏省苏州市网友]:

I’m willing to be represented by you, thank you!



Written by Fauna

Fauna is a mysterious young Shanghainese girl who lives in the only place a Shanghainese person would ever want to live: Shanghai. In mid-2008, she started chinaSMACK to combine her hobby of browsing Chinese internet forums with her goal of improving her English. Through her tireless translation of popular Chinese internet news and phenomenon, her English has apparently gotten dramatically better. At least, reading and writing-wise. Unfortunately, she's still not confident enough to have written this bio, about herself, by herself.


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