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How Poor Are Chinese Farmers?

Yesterday we saw that China’s farmers occupy the lowest rung of Chinese society. Today we’ll be looking at why China’s farmers are also at the bottom economically, as we try to answer the question, How poor are Chinese farmers?

Officially the average rural income is 5,919rmb, which is about $900. That’s well above the World Bank’s poverty measure of $1/day. However I’m skeptical of these official numbers.

A few months ago I helped the charity I work with edit their annual report and found the annual per capita income for some of China’s least developed areas.

Now keeping in mind that this charity is working in some of China’s poorest areas, it is still surprising to see that none of these villages were closer than 2/3 of what the supposed national average is. Also considering that these are averages, it’s important to remember that even this small amount of wealth is likely concentrated in a few hands.

The average Chinese farm (assuming a 3 person family) is only 1.1 acres. Which in a good year would produce about 6,000rmb (compare this to factory wages).

Reuters reported yesterday that it is now becoming common for migrant workers to loan their land out to their neighbors who stay behind. Their report from Shandong province highlighted a “cheery” woman who was earning 40rmb a day working in another person’s field.

Their idea was that this trend will ultimately lead to bigger farms with richer farmers. I for one am doubtful.

Earlier this week a man from that same province committed suicide after massive losses on his farm. This was not due to blight or drought, but a price drop. Speculators had bet heavily on spring cabbage, which caused the price to go up, and more farmers to plant the vegetable.

Now there is far too much cabbage. Farmers are selling cabbage at .2rmb/kilo, even though it cost them 1rmb/kilo to grow.

Note: there is still food price inflation, about 10%, the cost increase in food is due to transportation and does nothing to help the farmers.

The point of this blog though is to move past the numbers and look at what all of this information means for individuals.

In Guangxi I noticed that the average female college student was only 5 feet tall, and about 90 pounds, in Nanjing it would be hard to find someone that small. The reality is that you don’t even need to look at the numbers to know that the economic gap between the countryside and city is growing, you can see it in the students.

Tomorrow we’ll be taking a trip down to the farm, and I’ll be sharing with you the story behind this blog’s header image.


14 Comments

  1. Chopstik says:

    Thank you for this series, Tom. This is not something that I have personally ever researched or heard a lot about (other than the occasional romanticized generalizations) and your insight is greatly appreciated.

  2. Meryl Mackay aka 马美丽 says:

    I have read that the highest suicide rate is for rural Chinese women – usually taking poison.

  3. Martin says:

    I actually did see more than one college girls in Nanjing that would probably meet the 5 feet (1.52m) / 90 pounds (40.8 kg) description without having to look for them, however these are certainly not the average heights and weights in Nanjing. Thank you for this insightful post!

  4. Someone thinks this story is fantastic…

    This story was submitted to Hao Hao Report – a collection of China’s best stories and blog posts. If you like this story, be sure to go vote for it….

  5. […] can only collect 5% in tax from the rural residents, and as we saw yesterday rural residents hardly earn any income. So when you only take 5% of a few hundred dollars, you aren’t left with much money to pay […]

  6. […] turned 100 years old, and to celebrate her birthday each person in her family was given 10,000rmb (more than many farmers make in 2 years). “This teaches people to respect their elders,” my co-worker said. I couldn’t […]

  7. Qing Petras says:

    Today I put the keywords “poor Chinese farmers ” in Google search box, it leads me to your blog. Your series posts had drawn my attention. I have only two weeks vacation in Guangzhou to reunion with my family here, I am leaving for Boston MA on May 17th. I will definitely follow your blog after home in Massachusetts.

    I just got a book newly published in China, the name is: The Life and Work of Liji Villagers: 60 Years In Transition.

  8. […] her, living simply in Nanjing costs her parents roughly 1800rmb per month (In Western China farmers make ~2,000rmb per capita per year).  She says optimally her budget would be less than 1500rmb per month, something most Americans […]

  9. sally maguire says:

    China is more of an urban society from what we saw—-well fed, clothed and housed with jobs. Just returned yesterday from Beijing, Xian, Chonguing, Shibaozhai, Qutang, Three Gorges Dam, Shanghai. High end stores in major cities, very clean cities; wonderful roads, bridges, tons of urban development.

    • Tom says:

      This all of course in marked contrast to what one sees in the countryside where the majority of the population hails from.

  10. sally maguire says:

    A NEW China every ten years with the U.S. owing them billions. A new AGE w/strong government support and living condition!

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