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We’re often presented with images of Beijing and Shanghai’s glittering skylines and are inundated with stories of economic success. We know that China has succeeded in bringing hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and that life in the countryside has never been better. But what does life actually look like in rural China for the nearly 700 million people that call it home? What kind of life does roughly $2.50 per day buy (this is the average rural income)?
Today I’ll be sharing some of the best photos from People’s Daily as well as from my own travels. These images would be familiar to most Chinese people.
In the countryside your school looks like this (more)
Your parents are most likely farmers (more)
Or work in some kind of small private business (more)
Visiting the clinic involves facing crowds like these (more)
You go shopping in a wet market
You watch traditional performances on holidays
Your friends don’t worry about the latest brands (yes, that is a pile of coal in the background)
And your way home looks something like this
The nearby town might look something like this
*Most of these photos are from Guangxi, and don’t represent the full diversity of the countryside, however the standard of living is fairly representative of “rural” life.
I don’t always read the local papers, and for the most part my Chinese co-workers don’t either. So when something big comes to Nanjing, we don’t usually hear about it until it has passed, but we can always tell that something is approaching.
For example, about three weeks ago we noticed a shift in our favorite DVD shops. The most visible one, located on a busy street across from the foreign student housing of a large university, was not only shut, but completely empty. Just days before it had displayed at least 1,000 pirated DVD’s, CD’s and computer games. Two other nearby shops were closed as well. When we returned home, the two shops nearby that sell more than just DVD’s had been shut down too.
At first we didn’t think much of it. DVD shops get raided from time to time, and we figured the pirated goods would be back soon. China likes making a show of crushing these illicit goods, but doesn’t seem to actually care about the practice. Over 5 years in China and I’ve never seen a DVD shop be completely shut down.
A few days later I went back to check if the smallest shop had replenished their stock of DVD’s. The woman loudly stated, “We don’t sell those now.” I looked around the shop for a few minutes and sure enough, all of their DVD’s were gone. I started to leave. The woman behind the counter whispered to me “等一会儿” (deng yihuir, wait a moment). I let a man slide past me out of the store, and the cashier proceeded to pull out a stack of thirty to forty new DVD’s. The ones I was looking for weren’t there, so I asked her when they would have their full selection again ad she replied ominously, “Soon.”
Not long after that incident the other DVD shops started reopening, with new measures to protect against raids, but the biggest one remained shuttered. Something seemed a little different this time around.
Then last week on my way to work I saw more than 50 police directing traffic in just under 2 miles. At the intersection closest to the government buildings, there were nearly 20 police. When I got to work my favorite breakfast cart was missing too. Something big was clearly going on.
In the office my co-worker noticed that I didn’t have my usual 煎饼 (jianbing- tasty breakfast crepe) with me, and mentioned that the vendor she buys her breakfast from every morning was missing too. There were also several comments made about the lack of vacant hotel rooms in the city that week. Practically every room was full, but we had no idea why.
The following day we finally realized that it was all connected. What had caused all of these disruptions to our daily lives? An article from People’s Daily explained:
“NANJING, Nov. 10 (Xinhua) — Luo Zhijun was elected secretary of east China’s Jiangsu Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) on Thursday.
Luo was elected to the post at the first plenary session of the 12th CPC Jiangsu Provincial Committee held in Nanjing, the provincial capital.” – link was added to clarify the title
Apparently there had been an election. Of my co-workers, not a single one had been aware that a new provincial leader had been chosen. My co-workers didn’t seem to be upset by their lack of input in the decision making process, but one had some strong words for them about her missing breakfast.
A week later, things have largely returned to normal. Traffic is once again hectic and uncontrolled, my breakfast cart has returned with crepes and pickled vegetables, the racks of the DVD stores are being restocked with illicit goods, and the Party has picked another leader without any input from the people.