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No More the Land of Fish and Rice
Summary:The coastal province of Guangdong was the first beneficiary of China’s export-driven growth, but some villagers still regret the day that factories replaced farms.

By Wu Qiong (邬琼) and Wu Weiting (吴娓婷)
Nation, page 10
Issue No. 555, Feb 6, 2012
Translated by Zhu Na
Original Article:

This is one of a series of stories from the EO's Feb 6 edition that focused on changes to the regional way of life.  

ZENGCHENG (增城), GUANGDONG PROVINCE – Not long ago, the Pearl River Delta was famed for its rice and lychee plantations. Nowadays, its villages have been absorbed into China’s manufacturing heartland.

“Xizhou is no longer the land of fish and rice. Looking across the river, there are chimneys and factories,” said Uncle Quan whose village used to be surrounded by paddy fields and ponds.

Living amidst the private housing blocks and workshops, middle-aged villagers like Quan look back fondly to the time of farming and fish husbandry. They have left behind their farm tools and the land that their families tilled for generations and now face a lifetime of casual, unskilled labor in nearby factories.

In 2003, Uncle Quan learned that Xinzhou Industrial Park and Xinzhou Environmental Protection Industrial Park was to be built on land then occupied by farmland. Three years later, the two industrial parks had brought investment and hundreds of factories to Xizhou.

“Since the construction of the two parks, villagers have had no land for farming,” said Uncle Quan.

Local villagers and migrant workers built houses around the factories to serve as storefronts, either for themselves or for leasing. In turn, this pushed out Xizhou’s borders, and the villagers have experienced greater prosperity than other towns and villagers further inland.

Meanwhile, the new industrial parks have tripled the village’s population from 5,000 people to 15,000 people. In most cases, the only difference between the incoming workers and the native villagers is their household registration documents (村籍).

Although the industrial parks generated over 100 million yuan in 2009, Xizhou’s aggregate economic output is only 10 million yuan. However, according to Quan, the locals haven’t been the main beneficiaries of their village’s industrialization.

Those villagers were earning an average of 10,000 yuan in 2009, the most recent year for which Xizhou has data, but most of this income was being earned through laboring or running businesses rather than through traditional agriculture.

“According to the current popular saying, we are “being urbanized” (被进城), but we’re not recognized as being city dwellers,” said Uncle Quan.

Villagers competing with migrant workers for factory jobs are disadvantaged by their farming roots - bosses prefer the outsiders, who are seen as more obedient and motivated. Uncle Quan adds that the younger villagers disagree with the values of the factory world that transformed the land of their childhood.

A growing number of Xizhou’s young are themselves leaving the village to seek work in Guangzhou, the provincial capital.

“For us, this isn’t just about the disappearance of the agriculture, it’s the complete collapse of Xizhou’s economy, it’s the inability of two generations to deal with new circumstances,” says Uncle Quan.

Links and Sources
Guangzhou Xinzhou Environmental Protection Industrial Park: Image


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