China, with its fast-paced population growth, is now faced with the task of educating 26 percent of the world’s students on 2 percent of the world’s resources, says Gordon Sang, professor of education at Beijing Normal University. With 80 percent of China’s population living in rural areas, the government has recognized an outstanding need to modernize schools and improve teaching efficiency.
Xiejiaqiao, like many rural villages in China, tends to police itself. While a pair of police officials from the county level visit the village twice a month for a report on area stability, the closest thing to local law enforcement in the village is a three-person “Violence Avoidance Committee.”
In a garden along a narrow village road, Zhang Fie Feng plucked weeds amid budding trees while her 5-year-old granddaughter marched down the rows, ignoring her grandmother’s requests to collect discarded dandelions. Zhang, 56, is one of the women of Xiejiaqiao, a village where many women’s lives were defined by the social and economic environment in which they grew up.
Located on the western bank of the Huangpu River, Shanghai’s stately old promenade, the Bund, has long marked the cosmopolitan crossroads of China. Beginning in the 19th century, its elegant European-style façades came to symbolize the heights of colonial style and wealth after the Western powers forced China to open its doors to trade and made Shanghai into a booming commercial capital.
In the mountain village of Xiejiaqiao, a line snakes through the center of the downtown crossroads as residents line up for an annual health screening given by doctors from a nearby town. By 10 a.m. on June 15, more than 400 people—half of the village population—have visited the clinic. As the line continues to grow, people begin to push others out of queue to secure a spot away from the rain.
For the past four years, Tong Ping Fang has worked diligently at Lin Wei Meng Tools, Ltd., a wrench factory in the rural village of Xiejiaqiao, spending up to 10 hours a day cutting steel posts into blocks. Her job is one of the first of many steps needed to create the 4 million Duralast wrenches to be distributed each year to various countries around the world, including the United States.
With music blaring from speakers connected to a laptop and strobe lights flashing, women lined up facing the same direction in four evenly spaced rows. Dancing in unison under the night sky, they stepped right, spun around, and put a hand out to the side. Texas-style line dancing? Not by a long shot.
Forty years ago, entertainment took a distant back seat to political rhetoric, as television was just one of many mediums used by the Communist Party to perpetuate ideas like “class struggle” and resistance to “Western imperialism” to galvanize generations of Chinese. Today, the Party’s line is economic improvement, a furnace of productivity that can burn through labor as fast as it does money and the environment.
Wang Zhongwei, a 49-year-old rice farmer from the Eastern Chinese village of Xiejiaqiao, can still remember when his family struggled to produce enough food for one meal a day. His 19-year-old-son Wang Yang, who grew up in the same village, never had to worry if he would have enough to eat. He can barely remember a time without the Internet.
Ding Xijiu sits in his small kitchen, gazing out a window facing the street where seven wooden boxes line the small area in front of his house. Hundreds of bees quietly fly in and out of the boxes, carrying pollen down from the yellow cole flowers that dot the mountains around Xiejiaqiao, a village near Hangzhou.