China’s Stick People – the rural urban divide

I’m always looking for information about China, and I learned something new from The Economist’s May 6, 2010 issue. Click the link to read the entire piece or read this summary. I bought the magazine.

China has two classes—rural and urban.  The urban people have prospered for the last thirty years as China built a middle class.  Most rural Chinese have not been able to benefit from the booming economy and are getting restless.

Rural land outside China’s cities usually belongs to collectives. When Mao won China, the Communists divided the land among villages—not individuals. Individuals do not hold title to farmland and cannot sell land that no one owns.

China saw what was happening in India when farmers sold their plots to developers.  Rural people in India flocked to the cities and built sprawling slums. To avoid that, the Chinese government created a system to keep rural people on their farms.  Another motivation was fear of another famine like the one that struck China from 1959 to 1961 killing millions from starvation. If farmers left the fields for a better lifestyle in cities, that nightmare might return.

An experiment was tried in rural areas outside Chongqing to see if the land can be divided among individuals while increasing food production. Since the government still hasn’t figured out how to make the transition smoothly, don’t expect rural land reforms to happen quickly.

Read about China’s middle class expanding


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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6 Responses to China’s Stick People – the rural urban divide

  1. philen005 says:

    Insightful and encouraging. Just what I was looking for!
    Would you be able to connect me to any schools or legitimate establishments that could assist me in finding work as an English teacher, in rural China? My teaching is merely a gift I bring, in exchange for the knowledge and culture that I hope to discover.

    I am an author and adventurer, and I sense rural China as my next adventure. So any guidance is much appreciated.

    • The only person I know of who might have some advice is Tom Carter, the author of “China: Portrait of a People”. Tom has taught English is China for a number of years and I understand he is in Shanghai teaching now.

      There are links on his Website to his Facebook page, Twitter and his Email. Ask him as many questions as you can.

      I suggest that you don’t go into teaching in China without knowing everything you can and always expect the unexpected. It is not easy. You may also want to read Michael Meyer’s “The Last Days of Old Beijing”. Meyer is a longtime teacher and he taught English to Chinese students in Beijing.

      • philen005 says:

        Thank you, Lloyd.
        I truly appreciate your guidance and caution.

      • You’re welcome. Enjoy China’s diversity. There is one written language and 56 spoken languages in addition to dozens of dialects. For example: Shanghainese is different than Beijingnese and if one doesn’t speak the other, they usually can’t understand each other. But written Mandarin is everywhere and in the major top tier cities, there are many English signs too like on the subways. Helps to get around. The subways are great, crowded and efficient. Without them, you will be stuck in gridlock most of the time.

        If you have been to India, then you probably know what it is like to be in a real crowd. But if you haven’t, while in Shanghai, visit Nanjing Road and discover what it means to be in a REAL crowd unlike any you may have experienced before. Make sure you put your wallet in a front pocket and/or wear a money belt under your pants, and wear your backpack on your chest, not your back.

        China is about the size of the US but has almost five times the people and about five hundred million live in the cities.

        If you have visited New York, wait until you get to Shanghai and see how it dwarfs the Big Apple turning it into a village.

  2. merlin says:

    Land in China is amazing and if it ever went up for individual sale it would probably be expensive. Of course, I’ll be standing in line. Who doesnt want a beautiful green plot under a hill with a valley? Get deep into the heart of REAL china, and things change from common peasant to innovative farmer. Of course, not having electricity would be a little bit of a disadvantage, but that would also give me a reason to have a vehicle to go to town twice a week for groceries and free internet at starbucks. One thing I love about China that is different from back home, it’s not a repetitive broken record of corn fields and modern cities. It’s mountainous, rice fields, farmers that live like slumdogs but changes to innovation in the distant places, and the “villages” consisting of anything from a dirt road and mud buildings to an ATTEMPT at civility with concrete 2-3 floor homes with the main floor mostly being the garage. Land in America is mostly flat. That’s great for our style of farming using heavy machinery to do the work, but it’s still inefficient when it comes to the core process of farming: seeding, watering, caring, and harvesting.

    • The Chinese have been innovative for thousands of years when it comes to agriculture.

      For a comparison, with the world’s 3rd largest population at about 314 million, the United States has 179,000 thousand hectares of arable and permanent cropland and is ranked first in the world for the area of land under cultivation.

      However China, with more than 1.3 billion people, is ranked 3rd in the world for arable and permanent cropland with 135,557 thousand hectares but 1st in food production. The Chinese grow more food on that land than the US does on its cropland. But the US has 43,443 thousand more hectares than China does. The US also pays farmers (a form of welfare to millionair farmers) money not to grow food on cropland.

      Federal Farm Program in US Pays $1.3 Billion to people who do not farm the land they own. “Nationwide, the federal government has paid at least $1.3 billion in subsidies for rice and other crops since 2000 to individuals who do no farming at all, according to an analysis of government records by The Washington Post.” Source:

      I think that is horrible and says more about America than any words can. The US pays farmers not to grow food but according the The Hunger Project, 870 million people in the world do not have enough food to eat.

      Does America have the ability to erase hunger in the world? The US has the highest rate of obesity in any developed nation. What does that say about most Americans?

      Meanwhile in China, only about 15% of its total land area can be cultivated. Although China’s agricultural output is the largest in the world, only about 15% of its total land area can be cultivated. China’s arable land, which represents 10% of the total arable land in the world, supports over 20% of the world’s population. Of this approximately 1.4 million square kilometers of arable land, only about 1.2% (116,580 square kilometers) permanently supports crops and 525,800 square kilometers are irrigated.[15] The land is divided into approximately 200 million households, with an average land allocation of just 0.65 hectares (1.6 acres).

      With so many mouths to feed, China has no choice but to be innovative and work hard to grow enough food.

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