this is amazing – i’m very surprised the book hits the best seller list in the country. that at least shows people seem to care despite they still have no power over their country. it should influence them one way or another. push the gov’t to give answers.
“An expose of the sufferings of the nearly one billion peasant farmers in China has rocketed into the country’s best-seller lists, apparently forcing the regime to address the issue.
A new survey has drawn attention to the suffering of peasant farmers in China
Chinese Peasantry: a Survey discloses the poverty and corruption affecting the rural majority of 900 million, whose exploitation underlies the gloss of China’s perceived urban economic miracle.
It describes farmers being beaten to death for complaining about embezzlement, officials conniving to hoodwink Communist Party leaders about production levels, and a tax system which forces the poor in effect to subsidise the rich minority. It helps to explain the exodus of workers from farms to low-paid, often dangerous jobs in the booming coastal provinces or Europe and America.”
First published by a literary magazine, the work immediately struck a chord with the public. Many readers said they were in tears throughout.
One journalist wrote a self-criticism on the People’s Daily website saying it made him feel ashamed. “If we do not take action to overcome the obstacles that confront us, only one word can be used to describe those working in the Chinese media: degenerates,” he wrote. After the magazine sold 100,000 copies, it was published as a book, which has sold 150,000 more in a month. The government has yet to respond, leaving the writers in a politically sensitive limbo, and they are refusing interviews with foreign journalists.
But this month the authorities republished “Central Document Number 1”, a key statement of policy towards the countryside formulated in 1982 and demanding an improvement in farm incomes.
The book’s authors, Chen Guidi and Wu Chuntao, had the idea for it when expecting their child four years ago. Ms Wu saw another mother and baby die because she could not afford a hospital delivery. The couple, children of peasants, spent three years living among farmers, recording what they saw.
The book concludes that, while economic reform in China may initially have benefited farmers, taxes and local “fees” have multiplied. A farmer pays three times as much in tax as a city dweller, on a sixth of the income.
“Those who have not left the big cities think the whole of China is like Beijing or Shanghai,” they wrote. “We have seen unimaginable poverty, unimaginable evil, unimaginable suffering and desperation, unimaginable resistance and silence.”
In one case, a villager named Ding Zuoming demanded an audit of his local authority after finding his taxes were being embezzled. He was arrested, beaten and killed. His neighbours protested and eventually those responsible were punished. But Ding’s family never received the promised compensation. His children were forced to leave school, for lack of fees; his mother lay paralysed in bed, his father was too ill to work.
In another case, when the former prime minister Zhu Rongji was inspecting a new grain procurement method, officials requisitioned supplies from neighbouring counties to fill the stores he was to visit rather that admit the scheme had failed.
Wenran Jiang, a Chinese-Canadian academic who met the authors recently, said the book fitted with the “Close to the People” strategy of the new Chinese leadership, which might explain why such a critical work could be published.
President Hu Jintao has been been keen to emphasise his solidarity with China’s poor, partly to distinguish himself from the powerful former president, Jiang Zemin, whose rule is strongly associated in many people’s minds with economic growth, consumerism and widespread corruption.
“I am convinced that the release of this Central Document is a response to the book,” said Prof Jiang. “The question is, can it solve the problems by calling for increased rural incomes?
“My answer, on reading this book, is ‘no’. The Document will be just like other ones – come the end of the year, the officials will just falsify their figures.”