The rich-poor gap in China | A Billion Chinese Dreams | Part 2/4

What is the Chinese Dream? When President Xi Jinping sounded the clarion call in 2012, it was about country and nation But to the ordinary Chinese, what are these dreams made of? In this series, journalist and writer, Zhou Yijun, travels across China to size up the shifting shape of this dream The “American Dream” is about self-invention, and the belief that hard work will lead to a better life It’s a catchphrase that is familiar and well-defined But what of the Chinese Dream? Ten years ago, journalist Peter Hessler wrote the book, “Country Driving: A Chinese Road Trip” Hessler spent 12 years immersed in China, just when the country was in the thick of economic reforms It was one of the few Western works touching on the issues faced by ordinary Chinese The in-depth observations made it a bestseller, it also made the Chinese people reflect on their changing society and country Now, host Zhou Yijun will revisit the characters and towns that first appeared in Hessler’s book Following four unique routes in this country, she’ll explore four issues most affected by China’s development The changes in the inner world of the Chinese The economic transformation The rich-poor divide And finally, sustainable development She wants to find out, to the ordinary Chinese, what is the authentic version of the Chinese Dream? As Peter Hessler wrote in “Country Driving”, starting in 1978, the migration of millions of farmers to the cities fundamentally changed the structure of Chinese society The country has been trying to achieve balanced development for the last 70 years And enormous large-scale migration happened because of that But four decades after opening up, has the balance been tilted? In Chinese schools, geography textbooks teach children about the “Hu Line” In 1935, geographer Hu Huanyong came up with an imaginary line that ran from Tengchong to Heihe It divided China into a south-eastern half that was densely populated, and a north-western half that was sparsely populated The line corresponded with rainfall patterns In the southeast, plenty of rainwater allowed for farming In the northwest, where annual rainfall is commonly below 400 millimetres, people herded animals Until today, the “Hu Line” divides China when it comes to jobs, ease of transportation, Internet access, and a good education To understand China’s development in its entirety, we must start from the “Hu Line.” The first stop is Chongqing, one of the largest cities along the Hu Line In 1967, under the threat of war, a secretive army unit entered the mountains east of the city to build the world’s most destructive weapon Under covert operations for over half a century, this was once the best hidden nuclear engineering facility in the world Because of its sensitive nature, it was given the code name 816 Today, we will uncover the top secrets hidden inside this world’s largest man-made cave The 816 Nuclear Project was China’s second nuclear base

It was entirely hidden in the mountains, an underground labyrinth that has been dubbed the world’s largest artificial cave But as China’s international relations improved, the project was discontinued in 1984 By that time, some 60,000 people had taken part in the 816 project, many of whom came from China’s east coast Following the government’s orders, thousands moved cross country It remains a striking chapter in the “Third Front Movement” that China launched half a century ago Following the Hu Line, the next destination is Panzhihua, a city that was built during the “Third Front Movement.” Nearly all the residents here are migrants from elsewhere in the country In the 60s, China was undergoing tumultuous times For economic and security reasons, Mao Zedong ordered factories and workers to move inland to establish a new and strategic front This massive relocation and construction campaign is the “Third Front Movement.” Panzhihua’s Third Front Movement Museum has become a site for patriotic education, and aims to tell the public about the spirit of this movement It shows how this massive migration, half a century ago, influenced the history of China and its people These young pioneers left their homes and came here to build a city from scratch The scenes of their hardship are still vivid, and the banging sounds of steel production still ring in the air Back then, China was going through a period of ideological fervour Patriotic youth from all over the country answered the Communist Party’s call to move to the underdeveloped western region In that political climate, the youth had to make tough decisions that affected the rest of their lives Their willingness to move to a barren land is something people today cannot begin to fathom Li Shenzhao graduated from university in 1964 and moved from eastern China to do research at the Panzhihua Iron and Steel Research Institute Li Shenzhao’s friend, Li Xiaoting, share a similar family history His father also moved here in the 60s to take part in Panzhihua’s development Zhou Yijun is reminded of her own family story

as she looks at the fresh faces of the pioneers here Decades ago, her grandfather, too, left Shanghai, leaving behind his young wife and children to go to Sichuan province for his new work assignment For decades, the family was rarely together This time of hardship is something nobody ever talked about Over time, it became something of a family secret Curious about her own family’s experiences, Yijun returns to Shanghai, hoping to get some answers from her grandmother For decades, facing a determined state, large numbers of people moved from the developed east coast to the impoverished western interior During those years, the fates of many people and their families were shifted for the sake of both security and economic development Three days after the interview, Yijun’s grandfather died peacefully, leaving behind his beloved family and taking his memories along with him After Shanghai, the next stop in this exploration along the Hu Line is Luquan County This is where a middle school is trying to solve another issue of unbalanced development in the country In “Country Driving”, Peter Hessler made observations about the people’s sincere enthusiasm for learning Whether in the cities or in the countryside, the belief in education is a deep-rooted one

Students who make it past layers of tests in China’s system of selection earn a chance to leave their hometown, and enter the big cities in search of their dreams Most of the students in this school come from poor, remote villages in the area The best among them get to sit in for classes conducted at top schools located 800 kilometres away This gives them access to a quality education that their current environment cannot otherwise provide Due to a vast difference in local development, there is a huge gap in educational resources in the cities and the villages After economic reforms lifted the restrictions on rural-urban migration, China’s countryside experienced a brain drain But at this school, students who have stayed behind can take classes, do homework, and learn at the same pace as their city peers Apart from the obvious TV screen in the classroom, I don’t really see a big difference compared to when I went to school There are still lots of textbooks piled up, long hours, and many students are wearing glasses On the other hand, the speed of learning or training has increased dramatically Teacher Zeng has been in charge of this school’s online classes for many years And he, too, has big dreams for his students The only way for these children to escape poverty

is to leave the underdeveloped villages where they are born But whether this screen in school can truly change their lives from such a great distance, remains in question In China, the average GDP per capita is 15% lower in the western provinces compared to those in the east Shijiezi is a typical underdeveloped mountain village located to the west of the Hu Line One target of the national dream is the eradication of poverty by 2020 But the difference in development on both sides of the Hu Line makes this a challenging goal to meet Shijiezi is a hamlet of just 13 families Because of a lack of natural resources and good roads, this is one of China’s poorest villages The average annual income of people here is just US$560, only US$30 above the poverty line But the villagers’ exceptional passion for art sets Shijiezi apart When Li Baoyuan is done harvesting peppers, he has time for art In “Country Driving”, Peter Hessler describes the new socialist village campaign championed by the previous generation of Chinese leaders Funding poured into China’s villages, but due to its remote location, Shijiezi never benefited from this programme Instead, Shijiezi is taking a different path to get out of the poverty trap Jin Le was the first person in Shijiezi to attend university,

and he has returned to help the villagers improve their lot in life His plan is as meticulous as it is grand, by turning Shijiezi into an art village, he hopes to attract the attention of the outside world, receive government grants, and develop a local tourism industry The Chinese government’s plan to eradicate poverty for all its people is a great and ambitious undertaking And Shijiezi is exploring a new path to prosperity During his travels more than a decade ago, Peter Hessler experienced a time when 90 million people were leaving their villagers for the more developed coastal cities Today, China’s urbanisation is speeding up In the suburbs of megacity Hangzhou, a new city populated by migrants is taking shape Today’s tour guide is a veteran real estate agent

Gan Yun, one of Guo Lieming’s clients, plans to buy a new flat in Tiandu City A taste for Western culture has led to the proliferation of such copycat “shanzhai” towns all over China These new cities tend to be populated by rural migrants Professor Liu Qihong, who has spent several decades studying China’s urban development issues, believes that besides its “shanzhai” towns, there are many unique characteristics to China’s urbanisation China’s rural migrants find themselves in a challenging situation Because of rapidly rising real estate prices and strict household registration policies, rural migrants have a tough time sinking roots in the city Yet they do not feel at home in the countryside, after being away for so long But, people here in Tiandu City seem relaxed and happy They’ve worked hard to move to the modern city, and they feel that they’ve made it Against the surreal backdrop of these European-style streets, the identity of China’s migrant population feels especially complex In Beijing, the influx of migrants has become a huge burden on the capital city

In 2017, the government announced plans to tackle its big city problems of overpopulation, congestion, pollution, and rising real estate prices by building a new city from scratch, some 150 kilometres south of the capital Named Xiong’an New Area, the plan was to move some institutions and companies here and take pressure off Beijing Here, in Xiong’an, is the site of China’s millennial strategy Marked as a supplementary capital to Beijing, Xiong’an is a city with high hopes But looking around, I must say one has to be quite patient to wait for this future Xiong’an is part of the Chinese government’s ambitious and long-term “Millennium Strategy” As the name suggests, unlike other cities in China, Xiong’an’s development will be strategic and sustainable As with Panzhihua, this will be another city built because the government has willed it into existence But unlike Panzhihua, Xiong’an will address China’s new urbanisation needs and explore new ways to grow the economy For some entrepreneurs, this was an opportunity too exciting to pass up Shortly after the Chinese government announced its plans for Xiong’an, Fang Xuan quit his job in Beijing and, together with his partner Zhao Zhi, opened the first coffee shop in this “future capital” of China They also provide consultation services to businesses that want to set up shop in Xiong’an Fang Xuan is among the first wave of people who followed their dreams to this new city Two years since the establishment of Xiong’an,

many entrepreneurs like Fang Xuan and Zhao Zhi have come here with their start-up dreams and big plans It will require many more years of development before some of those dreams are realised For Xiong’an’s entrepreneurs, patience is truly a virtue The last stop on the Hu line is Lake Baiyangdian, a core area of Xiong’an’s planned layout Here, Yijun meets once more with Professor Liu Qihong This exploration of China’s balanced development along the Hu Line showed us how people have moved around the country since its founding Right up to the recent plans for a new capital, every policy has had a different origin, and they’ve all left their mark on history The Chinese people are still figuring out how to achieve the Chinese Dream of economic balance and education equality This is a long-term project, and might require many more generations of hard work