Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Lifestyle: Mao revisited

Nanjie Village in Central China has turned back its clocks. The village dismantled its communes in the early 1980s, like villages all across China. But when the reforms did not take hold, the village organized farmers to re-collectivize their land and property. Sam Beattie tells us what happened.

Huang Zunxian's living room is lit by just one dim light bulb. It is dark, but not gloomy. He says his faith in the Communist Party is his guiding light. "As common people, we only have one thing to do, listen to the party leadership, and do whatever they say,” says Huang. “To stay healthy and contribute more to Nanjie Village. That is what we think."

The people of Nanjie Village in China's Central Province of Henan are living history, a throwback to 1960s China.

Within 10 years of China adopting Deng Xiaoping's 1978 "Opening Up and Reform Policy," the villagers of Nanjie had started to shift back to a collective economy. By 1990, the people of Nanjie had everything they needed yet owned hardly anything at all.

The apartments in Nanjie are identical, and the collective owns everything in them -- from the furniture to the appliances.

There are few people in the streets. Most are at work in village-owned factories. Their products range from instant noodles to consumer packaging, and the profits sustain the local economy. Workers receive about 30 percent of their salary in cash. The rest they get in benefits, such as free housing and food, health care and education.

Benefits are dolled out on a points system. Inspection committees regularly visit homes and award points for cleanliness, behavioral goals and obedience to the Communist Party.

Wang Hongbin has been the Communist Party secretary in Nanjie for more than 30 years. As the senior-most official, he oversees the running of the village. The sign hanging over his desk is a quote from Chairman Mao. It reads, "Serve the People."

"Nanjie village has developed a collective economy, to walk down the path of gaining wealth. This was Mao Zedong's thought, strategy and policy," says Wang.

There is no advertising for consumer products in Nanjie, but there are political messages, plastered on buildings, and blasted over the airways.

Nanjie also has a multi-million-dollar park dedicated to showcasing the life of Mao. In it are replicas of various houses where he once lived.

Mao's prominence here, and the people who are still living out his ideologies, have turned Nanjie into a tourist attraction. Souvenir shops capitalize on the steady flow of curious visitors.

Sales assistant Wang Xinchao says no one in Nanjie is opposed to bringing in money. Everyone has just opted to share it equally. "All the tourists are jealous. We live by Mao's philosophy."

The village's 3500 commune members say they are proud to still be living according to Mao's word.

But they are a tiny holdout, as China's 1.3 billion people increasingly embrace a market-style economy.

By Sam Beattie Nanjie Village, Central China
Published with the permission of Voice of America