Back to the village

Retour au village, Elosua Miguel

This photo was taken in Cheng Kan, Anhui, on the 28th of September, 2012 at dusk.

The end of September is a period that is particularly busy in this area. Farmers spend the day harvesting rice crops, most of which are sold on the spot. They also hang corn from balconies to dry.  Fields are well irrigated by the Longxi River. The town has an elaborated layout based on the principles of fengshui. It reflects the socioeconomic structure of the Ming and Qing dynasties, when wealthy Hui merchants (Huishang) returned to their hometowns and left their legacy printed on the streets and buildings.

This will probably be the last generation of farmers in the Huang Shan area to cultivate the land in the traditional ways. The city is flourishing again with the arrival of tourists, who flock to the Yellow Mountain, the area’s main attraction. Although the younger generations benefit from the tourist boom, by working in the service sector, this is not the case for the older ones, whose lives are alien to this transformation. Apart from tourism, new regulations dealing with land rights guarantee longer and more stable tenures, thus setting up a framework for the establishment of larger farms and the mechanization of agriculture. The aim of the prohibition concerning land readjustments during the tenure period is to stimulate long-term investments in the land, as well as to increase the number of leases. While this may be a likely scenario in Huang Shan, it may not be the case in other rural areas of China, where there is no tourist industry. In many places, farmers still advocate land readjustments in cases involving changes in demographics, for example, or to recover land leased out after agricultural taxes were abolished and therefore no longer representing a heavy financial burden. This has led to a failure to enforce the law in some cases, causing numerous conflicts and paving the way for new sources of grievance for farmers. If land readjustments hoped to ensure equal land distribution among farmers, the prohibition to readjust during the 30 years of tenure will undoubtedly put an end to this socialist aspiration. Perhaps this situation simply reflects the presence of two different social realities in rural China:  those who benefit from economic development and embrace free market policies, and those who are left behind and still believe in the socialist principles they were brought up with.


Miguel Elosua

Spanish qualified lawyer; PhD in Chinese Law. UrbaChina Research Officer. Has lived in China since 2006.

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