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Home Village (2:35) Excerpt from film "To Have and Have Not" July 2002
Dwanzhi She visits his home village in the rural Chinese countryside.

Country: China
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  • One Nation: Two Futures?

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    Guiding Questions
    1. Based on this film clip, what is unfair about the treatment of peasants? Where do the peasants seem to fit on the government's agenda?

    2. Discuss: Does Dwanzhi She owe anything to the village of his origin?

    Background Essay
    Dwanzhi She returns to the tiny village in Wuhan, China where he was born. In this village, the average wage is less than a dollar a day. Life in rural china is very difficult and families there receive no help from the government.

    Since the late 1970s, China has shifted from a centrally planned economy that was largely closed to international trade to a more market-oriented economy that has a rapidly growing private sector and is a major player in the global economy. Reforms began in the agricultural, industrial, and financial sectors, and labor regulations were relaxed. The government also focused on foreign trade as a major vehicle for economic growth, and to encourage foreign investment, China created special economic zones in coastal cities.

    As the result of adopting economic reforms and joining the World Trade Organization in December 2001, China's per capita income has grown at an average annual rate of more than 8% over the last three decades. While poverty has been drastically reduced, this rapid growth has been accompanied by rising income inequalities, especially between rural and urban areas.

    One specific change China has been forced to embrace as a result of joining the WTO is to liberalize the movement of labor within the country. During the Maoist era of the 1950s, China instituted an inherited residency permit system that defined where its citizens could work. This system, or "hukou," made it extremely difficult for rural residents to leave their hometowns and move to cities to work. Restructuring the hukou system has been a very controversial topic even though many Community Party leaders recognize it is an impediment to economic progress. The system still exists, but enforcement of the residency permits has been relaxed in recent years. By the early 21st century an estimated 200 million Chinese lived outside their officially-registered areas. While it is easier for these migrants to work in cities than ever before, they are still unofficial residents of the cities and as a result have very limited access to education and government services. Many are forced to live a precarious existence in company dormitories or shanty towns, and in several respects occupy a social and economic status similar to illegal immigrants.

    The Wide Angle film TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT explores the human side of China's newly liberalized market economy. In the film, the increasing income gap between rich and poor is highlighted in vivid detail. The gated communities, luxury vehicles, and seemingly boundless consumption of China's newly rich is seen in stark contrast to the plight of migrant workers, who struggle to eke out a living and to educate their children at the margins of urban society.

    Once a year Dwanzhi returns to the tiny village in Wuhan where he was born and where the average wage is less than a dollar a day.

    We're on our way to see my mother, my brother and his family and some of the folks. This is the entrance to my village. This road hasn't been improved since I left. The one problem in rural China is that all these infrastructures have to be funded by the peasants. It's really unfair because in the cities it's subsidized by the government and infrastructures are being -- are built by the government. But here, the people have to pay themselves. In my village the main source of income, the main industry, is growing rice, but growing rice is not really profitable.

    The cost of producing rice is just not competitive at all compared to ah, for example, American farmers.

    We're now heading to the primary school that I ah, attended when I was a little boy here. This is the first time they see a camera and then, maybe the first time they see a foreigner. So it's big news -- sensational! In fact I didn't see a car until I was like ten years old. Let's go and meet my teacher, Mr. Wong.

    MR. WONG:

    He could tell back then that I -- I would have a bright future because I was the hardest working student and ah, had the best scores.

    This is the third grade classroom. This is typical one of those rural school classroom settings. She's gonna read us a children's poem.

    (Reading in Chinese -- "Life is a long river...")

    This poem is about ah, a ten year old child -- ah, his ambition for the future.

    She wants to be a writer.

    MR. WONG:

    The government really has to provide stronger suppose to rural families. Because right now these -- a lot of families still have difficulties funding their children's education in schools. So perhaps out of this class of fifty-five, three kids will be able to make it. Most of the kids will just end up being farmers.

    As somebody who came from this place it kind of makes me feel almost guilty that I live in the life so different from them.

    Related Links
    To Have and Have Not on PBS.org

    BBC News: Country Profile: China

    BBC News: China's Wealth Gap Picture Gallery

    Library of Congress: Portals to the World: China

    PEOPLE'S DAILY "China Pledges Elimination of Rural Compulsory Education Charges In Two Years." March 5, 2006

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