The reality of 'new socialist countryside'

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 May, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 May, 2008, 12:00am

It's impossible to miss the huge billboard at the modest entrance of Shashi, a village on the outskirts of Ganzhou .

The sign outlines the area's plan for the 'new socialist countryside' with computer generated photos of a two-storey villa for each household; solar energy, bio-gas and waste water treatment facilities; a central square and gardens; a hospital, a school, a library and even a supermarket - all for the village's 66 families.

About 10 metres beyond the billboard stands a white house with decorated balconies and clean windows that looks exactly like the painted version - save for a second storey - suggesting that the new socialist countryside concept is really taking root in Ganzhou, where the vision for the future of rural China was created and first implemented.

But the house's owners, Zhong Deqiang and his wife, blush intensely when asked about the fruits of rural development.

They look at each other and burst into a loud and lengthy laughter that draws neighbours who, after exchanging a few words in the local dialect, join the merriment. 'Don't be fooled by the cardboard, and don't believe a thing you see on TV,' Mr Zhong said, as his wife and neighbours nodded. 'The new socialist countryside is a cosmetic project by government officials. Farmers have benefited little.'

The villagers say the new socialist countryside programme has inherited the hallmarks of dishonesty and exaggeration from the Great Leap Forward movement half a century ago.

'[Officials] asked every family to repaint the outside of their houses and promised subsidies. But after we did so they gave us less than a third of what they promised,' Mr Zhong, a butcher, said. 'In the village next to us government officials took farmers' land with little compensation in the name of a new socialist countryside and sold it to factories and businessmen from the city.'

Nevertheless, villagers agree that living standards have improved significantly in recent years and Mr Zhong is planning to buy a small truck.

'[But] that has nothing to do with the new socialist countryside,' he said. 'Farmers' hard work and sweat has created prosperity ... without the corruption and exploitation by officials we could do even better.'