Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Socialism in one village

It's the fortieth anniversary of the beginning of China's Cultural Revolution, and the Weekly Standard, the main English-language business paper in the brave new capitalist China, is carrying a report from the village of Nanjie, whose inhabitants have rejected the market and held onto Maoism:

As the rest of China struggles with mounting social problems brought on by two decades of turbocharged economic reforms and vanishing social safety nets, the decidedly retro Nanjie seems to have found the good life. It is the best known of a handful of villages that have returned to the country's communist past...

The people of Nanjie also tried their hand at privatization, but they didn't like what they saw. In their view, the entrepreneurs who built factories exploited workers to line their own pockets and gave nothing back to the community.

The Nanjians decided to recollectivise their land and run the new factories co-operatively. Twenty years later, they're still going strong, thanks in part to a bloke called Wang Hongbin:

Today, Nanjie is home to 26 enterprises and joint ventures and employs about 11,000 laborers, making it the wealthiest village in Henan province. But as its de facto chief executive officer, Wang is no millionaire. He makes US$30 (HK$234) a month, a sum he set for himself and the rest of the cadres in his small-town utopia. That's about what a poor Chinese farmer earns but only about a third of what an urbanite makes.

It's all part of his ``fool's'' theory, written prominently in red ink on the walls behind the village square: ``Only fools can save China.''

``China needs fools. The world needs fools,'' the down-to-earth Wang says. ``What does it mean to be foolish? Self-sacrifice.''

Pity about the giant portrait of Stalin in the village square, but I guess it's no more offensive than those golden arches you see everywhere else in China these days...

The BBC has a report on Nanjie's booming tourist trade.


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