The story of rural China often goes untold. The country is already the most densely populated with the world’s second-largest economy, and 2013 promises a further boost in China’s economic development. But despite the Communist ideal that fuels the Chinese government, the gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen. With the introduction of a new political body fronted by Xi Jinping, do the residents of rural China expect wealth inequality to show signs of abatement in 2013?
China’s provinces are sharply divided. Cities such as Beijing and Shanghai are some of the world’s most important business districts, whilst in Guizhou, China’s poorest province, people earn roughly $2,500 per year according to Foreign Policy, which they suggest is “less than half the average national wage”. These residents are the victims of an increasingly fragile balance between education, employability, and earning, which places a glass ceiling above their working-class circumstances.
Xi Jinping is already implementing change in China as the new leader of the Communist Party of China. For the first time, the Chinese people are able to search for their political leaders online as a part of the incentive to lift internet and phone bans. But how does this affect the people of rural China, the manual labor workforce, the low-end earners, the ones who cannot afford computers or phones? Does this change in government promise economic reform for the population of rural China, or will it continue to serve the separation of the rich from the poor?
How did rural China function under the previous Communist government?
2013 brings with it the shift in government from Hu Jintao to Xi Jinping, from one Communist leader to another. But the irony of China’s Communist ideal is its effect on the poor. Many workers in rural areas of China are engaged in farming or manual labor. The adolescent population of rural China have suffered as a result of the poor economy in the recent past. Parents whose only source of income is from manual labor earn very little, and the education system in China requires the less intellectually able students to pay their way to college, a high sum that many working class families cannot afford. Many working class families are forced to ask for donations from family and friends in order to pay for their children’s education.
The present Communist policy for education is based on intellectual rather than financial discrimination. An entrance exam requires its students to gain a certain mark to allow them into state-funded universities, providing equal learning opportunities for academically able students from poorer backgrounds. However, many of the children that get high results in their tests have come from rich backgrounds, from parents that can afford to pay for learning resources and private schooling. Where Communism should strive for equality, the working class are finding themselves increasingly discriminated against since education and finance are becoming increasingly intertwined.
The organization ‘Why Poverty?’ entered into a case-study of Chinese education for rural areas and the working classes. The documentary follows a young girl, Wang Pan, from a poor background whose family are forced to pay for a substandard college education as a result of her low test score. A teacher, Wang Zehziang, working for one of these colleges considers them to be ‘a scam’. He suggests that in such a competitive job market these students will graduate with very little employability as a result of their expensive, but ultimately inadequate, college education. This is fully exposed in the ‘Why Poverty?’ documentary ’China’s Ant People’ which tracks unfortunate college graduate Wan Chao through a number of job markets, interviews, and trial periods. During this time he is offered no employment and earns so little that he is forced to move into a cramped house-share. This experience appears to be typical of college graduates, since the job market is saturated with more highly qualified university graduates.
What do the residents of China’s poorest province expect from the country’s new leaders?
The residents of Guizhou appreciate the struggles of the working classes in China. Whether they expect any change from the new government remains to be seen, since opinions are divided about the level of political exposure these rural areas are subjected to. Foreign Policy reported that “banners hung in the village exhort the villagers to support ‘The Big 18’, common shorthand for the Congress”.
The 18th national Congress of the Communist party in November 2012 marked the new generation of leaders, headed by Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang, accepting power from China’s previous president Hu Jintao. Even in Guizhou, villagers are being encouraged to support the handover, and hope that change ensues. But 1,000 miles from Beijing, Guizhou is far from the political center of China. So far, even, that “one young woman admits to never having heard of president-in-waiting Xi”, Foreign Policy reports.
Can we expect change for the future of China’s rural provinces?
But is change on the horizon? The populations of China’s rural provinces have good cause to hope so, since the government are proposing an economic effort to improve farmers’ income growth and agricultural development in 2013. The Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) hope that by 2017, the program to improve farmers’ land contract management rights will be fully extended to rural regions.
By developing new kinds of agribusiness, the pressure of job creation will ease. If farmers’ rights are fully protected, and more farmers can be trained in new agricultural enterprises, then the government’s proposal for this program could help to secure the individual jobs and businesses which are currently so fragile.
The future of the financial security of China’s rural provinces, however, remains uncertain. Many contingent factors weigh upon the economy of working class areas. If the education system remains the same, then it is unlikely that the children of working class families will secure much more affluent futures than they have already. In rural areas, lacking exposure to top class education, these children may still have very little hope of becoming employable upon graduation from college. Many working class students are forced to return to the local businesses of their parents, since they are unable to compete against University graduate students for corporate jobs in China’s cities.
However, if the government decides to invest in rural development in 2013, the education system may become more irrelevant to the working classes. If more jobs are generated with the added interest of financial security, then working class parents will be less inclined for their children to, as one working class mother said, “escape” their own financially destitute circumstances. Generating jobs in China’s poor provinces may encourage a self-sufficient working class which has the ability to operate prolifically and independently of the academic education system. If this can be achieved, then the new government will be working much more closely to their Communist ideal than the reality of the class boundaries that has previously come to define Chinese society. Under a Communist government everybody is entitled to equal education. But if the government begins to work towards equal earning and work opportunities for the poorer provinces, this will enable families to invest in learning resources and schooling for their children. With financial security, working class families and students are presented with the same options for employment as those from richer families, or those that live in the cities. A small step like facilitating farming in rural provinces has the potential to revolutionize the entire education system in China.