Rural China is home to many small farms and traditional industries, but productivity is falling.
There are not enough new industries to provide economic growth. Young people continue to leave rural areas for big cities.
The situation is bad enough that Chinese President Xi Jinping has called on talented workers from the cities to move to the countryside.
That is an unusual idea for a country where the growth of cities has been an important step toward prosperity.
The ruling Communist Party appears to have several aims in calling for a return to rural areas.
The party wants to avoid social unrest in highly populated areas. It also wants to increase spending all over the country and to control the fast growth in big cities. Party leaders also want to increase the power of rural areas, where an estimated 577 million people live.
Ma Xiaohe is an advisor at the National Development and Reform Commission, China’s top economic planning agency. He spoke to the Reuters news agency.
Ma noted that the Chinese president launched a program of “rural rejuvenation” last October. Xi promised projects to improve roads and other infrastructure in the countryside. He also promised to develop industries, such as farming and tourism, and bring investments to rural areas.
Since October, local governments have announced measures to bring business owners, skilled workers, college graduates and “modern professional farmers” to rural areas.
The central province of Henan, for example, plans to offer a total of $890 million dollars this year to Chinese who return to rural areas to start businesses. Henan wants 200,000 such “rural entrepreneurs” in 2018.
In Hunan’s Shuangfeng County, local leaders also are trying to get people to return. One sign reads, “No need to go afar for work, the opportunities are right here at home.”
That saying is the idea of Wang Xin. She is a representative of a local entrepreneur school which sells training services to the government.
Wang said the school hopes to get thousands of people to return to the local community to be trained in online business and other fields.
But when the school held a job fair seeking to fill 200 low-skill manufacturing jobs, few people showed up.
Young leaving rural areas
One of the issues preventing young people from returning is a generational difference.
He Sha works in a shoe factory operated by Stella International. He said, “Most of the workers here at our factories are middle-aged or older.” They earn an average of $400 a month.
Li Jinglong grew up in a small town in Hunan. The 27-year-old designer was educated in the United States. Li told Reuters he has no plans to return to his hometown.
Li moved to Changsha, Hunan’s capital, one year ago to launch his own company, which works with new businesses on issues like branding and design. “If I choose to go back to the countryside one day, that would probably just be out of nostalgia,” he said.
The problem is low earnings in rural areas.
The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences reports that rural people have one third of the disposable income of urban people. It adds that only about 7 million people returned to China’s countryside in the period from 2012 to 2017.
In a mountainous area of Hunan known for tea farming, 25-year-old Xiang Liping was called back by her father to supervise the family’s organic tea business. The business is doing well, but she says there are not enough workers even after employing all the old people and children.
“We don’t have enough people here to pick the leaves,” she said.
As the population in rural villages ages, economic productivity continues to decrease.
A 2016 report by China’s State Information Center said that people aged 60 and older made up 15.6 percent of the population in rural China. That is almost 5 percentage points higher than in the cities.
That is unlikely to change soon. Young people continue to go to the cities seeking jobs and higher pay.
Zhao Fengling is 68-years-old and lives in a village. Her children, who live in the city, moved her out of her old farmhouse. They bought her a new home nearby.
But Zhao is lonely since her husband died. “When he was alive, we could at least play cards,” she said with tears in her eyes. “My children are really good to me, but they are busy making money.”
I’m Mario Ritter. And I’m Ashley Thompson.
Yawen Chen and Ryan Woo wrote this report for the Reuters news agency. Mario Ritter adapted the report for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
talented – adj. having a special ability to do something well
prosperity – n. a state of being successful
rejuvenation – n. to give new strength and energy
tourism – n. the industry that provides services like hotels and restaurants for people who travel
professional – adj. of or relating to a job
graduate – n. someone who has completed a study program at a school, college or university
entrepreneurs –n. people who start businesses and take the risk of losing or gaining money
branding – n. the business of bringing attention to the kinds products a company produces
nostalgia – n. both the pleasure and sadness caused by remembering the past and wishing to experience it again
disposable income – n. money that is left over after important expenses are paid for
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