A Day in the Life of Rural China

Tea pickers and country medicine in farflung Yunnan – Matthew Chitwood

Bangdong village, Yunnan – Wo-wo! Wo-wo-wo-wo-wo! The cock-a-doodle-doos of Chinese roosters echo across the mountainsides as Li Guojun rises in the dark. He limps up a hillside to his flock and tosses out handfuls of corn. The delicate light in the eastern sky warms to a rich orange until it spills over the horizon and rolls down the blue mountains toward the Mekong River. The roosters intensify their crowing. Although there are few constants in this remote village in southwest China, this morning chorus is a daily certainty. So too is Li Guojun’s morning routine. He hacks down a banana palm with his machete and shoulders it back home. It will be dinner for his cattle.

Li Guojun is a cowherd. Every day for the last 15 years, he has led a dozen or so cattle down into the valley to drink from the cool streams that flow into the Mekong. And every evening he brings them home to eat banana palm in his stable. Today will be no exception.


Village Lives

Profiles from China’s changing countryside – Matthew Chitwood

The changes that China’s countryside has witnessed in recent years are unlike anything experienced in any other country during any other time in history. Many cite Shanghai’s iconic Pudong district as a feat of modern development, transformed in just 30 years from empty farmland into futuristic skyline. But to me, the transformation of remote rural China is even more remarkable.

Consider that most rural Chinese grew up in poverty with little or no education. People in their sixties endured unspeakable suffering during times of violent domestic chaos. Most in their fifties never got enough to eat in childhood, and many are illiterate. Those in their forties grew up without electricity, and most in their thirties still remember their village getting its first television set, and completed only junior high school, if that. Now, not only do they all have more than enough to eat, but virtually everyone carries around a mini-computer in his or her pocket.


Learning to Belong

Practicing hospitality in rural China – Matthew Chitwood

BANGDONG, Yunnan – The first phrase I learned in the local dialect here was “you lai!” (又来) “Come again!” My teacher was Sister Two, the three-year-old daughter of the village’s best chef. There is no restaurant in Bangdong, so when the mayor hosts dinners for government officials or businessmen, Sister Two’s mother cooks up a feast while her daughter charms the guests. As they depart, Sister Two’s consummate hospitality rings out behind them: You lai! Come again!

Rural hospitality is a way of life in China. It weaves generosity and reciprocity into the fabric of the community, even from a young age. 


Housework and Homecoming

Renovating a mud house in rural China – Matt Chitwood

I first visited the Old House on a crisp December afternoon. Only two such buildings were left standing in the village and the mayor thought I might be interested in renting it during my two years here. We took a small dirt path past a neighbor’s outhouse and followed it along a rock wall, tiptoeing between beer bottles and candy wrappers that Neighbor Li had tossed from above. To our right, a chayote tree grew up and over the trail, its vines eclipsing the blue sky. We ducked underneath and followed the path up a small embankment to where the Old House stood.


The road to Bangdong

How rural transportation networks are changing lives in Yunnan – Matthew Chitwood

Ed: By popular request, we are running a further selection of dispatches from Bangdong, a village in rural Yunnan province, by Matthew Chitwood, a research fellow with the Institute of Current World Affairs who has been living there for two years since fall 2017, researching rural perspectives on life and China’s economic transformations. – Alec Ash

My stomach turned as I stepped aboard. It had been over ten years since my first overnight bus ride in China and the scene before me instantly brought back why that time had also been my last. A row of metal bunk beds lined the windows of both sides of the bus and a third row stretched down the middle. The beds were no wider than my shoulders, each one with its own mint green travel pillow and folded orange blanket. The driver handed me a small plastic bag as I boarded, which seemed both thoughtful and ominous. I was finally on the road to Bangdong.