Bangdong

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.

Dispatches

Trickle-down Economics with Chinese Characteristics

For rural Chinese, economic reform is worth the 40-year wait – Matt Chitwood

President Xi Jinping’s New Era was ushered in by a new cast of characters: ballerinas in pink tutus, laborers in yellow hardhats, hip-hop dancers in silver foil Hammer pants and a girl in pigtails. The new proletariat took center stage in Beijing last December to ring in the 40th anniversary of China’s Reform and Opening. Their highly choreographed number, ‘Enter the New Era,’ was just one of dozens in a nationally televised epic production that paid tribute to the economic reforms championed by Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s, and now Xi, that have paved the way for China’s prosperity.

Dispatches

Taking Out the Trash in Rural China

Waste management in remote Yunnan Province – Matthew Chitwood

My friend Little Tao is a fisherman. He lives with his wife and two kids at a small wharf on the Lancang River just before it runs into the Dachao Mountain Dam. (The Lancang River is known as the Mekong once it flows outside China). Four or five nights each week, Tao loads up his nets on a long flatbed boat and points the rusty bow upriver in search of fish.

Hoping to give my friend Dave, an American who was visiting from Shanghai, one last China adventure before his imminent return to the United States for graduate school, I had called Tao to ask whether we could tag along for an evening. “Of course!” he hollered into the phone. “Come by this afternoon and we can be back by morning for your flight.” Not being overly time-conscientious also means people in the countryside are overly hospitable and ever-adaptable.

Dispatches

New Rites for Tomb Sweeping Festival

An age-old ritual changes with the times – Matthew Chitwood

A Cloud Tobacco cigarette smolders on Shi Wenxian’s tomb. The lit end hangs off the stone ledge, slowly burning down as if Shi’s spirit were enjoying a long-awaited smoke. All around, people are in motion. A cousin pulls pine needles from the top of the tomb while another hacks away tall, dry grass with a hand scythe. An aunt heats a blackened kettle of water over a makeshift fire as mothers and toddlers hide in the shade, dividing fake money into sheets of four so they’re ready for burning. Li Jinlan, the 79 year-old matriarch, meanwhile ignites a pack of incense and begins placing the bright pink sticks around the base of her son’s tomb.

Dispatches

The Case of the Missing Migrants

“Teaconomics” transforms a Chinese village – Matthew Chitwood

Editor’s note: We’re pleased to present a new mini-series by Matthew Chitwood, a research fellow with the Institute of Current World Affairs, who is living for two years in Bangdong Village in southwestern Yunnan Province, since fall 2017, researching rural perspectives on life and China’s economic transformations. Each Thursday for the next four weeks, we will feature a new essay from Matt’s blog, examining a different aspect of life in Bangdong loosely organized around China’s four pillars of development: economic, social, environmental and political. – Alec Ash

The blood gushed out with each squeal, dark like vintage Burgundy. Each labored breath cut off the flow, like someone pinching a hose, until a new squeal – piercing and terrifying – opened the floodgates anew. It spilled into an aluminum bowl, turning a bright red, like frothy cooling Jell-O.

That is not what I was expecting, although I suppose it should have been. I was attending a village shazhu fan, or “pig-slaughtering feast,” for Chinese New Year. It was an educational moment for me and a wide-eyed three-year-old next to me. Moments earlier, the boy’s father, Li Rugui, a local tea farmer and the host of our feast, had led the doomed animal from its concrete pen next to their home. Li Rugui was joined by three buddies, with one man holding each ear and two at the tail. The pig made its discomfort clear.