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

Ramadan in Kashgar

Searching for a morsel in Xinjiang – Brent Crane

Editor’s note: The Chinese authorities have often restricted Uyghurs from fasting during Ramadan. In 2014, while the author of this dispatch wandered hungrily through the streets of Kashgar, a large swath of Xinjiang’s population was forced to eat during the day. Last year, Radio Free Asia reported that Kashgari schoolchildren and their parents had to sign pledges affirming that they would not fast. This indignity is just one part of an ongoing campaign of repression that has swept one million people into internment camps. The story below is a time capsule of Uyghur life, and of the connections that we can form across religious and cultural divides, if only we are given the chance. – Anne Henochowicz

Unless you are in Kashgar during Ramadan, as a foreigner you will never go hungry in China. Eating is a national obsession, and takes on an almost sacred air. Cheap restaurants are everywhere, people are constantly talking about food, and Chinese hosts will bend over backwards to make sure you’ve eaten enough. Often I'm confronted by a fierce jabbing of chopsticks in the direction of a half-finished communal dish and the barking command, “Eat!”

So I was surprised to find myself roaming the twisting streets of Kashgar’s atmospheric old town with a rumbling stomach and diminishing chances of finding an open restaurant.

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.