Experiencing China

'Experiencing China' is about ordinary life in China and the wealing and dealing of a Dutchman in the Middle Kingdom. Marc works for DuoArts Consultancy and the Empowerment Foundation, travelling between the Netherlands and China.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Rural China

China's economy is booming. Our travel from to Guizhou painfully made you realize that large groups within society still don't profit from the increased welfare. Our trip to Huang Kui's school in Baotian is a good example of the situation in rural China and the reason why EF helps his school.

Victim of One-Child-Policy
Huang Kui is a 36 year old man, who together with his wife, established a school after the birth of their second child. In China, due to the one-child-policy, in some areas such as Guizhou, it is allowed to have more then one child, but the parents are not allowed to work for the government. Huang and his wife, working for a government school, were fired as a consequence.

Due to a severe lack of (good) education, especially in rural China, the government tolerates private school to be established and that is what family Huang did.

Through a Chinese living in the Netherlands we got Huang's address and two colleagues of mine visited the place in February this year. It was then decided to incorporate the school into our projects.

China's Wild West
Once arrived at Baotian station, which hardly could be called a train station, we were picked up by Huang's wife and in an over growded truck we went over unpaved roads that had been turned into mudd pools due to the torrential rains during the monsoon. Soon it became clear how undeveloped this region was.


The reception at Huang's house was warm and easy going. In that respect the Southerners are quite different from the stressful and very formal Northern Chinese, once you pay them an offical visit. In the days following our arrival we gathered as much information as possible to be able to help the school where it was most needed. Because private school don't get any subsidy from the government, Huang's school lacked any luxury whatsoever. The class rooms were rough, grey and draughty. The rooms where some of the teachers live was in even worser shape. No windows and a piece of plastic that served as a door. In winter, although not very cold (15˚C/59˚F), it must be freezingly cold because of no heating and a moist climate.

The next day it became clear that first the physical condition of the school had to be improved before we could help Huang to improve the condition of the teacher and the education itself.

The Poor Masses
My journey from Beijing to Baotian makes clear how complex China's current situation is. It's in essence a country that is looking for a new balance. One of the hugest problems the country now faces, is the situation of people like Huang: a billion of rural residents, mostly farmers, not really profiting from the economic growth the country is experiencing for already more than 20 years. Due to poverty already 120 million rurals decided to move to the wealthy cities where they are treated a second rate people and do the dirty and dangerous work. The Chinese government faces the challenge of mega-cities with more than 10 million inhabitants and a growing dissatisfaction of a huge part of the people. Moreover, there is a growing problem of agricultural production. When rural families decide to move to the city, there will not be sowed and harvested. Another (minor) problem will be the theme of my next contri, that is, China's new rich.

Farmers selling in the city

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Exploring Guiyang

The capital city of Guizhou, Guiyang, reminded me of old Hongkong. Not that I know old Hongkong, but it must have had a similar atmosphere. Guiyang, roughly 2,500 kilometers from Beijing, doesn't resemble the national capital in any way.

In a taxi in Guiyang 

The relationship north-south China always has been somewhat peculiar. The earliest date, to my recollection, has been 500 B.C. when a young philosopher, named Confucius, was a student of Lao Zi (from Daoism) for a while. Lao Zi came from South China, Confucius from the North. The two didn't like each other and after a few years Kong Zi (Confucius) left Lao Zi and developed his own thinking (Confucianism).

The north, especially Beijing, is more formal, the south more flamboyant. As for me, Daoism is more feminine and Confucianism more masculine. In a way this distinction persists till the present day. It wasn't therefore not surprising that the South to the lead when Deng Xiaoping opened up the country step by step in the eighties. Southerners are more open to foreign influences, the Northerners more proud of their historical and cultural heritage, and therefore more inwards oriented.

Typical houses 

As you probably noticed, I can't explain the difference between Guiyang and Beijing accurately. It is more like a feeling. Guiyang, in some aspects, resembles Southeast Asian cities more than northern Chinese cities. Although in relatively poor condition, Guiyang has a lot of colored buildings. Also the people seem to be more colorful. The 'China feeling' of exploring unknown territory instantly came back when visiting the city. Tom, my companion, unfortunately, was ill that day so I visited the city myself. With the help of my newly acquired language skill it was pleasant talking with the people. The people were less formal in their approach, more relaxed in a way. In the north of China, when meeting somebody unfamiliar, you first have to deal with a lot of social necessities before turning to a more ordinairy level of interaction. This makes China fascinating, however, it also makes it difficult for a foreigner. I know the social rules but I always act a role instead of being myself. So, I liked the uncomplexity of the people of Guiyang.


The next day, Tom already recovered from his illness, we took the train to our end destination, Baotian. They told us it would be another travel of six hours. Eventually, the trip took more than ten hours, but through the beautiful landscape of the South Chinese mountains that connect with the Himalaya.